Euchee Valley Presbyterian Church
Sermon for April 25, 2021
WARNING CONCERNING ANTICHRISTS
1 John 2:18-27
John begins by presenting in great detail the nature of the deception that is being perpetrated by those who have left the church. By doing this, he passes on to every successive generation of believers a study in the the dangers, origin, and effects of the counterfeit teachings which constantly threaten to destroy the church.
John begins in verse 18 with the familiar use of the word Children to show that he is addressing the church as a whole. He declare to them that it is the last hour. This last hour denotes a period of time, whether long or short, that will usher in the termination of all time and the revealing of the final salvation promised by God.
John asserts that it is the last hour because of the fact that there were many antichrists that had come. They were trying to lure members of the church into the world that is passing away along with its desires (1 John 2:17) and into darkness. The term antichrist is found only in the epistles of John and was likely coined by John himself. Antichrist is a term used to describe the situation that would precede the return of Jesus to earth. The focus in this verse is not the antichrist, singular, but the antichrists, plural that had arisen to tear apart the church.
One form of the doctrine of Christ of those who left the church and preached a false doctrine was—-
their teaching emphasized the deity of Jesus at the expense of His humanity.
It is also possible that there were those—-
who emphasized the humanity of Jesus to the point that they failed to see
that as the Christ, He is the Son of God and the Messiah—the Anointed One.
John examined the problem and rightly concluded—
that the proper understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ
is fundamental to Christianity and cannot be compromised.
Even today, there are some who debate the division of the Jesus of history
and the Christ of faith.
They argue that these two entities cannot be reconciled.
John apparently faced a similar issue in his day, and He argued forcefully that
this divided doctrine of Christ cannot be tolerated by the believing church.
Verse 19—They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
In this verse, we see that the decision of these heretics, or false teachers, to remove themselves from fellowship with the church gives evidence that they have never really believed the gospel, and their true inward devotion was to the world.
John is confident that those who belong to God will remain with God and with the church. This verse is not meant to scare people into obedience but to strengthen the faith of the church, which had been torn apart by the actions of those who left.
Once again, it is clear that having one’s name on the church roll
does not necessarily mean that one’s name is written in the Book of Life.
This is evidenced by John’s statement—for if they had been of us,
they would have continued with us.
Verse 20—John provides an emphatic word of encouragement to the members of the church by proclaiming that they were obviously standing firm in the truth
and for good reason.
The difference between those who left and the true believers is grounded in the fact that
the faithful have received an anointing from the Holy One.
John seeks to encourage these faithful believers by saying that
they are the ones who truly know God and
that it is this knowledge of God
that enables them to understand the false nature
of what the heretics are teaching.
This instruction echoes the promise of the new covenant found in Jeremiah 31:31-34—
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, Know the LORD, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.
For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
What the prophet is saying is that all who believe will have a real, intimate knowledge of God that no man would have to teach them. Consequently, there is no need to be seduced by the false teachers who claim to have knowledge because
real understanding comes only from the Holy One who gives it through His Spirit.
In verse 21— I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.
John continues to praise and encourage believers in the church by explaining to them that, contrary to the claims of their opponents, they are the ones who know the truth and can identify the lie. It is because they possess an anointing, and can therefore discern the truth, that he is concerned to instruct them further in the gospel.
Truth and error are incompatible. Indeed lies have their source in what is false, not in what is true. In this verse, the truth is equivalent to the Christian gospel that has both theological content and ethical character. The knowledge which John’s readers possess, but which their opponents do not have, is the truth about the identity of Jesus—
He is the Christ, the anointed One, the Messiah.
He is by nature one with man and one with God.
This knowledge that the false teachers have does not make the believers ignorant;
it makes the false teachers liars—confirming the assertion of verse 19
that they were never truly a part of the believing church.
In verse 22, John’s argument naturally flows from the lie that it is not from the truth to the one who is the liar.
He speaks of those who have left the church and are propagating a false understanding of the person of Jesus.
Those who do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah
declare themselves to be on the side of the antichrist.
This is the error that leads people into darkness.
These false teachers have denied that Jesus is the Christ.
For John, the height of heresy is to deny that Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God, and the Savior.
In the second half of the verse,
the liar who denies the Incarnation is called the antichrist.
This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.
The designation of this person as the antichrist need not be a reference
to the specific apocalyptic figure that will arise at the end of time. Instead, it may be a declaration that the one who opposes Christ by rejecting his true identity has taken on the spirit of the antichrist.
1 John 4:3—and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
Denial or acceptance of God’s revelation in the man—Jesus—
is equivalent to a denial or acceptance of the Father.
Verse 23— No one who denies the Son has the Father.
Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.
John states this doctrine very clearly,
one enters into a relationship with the Father through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Calvin puts it well—The Father cannot be separated from the Son.
The conscious and open confession that Jesus is the Son of God
who is both divine and human automatically results in a relationship with the Father.
Verses 24 & 25—Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
In these verses, John emphasizes to the believers in the church that they are to make sure that what they have heard from the beginning
remains in them. John is so concerned that what they heard from the beginning remains in them that he repeats himself.
Repetition reinforces the urgency of the teaching.
John is saying—Do not move away from the word you heard from us.
These verses conclude with the promise that if this condition is met, the believer will continue to remain in the Son and in the Father. Three times in this verse the word abide
is used—emphasizing the importance of the Word of God in the believer’s life.
John 8:31—So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
John 15:5—-I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Verse 25—And this is the promise that He made to us—eternal life.
John reveals the content of the promise that is made available to the Christian: eternal life.
The reference to eternal life is both that of the future promise of eternal life
with the Father and the Son and the present experience of abiding in God the Father and in Jesus Christ.
In the present—the abiding presence of Jesus Christ and the Father give
evidence that the power of sin and death has been defeated and
that the believer has moved from darkness into the light and now possesses eternal life.
This defeat of sin and death in the cross and the resurrection
also secures a future eternal dwelling place with the Father and the Son in the kingdom of God.
Verse 26—I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.
John explains that the preceding exhortation to hold fast to their initial reception and understanding of Christ was meant to strengthen them in their quest to withstand the pressure to follow the false teachers away from the truth and down their pathway to destruction. These false teachers were not content to rush into error by themselves. Their goal was to bring as many as they can along with them.
Verse 27—John encourages the members of the church to continue to stand strong in the faith by drawing upon the strength that is theirs through the reception of the Spirit of God, first mentioned in verse 20—But you have been anointed by the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge.
The connection between the anointing the believers have received and the abiding nature of the message they have heard is brought to the forefront of this discussion so that they will understand that both of these will fortify them in their battle against the false teachers.
This linkage of the Spirit and the Word helps one to make sense of the phrase that follows. It seems strange that John, given the teaching nature of this epistle, would say to his church that—you have no need that anyone should teach you. John is not denying the importance and place of human teachers. The mere fact that he wrote this letter is sufficient proof. The claim that they have no need of someone to teach them echoes the promises that Jesus made in the Gospel of John that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth. This is recorded in John 14:26—But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit worked through the apostles to bring the message of salvation that is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Here is the reliable truth they were taught.
To abide or dwell in Jesus is only possible when there is a close relationship with the Father through the Son, a reality possible only for those who have a proper understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ, whose ethics are shaped by that understanding, and who have received the anointing that is an assurance of their remaining in the truth, and this is best seen in—John 8:31 & 32—So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Here, then are two safeguards against error: the Apostolic Word and the Anointing Spirit.
Both are received at the time of conversion.
The Word is an objective safeguard, while the anointing of the Spirit is a subjective experience; but both the apostolic teaching and the heavenly teacher are necessary for continuance in the truth. Both are personally and inwardly grasped.
This is the biblical balance which is too often neglected.
Some honor the Word and neglect the Spirit who alone can interpret it:
others honor the Spirit but neglect the Word out of which he teaches.
The only safeguard against lies is to have remaining within us
both the Word that we heard from the beginning
and the anointing that we received from him.
It is by these old possessions, not by new teachings or teachers,
that we shall remain in the truth.
Sermon for April 18, 2021
DO NOT LOVE THE WORLD
1 John 2:15-17
It is worth stressing that the warning here is directed to the faithful members of the church whose spiritual status is unquestioned—rather than to those known by John to be in real spiritual danger.
Paul’s warning is always timely—1 Corinthians 10:12—Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
As a good pastor John warned against the dangers of following the ways of the world.
He was writing to people who enjoyed fellowship with God and who loved their fellow Christians.
Now, he found it necessary to warn them against an attitude
which could ruin their fellowship and land then in spiritual destruction, namely love of the world.
The word world used here means the world of mankind which through its sin stands in need of reconciliation to God. In the writing of John, world refers to mankind organized in rebellion against God, so that the word carries a negative sense.
It is under the control of the evil one.
1 John 5:19—and we know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
It lies in darkness and sin. It is, therefore under divine judgment,
but at the same time it is the object of divine love.
John 3:16—For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The believer’s situation is one of tension.
On the one hand, he can be regarded as separate from the world, since he no longer stands under its judgment and has passed from death to life.
He now lives in the sphere of light—and no longer in the darkness.
On the other hand, he is part of the world, and he is exposed to its temptations that would pull him away from God and into sin.
John’s fear is that Christians may be attracted by such temptations.
The first is that when John speaks of the world here,
he is thinking of the source of opposition to God and temptation to sin.
It follows then that John is thinking of the attractions of a life lived in opposition to the commandments of God, one in which God’s laws for the use of the world
and the things in it are disobeyed.
Worldliness means disobedience to God’s rule of life, and its presence is to be discerned by asking—What is God’s will?
Not by making a list of taboos.
The second point is that the word love used here
must mean something different from what it did in 1 John 2:10—
Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.
Here and in other references to loving other people, it signifies outgoing care and compassion; it is the kind of love which is concerned for the benefit of the person loved.
Here, however, the thought is about the pleasure which the person hopes to get from the object of his love.
To love in this sense is to be attracted by something and want to enjoy it—by appetite and desire.
Paul knew of this in his own experience as he recorded it in 2 Timothy 4:10—For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.
It should be emphasized that the desire for pleasure is not necessarily selfish and wrong.
We are so created by God that we have appetites and desires which need to be satisfied,
and the satisfying of them produces pleasure.
When I am hungry, I need food; I want a meal, and the eating of foods produces a pleasure that is perfectly normal and proper.
There are, however, occasions when the satisfaction of my desires may be sinful.
What I have to ask myself is—is my love for things and people sinful.
John’s command is grounded in the fact that love for the world and love for the Father are incompatible.
This follows clearly from what Scripture says—to love the world in John’s sense is to love what is opposed to God. James 4:4—You adulterous people. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God. Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
In verse 16, John proceeds to explain more fully why love for the world is incompatible with love for God. It is because everything in the world is not from God but from the world. Its origin lies in the world, seen as a system organized in opposition to God. The things in the world share in the character of the world.
Is everything in the world so tainted that the believer is not to desire it? The answer to this question becomes clear when we consider the kind of specific things which John has in mind. These show that he is thinking of the world insofar as it has become fallen and rebellious, the source of desires which stand in opposition to the love of God. Anything in the world can become a source of sinful desire, even though it is good in itself.
John next lists three typical features of the sinful world.
First is the desires of the flesh.
In itself, desire is a morally neutral word.
It takes on a good or bad connotation from the context, and here it is plainly a bad use.
The same is to some extent true of the word flesh which can mean no more than the substance of which man is man and hence refer to various aspects of human, bodily life.
Also, the fleshly body can be the source of sensual desires and lust, whether for food and drink or for sexual gratification.
It is more likely that John is here using the word flesh in its Jewish and biblical sense of the nature of man as a worldly being separated from and opposed to God.
It is the whole nature of sinful man which is comprehended in this phrase, and not merely his bodily, sensual desires. Any and every desire of man in his rebellion against God is what is meant.
The second feature of the world is the desires of the eyes.
The eyes are often the source of desire.
The biblical example of this is found in 2 Samuel 11:2-5
It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”
One may think particularly of the desire to watch things which give sinful pleasure, as in the case of pornography, or of the tendency to be captivated by outward, visible splendor and show, but more probably the basic thought is of greed and desire for things aroused by greed and desire for things by seeing them.
The third feature is pride in possessions. The word possessions is literally life, a word that can be used of the things that support life. The word pride refers to boasting and arrogance, but it conveys a strong hint of the ultimate emptiness of boasting; it means the bragging which exaggerates what it possesses in order to impress other people.
We may regard the first of these three as the inclusive concept—filled out in the other two. Selfish human desire is stimulated by what the eye sees and expresses itself in outward show. This is not from God! It is from the world!
This expresses a sense of human self-sufficiency and independence from God
and of human greed over against the needs of other people.
Clearly all people need possessions, and therefore, it cannot be wrong to want and take pleasure in what God has provided for our needs.
However, when we begin to desire more than other people, to covet whatever we see,
to boast of what we have, and to claim that we are self-sufficient
then my desires have become perverse and sinful, and I stand condemned.
John’s teaching stands as a timeless warning against materialism.
Verse 17—Now comes the climax to John’s appeal.
It is foolish to desire the world because the world and its desires are passing away.
Many people are tempted to live for the moment, to conform to the way of life of a material world, and either to question the temporary character of material life or to hope that there will be no judgment.
It is a natural tendency to make oneself comfortable here in the present real world
rather than to deny oneself here in hope of a better life hereafter.
John would reply to this with the statement that judgment is taking place already.
Even now the world is in the process of disintegration;
men are blind if they do not realize what is going on before their eyes.
Jesus said to a crowd in Luke 2: 54-56—When you see a cloud rising in the west you say at once—A shower is coming. And it happens. When you see the south wind blowing, you say—There will be scorching heat. And it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky—
BUT why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
John declares in verse 17—And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Do not be concerned about your own desires. Do the will of God, and if you do that, you will abide forever. You will be building up a firm foundation, a building which will be tried and treated as by fire, but because it consists of gold and precious metals and not of wood, hay, and stubble, it will last and it will stand the test. And when you arrive in glory, your works will follow you and you will rest from your labors.
Sermon for April 11, 2021
A NEW COMMANDMENT
I JOHN 2:7-14
Verses 7-14—Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
John is writing about brotherly love, and he appropriately addresses his readers as Beloved. In urging then to love one another, he assures them of his own love for them. In verses 3 and 4, he writes about the Christian obligation to keep God’s commands. Then he singles out one of them which in one sense is old—verse 7 and another which is new—verse 8. He does not explicitly reveal what the nature of this commandment is. Since the subject of verses 9-11 is love, and since the new commandment which Jesus gave was John 13:34—A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. It is plain that the command concerns brotherly love. In verse 6, John told them they must walk in the same way in which He (Jesus) walked— a walk in love.
Is this commandment new or old? It is both new and old! They had learned it before, because John had taught it before. They had known it from the beginning of their Christian life. It was part of the ethical instruction they received from the day of their conversion. Brotherly love was part of the original message which had come to them. It was not an innovation such as the false teachers claimed to teach. It was as old as the gospel itself.
Verse 8. At the same time, what was old to them because they had heard it before was in itself also new, which is true in him and in you. Its uniqueness was a fact when He called it a new command in John 13:34 and exemplified it, and it remains a fact for us who are required to obey it.—it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.
The idea of love in general was not new, but Jesus Christ invested it in several ways with a richer and deeper meaning.
First—It was new in the emphasis He gave it, bringing the love commands of
Deuteronomy 6:5—You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Leviticus 19:18—you shall love your neighbor as yourself. It is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away
and the true light is already shining.
together and declaring that the whole teaching of the Law and Prophets hung upon them.
Second—It was new in the quality He gave it. A disciple was to love others not just as he loved himself but in the same measure as Christ had loved him, with selfless self-sacrifice even unto death.
Third—It was new in the extent He gave it, showing in the parable of the Good Samaritan that the neighbor we must love is anyone who needs our compassion and help, irrespective of race and rank, and includes our enemy, which Jesus taught in Matthew 5:43-47—You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Fourth—It was to continue new by a fresh understanding of it, in all the old ways that the Scripture teaches; it is a new teaching for the new age which has dawned, new because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.
The darkness is the present age,
and the true light, which is already shining, is Jesus Christ.
Verse 9—Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.
John now shows that Jesus Christ, the true light, is the light of love, and that therefore to be, or to live, or to walk in the light is to walk in love.
Light and love belong together, as do darkness and hatred.
The true Christian, who know God and walks in the light, both obeys God and loves his brother. The genuineness of his faith is seen in his right relation to both God and his fellow human beings.
Verses 10 and 11—Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Now follows the general principle—stated first positively and then negatively. The contrast is stark and absolute. Love and hatred are set in opposition to each other with no alternative, just as we are said to be either in the light or in the darkness, and there is no twilight.
The light shines on our path, so that we can see clearly and so walk properly. If we love people, we see how to avoid sinning against them. The person with hatred in his heart, because the darkness has blinded his eyes, walks in the darkness and does not know where he is going. Also in Proverbs 4:19—The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.
Hatred distorts our perspective. We do not first misjudge people and then hate them as a result; our view of them is already jaundiced by our hatred.
It is love which sees straight, thinks clearly, and makes us balanced in our outlook, judgments, and conduct.
Jesus said in John 8:12—Again Jesus spoke to them, saying I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
John in verses 12, 13, and 14 does not mean to give his readers the impression that he thinks they are in darkness or that he doubts the reality of their Christian faith.
It is the false teachers whom he regards as doctrinally wrong, not loyal members of the church. So he digresses to tell them his view of their Christian standing.
His purpose in writing is as much to confirm the right assurance of genuine Christians as to rob the counterfeit of their false assurance.
The author divides his readers into three groups, whom he names little children, fathers, and young men, and addresses each group twice. He is indicating not their physical ages, but stages in their spiritual development. The little children are those newborn in Christ. The young men are are developed Christians—strong and victorious in spiritual warfare; while the fathers possess the depth and stability of ripe Christian experience.
By being born of God, John’s readers had become children of God. Their sins are forgiven for His name’s sake because they have been and remain forgiven because of the name of Christ, our atoning sacrifice and advocate whose name represents both his person and his saving work. Further, they know the Father (13c), as they have come to know God as their Father.
These are the earliest conscience experiences of newborn Christians. They rejoice in the forgiveness of their sins through Christ and in their fellowship with God.
The fathers, to whom John now addresses himself are the spiritually adult in the congregation. The fathers have progressed into a deep communion with God. All Christians, mature and immature, have come to know God. But their knowledge of Him rises with the years. The fathers have come to know Him who is from the beginning, which is probably a reference to the immutable, eternal God who does not change with advancing years, but who is forever the same. As the Lord himself declared in Malachi 3:6—For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
In between the children and the fathers are the young men, busily involved in the battle of Christian living. The Christian life is not just enjoying the forgiveness and the fellowship of God, but fighting the enemy. The forgiveness of past sins must be followed by deliverance from sin’s present power.
So in both messages to the young men it is asserted that they have overcome the evil one (14c). Their conflict has become a conquest. John is laying emphasis on the assured standing into which every Christian has come, whatever his stage of development. A hint is given as to the secret of the young men’s victory.
You are strong, he says, and your strength is due to the fact that the word of God abides in you (14b). These young men have grasped the Christian revelation.
They are seeking to conform their lives to its ethical demands.
Psalm 119:9-11 is helpful at this point for each of us—
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
John is laying emphasis on the assured standing into which every Christian has come, whatever his stage of spiritual development. A hint is given as to the secret of the young men’s victory, and it is the same for you and me. You are strong, says John, and your strength is due to the fact that the word of God abides in you. These young men, and you and I, are seeking to conform our lives according to the ethical demands of Scripture.
Does the Word of God abide in you?
It is the secret for a victorious life
in your Christian walk with the Lord.
Sermon for April 4, 2021 (Easter Sunday)
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
To speak of the Resurrection of Christ as a trustworthy aspect of Scripture, we must first have a basis for truth and belief that allows us to believe every word that Scripture teaches about Jesus’ Resurrection. This calls for an understanding of the biblical concept of inspiration.
The primary text for a discussion of inspiration is 2 Timothy 3:16—
All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
Inspiration literally means God breathed and refers to God’s breathing out His Word rather than breathing in some kind of effect upon human writers. The word inspiration is used to cover the whole process by which the Word of God comes to us. Initially, it comes from the mouth of God. From its origin in God, it is then transmitted through the agency of human writers under divine supervision and superintendence.
The next step in the process of communication is the understanding of the divine message by human beings. The precise method by which God accomplishes inspiration remains a mystery. It is clear that divine inspiration is something in which the power and supervision of God are at work.
The Bible is a human book because it is written by human writers;
its humanity is transcended by virtue of its divine origin and inspiration.
Through divine inspiration, God made it possible for His truth to be communicated in an inspired way making use of the backgrounds, personalities, and literary styles of the various writers.
Although Christ’s death is what He explicitly came into the world to accomplish, the resurrection is historically just as important as evidence for Christ’s claims.
Because of the resurrection, the gospel of the cross was understood, preserved, and transmitted across the centuries to us.
The significance of the resurrection is seen from the first moments of the Christian era. To a degree the disciples had believed in Christ prior to His death and resurrection. The faith of the apostles was profoundly shaken by the crucifixion, so much so that Christ’s followers immediately began to scatter back to from where they had come. Peter denied the Lord three times on the night of Christ’s arrest, even before the crucifixion.
These men had believed, but the arrest and crucifix buried their belief. Yet, within three days, after the resurrection, their faith again was revived, and they went out to present the gospel of the crucified and risen Savior to the world.
The resurrection proved that Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be.
He accomplished what He came to earth to accomplish.
The resurrection is the historical base upon which all other Christian doctrines are built and before which all honest doubt must give way.
If it can be shown that Jesus actually rose from the dead—as the early Christians believed and as the Scriptures claim—then the Christian faith rests upon a sure foundation. If it stands, all the other doctrines stand.
If, however, the resurrection falls, the other truths fall also.
The apostle Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 15:14-20)—And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that HE RAISED CHRIST, whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
What other doctrines stand with the resurrection?
The first is that there is a God, and the God of the Bible is the true God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ alone gives certainty. The God that Jesus preached did exactly the impossible things that Jesus said He would do.
The fact that Jesus was miraculously raised makes it certain that the God who did it really exists, and the God Jesus preached is the true God.
The second proof is that Jesus rose from the dead and He establishes the doctrine of His own deity. When He lived on earth, Jesus claimed to be equal with God and that God would raise Him from the dead three days after His execution by the Jewish and Roman authorities. If He was wrong in that, His claim was either the raving of a deranged man or blasphemy. If He was right, the resurrection would be God’s way of substantiating that claim.
Did He substantiate it? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Yes! He did!
The resurrection is God’s seal on Christ’s claim of divinity.
Paul, who knew that Jesus had been raised, writes in Roman 1:4—and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ—our Lord.
God, by honoring Jesus by raising Him from the dead, vindicated His claim to be the Son of God.
Third, the resurrection of Jesus establishes the doctrine that all who believe in Christ are justified from all sin. Paul teaches us in Romans 4:24-25—It will be counted to us who believe in Him who was raised form the dead, Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
The resurrection is God’s declaration that He has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for human sin.
When Jesus was on earth, He claimed that He would atone for our sin.
Matthew 20:28—Even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
In time, the hour of His crucifixion came and Jesus died. The sacrifice was offered, the atonement made. Yet—how were human beings to know that it was acceptable?
Will God accept the sacrifice? For three days the question remained unanswered. Then the moment of the resurrection comes. The hand of God reaches down into the cold Judean tomb, and the body of Christ is brought to life, and He rises.
The stone is rolled away. Jesus is exalted to the right hand of the Father. By these acts we know that God has accepted the perfect sacrifice of His Son for sin.
The stone is rolled away. Jesus is exalted to the right had of the Father.
By these acts we know that God has accepted the perfect sacrifice of His Son for sin.
I look at the cross of Christ,
and I know that atonement has been made for my sins;
I look at the open grave and He is the risen and ascended Lord,
and I know the atonement has been accepted.
There no longer remains a single sin on me,
no matter how many or how great my sins may have been.
Fourth. The resurrection of Jesus is also proof that the Christian can live a life that is pleasing to God. No one can do good when measured by God’s standards for all that we do is corrupted by our touch.
Romans 3:10-18—as it is written:
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.
Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of wasps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
There can be no human victory over sin.
However, because Jesus is living, then His life can be lived out in us
and genuine holiness is possible.
Ephesians 1:19-20—and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.
Paul also writes in Romans 6:4—We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
This means that all who believe in Christ are united to Him so that His life becomes available to them. We may be weak and utterly helpless, unable to resist temptation for a single minute.
But He is strong, and lives to give help and deliverance at every moment.
Victory, therefore, is no longer a question of our strength, but of His power.
His power is what we need.
Fifth. The resurrection of Jesus is proof that death is not the end of life.
Death is, in fact, defeated for all who are united to Him by faith.
When Jesus was here on earth He said to His disciples in John 14:3—
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and will take you to myself,
that where I am you may be also.
This verse presupposes the disciples’ own resurrection.
Similarly, the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:14—For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus,
God will bring Him those who have fallen asleep.
The believer in Christ is united to Christ by faith in such a manner
that if Jesus rose from the dead, the believer must be raised also. We were united to Him in death.
So also will we be in the resurrection.
At this point, two truths must stand out.
First, apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ
there is no certainty of life beyond the grave for anyone.
Second, on the basis of the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
the believer can have perfect confidence.
And finally —the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the pledge of a final judgment upon all who reject the gospel.
On Mars Hill, Paul proclaimed in Acts 17:31—God has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed;
and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.
Christ spoke of a final judgment when He was on earth, claiming that He would be the judge. The fact that God raised Him from the dead is proof of His claim.
It is a pledge that the judgment day is coming.
Jesus came into the world doing good, and people resented His holiness.
They resented it so much that they tried to find something for which to accuse Him.
He claimed to be God’s Son; they called it blasphemy.
He spoke of their sin and of a coming day in which He would judge all humankind; they hated Him for it.
Eventually, they killed Him.
We can imagine the jubilation in Jerusalem on the high feast day following the crucifixion. Those who were responsible for Christ’s death congratulated themselves. At last they were done with him. They were secure; they would never need to endure His arrogance again.
Then came the resurrection, and by that act of God declared that death would never be the end of Christ. It could never be the end for Him, for He is Himself the life.
Jesus said in John 14:6—I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
Evil is in the world, but nothing opposed to God will finally conquer.
Sin triumphed at the cross, but God triumphed at the resurrection.
Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself—Hebrews 9:26
I want to conclude this morning with some thoughts from Sinclair Ferguson’s Easter Devotional—To Seek and To Save.
Picture in your mind what is happening as I read to you:
It is the first Easter Sunday.
Two disciples are on their way to Emmaus.
One is named Cleopas; the other, unnamed, is perhaps his wife.
They seem to return to their own home,
dejected in the aftermath of Jesus’ crucifixion.
They are also confused by reports of an empty tomb
and by rumors of angels saying that Jesus is alive.
A stranger catches up with them on the way and asks them what they have been discussing.
How can he not be familiar with the one topic on everybody’s lips?
They are amazed at the stranger’s ignorance of the fact that Jesus is dead.
Nevertheless—not realizing they are in for a shock!—
they explain the events that have dashed their hopes.
Oh, says the stranger—You are so foolish and slow!
And patiently he takes them on a brief journey through a whole series of passages in the Old Testament.
He shows them how what has happened is exactly what
Scripture promised would happen to the Messiah!
They are almost home now. But the stranger’s company has warmed this pair’s hearts. They do not want him to leave. And so he stays for a meal. Perhaps conscious that they are in the presence of someone much greater than themselves, they either ask him, or wait for him, to say the traditional blessing. But as he takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it, a light goes on in their minds. He reminds them of someone! And perhaps they also see the marks on his hands and wrists as he breaks the bread.
IT IS JESUS!
And then, just as suddenly as he appeared, he was gone!
The two look at each other: Did you feel what I felt while we were talking on the road? Was your heart burning too?
THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS THAT
JESUS HAS RISEN AND IS ALIVE—JUST AS HE PROMISED!
LAMB OF GLORY
Hear the story from God’s Word that kings and priests and prophets heard:
There would be a sacrifice, And blood would flow to pay sin’s price.
On the cross God loved the world while all the powers of hell were hurled;
No one there could understand the One they saw was Christ, the Lamb.
Precious Lamb of glory,
Love’s most wondrous story,
Heart of God’s redemption of man—
Worship the Lamb of glory.
Hallelujah! Praise the Lamb!
Sermon for March 28, 2021
Evangelical churches have always concentrated on the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. I know that today is not Easter Sunday; however, I want us to concentrate on His death this morning.
Part of any discussion of the death of Christ will most likely have the words atone and atonement as part of the discussion.
These words mean making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done—reconciling to oneself the offended party, and restoring the broken relationship.
Scripture shows that everyone needs to atone for his or her sins, but everyone lacks the power and resources to do this.
As a result of our sins, we have offended our Holy Creator, whose nature it is to hate sin and to punish it. There can be no acceptance or fellowship with such a God unless atonement is made.
Because there is sin in even our best actions, anything we do in hopes of making amends
can only increase our guilt or worsen our situation.
Against this background of human hopelessness,
Scripture sets forth the love, grace, mercy, pity, kindness, and compassion of God the offended Creator— Who in Himself provided the atonement that our sin has made necessary.
When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He set up as a part of the covenant relationship a system of sacrifices that had at its heart the shedding and offering of the blood of flawless animals to make atonement for His people.
New Testament references to the blood of Christ are sacrificial.
As a perfect sacrifice for sin, Christ’s death was our redemption.
We have been rescued from the penalty of our sin by the ransom He paid;
a price that freed us from the guilt and enslavement to sin.
Christ’s death was God’s act of reconciling us to Himself,
and God overcoming His own hostility to us that our sins provoked.
The Cross quenched His wrath against us by removing our sin from His sight.
I.THE CROSS ENFORCES THREE TRUTHS
about ourselves, about God, and about Jesus Christ.
1.OUR SIN MUST BE EXTREMELY HORRIBLE
Romans 3:10-18—As it is written:
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.
Their throat is an open grace;
they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Nothing reveals the gravity and seriousness of sin like the cross.
Ultimately what sent Christ to the cross was not the greed of Judas, not the vacillating cowardice of Pilate,
but our own greed, envy, cowardice, and other sins.
Also, it was Christ’s resolve in love and mercy to put all our sins away.
It is impossible for us to face Christ’s cross with integrity
and not feel ashamed of ourselves.
If there were no other way by which our righteous God could righteously forgive our unrighteousness, except that He should bear it HIMSELF in Christ,
then it must be serious indeed!
2.GOD’S LOVE MUST BE WONDERFUL BEYOND COMPREHENSION
God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate.
He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins.
That is what we deserve. But, He did not! Instead, He came after us in Christ.
He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where He bore our sin, guilt, judgment, and death.
It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that.
It is more than love—-
it is grace—-
which is love to the undeserving.
3.CHRIST’S SALVATION IS A FREE GIFT
God purchased our salvation at the high-price of His own life-blood.
What is there left for us to pay? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!
Salvation is all of God—He saves—we are saved.
Ephesians 2:8-9—For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works,
so that no one may boast.
John 1:12-13—But to all who did receive him,
who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God,
who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man,
but of God.
I. THE CROSS ENFORCES THREE TRUTHS—
about ourselves, about God, and about Jesus Christ.
II. WHY THE CROSS?
For some, there may still be that nagging question—why?
What was there about the cross and the death of Jesus which in spite of its horror, shame, and pain, makes it so important that God planned it in advance and Christ came to endure it?
1. CHRIST DIED FOR US
Jesus died for us—not for Himself—and He believed that through
His death He could secure for us a blessing—
a benefit which could be secured in no other way.
John 10:11—I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.
Luke 22:19—And He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it,
and gave it to them saying,
This is My body which is given for you;
do this in remembrance of Me.
Romans 5:8—But God demonstrates His own love toward us,
in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us.
2. CHRIST DIED FOR US THAT HE MIGHT BRING US TO GOD
1 Peter 3:18—For Christ also suffered once for sins,
the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God,being put to death in the flesh
but made alive by the Spirit.
Why the Cross?
We can’t get there on our own.
The purpose of His death focuses on our being reconciled—
having a right relationship—to God.
Galatians 1:4—Who gave Himself for our sins,
that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
Ephesians 1:7—In Him we have redemption through His blood,
the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.
Colossians 1:20—And by Him to reconcile all things to Himself,
by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven,having made peace through the blood of His cross.
3. CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS
Our sins have always been in the way, preventing us from receiving the gift God wanted to give us. Therefore, our sins had to be removed before God’s gift of salvation could be given.
God dealt with our sins by the death of His Son—Jesus Christ.
Most of the New Testament writers give clear evidence that there is a direct link between the death of Christ and our sin.
Notice carefully the following verses:
I Corinthians 15:3—For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received:
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
Hebrews 9:26—He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Hebrews 10:12—But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever,
sat down at the right hand of God.
I Peter 3:18—For Christ also suffered once for sin,
the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.
All these verses, and many more, link the death of Jesus with our sins.
What then, is the link?
4.CHRIST DIED OUR DEATH WHEN HE DIED FOR OUR SINS
The link between our sins and Christ’s death is that He endured in His innocent person the penalty our sins deserved.
The Bible tells us very clearly that the penalty for sin is death.
Romans 6:23—For the wages of sin is death.
We deserve to die and spend eternity in hell as a result of our rebellion against the law of God.
I Corinthians 15:50-57—
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,
nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable,
and we shall be changed.
For this perishable body must put on the imperishable,
and this mortal body must put on immortality.
When the perishable puts on the imperishable,
and mortal puts on immortality,
then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power over sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sermon for March 21, 2021
THE SUFFERING SAVIOR
Two great things which the Spirit of Christ and the Old Testament prophets testified about were the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow.
When Christ taught Moses and all the prophets, He showed them all that Christ would suffer before entering into His glory.
Nowhere in all of the Old Testament are these two so plainly and fully prophesied as here in this chapter. From this, many passages are quoted with application to Christ in the New Testament. The chapter is so filled with the searchable riches of Christ that it could well be called the gospel of the evangelist Isaiah.
Verse 1—Who has believed what he has heard from us?
This question is designed to call attention to the paucity of true believers in the world and especially among the Jews. Here the prophet is expressing his dismay that so few believe.
The arm of the LORD is used to describe the Lord’s strength.
The revelation of God’s arm upon a person is one of power,
and hence to believe the report proclaimed is evidence
that the Lord’s power has been revealed.
It is the arm of the Lord that brought the nation out of Egypt,
and this arm of power enables a person to believe.
These passages clearly teach that faith is a gift of God
and not a work of man’s unaided power.
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
It also teaches that unless God reveals His power, no one will be converted.
We must depend upon God to work so that His kingdom may be extended.
Verse 2—For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
In the mind of the writer, what he writes is so vivid and sure of having occurred
that he sets it forth as already having taken place.
What is sure is that the prophet is not speaking of someone
who has already lived upon earth before the prophet’s own time.
The servant (Jesus) lived the entire course of his earthly life in the presence of God.
This verse is essential to show that the servant’s life was kept in the power of God and lived before Him.
This verse does not describe the physical appearance of Christ.
On that subject the entire Bible is silent.
The purpose is to show that the appearance of the servant was such that judging from a wrong perspective, man would completely misjudge him.
Verse 3—He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows,
and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces;
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
The thought here is of unbelief.
This verse is a picture of the attitude of many today.
Unbelief is rampant; it has reached epidemic proportions.
Jesus is ignored, which is just as bad, or worse, than being despised.
Many people are unwilling to believe what God says in His Word about His Son.
Verses 4 and 5—Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded (pierced) for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
The sins we have committed were borne by the servant—Jesus.
And sin involves not merely an inward corruption of the heart but also guilt before God.
In saying that Jesus bore our sins, Isaiah is declaring that He bore the guilt of our sins.
Even guilt is intangible.
Guilt involves liability both to censure and to punishment, and with this we meet the heart of the matter.
When the servant, that is Jesus, bore the guilt of our sins, we are saying that he bore the punishment that was due us because of those sins, and that is to say that He was our substitute.
Because we had sinned, He was pierced to death,
and being pierced and crushed was the punishment that He experienced in our place.
The main thrust of His crucifixion was that as our substitute He bore the penalty that was rightfully ours.
If the language is to have meaning, Jesus must be the one who was himself totally free of sin and iniquity, otherwise, His vicarious (acting done for another) suffering would be of no avail.
If we merely say that the Servant bore the punishment of our sins, we have not done justice to the scriptural teachings.
We must insist that in their fullness, He bore our sins.
And with his stripes we are healed—
Isaiah declared that there is healing for us, and this healing is procured by his stripes.
Verse 6. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
2 Corinthians 5:21—For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Romans 3:9-18—What then? Are the Jews any better off? No, not at all.
For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
No one is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.
Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
2 Corinthians 5:21—For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
It was the Father that laid our sin on Christ.
Acts 2:23—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan
and foreknowledge of God, was crucified and killed by the hands
of lawless men.
No one else could have done what God did—laid our sin on His own Son—
because the sin was committed against God.
Psalm 51:4—Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what
is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
It was to God that the satisfaction was to be made.
Man cannot satisfy the demands of God for himself or by himself.
For us to be saved, there had to be someone who could meet the demands of a holy, pure, and perfect God.
Someone who could act as our substitute.
What would that substitute have to do to meet God’s requirements!
Since God is perfect, holy, and righteous—and we are lowly, miserable sinners,
there is no way we can make ourselves acceptable to God for salvation.
The Bible also tells us that because of who God is—holy and righteous—
that He hates sin and that sin must be punished. This means that each sinner would have to receive God’s punishment in order to be forgiven of sin.
Leviticus 16:20-22 tells us of the Old Testament sacrificial system of the scapegoat.
And when he (the priest) has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.
However, in Isaiah 53:6—the prophet states—All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Chapter 53 closes with a recapitulation of the reasons why the servant is so gloriously exalted. He exposed his soul unto death; He voluntarily laid it bare even to death. No man took his life from him, but He laid it down of Himself. In the second clause , the verb may have a reflexive sense (he permitted himself to be numbered). In our Lord’s being crucified between thieves we see one fulfillment of this prophecy.
Although He permitted himself to be numbered with the transgressors, He bore the sin of many. These transgressors are not mere evildoers, but are criminals. Thus the New Testament interprets the passage—
Luke 22:37—For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: And he was numbered with the transgressors. For what is written about me has its fulfillment.
Matthew 25:54—But then how should the Scripture be fulfilled, that it must be so?
Matthew 25:56—But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.
Mark 15:28—And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “He was numbered with transgressors.”
This is a clear-cut declaration of the work of the servant in His suffering.
In addition to having borne the sins of many, the servant will also make intercession for the transgressors. Here again is a reflection upon the priestly work of the servant, who pleads before God the merit and virtue of His atoning work as the only ground of acceptance for the transgressors for whom He dies. The basis of the intercession is the substitutionary expiation of the servant.
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. Revelation 5:12
Sermon for March 14, 2021
CHRIST AS ADVOCATE AND PROPITIATION
1 JOHN 2:1-6
The phrase My little Children is suggestive both of John’s advanced years and of the affectionate, tender relationship which exists between him and his readers.
The purpose of John’s letter is to keep his little children from sinning. His references to the cleansing blood of Jesus found in chapter 1 verse 7, and to the forgiveness of God found in chapter 1 verse 9 are not intended to give them a light view of the seriousness of sin. His desire is that they shall be preserved from the evil teaching of the heretics and that they shall not fall into sin. God has graciously made provision for restoration if one does sin. This phrase is significant because it clearly indicates the author’s conviction that acts of sin as opposed to the continuous sinful habit are possible in the Christian.
The provision which God has made for the sinning Christian is now given to us.
It is the one who is described as an advocate with the Father, and also as the propitiation for our sins.
The word advocate means “called alongside” and describes anyone summoned to the assistance of another—such as a mediator, intercessor, and helper.
It was also used in the legal sense of a lawyer whose responsibility was as a counsel for the defense to plead the cause of the person on trial.
Christ pleads our cause against our accuser.
Revelations 12:10—And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying—“Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”
The reference to Christ as the righteous indicates that it is evident that
only through a Righteous Savior could we be cleansed from all unrighteousness.
Verse 9—If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Paul also shows this in 2 Corinthians 5:21—For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
John now proceeds to describe our righteous advocate as the propitiation for our sins,
since it is this alone which qualifies Him for this position.
In order to better understand the meaning of the word propitiation, we need to look at the meaning of God’s wrath. In the Epistle to the Romans, God’s wrath is the holy sense of disgust and loathing against anything that contradicts His holiness— which issues in a positive outgoing of the divine displeasure. (John
Murray- Epistle to the Romans)
This is what we would call righteous anger. To some it might appear morally doubtful for God to punish sin because of His hatred toward it. The thing that would be morally doubtful would be to show His wrath by not punishing sin.
What is propitiation? It was God Himself who took the initiative in quenching His own
wrath against those whom, despite their rebellion against Him, He loved and had chosen to save.
Again, I quote from John Murray who is quoted by J. I. Packer in his book Knowing God. (Regents College In Vancouver)
The doctrine of propitiation is precisely this:
God loved the objects of His wrath so much that He gave His own Son to the end that He by His blood should make provision for the removal of His wrath. It was Christ who would deal with the wrath—that the loved would no longer be the objects of wrath, and love would achieve its aim of making the children of wrath the children of God’s good pleasure, against those who, despite their rebelling against Him, He loved and had chosen to save.
We now move from these two definitions which should be read, understood, and appreciated by all Christians to our text—1 John 2:1-6.
Verse 3—And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.
Our author has already brought to our attention in verse 9—If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
What He is telling us here is that walking in the light of fellowship with God means that we confess our sins.
Now he adds that knowing God means obeying His commands. And by this we know that we have come to know him. In this short verse, the word know is used twice. Fellowship with God and the knowledge of God are the two sides of the same coin. One’s relationship with God can vary from casual acquaintance to intimate fellowship. God is not interested in a relationship that is casual and meaningless. He desires that we come to know Him intimately.
Knowing God implies that we learn about Him, love Him, and also experience His love. We gain our knowledge of God when we desire to do His will in the actual experiences of life. Knowing Him, then, means that we live in perfect harmony with Him by keeping His law.
If we keep His commandments. To know God is to keep His commands, and to keep His commands is to know God.
Verse 4. Whoever says—“I know Him” but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. The word liar describes the character of the person whose entire conduct is opposed to the truth.
and the truth is not in him—-the meaning here is quite obvious.
Verse 5. But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him. Anyone who obeys God’s Word, experiences the unrestricted love of God. John teaches that the love of God fills completely the heart and life of the person who obeys God.
Verse 6. Whoever says he abides in him (Jesus) ought to walk in the same way in which Jesus walked.
Sermon for March 7, 2021
WALK IN THE LIGHT
I John 1:5-10
I want to remind you that next Sunday Daylight Savings Time begins. The saying
Spring Forward; Fall Backward helps us to know what to do with our clocks and watches. So next Saturday night before you go to bed, change all your time pieces by springing forward one hour. and you will be ready for Daylight Savings Time.
Yes, we will lose an hour, but we will gain it back on November 7th—the first Sunday in November.
John introduces his letter by proclaiming the message that Jesus Christ, who is the Word of life, has appeared and that the readers may have fellowship with the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ. John continues to expand the content of that message and explains that fellowship includes light and truth.
I John 1:5—This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
This is the message—the stress on the verb is would best translate the phrase—There exists this message. John discloses not only the importance of the message, but also its timeless significance. This message, therefore, has not been subject to change or modification, because it did not originate with John or with any other apostle or writer.
The message we have heard from Him—John implies that God originated the message delivered by Jesus Christ. The apostles heard the message from the lips of Jesus; they also knew it from the pages of the Old Testament; God revealed Himself to His people through the prophets—2 Peter 1:19-21—And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. This statement very clearly points to John 8:12—Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying—I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. This reminds me of an incident which occurred quite a number of years ago. Marietta had decided to rearrange the furniture in the family room——->
Light is positive, darkness is negative. Using the emphatic negative, John stresses the positive. God and darkness are diametrically opposed. Anyone who has fellowship with God cannot be in darkness. He is in the light, glory, truth, holiness, and the purity of God.
Verses 6 & 7—If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
The next 5 verses of this chapter are conditional sentences that describe probability or even possibility. The first, third, and fifth verses are negative; the second and fourth are positive.
We will consider the negative first. The sinner who refuses to set his life in harmony with God’s will cannot claim to have fellowship with God. The sinner has separated God’s Word from his deeds. He professes to live for God, but his deeds proved to be incompatible with his confession. He lived the lie.
What are the deeds that are contradictory to the assertion of living for God?
They are deeds that cannot stand in the light of God’s Word. The Gospel of John in 3:19-21 makes this perfectly clear—And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
This blindness results in a refusal to live according to God’s precepts. Sin alienates us from God and from one another. It disrupts life and encourages confusion. Instead of peace, there is discord; in place of harmony, there is disorder; and in lieu of fellowship, there is hatred.
However, when we have fellowship with God, we experience the grace of Christ dispelling darkness and flooding us with the light of God. To have fellowship with God is to live a life of holiness in His sacred presence.
We begin the positive by asking the question:
What is characteristic of a life spent in the light of God’s truth?
If we walk in the light, as He (God) is in the light, we have fellowship
with one another. (Verse 7)
Walking in the light is continuous. It means that we live in the radiance of God’s light, so that we reflect God’s virtues and glory.
A longing for heavenly glory in the presence of God must be accompanied by a fervent desire to have fellowship with the church on earth.
If we walk in the light and have fellowship with God and with one another,
we realize that our sins have disappeared.
John says in—
1 John 1:7—and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Paul tells us in—
Ephesians 5:27—So that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
We stand before God as if we have never sinned at all! The Son of God purifies us after we have fallen into sin, when we come to Him and seek forgiveness. Note that John writes the name Jesus to call attention to the early life of God’s Son, who shed His blood for the forgiveness and cleansing of our sin.
Sin belongs to the world of darkness and cannot enter the sphere of holiness. Therefore, God gave His Son to die on earth. Through His Son’s death, God removed man’s sin and guilt so that man may have fellowship with a Holy God.
Verse 8. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Anyone who has no need to pray the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer—And forgive us our sins—because he thinks that he has no sin, deceives himself! King Solomon wisely observed in Proverbs 28:13—Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
If we say that we have no sin, we are misleading ourselves and the truth of God’s Word is not in us. Also, in our spiritual blindness, we go contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture. And God judges us by the words we have spoken,
for our own words condemn us.
Verse 9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Because of its affirmative message, verse 9 is one of the more well-known passages of the epistle and even of the entire New Testament.
If we confess our sins. We openly and honestly face sin without hiding it or finding excuses for it. We confront the sins we have committed, without defending or justifying ourselves. We confess our sins to show repentance and renewal of life. Daily repentance of sin leads us to continual confession. John actually writes if we keep on confessing.
He also writes the word in the plural form—sins—to indicate the magnitude of our sins.
He is faithful and just—God is faithful with respect to His promises. Deuteronomy 32:4
tells us A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He. He does not scold or rebuke us; He does not become impatient; and He does not go back on His Word.
The only condition God requires for forgiveness is that we confess our sins. True to the promises He made to the people of His new covenant, God says in Jeremiah 31:34—For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.
To forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness—the first verb to forgive describes the act of canceling a debt, and He makes restoration to the debtor.
The second verb—to cleanse—refers to making the forgiven inner holy
so that he is able to have fellowship with God.
God takes the initiative, for He says in Isaiah 1:18—Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
Verse 10—If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us. To say that God’s Word is not in us is to assert that the Gospel has never found a home in our hearts, that our character and conduct are not shaped by its power.
The delusion against which John is warning us here would be impossible if we steeped our minds in Scripture.
We begin the positive by asking the question:
What is characteristic of a life spent in the light of God’s truth?
If we walk in the light, as He (God) is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.
Walking in the light is continuous. It means that we live in the radiance of God’s light,
so that we reflect God’s virtues and glory.
A longing for heavenly glory in the presence of God must be accompanied by
a fervent desire to have fellowship with the church on earth.
This is expressed in the writing of Timothy Dwight (1752-1817), an American Congregational minister, who was the 8th president of Yale College and New England’s leading religious politician. He was also the grandson of Jonathan Edwards.
I love thy church, O God;
Her walls before thee stand,
Dear as the apple of thine eye,
And graven on thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my fares and toils be given,
Till toils and cares shall end.
If we walk in the light and have fellowship with God and with one another,
we realize that our sins have disappeared.
John says in 1 John 1:7—and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:27—
So that he might present the church to himself in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish.
We stand there before God as if we had never sinned at all!
Sermon for February 28, 2021
THE WORD OF LIFE
1 John 1:1-4
When I first entered Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas,
I knew I would be taking courses in the languages of the Bible;
Hebrew in which the Old Testament was written, and
Greek in which the New Testament was written.
These were required courses for the degree I would be receiving.
In the second semester of Greek, we translated the book of 1 John. This was exciting and very interesting, and I might add, very difficult, at least for me. At the end of that semester, I along with the rest of the class had translated the entire book of 1 John.
For several years, I kept my translation, and referred to it from time to time. That, however, was almost 60 years ago. Through the years, and numerous moves, the translation disappeared. So for this round of preaching on 1 John, I will be depending on others to help me with that.
John wrote this letter to protect his readers—his beloved children, and to establish them in their Christian faith and life. His first letter was a tract called forth by a particular and urgent situation in the church. This situation concerns the insidious propaganda of certain false teachers.
In 1 John 2:26, we read—I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. John describes these false teachers by three expressions, which draw attention to their diabolical origin.
First, they are false prophets. chapter 4:1—Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
The true prophet was the mouthpiece of the Spirit of truth; the false spirit was the spirit of error.
Second, they are deceivers. 2 John 7—For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is a deceiver and the antichrist.
Third, they are antichrists. 1 John 2:18—Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore, we know that it is the last hour.
The substance of the antichrist’s teaching is to deny the divine-human person of Jesus Christ. John’s emphasis is on the differences between the genuine Christian and the false and how to discern between the two.
Against this background, reading the letters of John is to enter another world altogether, for it marks are assurance, knowledge, confidence, and boldness.
The predominant theme of these letters is Christian certainty.
The characteristic verbs are to perceive (25 times), to know (15 times), while a characteristic noun is confidence of attitude or boldness of speech.
The twofold certainty of Christian people is that
they believe that the Christian religion is true and subjective,
and that they themselves have been born of God and possess eternal life.
John takes it for granted that this double assurance is right and healthy.
His teaching about these certainties, their nature and the grounds on which they are built, urgently needs to be heard and heeded today.
How do we know these things—especially who Jesus Christ is and why He came?
First, there is the historical event.
Christ’s being sent in 4:9-10—In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
His coming in 5:20—His coming was in the flesh.
Second, there is the apostolic witness.
This event did not go unnoticed. The one who came in the flesh was seen, heard, and touched, so that those who saw could testify from their own first-hand experience.
1:1-3—That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us--that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
4:14—And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His son to be the Savior of the world.
Third. there is the anointing of the Holy Spirit. 1 John 4:13—By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
In 1 John there are three cardinal tests by which we may judge whether we possess eternal life or not.
The first is theological—whether we believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
1 John 5:13—I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
No teaching which denies either the eternal divine pre-existence of Jesus or the historical incarnation of the Christ can be accepted as Christian.
The second test is moral—whether we are practicing righteousness and keeping the commands of God.
Sin is shown to be wholly incompatible with the nature of God as light—and the new birth of the believer.
1:5—This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you,
that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
3:5—You know that he appeared to take away sins,
and in him there is no sin. (The mission of the Son is to take away sins.)
3:9—No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.
The third test is social—whether we love one another. Since God is love and all love comes from God, it is clear that a loveless person does not know him.
4:7-8—Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.
These three tests belong to each other, because faith, love, and holiness are all the works of the Holy Spirit. It is only if God has given us His Spirit that we are able to believe, to love, and to obey.
3:24—Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the spirit whom he has given us.
4:13—By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
So everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, and loves, and does righteousness,
thereby gives evidence that he or she has been born of God.
1 John 1:1-4—That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.
That which was from the beginning—John points not to the proclamation that Jesus came in the flesh but to the divine revelation—disclosed in history and recorded in the Old Testament—that teaches the eternal existence of God. The message which is proclaimed is that the Jesus who became flesh and lived among us is eternal.
Concerning the word of life—this phrase refers to the earlier part of the verse—the message of Jesus Christ. This message is that the Word has become flesh; the term Word is one of the names John uses to describe Jesus Christ. Jesus, who is called the Word, speaks God’s words with absolute authority. Jesus reveals the will of God and testifies to man what He has seen and heard in the presence of God. Also, Jesus not only reveals the message of life; He also possesses life and shares it with all who listen to His Word of faith. He is the life giver.
Verse 2—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.
Note that John writes the life, not life. He wants to explain the meaning of the term life.
Therefore, he places the definite article the before the noun life to call attention to the fullness of life in Jesus Christ. The apostles proclaimed the Word of life, and this included Jesus’ life, victory over death, resurrection, and His ascension back into heaven. They also proclaimed the word and work of Jesus.
Verse 3—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
John states the purpose of his letter in this verse. He says—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us.
John’s purpose is to invite the readers to the fellowship of the apostles who are eyewitnesses of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. The invitation serves two ends.
First—John seeks to first shield the readers from the doctrinal attacks of false teachers and then to strengthen them spiritually within the fellowship of the apostles and disciples.
Second—John invites the readers of his epistle to join the eyewitnesses in their fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
John wants his readers to know that the human Jesus is indeed the
Heavenly Messiah—the Christ.
Verse 4—And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
What is the significance of the first person plural? The pronoun we must be understood literally, because John, like the other apostles, preaches and writes as an eyewitness and earwitness. He stands next to his fellow apostles. He, too, writes this to make our joy complete.
The greatest joy to fill the heart of the apostle John and those with him is to see the believers increase in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. He wants them to have full fellowship with the Father and the Son, so that the believers live in full communion with God.
John underscores the well-known words of John the Baptist spoken in tribute of Jesus in John 3:30—He must increase, but I must decrease.
Sermon for February 21, 2021
TRUST IN THE LORD
Most of us have one or more favorite Scripture passages which mean a great deal to us. One of my favorite passages is the one I just read—Proverbs 3:5-8. This passage speaks to my heart and mind in a very meaningful and special way. Look at verse 5 with me—Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart—We must believe that God is able to do what He wills and wise enough to do what is best and good for us according to His promise, if we love Him, and serve Him. This is the work of faith—faith to live by.
Our trust must be exclusive. No other confidence—no confidence in the flesh—can coexist with it. Proverbs 28:26—Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. And in Proverbs 29:25—The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
Jeremiah says it this way in 17:5—Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes his flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.
Maybe I can best explain the meaning of trust by an experience in my life with my oldest son Mark, who at the time was probably about 2 years old, who by the way was 58 years old this past Friday. How does that make me feel? ——->
Proverbs 29:5—but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
Look now at verse 6—In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make straight your paths.”
Psalm 25:4, 5-17—Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
James 4:13—Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.
It is nothing less than self-idolatry to believe that we can carry on even the ordinary matters of the day without God’s counsel.
He wants to be and He loves to be consulted.
Therefore, we should take all our difficulties to Him.
We need to be in the habit of going to Him first even before relying on self-will, self-wisdom, or human friends.
In Philippians 4:6-7—Paul gives us some helpful advice at this point, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Supplicate, supplication—to ask for humbly or earnestly
The peace of God will keep watch over and guard our hearts and minds so that nothing can cause unrest and discord. Because everything is placed trustingly in the hands of God by the prayer of faith, nothing can cause unrest and discord to the believer. God will keep watch over our hearts and minds so that nothing can cause unrest and discord. However, this takes place only in Christ Jesus, in our attachment to Him and fellowship with Him. Apart from Him there is no guarantee for peace of mind. However, the person who is in Christ, is entrusted to the infallible safe-keeping of the peace of God.
“and he will make straight your paths”—Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”
Verses 7 & 8—Be not wise in you own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”
Proverbs 26:12— Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Here we have another warning against self-confidence.
It is natural to idolize our own devices. Yet, self-wisdom is self-delusion.
True wisdom is its opposite.
Listen as the Lord speaks to this:
Proverbs 14:27—The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
Proverbs 16:6—By steadfast love and faithfulness, iniquity is atoned for,
and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.
Job 28:28—And he said to the man, Behold, the fear of the LORD,
that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.
God is loved and honored, hated, loathed, and resisted. It lives indeed; but it is condemned to die. It cleaves to the child of God; but his heart departs from it; I read again the passages just mentioned.
And in each case, it is healing to the flesh, and refreshment to the bones. The person that fears (loves and obeys) the Lord, can say with Nehemiah as he did in 8:10, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Sermon for February 14, 2021
HE SPOKE WITH AUTHORITY
Matthew 7:28 & 29
What struck the first hearers of the Sermon on the Mount was the preacher’s extraordinary authority.
He did not hum and haw, or hesitate.
He was neither tentative nor apologetic.
On the other hand, neither was he bombastic or flamboyant.
Instead, with quiet and unassuming assurance, he laid down the law for the citizens of God’s kingdom.
And the crowds were astonished. The Greek word astonished is a strong one. One commentator translates it dumbfounded. Even after 2000 years, we are astonished also!
Analyzing this authority of Jesus, as shown in the Sermon in the Mount, should be very profitable for us.
On what was His authority grounded?
What was His own self-awareness which led Him to speak in this way?
What clues does the Sermon itself give on how He understood His identity
and His mission?
We do not have far to look in order to find answers to these questions.
1. Jesus’ Authority as the teacher.
The crowds were astonished at his teaching, because He taught them with authority. He presented himself first and foremost as a teacher, and He amazed His listeners by the substance, the quality, and the manner of His instruction. There were other teachers at the same time of Jesus, so what was so special about Him?
He somehow assumed the right to teach absolute truth. He was a Jew, but his message was not Jewish. He was interpreting Moses’ law in such a way as to show that it was God’s law. What He had to say was not culturally conditioned in the sense that it was limited to a particular people (Jews) or a particular place (Palestine). Being absolute, it was universal. He spoke as one who knew what He was talking about.
With complete self confidence, He declared
who would inherit the kingdom of heaven,
who would inherit the earth, who would obtain mercy,
who would see God and be fit to be called God’s children.
How could He be so sure?
It was John Calvin who answered this question—the crowds were astonished because a strange, indescribable majesty drew the minds of men to Him.
What struck His hearers most was that He taught them as one who had authority and not at all as their scribes. The scribes claimed no authority of their own. They conceived their duty in terms of faithfulness to the tradition they had received. Their only authority lay in the authorities they were constantly quoting. The scribes spoke by authority while Jesus spoke with authority.
The prophets introduced their messages with the phrase Thus says the Lord.
Jesus, however, never used this phrase. Instead, He would begin Truly, truly I say to you —not daring to speak in His own name and with His own authority, which He knew to be identical with the Father’s.
So certain was He of the truth and validity of His teaching that He said human wisdom and human folly were to be assessed by people’s reaction to it. The only wise people there are, He implied, are those who build their lives on His words by obeying them. He may have been applying to Himself those words of personified wisdom which are found in Proverb 1:33—but whoever listens to me (wisdom) will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.
2. Jesus’ Authority as the Christ.
There is evidence in the Sermon on the Mount, as in many other parts of His teaching, that Jesus knew He had come into the world on a mission. I have come, He could say, just as elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel He referred to Himself as having been sent. In particular, He had not come, to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but He had come to fulfill them.
Jesus did not think of himself as another prophet, but rather as the fulfillment of all prophecy. The first recorded words of his public ministry were Mark 1:15—The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. The implication here is that Jesus had inaugurated it, and that He had authority to admit people into it and to bestow on them its blessings. All this means, is that Jesus knew Himself to be the Christ, God’s Messiah of Old Testament expectation.
3. Jesus’ Authority as the Lord
The term Lord could have been a polite form of address meaning little more than our sir. However, Jesus was not just Sir to be respected; He was Lord to be obeyed.
We see this in Luke 6:46—Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?
Thus Jesus saw himself as more than a teacher, giving advice which people might or might not heed at their discretion; He was their master, issuing commandments, expecting obedience and warning them that their eternal welfare was at stake. His expectation was not just that they would absorb His teaching; it was that they would be devoted to Him personally.
4. Jesus’ Authority as the Savior
It is plain in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus knew the way of salvation and taught it. He was able to declare who was blessed and who was not. He could point to the narrow gate which led to the hard way which ended in life. Also, He was quite clear which kind of house would survive the storms of judgment, and which would fail.
However, if we penetrate more deeply into His message, we find that He not only taught salvation—He actually bestowed it. Or consider how Jesus appointed his hearers, that little group of peasants, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. How could they possibly have a restraining and enlightening influence in the world? Only because they followed Jesus. Because He was not evil as He described the rest of mankind, He could impart to them some of His goodness and make them salt.
Jesus did not share in the universal darkness because He was the light of the world and He could impart light to them and make them shine.
5. Jesus’ Authority as God
It is very clear that Jesus knew God as his Father, and He knew His own sonship to be unique. We can go one step further without hesitating because there is evidence that Jesus thought of Himself as being on a par with God, even one with God. He never said this in so many words in the Sermon, but His claim to exercise divine prerogatives and His ways of speaking of Himself imply it. Three examples indicate this.
The first concerns the final beatitude. Eight of the beatitudes are generalizations in the third person—Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, etc.—while the ninth changes to second person as Jesus addresses His disciples—Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These prophets suffered for their faithfulness to God, while the disciples of Jesus were to suffer for their faithfulness to Him. The implication is unavoidable. If Jesus is likening His disciples to God’s prophets, He is likening himself to God.
A similar equivalent is implied in two other examples.
Second—He warned them that a person who merely addressed Him as “Lord, Lord” would not enter the kingdom of heaven. One would have expected Him to go on but he who submits to my lordship or but he who obeys me as Lord. This is exactly what we find in Luke’s version of the Sermon, where calling him Lord, Lord, is contrasted with doing what He says. One would not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus regarded obeying Him as Lord and doing the Father’s will as equivalents, He was putting Himself on a level with God. It is all the more impressive because Jesus was not going out of His way to make an assertion about Himself. This token of His divine self-consciousness slipped out when he was speaking about something quite different, namely the meaning of true discipleship.
Third—The same is true in the third example. It does in the following verses which are about the day of judgment and have already been mentioned. Everybody knew that God was the Judge. So did Jesus. He did not advance a direct and specific claim that God had committed the judgment of the world to Him. He just knew that on the last day people would appeal to Him, and that He would have the responsibility to pass sentence on them. Again, in saying this was so, He again equated Himself with God.
Here, then, is your original Jesus, your simple, harmless teacher of righteousness,
whose Sermon on the Mount contains plain ethics and no dogma!
He teaches with the authority of God and lays down the law of God.
He expects people to build the house of their lives on His words,
and adds that only those who do so are wise and will be safe.
He says that He has come to fulfill the law and the prophets.
He is both Lord to be obeyed and the Savior to bestow blessing.
He acts in the central role of the judgment day drama.
He speaks of God as His Father in a unique sense,
and finally implies that what He does, God does,
and that what people do to Him, they are doing to God.
We cannot escape the implication of all this. The claims of Jesus were indeed put forward so naturally, modestly and indirectly that many people never even notice them. Yet, they are there! We cannot ignore them and still retain our integrity.
We must take Jesus at His word, and His claims at their face value.
We must respond to His Sermon on the Mount with deadly seriousness.
For here is His picture of God’s alternative society.
These are the standards, the values and the priorities of the Kingdom of God.
Too often the church has turned away from this challenge and sunk into a conformist respectability.
At such times, the church is almost indistinguishable from the world.
It has lost its saltiness. Its light is extinguished, and it repels all idealists
because it gives no evidence that it is God’s new society
which is already tasting the joys and powers of the age to come.
Only when the Christian community lives by Christ’s manifesto
will the world be attracted and God be glorified.
So when Jesus calls us to Himself, it is to this that He calls us.
He is the Lord of the counter-culture!
Sermon for February 7, 2021
A CHRISTIAN’S COMMITMENT
The Lord Jesus finishes the Sermon on the Mount with a passage of heart piercing application. He turns from false prophets to false professors, from unsound teachers to unsound hearers. Jesus confronts us with himself, sets before us the the choice between obedience and disobedience, and calls us to an unconditional commitment of mind and will and life to His teaching.
The way He does this is to warn us of two unacceptable alternatives,
first a merely verbal profession in verses 21-23,
and secondly a merely intellectual knowledge in verses 24-27.
Neither can be a substitute for obedience;
indeed each may be a camouflage for disobedience.
Jesus emphasizes that our eternal destiny depends on a thoroughgoing obedience.
In this respect the two final paragraphs of the Sermon are very similar. Both contrast the wrong and the right responses to Christ’s teaching. Both show that neutrality is impossible and that a definite decision has to be made. Both stress that nothing can take the place of an active, practical obedience. And both teach that the issue of life and death on the day of judgment will be determined by our moral response to Christ and His teaching in this life.
The people that Jesus is describing in verses 21 and 22 are relying on a doctrinal affirmation—on what they “say” to or about Christ. Notice verse 21, Not everyone who says to me. Then in verse 22, “On that day many will say to me.”
Jesus insists that our final destiny will not be settled by whether we do what we say,
nor whether our verbal profession is accompanied by moral obedience,
neither by what we are saying to Him today,
not by what we shall say to Him on the last day,
but by whether we do what we say, whether our verbal profession is accompanied by moral obedience.
A verbal profession of Christ is indispensable.
In order to be saved, Paul wrote in Romans 10:9 & 10—if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Let us analyze this profession, and look at it closely:
1. It is polite. It addresses him as Lord, just as today the most respectful way of referring to Jesus is still to say our Lord.
2. The profession is orthodox. The present context contains illusions both to God as his Father and to himself as the Judge. Certainly after his death and resurrection, the early Christians knew what they were doing, when they called him Lord. It was a divine title, a rendering in the Greek Old Testament of the Hebrew for Jehovah. Therefore, from our later perspective we may say that this is an accurate, an orthodox confession of Jesus Christ.
3. It is an enthusiastic Lord, Lord, as if the speaker wishes to draw attention to the strength and zeal of his devotion.
4. This is a public confession. What these people stress as they speak to Christ on judgment day is the name in which they have ministered.
Three times they have used it, and each time they put it first for emphasis. They claim that in the name of Christ, openly and publicly confessed, they have prophesied, cast out demons, and done many mighty works.
What could be wrong with this?
In itself nothing. And yet, everything is wrong because it is talk without truth, profession without reality. It will not save them on the day of judgment. So Jesus moves on from what they are saying and will say to him to what he will say to them. He too will make a solemn profession.
The word used in verse 23 is translated I will declare.
Christ’s confession to them will be like theirs in being public, but unlike theirs, His will be true.
He will say to them the terrible words: I never knew you; depart from me; you workers of lawlessness. For although they had used his name freely, their name was unknown to him.
The reason for their rejection by Jesus is that their profession was verbal,
not moral. It concerned their lips only, and not their life.
They called Jesus Lord, Lord but never submitted to His leadership, or obeyed the will of His Heavenly Father.
Luke’s version of this saying is found in 6:46—Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you?”
The vital difference is between saying and doing.
The reason Christ the Judge will banish them from Himself is that they are workers of lawlessness. Or evildoers. They may claim to do many mighty works in their ministry; but in their everyday behavior the works they do are not good, but evil. Of what value is it for such people to take Christ’s name on their lips?
Paul expressed it in 2 Timothy 2:19—Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.
While the contrast in the previous paragraph was between “saying” and “doing,” the contrast now is between hearing and doing. On the one hand, Jesus says, there is the person who hears these words of mine and does them (verse 24), and on the other hand, the person who “hears these words of mine and does not do them” (verse 26). He then illustrates the contrast between his obedient and disobedient hearers by his well known parable of the two builders.
The wise man who dug deep as Luke tells us in 6:48, and constructed his house on rock, and the foolish man who could not be bothered with foundations and was content to build on the sand. As both got on with their building, a casual observer would not have noticed any difference between the two of them. For the difference was in the foundations, and the foundations are not seen. Only when a storm came, and battered both houses with great ferocity—rain on roof, river on foundation, wind on walls— was the fundamental and and fatal difference revealed. For the house on the rock withstood the gale, while the house on the sand collapsed in irreparable ruin.
In the same way, professing Christians, both the genuine and the false, often look alike. You cannot easily tell which is which. Both appear to be building Christian lives. For Jesus is not contrasting professing Christians with non-Christians who make no profession. On the contrary, what is common to both spiritual house builders is that they “hear the words of mine.” So both are members of the visible Christian community. Both read the Bible, go to church, listen to sermons and buy Christian literature. The reason you often cannot tell the difference between them is that the deep foundations of their lives are hidden from view.
The real question is not whether they “hear” Christ’s teaching, nor even whether they respect or believe it, but whether they “do” what they hear. Only a storm will reveal the truth. Sometimes a storm of crisis or calamity betrays what manner of person we are, for as John Calvin said, “true piety is not fully distinguished from its counterfeit till it comes to the trial.” If not, the storm of the day of judgment will certainly do so.
The truth on which Jesus is insisting in these final two paragraphs of the Sermon is that neither an intellectual knowledge of Him nor a verbal profession, though both are essential in themselves, can ever be a substitute for obedience. 1 Samuel 15:22—Samuel said, Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
What Jesus is stressing is that those who truly hear the gospel and profess faith will always obey him, expressing their faith in their works.
Thus, the Sermon ends on the same note of radical choice of which we have been aware throughout. Repeatedly, during our study we have heard his call to his people to be different from everybody else.
Instead of conforming to this world as Paul says in Romans 12:2,
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. We are called by Jesus to imitate our heavenly Father; so we must copy him, not men. Only then shall we show that we are truly His sons and daughters.
Here then is the alternative, either to follow the crowd or to follow our Father in heaven,
either to be swayed by the winds of public opinion or be ruled by God’s Word,
the revelation of his character and will.
The overriding purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to present us with this alternative— to face us with the indispensable necessity of choice.
That is why the Sermon’s conclusion is so appropriate, as Jesus sketches the two ways (narrow and broad) and the two buildings (on rock and sand). It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of the choice between them, since one way leads to life while the other ends in destruction, and one building is secure while the other is overwhelmed with disaster. Far more momentous than the choice even of a life-work or of a life-partner is the choice about life itself.
Which road are we going to travel?
On which foundation are we going to build?
Sermon for January 31, 2021
BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS
False prophets were not new to Israel. As long as God has had true prophets, Satan has had false ones. They are seen from the earliest times of redemptive history.
Moses warned in Deuteronomy 13:1-5—If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, if he says, “Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them, you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
False prophets always find a hearing and often are encouraged by those who are displeased with God’s ways. It was Isaiah who said in 30:9-10—For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD, who says to the seers—Do not see. And to the prophets—Do not prophesy to us what is right, speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.
As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives shortly before the last Passover week, His disciples asked, in Matthew 24:3-5, 24—As He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age? And Jesus answered them, See that no one leads you astray. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. John warns against the same problem pointing out in 2 John 7—For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
Paul warned the Romans believers in 16:17-18—I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught—avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Paul’s last words to the Ephesian elders, when he met with them for a farewell on the beach near Miletus, included a somber warning about inevitable false teachers in Acts 20:29-31—I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.
There has always been a large market for false prophets, because many people do not want to hear the truth. They prefer to hear what is pleasant and flattering, even if it is false and dangerous, over what is unpleasant and unflattering, even if it is true and helpful.
From the beginning of God’s receptive work on behalf of fallen mankind, His true representatives have been marked by two things:
they are divinely commissioned, and they present a divine message.
They are called by God, and they declare the message of God and only that message.
A true prophet is God’s voice to mankind.
The most dangerous characteristic of false prophets is that they claim to be from God and
to speak on His behalf. Listen as God speaks to the prophet Jeremiah (5:30-31)—An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land—the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction—and my people love to have it so.
Again he said in 14:14—And the LORD said to me: The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.
Jesus warned in Matthew 24:24—For false Christs and also prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
And Jude warns in verse 4—For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Scribes and Pharisees were classic examples of false shepherds. In the name of leading and caring for God’s people, they instead led them further and further away from God’s ways. They cared nothing for the people of God and were self-seeking and self-serving.
When Jesus completely unmasked their deceit and hypocrisy, it is no wonder they crucified Him.
The scribes and Pharisees, and those who followed their teachings, did not accept Jesus’ teaching because they were dedicated to falsehood rather than truth.
Paul warned the church at Ephesus in 5:6-7—Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not become partners with them. To the Colossians, he says in 2:8—See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits (elementary principles) of the world, and not according to Christ.
We come now to the part of Paul’s passage that is most helpful for us. Verses 16-20—Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—
After warning about false prophets, Jesus tells us what to watch for in identifying them. Because they are so extremely deceptive and dangerous—ravenous spiritual and immoral wolves in sheep’s clothing—the Lord would hardly have left us without means of determining who they are.
Jesus assures us that we will recognize them by their fruits. A fruit tree may be beautiful, decorative, and offer pleasant shade in the summer. However, its primary purpose is to bear fruit, and it is therefore judged by what it produces and not by how it looks.
Similarly a prophet—used in this passage in the broadest sense of one who speaks for God—is judged by his life, not simply by his appearance or his words. The kind of person he really is cannot help being revealed. Some false prophets are noticeably fraudulent and only the most gullible person would be taken in by them. Others conceal their true nature with remarkable skill, and only careful observation will expose them for what they are. But there is a true assurance in the statement “you will recognize them.”
There is no need to be deceived if we look closely.
It is possible for real Christians to be taken in by false prophets. When believers are careless about the study of and obedience to the Word, lazy about prayer, and uncritical about the things of God, it is easy for them to be deceived by someone who pretends to be orthodox, especially if he is pleasant, positive, and permissive.
It is also possible for a tree to bear fruit that is colorful, well-formed, and attractive, but which is bitter, distasteful, and even poisonous. That kind of bad tree with its bad fruit is much harder to judge, and in this case both the tree and the fruit appear to be genuine. What it produces has to be examined carefully to determine if it is good fruit or bad fruit. A mature believer who has developed discernment can spot the tree and bad fruit, and Hebrews 5:14 speaks to this problem—But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Judging the fruit of false prophets, is not nearly so easy as judging fruit in an orchard. But from Scripture we discover at least three primary tests we can apply in order to know. They are in the areas of characters, creed, and converts.
A person’s basic character—his inner motives, standards, loyalties, attitudes, and ambitions will eventually show through in what he does and how he acts. As with everything that is godly and righteous, true fruit bearing begins on the inside. Paul speaks of our being filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.
False prophets can disguise and hide their bad fruit for a while with churchy trappings, biblical knowledge, and evangelical vocabulary. But how they talk, and act will eventually expose their true loyalty and convictions. What is in the heart will emerge, and corrupt theology will result in a corrupt life. False teaching and sinful living are inseparable, and eventually will become known.
But no person, no matter how clever and deceitful, can indefinitely hide a character that is rotten and out of tune with God. John Calvin said, Nothing is more difficult to counterfeit than virtue. It demands too much. It demands more than any person has in himself, and when God’s divine provision and power are absent the charade cannot last long.
A second area in which a false prophet can be judged is that of doctrine. Superficially, what he teaches may seem biblical and orthodox, but careful examination will always reveal ideas that are unscriptural and the absence of a strong clear theology. False ideas will be taught, or at least important truths will be omitted. Eventually, the fruit will show a tree for what it is, because a healthy tree bears good fruit and a diseased tree bears bad fruit.
Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-35—You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil measure brings forth evil.
When judging whether or not a teaching is from God, Isaiah counsels in Isaiah 8:20—
To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. The meaning here is that the teaching of a false prophet cannot withstand scrutiny under the divine light of Scripture.
These false prophets have a ready hearing among many people, because they say only what people like to hear. Just as did ancient Israel in Jeremiah’s time, and we read in Jeremiah 5:31—the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so.” I have often wondered if maybe that is the case in some churches today!
As with the ancients, there are some who want illusions, and not truth. They are enamored with pleasure and fantasy and resent being confronted with anything disquieting and condemnatory. They want encouragement but not correction, positive words, but not negative truth.
The doctrine of the false prophet, whatever that may be, will be vague, indefinite, and ethereal. No demanding truth will be absolute or clear-cut, and every principle will be easy and attractive.
False prophets can also be identified by their converts and followers. They will attract to themselves people who have the same superficial, self-centered, and unscriptural orientation as they do. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 4:3-4—For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Our Lord closes this section with an affirming repetition of verse 16—Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Thus, we are once again called to be discerning when listening to preachers who call us to the broad way that leads to death and hell.
Sermon for January 24, 2021
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide, and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Nothing could be more difficult than to meditate long and hard on Matthew 5:1–7:12, and then to resolve to improve, maybe just a little. The discipleship which Jesus requires is absolute—radical in the sense that it gets to the root of human conduct and to the root of relationships between God and men. A person either enters the kingdom or he does not enter the kingdom. He walks the road that leads to life, or he walks the road that leads to destruction. There is no third alternative. Nothing, nothing at all, could have more crucial significance than following Jesus. Even if today this is far from being a universally admitted truth, yet one day without exception all those shall confess it, some to their everlasting grief.
Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with a number of paired alternatives. He speaks of two paths in verses 13 & 14,
two trees in verses 15-20,
two claims in verses 21-23,
two houses in 24-27.
By these pairs, Jesus insists that there are two ways, and only two.
These final verses of the Sermon on the Mount demand decision and commitment
of the type that begs God for mercy and pardon.
Such discipleship is characterized by a deep repentance which hungers for nothing more than conformity to God’s will. Because there are only two ways,
simple failure to make such a deep commitment is already a commitment not to do so.
Jesus’s way demands repentance, trust, and obedience. Therefore, refusal stemming from unrepentant arrogance, unbelief, and or disobedience—in short, self-centeredness instead of God centeredness, can only be understood as rebellion.
First of all, Jesus says—Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Jesus has given us a picture here that is straightforward and clear. We are to picture two paths, two roadways. The first is broad (not easy ESV), and its gate is wide. It accommodates many people—all enjoying its spacious contours.
Although it is well traveled, it ends in destruction.
The other path is narrow, and the way into it is small.
It is confined and relatively few travelers are to be found on it.
It leads to LIFE—a synonym for the kingdom.
What legitimate deduction can be drawn from these two verses?
1. God’s way is all inclusive, but confining. Poverty of spirit is not easy; prayer is not easy; righteousness is not easy; transformed God-centered attitudes from God’s grace. They are alien to much of what is in us and cries out to be heard. The realignment that is part of genuine conversion is a confining thing.
There is no room for me to set my opinion against the Lord’s,
no room to set goals in any way at cross purposes to His,
no room to form attachments which compete
for the central place which the Lord Jesus must have.
There is considerable danger that the picture I am painting will be thought
dull gray—not to say morbid. So I am going to hurry along and add certain caveats to what I have just said.
There is a whole spectrum of joys and freedom for the Christian.
The deepest joy is joy in personally knowing God through Christ,
just as the deepest human joys have always been close,
There is liberty of sins forgiven and of progressive triumph over temptation.
New loves and friendships grow with other disciples of Christ, so much so that Jesus can say in Mark 10:29-30—Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
As the Godhead becomes the center of the Christian’s thinking, all of life takes on a new and fascinating attraction as one glimpses the wholeness of things under God.
Yet, the way is confining, nevertheless.
The more hesitation about going Christ’s way wholeheartedly, without reserve, the more confining His way seems. However, the more enthusiasm there is for following Him,
regardless of personal opinion or peer pressure, regardless of cost, the more liberating His way appears.
2. We may reason from Matthew 7:13-14—Enter by the narrow gate.
For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction,
and those who enter by it are many.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life,
and those who find it are few.
God’s way cannot be discovered by appeal to majority opinion, for the majority is on the road that leads to destruction.
Christians will apply Paul’s words to many perspectives as Paul stated in Romans 3:4—
Let God be true though every one were a liar.
If someone asks—Does this mean that only relatively few will be saved, and that all the rest are lost. The safest answer to this question are the words of Jesus found in
Luke 13:22-20— He went on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, Lord will those who are saved be few?
And He said to them—Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying— Lord, open to us.
Then He will answer you—I do not know where you come from. Then you will begin to say—We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets. But He will say—I tell you, I do not know where you come from.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil!
In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God— but you yourselves are cast out.
and people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at the table in the kingdom of God.
And behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.
Strong words! They were spoken first of all to the Jews of Jesus’s own day who were rejecting their own Messiah; but the thrust of Jesus’ response will not change.
He demands of His questioners less speculation on the precise number of those who are going to be saved, and more personal concern about their own salvation.
3. It follows that the narrow way to life cannot be pursued as long as we are motivated by a desire to please the people. Most people travel the easy way; the narrow road is a little lonelier.
This is another way of expressing a truth which emerges repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount—that true disciples of Jesus will not play to the crowds or for their values according to the latest fad. The beatitudes tell us that it is God’s approval alone
which is of ultimate importance.
We read in Joshua 24:14-15—Now therefore fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt—and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day who you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.
BUT AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE, WE WILL SERVE THE LORD.
Joshua’s challenge to Israel comes to us today with the same enthusiasm,
an enthusiasm born of clear-headed analysis. It reminds me of the spirit of Athanasius, the fourth century theologian who for a while stood virtually alone in his defense of the deity of Christ. His word has largely stood the test of time; and in his own time he eventually won the day. But during the darker periods when he was being sucked into the battle of theological controversy and seemed to be isolated from his friends and colleagues, he was advised to give up his opinions because the whole world was against him. His reply was devastatingly simple:
Then is Athanasius against the whole world?
Of course, it is possible to take such a position out of sheer arrogance and stubborn independence. Anyone who stoops to such obnoxious egotism has not learned even the first lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. Nevertheless, when all allowances have been made, it remains a fact that the narrow way wins few popularity contests. This is so partly because the full-blooded righteousness of the Sermon on the Mount is too comprehensive and demanding to be attractive to a race that prefers compromise and assorted personal corruptions. Also, the Sermon’s concern for truth is necessarily detailed as we shall see next week in verses 15-20.
4. The fourth deduction we can get from these two paths is that they are not ends in themselves, but have eternal significance beyond themselves. The one ends in destruction, the other in life. Ironically, it is the wide and popular path which leads to destruction, and the narrow and relatively unpopular one which leads to life. The point remains the same in each case; not the path but the path’s destination is of ultimate significance. The tragedy is that otherwise reasonable people become so enamored with the spaciousness and the popularity of the wide path that they take little thought as to its destination. Should they hear that it leads to destruction, they will deny it, arguing that they are no worse than most others on the same road and that in any case God would not permit the destruction of so many.
Let me state emphatically that the Bible does not encourage such optimism. Jesus himself insists that only the narrow way leads to life. Only the path that seems confining explodes in the end into vitality, the consummation of the Kingdom of God.
And finally, let it be noted once more that there are only two ways! To put this point in other terms, we might say that there is no other way to life, no other way to avoid destruction, than the narrow way. People will not gain the kingdom by worshiping nature, nor by drifting into salvation without decision and commitment.
They will enter life by coming under the kingdom’s guidance and direction, and be saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ, or they will head for destruction. On this point, Jesus insists.
Sermon for January 17, 2021
ASK! SEEK! KNOCK!
Verses 7-11 of Matthew 7 form a perfect bridge between the negative teaching about a critical spirit and the positive teaching of the golden rule. Verse 12—So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Even when we have been cleansed of our own sin, had the log removed from our eye, we need divine wisdom to know how to help a brother remove the speck from his eye. Jesus tells us in verse 5—You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Without God’s help, we cannot be sure who are dogs and who are pigs, and to whom we should offer the holy and precious things of God’s Word. These considerations drive us to call on the Lord.
Of the many things for which we should ask, seek, and knock, God’s wisdom is our greatest need! We cannot be discerning or discriminating without counsel from our Heavenly Father, and the primary means for achieving this wisdom is petitioning prayer.
James tells us in 1:5—If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.
God wants us to be in His Word, and without being in His Word, we cannot pray wisely or rightly. Even beyond being in His Word, He wants us to be in fellowship with Him as our Father. Along with His perfect and infallible Word, we need His spirit to interpret and illumine, to encourage and to strengthen. The Bible is a limitless store of divine truth. A lifetime of the most faithful and diligent study will not exhaust it. Apart from God Himself, we cannot even begin to understand its depths or mine its riches. In His Word, God gives enough truth for us to be responsible, and enough mystery for us to be dependent. He gives us His Word not only to direct our lives, but to draw our lives to Him.
Here Jesus says—If you want wisdom to know how to help a sinning brother and how to discern falsehood, go to your Heavenly Father. ASK, SEEK, and KNOCK at the doors of heaven, and you will receive, find, and have the door opened.
The two greatest realities of Christian truth are that God is our Father and Christians are our brothers. Believers are the family of God. Paul speaks of the church in Galatians 6:10 as the household of faith, and in Ephesians 2:19, the household of God.
We should keep in mind that the one who claims this praise must be living in obedience to his Father. 1 John 3:22—and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him.
Also, our motive in asking must be right. James expresses this very clearly in 4:3—You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. God does not obligate Himself to answer selfish, carnal requests from His children.
Finally, we must be submissive to His will. Jesus speaks to this, again very clearly in Matthew 6:24—No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. James follows this same idea in 1:7-8. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. In 1 John 5:14, John makes this clear. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask according to His will He hears us. To have confidence in answered prayer on any other basis is to have a false and presumptuous confidence that the LORD makes no promise to honor.
Another possible qualification is perseverance, suggested by the present imperative tenses of ask, seek, and knock. The idea is that of continuance and constancy—
Keep on asking; keep on seeking; keep on knocking.
We also see a progression of intensity in the three verbs,
from simple asking,
to the more aggressive seeking,
to the still more aggressive knocking.
The progression in intensity also suggests that our sincere requests to the Lord are not to be passive. Whatever of His will that we know to do, we should be doing. It is not faith but presumption to ask the Lord to provide more when we are not faithfully using what He has already given.
Verses 9, 10, and 11 continue to point to and illustrate the golden rule of verse 12. We are also to love others as we love ourselves because that is a part of God’s life pattern for His children and kingdom citizens. Paul in Ephesians 5:1-2—Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
If we claim to be God’s children, God’s nature should be reflected in our lives, imperfect as they still are. Jesus here proceeds to show us something of what our heavenly Father’s love is like.
It is interesting that Luke adds the illustration of a scorpion being substituted for an egg in 11:12—or if he asks for an egg, will he give him a scorpion?
In Matthew 7, verse 11, Jesus asks the following question—If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him. Here is one of the many specific scriptural teachings of man’s fallen, evil nature. Jesus is not speaking of specific fathers who are especially cruel and wicked, but of human fathers in general, all of whom are sinful by nature.
As in the previous chapter, Jesus uses the phrase in 6:30—will He not much more, which describes God’s love for His children. Our divine, loving, merciful, gracious Father who is in heaven has no limit on His treasure and no bounds to the goodness He is willing to bestow on His children who ask Him.
There is no limit to what our Heavenly Father will give to us when we ask in obedience and according to His will. 1 John 5:14-15—And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.
How do we know God’s will? James 1:5—If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach (criticism), and it will be given him.
The truth that Jesus proclaims in these verses is that if imperfect and sinful human fathers so willingly and freely give their children the basics of life, God will infinitely outdo them in measure and in benefit.
The implication of verses 7-11 is made explicit in verse 12. The perfect love of the heavenly Father is most reflected in His children when they treat others as they themselves wish to be treated.
So whatever you wish that others would do to you sums up the sermon to this point, and do also to them is a summary of the Law and the Prophets. It is also a paraphrase of the second commandment, found in Leviticus 19:18—you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The golden rule instructs us as to how we are to love other people—Galatians 6:10—and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Paul states in Galatians 5:14—For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
How we treat others is not to be determined by how we expect them to treat us or by how we think they should treat us, but by how we want them to treat us.
Man’s basic problem is preoccupation with self. In the final analysis, every sin results from preoccupation with self. We sin because we are totally selfish, totally devoted to ourselves, rather than to God and to others.
Only Jesus gives the fullness of the truth, which encompasses both the positive and the negative. And only Jesus can give the power to live by that full truth.
The dynamic for living this supreme ethic must come from outside our fallen nature.
It can only some from the indwelling Holy Spirit, whose first fruit is love.
Paul tells us in Romans 5:5—God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Only Christ’s own Spirit can empower us to love each other as He loves us. This comes to us from the heart of Jesus in John 13:34—A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
John tells us very clearly in 1 John 4:19—We love because He first loved us.
Selfless love loves for the sake of the one being loved, whether such love is returned or not. That level of love is the divine level, and it can be achieved only by God’s help. Only God’s children can have right relations with others, because they possess the motivation and the resources to refrain from self-righteously condemning others and to love in an utterly selfless way.
Let us love one another as Christ loved us!
Sermon for January 10, 2021
Matthew 7 consists of a number of apparently self-contained paragraphs. Their link with each other is not obvious. However, there is a connecting thread which runs through the chapter, and it is that of relationships. It seems quite logical that Jesus, after having described a Christian’s character, influence, righteousness, piety, and ambition, would finally concentrate on the Christian’s relationships. Because the Christian is part of a culture that is community orientated, relationships both within the community and and between the community and others are of paramount importance.
Jesus does not anticipate that the Christian community will be perfect. On the contrary, He assumes that there will be difficulties, and that these will give rise to tensions, to problems of relationships. For example, how should a Christian behave toward a fellow member who has misbehaved? Jesus has instructions about discipline within the community. He forbids two alternatives, and then commends a third—a better, more Christian way.
Jesus’ words Judge not, that you be not judged are well known but largely misunderstood. The context here does not refer to judges in courts of law. Instead, it refers to the responsibility of individuals to one another.
Next, our Lord’s injunction to judge not cannot be understood as a command to suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people—to turn a blind eye to their faults, pretending not to notice them by avoiding all criticism and refusing to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil.
In Matthew 7—the command not to judge others is followed almost immediately by two further commands: to avoid giving “what is holy” to dogs, or “pearls” to pigs in verse 6, and to beware of false prophets in verse 15.
It would be impossible to obey either of these commands without using our critical judgment. To determine our behavior towards dogs, pigs, and false prophets, we must first be able to recognize them. In order to do that, we must exercise some critical discernment.
If Jesus was neither abolishing law courts nor forbidding criticism, what did He mean by Judge not? In a word—censoriousness—which means Tending to reprimand or censure, faultfinding. Most commentaries use the word censoriousness.
The follower of Jesus is still a critic in the sense of using his powers of discernment,
but not a judge in the sense of being censorious.
Censoriousness is a compound sin consisting of several unpleasant ingredients.
It does not mean to assess people critically, but to judge them harshly.
The censorious critic is a fault-finder who is negative and destructive towards other people and enjoys actively seeking out their failings. He puts the worst possible meaning on their motives, pours cold water on their schemes and is ungenerous towards their mistakes. They actively serve on the Cold Water Committee, and yes, some churches have such a committee, but fortunately, they are few in number.
To sum up—the command to judge not is not a requirement to be blind,
instead, it is a plea to be generous.
Jesus does not tell us to cease to be people by suspending our critical powers. However, He is telling us to renounce the presumptuous ambition to be (or play) God by setting ourselves up as judges.
Verses 3 and 4—Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother—“Let me take the speck out of your eye.” When there is a log in your own eye?
Earlier, Jesus exposed our hypocrisy in relation to God—practicing our piety before others to be seen by them.
Now, Jesus exposes our hypocrisy in relation to others—meddling with the small stuff, while failing to deal with our own more serious faults.
This is just another reason that we are unfit to be judges.
We are fallen humans, and the Fall has made all of us sinners.
We are in no position to stand in judgment of our fellow sinners.
Often, we have the tendency to exaggerate the faults of others and to minimize the seriousness of our own faults.
What we should do instead is to apply to ourselves at least as strict and critical a standard as we apply to others.
But if we judged ourselves truly, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:31, we would not be judged. We would not only escape the judgment of God; we would also be in a position humbly and gently to help an erring brother. Having first removed the log from our own eye, we would see clearly to take the speck from his.
The fact that censoriousness and hypocrisy are forbidden us does not relieve us of brotherly responsibility towards one another. Once we have dealt with our own eye trouble, then we shall see clearly to deal with his.
Our Christian duty, then is not to see the speck in our brother’s eye while at the same time we do not notice the log in our own eye. It is not our duty to say to our brother—Let me take the speck out of your eye—while I still have the log in my own eye.
It is critical that we FIRST—take the log out of my own eye, so that then with clarity of vision, I shall be able to take the speck out of my brother’s eye.
Again, it is evident that Jesus is not condemning criticism as such, but rather the criticism of others when we exercise no comparable self criticism; nor correction as such,
but rather the correction of others when we have not first corrected ourselves.
Jesus’ standard for relationships in the Christian world is one that is healthy. In all our attitudes and behavior towards others, we are to play neither the judge (becoming harsh, censorious, and condemning), nor the hypocrite (blaming others while excusing ourselves) but the brother, caring for others so much that we first blame and correct ourselves and seek to be constructive in the help we give them.
We need to be as critical of ourselves as we often are of others, and as generous to others as we always are to ourselves. Then we shall anticipate the Golden Rule to which Jesus brings us in verse 12—So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Verse 6—Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
At first sight and hearing, this is startling language from the lips of Jesus—especially in the Sermon on the Mount, and indeed immediately after His appeal for helpful brotherly behavior.
The fundamental idea in holy is that of being set apart for the service of God. What is so set apart must be used only for the holy purpose that led to its being set apart.
The dogs that Jesus had in mind were not the well behaved lapdogs, living somewhat of a spoiled existence, but the wild dogs, which scavenged in the city’s garbage dumps. These dogs were regarded as unclean animals. Therefore, they must not be made the recipients of holy things.
We should keep in mind that for the followers of Jesus, there is nothing more holy than the gospel. This message is to be offered to all obstinate rejectors. Disciples are not to be judgmental, but that does not mean that they are to lack discernment. Disciples are not called on to keep offering the gospel message to those who continue to reject it with vicious contempt. Even Paul when he preached to the Jews at Corinth for a time, but in the face of persistent rejection and hostility, he turned away. (Acts 18:5-7)
Linked to this is the command not to throw pearls to pigs. Things of value and beauty will not only not be appreciated by pigs, but will be abused. What is precious is not to be given to people who have no appreciation for it. In a Christian context, the pearls are apt to be pearls of wisdom and biblical teaching.
So far from appreciating pearls, pigs may well trample them under foot. It is possible that the pigs also turn on those who give them the pearls and attack them; for a large and unrestrained pig can do considerable damage. But, it is perhaps more likely that we should understand the idea that pigs do the trampling and dogs the tearing to pieces.
Finally, let us note the practical instruction hinted by the figure of the pearls.
First, it suggests what we should regard as our true riches, namely the contents of God’s Word, for this constitute the Christian’s precious treasure. We find this treasure in Proverbs 3:13-15—Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Second, it suggests where we should content ourselves in the difficulties of life. We may lose our health and wealth, our friends and fame, yet this treasure remains.
Here is a lamp for the darkest night—
Psalm 119:105–Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Here is to be found comfort in the greatest difficulty—
Psalm 119:50—This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.
Here are to be obtained songs for our journey
Psalm 119:54—Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning.
Third, it suggests how we are to use the Word. A person who has possession of valuable pearls is very careful to secure them; how much more should we be with this Pearl of pearls—storing it in our memories, locking it in our hearts.
Psalm 119:11—I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Luke 2:51— And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
MAY IT BE THIS FOR US!
Sermon for January 3, 2021
LIVING A FULFILLED LIFE IN 2021
Today is the first Sunday in the year 2021. I want to help us begin the New Year on the right note. To do this, I have chosen a text that describes how a person—man or woman—can live a very fulfilled life as a believer. Some translations translate the word used here as blessed while others translate it as happy. Happy is a poor choice because happiness is a matter of circumstances. In other words, as long as my circumstances are really good, I can be happy, but when things go bad, I am bound to be unhappy.
The Apostle Paul set a very good example for us when he said in Philippians 4:11—
For I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content.
Verse 1—Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
The word man is used here to portray a representative example of a godly person (man or woman).
Blessed is the man.The psalmist is telling us that it will always be well with God’s devout servants whose constant endeavor is to make progress in the study of God’s law. He teaches us how impossible it is for anyone to apply his mind to meditation upon God’s law who has not first withdrawn and separated himself from the culture of the ungodly. It is necessary to remember that the world is full of deadly corruption, and the first step to living well is to renounce the company of the ungodly. Otherwise, this culture will infect us with its pollution.
The writer is describing a person who is characterized as blessed, contented, or fulfilled according to the things he or she does not do. Then he continues by telling us what they actually do.
These first three verses are the essence of what a Christian is to look like and how a Christian is to act in all circumstances. We are now going to see that how we act is to a large degree based on how we think. This is the truth that the Psalmist is trying to teach us in this Psalm.
Who walks not in the counsel of the wicked.
There are some key words in just this one sentence.
Walks—means to be in some kind of association with something or someone.
To be in close enough proximity to be affected by that something or someone. The fuller meaning here is that it is the first step toward something far more serious.
the counsel of the wicked—
counsel—decrees and laws which are necessary for any society to function.
wicked—any person who gives evidence of rebellion and opposition to the things of God as revealed in His Word. These are people who believe themselves to be always right and make truth to be what they want truth to be. It means there are no moral absolutes.
Walking in the counsel of the wicked basically means writing your own rules, listening to no one, especially God.
It also means allowing your mind to be influenced by surrounding opinions.
We need to keep in mind that keeping company with the wicked greatly enhances the possibility that they can and will infect us with their pollution and corruption.
It also means following the way of the world. Or as Paul tells us in
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers,
against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
nor stands in the way of sinners. Again, key words in this short phrase.
stands—as used here, this word means standing still long enough
to be a part of something—where sin is. To be a part of, to be involved in sin in its many forms. To participate in mind and body in open rebellion against the truth of God’s Word.
sits—full participation and agreement with. It is a picture of the habit of a sinful life.
We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.
Psalm 51:5—Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive.
Here is a strong statement of the inherent tendency to sin that attaches to our lives from the very beginning. A similar idea is affirmed in Psalm 58:3—The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
nor sits in the seat of scoffers—Mockers are those who make that which is holy, pure, and righteous a subject of frivolous joking. Ridiculing anything that has to do with God and Christianity. It is a deep-seated desire to rid our culture of any trace of God in the public square. The first one that comes to mind are some of the activist judges appointed by a former president.
In this first verse, we have three degrees of departure from God by showing conformity to the world at three different levels:
Accepting its advice.
Being a party to its ways.
Adopting the most fatal of its attitudes.
Before we look at verse 2—which is the remedy to the situation the psalmist has just described, look with me at Romans 12:2—Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
What does Paul mean by Do not be conformed?
He means—do not accommodate—adapt oneself to—follow—comply with— follow the crowd—keep in step with—I think you get the picture.
Verse 2—but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Delight—his joy, his contentment, his security, his satisfaction are all found in the Word of God.
a Psalm of David
The law of the LORD is perfect reviving the soul:
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making the wise simple
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
After reading these words, it is no wonder that David was delighted
and on His law he meditates day and night.
Meditate means—to ponder, contemplate, give serious consideration to, spend time with, to grasp fully, to pray over.
A repetitious going over a matter in one’s mind because it is the chief concern of life
1 Timothy 4:15—Meditate (NKJV) Practice (ESV), on these things, give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.
This is an activity of the mind, and whatever shapes our thinking will shape our lives.
Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.
“Day and Night”—Psalm 119:97—Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Verse 3—He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The Christian who delights in God’s Word and meditates day and night will be well nourished by the same Word.
Verse 5—Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment—They shall stand there to be judged , but not to be acquitted.
Sermon for December 27, 2020
HAPPY NEW YEAR
As we come to the conclusion of the year 2020 and the beginning of the year 2021, there are several thoughts that I would like to leave with you. I have chosen as my text for this last message of the year and in preparation for the New Year a passage from Exodus that I believe will be very helpful for us today as we face the year 2021. The text comes from the 14th chapter of Exodus and deals with the Children of Israel crossing the Red Sea.
As the Children of Israel leave their years of Egyptian slavery, they face the Egyptian army coming after them in chariots. They assumed that the Egyptians were coming to kill them. So they cried out to the Lord, said to Moses—Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians.
It would appear that there was no way of escape for the children of Israel. Moses told then to Fear not, stand firm! Then the Lord said to Moses—Tell the people of Israel to go forward.
I want us to consider each of these three statements with an application to the coming of the New Year 2021.
FIRST—Let us consider what the people said to Moses—
Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians.
It will be better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.
In other words, they were saying that slavery was better than dying. We, too, often times choose slavery to sin as an automatic reaction to the schemes of Satan.
In Ephesians 6:10-13, Paul speaks very candidly to this point—Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do to wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Look at verse 10—Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
Paul is making it clear that the Christian’s spiritual strength —notice I said spiritual strength—must be a sharing in the power of God as He imparts it to His people.
Colossians 1:11 is a noteworthy parallel—May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.
The phrase in verse 10—in the strength of His might—has the meaning—in His mighty strength—which has reference to the power of God exerted in the raising of Christ found also in Ephesians 1:19-20—and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead. It is the same resurrection power that is put at the believer’s disposal.
Verse 11—Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. To stand means, in this context not only to stand ready to fight, but to hold one’s ground. The schemes of the devil are his strategies—the many subtle ways by which he attacks God’s people.
Verse 13—Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
The evil day is the present day.
SECOND—WHAT MOSES SAID TO THE PEOPLE—in Exodus 14:13-14—Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall not see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.
In contrast to the majority of the Israelites, Moses had understood the meaning of God’s earlier promise of protection in Exodus 14:2-4—Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it; by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel—They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. And they did so.
Not only did Moses understand the promise, but he believed it.
This speech of Moses represent perhaps his finest hour yet in the leadership of Israel.
He urged calm, commanded simple, patient waiting.
He reassured the people that what seemed to them a certainty that they would die in the wilderness was in fact the last, hopeless gasp of Egyptian arrogance. He explained to them the most basic fact of Old Testament holy war.
God fights for His people, no matter how under-trained, ill-equipped, poorly organized, or outclassed they might be—He eliminated their foes.
From the point of view of God’s attributes, Moses’ speech alludes to five.
1. God is a dispeller of fear—a comforter of those who are afraid.
2. God is a deliverer from distress.
3. God invites and expects His people to trust Him (Fear not, stand firm.)
4. God removes danger.
5. God is warrior against the forces of evil.
The timing and application of these attributes are under God’s control—not man’s.
Moses could offer strong assurances to the Israelites in this instance because of what God had already said through him to humiliate Egypt again, a last time.
THIRD—WE SEE GOD’S PLAN FOR HIS PEOPLE AND HOW HE PLANS TO BRING IT ABOUT.
The heart of this narrative is found in what God tells Moses to say to the people of Israel in verses 15 & 16.
The LORD said to Moses, Why do you cry to me?
Tell the people of Israel to go forward!
God told the people of Israel to go forward, even against the impossible odds,
and then He provided a way for them safely to do just that.
God did not stop telling His people to go forward after Moses’ experience with the Children of Israel!
God continues to tell His people to go forward with His help and guidance!
With a New Year around the corner, we have many issues to deal with. The covid virus is a big issue that we all are having to deal with. This results in other issues—stay at home orders, social distancing, missing fellowship with family and church members, trying to stay safe and healthy, losing work hours, some losing jobs, etc. etc.
Through all of these issues, God continues to tell His people to go forward with His help and guidance.
And Jesus said to His disciples—Matthew 19:23-26
Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter
the Kingdom of Heaven.
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying,
“Who then can be saved?”
But Jesus looked at them and said,
“With man this is impossible,
but with God all things are possible.”
Some dear friends (a retired missionary couple to Bangladesh—Thomas and Gloria Thurmond) shared this Swedish proverb with us, and I want to share it with you.
I pray that it will challenge us daily.
Fear less, Hope more; Eat less, Chew more;
Whine less, Breathe more;
Talk less, Say more;
Love more, and all good things will be yours.
2020 Quite a Year!
Who will forget it? Upside down, topsy turvy!
The unknown plagues us, Isolation prevents fellowship,
Politics perplex us, Fear paralyzes us.
BUT, there is One who does not change;
There is One who give hope, joy, and peace.
As this year closes, join us in proclaiming:
Jesus Christ is the Hope of the World!
Sermon for December 20, 2020
THE DOCTRINE OF CHRISTMAS
1 John 1:1-4
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
When we think about Christmas, we generally turn to passages in the Bible that give us accounts of Jesus’ birth. We want to hear about the angels, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men. The text that I just read from—1 John— doesn’t immediately strike us as a Christmas text, because it is not describing Jesus’ birth. However, John is not recounting the nativity events, he is giving us a wonderfully concise explanation of what the nativity means.
Christmas means that salvation is by grace. Notice how John explains this in this passage. In chapter 1, verse 1 of the Gospel of John, Jesus is called—the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In 1 John 1:1—Jesus is called the Word of Life, and then He is called eternal life in verse 2. When John says—Eternal life. . .was with the Father and has appeared to us, he is referring to Jesus Christ himself. The point here is very clear. We are not being told merely that Jesus Christ has eternal life or even that He gives it. This verse says He is eternal life, salvation itself.
This is one truth that we find hidden in every Christmas passage. In every other religion, the founder points to eternal life, but because Jesus is God in the flesh, He is eternal life. To unite with him by faith, to know him in love, is to have this life. There is nothing else for you to do, or accomplish or attain.
In a church that I pastored some years ago, there was a man who began talking to me about the fact that doctrine was not important, and he wished that I would not preach so much on doctrine. To him, all that was important is that you live a good life.
That is doctrine—but it is called the doctrine of salvation by your works rather than by grace.
It assumes that you are not so bad that you need a Savior, that you are not too weak that you can’t pull yourself together and live as you should. You are actually expressing a whole new set of doctrines about God’s nature, humanity, and sin.
This man did not understand that living a Godly, Christ-like life is a doctrine. It is the doctrine of salvation.
The message of Christmas says that they are all wrong!
The message of Christmas says that you can believe—
the truth of Christmas
that you are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone
that you can get an identity that offers you forgiveness and restoration
when you fail.
This shows us how important it is that the Christmas story actually happened.
Since we believe that we are saved by grace, not by what we do, but by what has been done.
Then it is crucial that the great events of the Gospels—
the virgin birth of Jesus Christ,
the death of Jesus Christ,
the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead—
Be understood and believed and that each of these occurred in time and space.
John confirms this when he says—
we have heard,
we have seen with our eyes,
we have touched with our hands.
Why is John being so emphatic?
He is not making conversation—he is virtually swearing a deposition.
This is court language.
John is saying that many others and he were eyewitnesses.
We testify to it. We really saw Him, He really lived;
He really died; He really rose from the dead.
If Christmas is nothing more than a nice story, then in a sense your are on your own.
On the other hand, if Christmas is true, then you can be saved by grace.
Christmas means that you can have fellowship with God.
The word used here for fellowship—koinonia—-means a relationship of mutual sharing. Our word communion conveys this idea of deep, intimate bonding. John is saying that believers can enter into this same personal communion with God that the apostles and others had who saw and knew Jesus personally.
I believe that the Christmas story of Jesus coming to earth as a man and dying on a cross to pay for our sin makes the difference for Christianity. No other religion says that God became flesh.
The Bible teaches that what makes the difference for Christianity is the incarnation, or the Christmas story of Jesus coming to earth as a man and dying on a cross to pay for our sin. No other religion says that God became flesh.
Consider the phrase from Charles Wesley’s Christmas hymn—
veiled in flesh, the Godhead see.
He did not write the Godhead hidden, but the Godhead see.
It is through Jesus Christ that we see the glory of God.
If you want to know God personally, you cannot just believe general truths about Him or say your prayers to Him.You must immerse yourself in the Gospel texts. When you read the Gospels, you are seeing God in human form.We see God’s perfections in ways that we can relate to. We see His love, His humility, His brilliance, His wisdom, and His compassion. We see them in all their breath-taking, real-life forms. You can know the glories of God from the Old Testament, so overwhelming and daunting, but in Jesus Christ they come near.
Jesus Christ becomes above all personal, someone with whom to have a relationship. Christmas and the coming of Christ mean that God went to infinite lengths to make Himself one whom we can know personally.
It is possible to have this kind of personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
John 1:1-4, tells us that it is possible because of the incarnation. Jesus has become the mediator who has broken down the barriers. This is the kind of fellowship with God that we now can have.
Christmas means joy.
John is saying—My joy will not be complete until you have the same joy in fellowship with God that we do.
The idea of joy is important in the writings of John.
In 17:13, Jesus says—But now I am going to you, and these things I speak in the world that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
Notice that Jesus said—my joy. He was not praying for a joy from the world but the joy that has its origin in Heaven.
Joy is the occupation, character, and realization of Heaven.
The joy of which the New Testament speaks is, of course, happiness.
It is not the kind of happiness that goes away in the face of negative circumstances.
It is more like the ballast that keeps a ship stable and upright in the water.
The joy that Christmas brings, the assurance of God’s love and care, is like a fountain of joy, that will always reinvigorate you. No matter the circumstances of your life.
I would argue that we often fail to experience this Christian joy because the means to achieving it are so ordinary.
The claim in 1 John 1:1—That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,
which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—
that which we have touched with our hands—
This phrase never ceases to amaze me.
How could the extraordinary become that ordinary?
Yet, this is the very heart of the Christmas Message—
unimaginable greatness was packed into a manger.
It is the greatest irony that Christmas is the one Christian holiday the world seems to embrace, yet its message is the most incomprehensible to that world.
The Christian life begins not with deeds and achievements but with the simple and ordinary act of humble asking.
Then the life and joy grow in us over the years through commonplace, almost boring practices such as daily obedience, Bible reading and prayer, worship and attendance, serving our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as our neighbors, depending on Jesus during times of suffering, etc.
And little by little our faith will grow, and the foundation of our lives will come closer to that deep river of joy. Do not be put off by the ordinariness of the means of joy, for in the ordinariness is hidden the extraordinary riches of the Gospel. Do not make the mistake that the world has always made
Instead—remember the words of this famous Christmas carol written in 1876
by Phillip Brooks
O Little Town of Bethlehem
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
Merry Christmas to Each of You and Your Families
Bill and Marietta Bricker
Sermon for December 13, 2020
THE CHRISTMAS STORY ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST
Sacrifice and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offering you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.
This is what I call the Christmas story according to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us look at what our Lord emphasizes in these verses.
First, Jesus came into the world for a purpose.
That is important, because it is uniquely true of Him. It cannot be said of any other person that he or she came into the world to do something. Parents often have various ideas for the future of their children. But—the child does not have them. The child has to acquire them. That is why, from a Christian perspective, the child must be taught his or her destiny from the pages of the Word of God.
Jesus was different. Our Lord says that He came, and was conscious of His coming
for a specific purpose. He spells out that purpose in verse 7— I have come to do your will, O God.
What was that will? God willed Christ to be our Savior.
We often lose a sense of that purpose in telling the Christmas story because we focus so much on the birth of the baby and on the sentiment that goes with the story. Also, there is a certain amount of legitimate sentimentality that goes with the story that causes us
to miss the most important things.
Actually, the story is treated quite simply in Scripture, and the emphasis is always on the fact that Jesus came to die. The Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, took a human body in order that he might die for our salvation. When our Lord speaks of his coming, it is therefore highly understandable that He is thinking along those lines.
In the tenth chapter of Hebrews, the author contrasts the sacrifices that took place in Israel before the coming of Christ—the sin offerings and the burnt offerings, by which believers testified of their faith that God would accept them on the basis of the death of an innocent substitute—with Christ’s great and perfect sacrifice.
It is in the context of that contrast between the former things and that which has now come, between the shadow and the reality, that He brings in the quotation from Psalm 40.
Psalm 40:6-8—In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.
The Lord Jesus Christ came into this world with a purpose, and that purpose was to do God’s will—to be our Savior. We miss the most important thing about Christmas if we fail to see that.
Second, a point emerges from these verses. Our Lord came into the world with a sense of purpose; he also came into the world with knowledge that he was the perfect one to fulfill that purpose. As he came into the world, our Lord had his mind on his great purpose: to provide salvation for the human race.
Not only did He have this purpose in mind, He also was aware that He was the one perfectly suited to carry out that purpose. He was perfectly suited by virtue of who He was. Unlike anybody else who has ever been born, He was not only man; He was God as well.
Therefore, as a man He could die upon the cross,
as God He died in order to pay the infinite price necessary for our salvation.
It was the price that must be paid for our sin; and that price is beyond what we or any human could possibly ever pay.
Only Christ could pay that price!
Scripture tells us in 1 Peter 18 & 19—
Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inhered from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
Third. Psalm 40:8—I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. We see that Jesus was delighted to do the Father’s will.
Could Jesus be delighted to come to this earth from glory,
to lay aside all the privileges and prerogatives He had enjoyed as the eternal Son of God, to take to Himself a human form, to become like us,
to become poor, to suffer throughout life,
and then eventually to suffer upon the cross
and die the death of a sinner?
Jesus was delighted to do the Father’s will and bring the sons and daughters of God into glory!
It was His pleasure to do the Father’s will to achieve our salvation.
Is it any wonder that the angels were so joyful as they announced the coming of the one who was to be the Savior?
Jesus Christ was joyful as He came into the world to be our Savior.
Because Jesus was joyful, we certainly should share in that joy in this season of celebrating the birth of the one who died that we might live.
Paul said in Galatians 2:20—
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
There is one more thing to notice. When the Lord says, I have come to do your will, O God, He is speaking in the present tense, which is undoubtedly intended to make this important point: I have come; but not only have I come, I have come never to leave again.
Maybe we need to be reminded that those events that happened 2000 years ago have not ceased to be current.
The Lord Jesus Christ, who came then, comes again and again though the person of Holy Spirit to bring the accomplishment of His salvation to the individual.
This is the reason the Christmas story is alive.
This is the only reason it has the hold it has upon so many millions of people.
If the story were a fable or even an event that happened 2,000 years ago or even last year and then was ended, it would have no hold upon us.
What does it really matter that somebody died long ago in a far-off land?
If the one who came then still comes, if he comes to the individual through His Spirit to bring the results of what He accomplished 2000 years ago to where you and I stand and act now, then this story lives and enables us to live also.
Phillips Brooks, in his carol O Little Town of Bethlehem has a stanza that is a delight at this point.
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.
So He does! May this be your experience this Christmas season.
Sermon for December 6, 2020
HOW TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS
And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
To put this in its proper context, I need to read from Luke 2:1-21.
Verses 17-20 tell us how to celebrate Christmas.
How should we celebrate Christmas?
The question is important because of the importance of the day and because so many people obviously do not know how to celebrate it.
We know that Jesus was probably not born on December 25; at least there is no real evidence that He was. Nevertheless, this is the day that most people—Christians and non-Christians alike—observe His birthday.
What is a genuinely Christian way to observe Christ’s birthday?
The fact that the world celebrates the day in non-Christian ways is no excuse for Christians to either neglect it or misuse it.
How then should a Christian celebrate Christmas?
Before we look at our text, we need to say that by far the best and greatest way to celebrate Christmas is by becoming a follower of the one whose birth we celebrate. If you are not a follower of Christ, then you must become a follower.
The Bible tells us that the birth of Jesus was unlike all other births—Jesus existed before birth as the second person of the Godhead, and Jesus came to earth to die for our sins so that we might be saved from our sins and become His followers. His death was the means of our salvation.
Jesus was born to be our Saviour, as the words of the carol say:
Good Christian men, rejoice With heart and soul and voice!
Now ye need not fear the grave; Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all To gain His everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!
Anyone can understand Christmas by just three propositions:
1—I am a sinner, 2—as a sinner I need a Savior, 3—Jesus is that Savior.
Therefore, the best way to celebrate Christmas is to believe in Jesus as your Savior. If you have never done that, then Christmas is a great season in which to believe in Him.
Now, assuming that you have believed in Him and that you are a Christian.
What can you add to this in order to celebrate Christmas properly?
At this point, our text comes in with a report of how those who witnessed the first Christmas observed it. The passage begins by speaking of the shepherds in Luke 2:17-20.
And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The means of celebrating Christmas which the passage suggests are—
1. To tell others about it.
2. To wonder at the event itself.
3. To ponder its meaning.
4. To glorify and praise God for what was done there.
In the first place, we are told that after the shepherds had come to Bethlehem and had seen the infant Jesus, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning the child. In other words, the shepherds became witnesses of the event. The reasons they became witnesses are that there was an event, a great event, and others very much needed to hear of it.
What happened to these men? They had been out in the fields in the middle of the night, watching over their sheep. The had no thoughts for spiritual things, and they certainly did to expect a miracle. When suddenly an angel appeared with the message that we have recorded in Luke 2:10-11—Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. After the angel had spoken, there appeared a host of angels all praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased. Luke 2:14
When the angels had departed, the shepherds decided to go to Bethlehem. So they left their flocks and came and found Jesus, exactly as the angels had said. What they had been told, coincided with their own experience, and they could not resist speaking of such things.
Not only did these men have something to tell as we also do, but the shepherds also knew of a world that needed desperately to hear their message.
It was a sad world in their time. It was lost, confused, dying.
It was lost because it lacked direction, primarily spiritual direction.
It was confused because it lacked revelation and therefore also an awareness of truth. It was dying because it had no adequate cause for which to live.
The world of the shepherds’ day was much like the world of our day, in which
the lamps of knowledge and culture seem to be slowly flickering out.
Over against that dying world there was Jesus.
Later, in His life, He would speak of himself in precise relationship to the world’s condition. In John 14:6, He said—I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
Jesus is saying that he was the way for a world that was lost;
he was the truth for a world that was dreadfully confused,
and he was the life for a world that was dying.
This same message is the message which the shepherds took to their contemporaries.
It is the perfect combination—a knowledge of the good news and the people who need to hear it. This combination—when truly understood and seized upon—produces witnesses. The only essential for proclaiming the gospel is a knowledge of it. So every one who knows Christ and has become a Christian can tell others of Him.
The first way to celebrate Christmas.
Imitate the shepherds in spreading the good news about Jesus Christ.
The second way to celebrate Christmas.
We can wonder at the hearing of the story.
Or——We can be amazed at the hearing of the story. I prefer “amazed” because I believe it comes the closest to the feelings of the people who heard the words of the shepherds. We might call this “holy amazement” which is a proper wonder at those acts of God that are beyond human comprehension. From the beginning to the end, God’s dealings with our race are a cause for amazement. But of all those dealings, that which would evoke our greatest amazement is the incarnation of the Son of God, which we mark especially at Christmas.
God became a man! The Deity in human flesh.
How can that be?
We cannot understand it; but it is true nevertheless,
and we marvel at it or at least we should be amazed at it.
Do you want to celebrate Christmas? Then be amazed at it.
Allow it to stretch your mind.
The third way you and I can celebrate Christmas is to “ponder” it.
Verse 19—Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
Pondering is connected with amazement. It also goes beyond amazement as an attempt to understand the mystery or figure it out. It implies a diving beneath the surface. It involves an effort to enter the heart and counsels of God.
Do that! Spend some time at Christmas thinking over what you know of God and trying to understand the ways of God more fully.
Pondering is work. It is not just getting into a serious religious frame of mind. It is an attempt to take what you know and then by an exercise of the mind to build upon it.
Think what it involved in the case of Mary.
First, it involved her memory; for we are told that she treasured up all these things.
Second, it involved her affections; we are told she treasured up all these things…in her heart.
Third, it involved her intellect; for she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Can you do that as a Christian? Of course, you can!
Our time is poorly spent if we allow daily affairs to eclipse times of pondering upon God’s Word.
Finally, the text suggests that we can celebrate Christmas by glorifying God and by praising Him.
The text in verse 20 tells us—And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
One of the great words of the Greek language is glory or glorify. Long ago, when the Greek language was in its infancy, the word from which glory came meant to have an opinion. Later, it came to mean only to have a good opinion. Finally, by an obvious extension, it meant a person’s true worth. The noun form of the word is doxa, which we have in our words, orthodox, heterodox, and paradox. These words mean “a right opinion,” “a wrong opinion,” and “a contradictory opinion” respectively.
When you acknowledge a person’s true worth, which is only another way of saying that you express a proper opinion of him, you may be said to be glorifying him. This is the sense in which we glorify God. Also, since acknowledging His true worth is the essential meaning of worship—it means to acknowledge God’s worth-ship—to glorify God is to worship Him by words. It is in that sense a doxology, which means to express a high opinion of God verbally.
If these four means of celebrating Christmas seem right to you, and if you want to put them into practice, do not think that the only place you can do this is in church.
Learn to do them wherever God sends you. We are told that they returned, glorifying and praising God. To their glorifying and praising, they had an audience of sheep. But before the sheep, where they first heard the angels song, they, no doubt, are heard to be singing God’s praise.
May God give us the grace to do that!
Sermon for November 29, 2020
The Paradoxical Life of a Christian
The Oxford Dictionary defines a paradox as a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which, when investigated, may prove to be well founded or true. You may have heard of a few of these paradoxes stated at some point in your life, but maybe never stopped to consider their validity. Statements such as the following:
“Failure leads to success.”
“Only certainty is uncertainty.”
“Social media disconnects us with each other.”
“The only constant is change.”
How true can those paradoxes be? There is another place to discover paradoxes. The Sacred Scriptures contain many paradoxes. Note the following:
“Everything is futile. Everything is meaningful. (Ecclesiastes)
“My yoke is easy. The difficulty of the road leads to life.” (Matthew)
“Let your light shine before men. Be careful to not practice your righteousness in front of others.” (Matthew)
The key to biblical paradoxes is to understand them in context. Such statements, as I just stated, complement one another and reveal a fuller picture of the truth. With that in mind, let’s discover three more paradoxical statements. These statements will help reveal the characteristics of a Paradoxical Life of a Christian.
Turn with me to Philippians 3:7-11.
The apostle Paul has a unique and deep affection for the church at Philippi. He is writing from a jail cell close to ten years since he first planted the church. In Acts 16 we discover Paul engaging Lydia and her household, a demon-possessed girl, and a Philippian jailer who all come to the saving knowledge of Christ. After their conversion Paul established the church before departing Philippi. The letter he pens tells of his joy in Christ and gratitude for their partnership in the gospel. The local church was of high priority in Paul’s life and ministry (see 2:1-4, 12; 3:2-21; 4:2-7). Paul, as his custom in writing to churches, addresses matters of doctrine, to be followed by application. This letter is composed in similar fashion. Paul has a doctrinal emphasis in this letter, but heavily leans on the practicality of a Christian’s faith. We will encounter both doctrine and application within our passage this morning.
7 )But whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ. 8) More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ, 9) and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10) that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11) if somehow I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Prayer- A Puritan Prayer (Valley of Vision)
We thank thee for the holy Scriptures, their precepts, promises, directions, and light.
In them may we learn more of Christ, be enabled to retain his truth and have grace to follow it. Help us lift up the gates of our souls That He may come in, and show us himself when we search the Scriptures, for we have no lines to fathom its depths, no wings to soar to its heights.
By his aid may we be enabled to explore all its truths, love them with all our hearts, embrace them with all our power, engraft them in our lives.
Bless our souls all grains of truth garnered from thy Word; may they take deep root, be refreshed by heavenly dew, be ripened by heavenly rays, be harvested to our joy and thy praise. Help us to gain profit by what we read, as treasure beyond all treasure, a fountain which can replenish our dry heart, its waters flowing through us as a perennial river on-drawn by thy Holy Spirit. Enable us to distill from its pages faithful prayer that grasps the arm of thy omnipotence, achieves wonders, obtains blessings, and draw down streams of mercy. From it show us how our words have often been unfaithful to thee, injurious to our fellow-men, empty of grace, full of folly, dishonoring to our calling. Then write thy own words upon our hearts and inscribe them on our lips; so shall all glory be to thee in our reading of thy Word. In His name we pray. Amen.
What is the Paradoxical Life of a Christian? Better said, what paradoxes help explain the life of follower of Christ? There are three paradoxical statements that I will attempt to make this morning to help us catch a glimpse and understanding of what it truly means to know Christ.
Our first statement is…
1. Dying to self leads to new life in Christ. V.7-9
An autobiographical feature is located within this letter. Paul presents his former life before he came to know Christ Jesus. Look with me at verses 4-6. Paul writes where his confidence lied. He writes, “Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more; circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” His righteousness was wrapped in his work, his status, and his heritage. What appeared to be good. What appeared to satisfy the applause of man, was nothing more but rubbish. Those things Paul listed did not grant him new life or a right standing with a holy and just God. Paul had to be halted on the Damascus Road by the Lord Jesus Christ. From the intense exchange in Acts 9 Paul was justified by Christ. Nothing else could make him right. Nothing else could grant him new life. His old life had to die.
Take a moment to consider how you attained the righteousness of Christ. You must realize that you were born in sin, a state of rebellion. According to the Word there is nothing good in us. Our works, our heritage, our parent’s faith, or our good behavior is worthless, rubbish. None of those things will allow us to have a right standing before our Father. What happened to Paul must happen to us. For us to have a right standing before the Father, the righteousness of Christ must be given to us. Glance down at verse 9. Paul writes, “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which comes from God on the basis of faith.” A clear picture of the imputation of Christ is seen here in this verse. By faith, a gift God gives to His people, we have confidence to receive salvation and the righteousness of Christ. What is accomplished in the work of imputation? Redemption from the claims of Satan. We no longer belong to him (Ephesians 2:1-3). Reconciliation with God. We were once hostile, rebelling against God. Peace has been made between you and God. Forgiveness of Sins. God has cleaned the slate in our lives. Our sins were put on the shoulders of Christ. He bore our sins on the tree. To have new life in Christ, to be justified by faith, and to attain the righteousness of Christ, there has to be a death of self. God, in His grace and mercy, opens the blind eyes of a person and gives them faith to realize their condition. As Paul writes to the church in Corinth, the old has gone and the new has come. Christ has become sin for us. Death must take place before there is new life.
A second statement is this…..
2. Anticipating and experiencing suffering brings deeper intimacy with Christ. V.10
What seems to be quite problematic for the Church today is suffering. Suffering has a negative connotation by many in the local church. Could it be that we find ourselves thinking that we cause our own suffering? Well, that could be the case at times. Or do we think that suffering is merely from the fall or just a natural act in life. Another point that is valid. But when we read the New Testament, suffering is prominent feature in the lives of early believers. The purpose of suffering is to display the glory of God and sanctify the Church. That is what is missing in the Church today. Acknowledging that God has placed suffering in our lives to glorify Himself and make the believer more like Christ is often depleted from the Church and her teaching.
Paul, in verse 10, writes, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Let’s not miss the first part of verse 10, “that I may know Him.” Paul was converted 30 years prior to this letter. Why is this such a remarkable statement? He wanted to know more of Christ. He longed to know him. Paul recognized that his old life was dead and he had new life in Christ. He was secure in who he was in Christ. What drove him further in his faith was wanting to know more of Christ. The word “know” conveys more than intellectual knowledge. Paul used the word know here to communicate an intimate relationship.
To aid us in understanding this truth even more, let’s put Romans 6:1-11 beside it. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Far from it! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for the one who has died is freed from sin.
8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all time; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 So you too, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Let’s look back at verse 8 in Philippians 3:8. Notice what Paul says, “More than that, I count all things to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus MY Lord for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I might gain Christ.”
How can suffering bring us deeper intimacy with Christ? Our suffering should drive us to greater dependency on Christ. Our suffering should continually conform us to the image of the Son. But how does that necessarily take place? Suffering is a tool in the work of sanctification. It is important to know that there is a cooperation in the work of sanctification. God has sanctified us, but will continue to sanctify us as we strive to know Him, the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. Again, how might this happen?
A. Consistent attendance of corporate worship. Gathering with the body of Christ to hear the Word, edify each other through songs, and lifting our hearts in prayer to our Father encourages and equips the Christian in the midst of suffering.
B. Proper use of the sacraments. The continual practice of baptism and the Eucharist reminds of the gospel. The mind is focused on the works of God.
C. Kindness to all. Forgetting our current situation and setting our minds on others helps grow us in Christ as we walk through pain and suffering.
D. Devoted to prayer. Praying without ceasing. Paul valued the discipline of prayer. His letter to the Church of Philippi revealed a heart of prayer from a man in prison.
E. Being thankful. Be thankful in all circumstances. Expressing gratitude to the Father for the suffering in our lives reveals the desire to glorify God. The temptation is to draw back and question or return blame on God or others, but suffering is given to grow us in the faith.
F. Studying of the Word- devotionally and exegetically. Learning the precepts and principles within the Word allow us to walk through the suffering.
We now come to the third and final paradox of a Christian life.
3. The kingdom is here already, but the kingdom is not here yet. V.11
Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes, “in order that I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.” Please note that Paul is not doubting or contradicting himself by stating that he may attain to the resurrection of the dead. In other words, Paul is not questioning his faith. Paul has deep assurance that he belongs to Christ. That’s not the direction of this statement. Paul’s ultimate desire is to be raised completely above sin and selfishness in order to be an effective agent for the salvation of men to the glory of God. Obviously, this is not fully attained until the glorious return of Christ Jesus.
Paul understood that the kingdom of God was here on the earth. The kingdom arrived when Christ left the beauty and royalty of Heaven and descended to earth. The king of kings made his appearance to unfold the will of God which was to save His people from their sin.
But as we ready Holy Scripture we understand that the kingdom is not come yet. In other words, God will one day consummate all things. He will bring to final completion what He has promised. The promise of a new heaven and new earth. The promise that there will be no more sin. The promise that there will be no more death, tears, sorrow, grief, pain, or suffering. The kingdom is already here, but not fully here yet.
As we reside in this kingdom, waiting for the kingdom to fully and finally come, we pursue Christ. Not to know about Him, but to truly know Him. May we not be satisfied in knowing that He has justified us by His life, death, and resurrection, but may we long to know his love and grace, to know the sweetness of the Scriptures. Our chief desire is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Can that be said of you this morning? To you long to know Him, the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, and to be conformed in His death. What is your desire as you wait for history to be consummated? May God find His people faithful to His will.
Thank you for the life we have in you. What we truly deserve is death. But you defeated death in the life and work of your Son. By faith alone we are justified. We have a right standing with you. You have redeemed us and given us new life. Thank you for the suffering we encounter. Help us to realize that the sufferings are opportunity to know you more and become more like Christ. And Father, we ask that give us wisdom and discernment to walk obediently in your kingdom, realizing that one day your kingdom will be complete. We ask these things in the name of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sermon for November 22, 2020
A THANKSGIVING PSALM
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into His presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, He is God!
It is He who made us, and we are His;
We are the people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
And His courts with praise!
Give thanks to Him; bless His name!
For the LORD is good;
His steadfast love endures forever,
And His faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100 is the only psalm that is explicitly identified as a psalm for giving thanks. It is the quintessence of thanksgiving.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the nineteenth century, declared—Nothing can be more sublime this side of heaven than the singing of this noble Psalm by a vast congregation.
The psalm is not hard to analyze. It contains seven great imperatives, plus two explanations of why we should give thanks, the first, halfway through the psalm, and the other at the end.
Psalm 100 contains:
(1)—a statement of how to give thanks,
(2)—an explanation of why God’s people must give thanks,
(3)—an invitation to give thanks
(4)—a final great expression of praise of thanksgiving.
How should we show our appreciation to God for all He has done for us? We cannot thank God by giving Him something. He needs nothing from us. What can we do? The opening verse suggests three things.
First—We can “make a joyful noise.”
Some translations use the word shout. Are we to come to church in order to shout? From what I have seen on TV, there are some who would say yes, but I think not. It is helpful to know that the Hebrew word originally meant a glad shout, such as loyal subjects might utter when the king appears among them, the emphasis being on the gladness. This should be clear from the first two verses since the idea of joy appears three times: joy, gladness, joyful. Still the text does not say shout. It would be more accurate to express this idea by saying that the people of God are to praise God with great joy because they are happy with Him. It would be accurate to express this idea by saying that the people of God are to praise God loudly because they are happy with Him.
Second—We can serve. Verse 2 says Serve the LORD with gladness.
The psalm suggests that we serve God by our worship. And in verse 4, we read—Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Also, we need to remember the words of Jesus in which the righteous are praised in the day of judgment because, when the Lord was hungry, they gave him something to eat, when He was thirsty, they gave Him something to drink, and when He was a stranger, they invited Him in, when He needed clothes, they clothed Him, when He was sick they looked after Him, and when He was in prison, they visited Him.—Matthew 25:5-36
When the righteous protest,
Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you?
When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you
The Lord replies—I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (Verse 40)
How can we give thanks?
Jesus said that we give thanks when we meet the needs of others.
Third, we can come. The third imperative at the beginning of Psalm 100 is come. This refers to formal worship, since the psalm describes the coming of the people of God to Jerusalem and its temple enclosure. Are we to thank God by serving others? Yes, but we are to worship God also. In other words, faith and works go together.
I am struck by the well-rounded nature of these terms—make a joyful noise, serve (worship), and come —for they embrace our verbal witness, humanitarian activity, and worship, three necessary parts of Christianity.
Fourth, the fourth imperative in this psalm is “know.” Including this word, the psalm tells us that our thanksgiving to God must be intelligent; we must know whom we are thanking. The Athenian Greeks had been worshiping an “unknown god.”
But when Paul stood on Mars Hill to address them, he said, What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:23)
We cannot rightly thank or worship a God who is unknown to us. So we ask, What is it about God we should know?
Verse 3 gives us two answers:
1—He is our creator.
2—He is our Redeemer. The words are:
It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
The natural result of knowing God is to know ourselves,
and the only way we really know ourselves is by knowing God.
Knowing God and knowing ourselves always go together.
If there is no other reason why we should be thankful to God—
it is because He has both made us and redeemed us.
No one should be more thankful to God than the sheep
who are cared for by the Good Shepherd.
Has He given us days of unusual prosperity?
If so, it has pleased Him to do it; we must be thankful to Him for being the good and generous God He is.
Has He given us days of troublesome trials or sorrow?
If this is the case, we must thank Him for that, knowing that He is wise and gracious even in allowing such hard times.
The apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:11-13—
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Paul was in prison when he wrote that, but the letter in which it occurs, the letter to the Philippians, is overflowing with thanksgiving.
There is one more important point in this verse, Psalm 100:3— It is He who made us and we are His.
Regardless of what may happen to us, we are still His.
Troubles inevitably will come. But it is no matter. We are His.
Sickness may come. We are His. We may lose a job. We are His.
Death in our immediate family. We are still His.
The final verse of the Psalm explains why you and I should thank God.
It invites us to thank God because of who He is. It tells us three things about Him.
1. God is Good. The gods of the heathen were not good. They were selfish and capricious.
You could never know when they might turn against you and do you harm.
Not so our God. The God of the Bible is and always has been good. When He created the world and all that is in it,
He saw that it was good. Genesis 1:4-31
When He gave us His law, that law was good—Romans 7:12
When He reveals His will to us, His will is good, pleasing, and perfect—Romans 12:2
The word gospel means the good news. No wonder the psalmist cried out—
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
2. God is Love. Psalm 100:5—His steadfast love endures forever.
God is many things. He has many attributes. However, nothing lies so much at the very heart of God as love. Nothing so endears Him to His people.
3. God is Faithful. We live in a world of change. In the midst of a rapidly changing world, it is a comfort to know that God is unchanging. He can be counted on to remain as He has been. Spurgeon said, As our fathers found Him faithful, so will our sons and their seed forever.
Has God been good in the past? Of course! Then He will always be good.
You need never worry that He might cease to be good or change His good ways.
Has God been loving? Of course! Then He will always be loving. His very nature is love.
You need never worry that He will cease to love you.
Has He seen you through difficult times? Very few Christians have avoided such difficult times altogether. Yet, those who have gone through rough times testify that God has kept them securely. Well, then, He will do it for you also, whatever may come.
Has anyone ever had greater reason to thank God than we who are His redeemed people,
who know Him not only as our Creator but also as our loving shepherd and Lord?
Then let us make a joyful noise to the Lord—
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
and His courts with praise!
Give thanks to Him; bless His name!
For the Lord is good;
and His steadfast love endures forever,
And His faithfulness to all generations.
Sermon for November 15, 2020
THE WORRY WART
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious saying, “What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
My mother worried more than any person I have ever known. She worried about everything! My father nicknamed her the “worry wart.” This passage of Scripture reminds me of her.
The heart of Jesus’ message in this passage is:
Do not worry—not even about necessities!
He gives the command—Do not be anxious three times (verses 25, 31, 34)
It is unfaithful because of our Master;
it is unnecessary because of our Father;
it is unreasonable because of our faith,
and it is unwise because of our future.
WORRY IS UNFAITHFUL BECAUSE OF OUR MASTER
In Matthew 6: 25, we read—Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
“Therefore” refers back to verse 24, in which Jesus declares that a Christian’s only Master is God. He is saying—Because God is your Master, I say to you, do not be anxious.
A slave’s only responsibility is to his master, who is God. For Christians, worry and anxiety are forbidden, foolish, and sinful.
Worry is the sin of distrusting the promise and providence of God, and yet it is a sin that Christians commit perhaps more frequently than any other.
The English term worry comes from an old German word meaning to strangle, or choke. That is exactly what worry does; it is a kind of mental and emotional strangulation, which probably causes more mental and physical afflictions than any other single cause.
Worry is the opposite of contentment, which should be a believer’s normal and consistent state of mind. Every believer should be able to say with Paul—I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in. I know how to get along with humble means, and I know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (Phil. 4:11-12; 1 Tim.6:6-8)
A Christian’s contentment is found in God, and only in God—in His ownership, control, and provision of everything we possess and will ever need.
First, God owns everything, including the entire universe. David proclaimed—The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it—Psalm 24:1. He also said, Thine, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth—1 Chronicles 29:11
Everything we now have belongs to the Lord, and everything we will ever have belongs to Him. Why, then, do we worry about His taking from us what really belongs to Him?
Second, a Christian should be content because God controls everything—in His ownership, control, and provision of everything we possess and will ever need.
David gives us the right perspective: Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and give strength to all. —1 Chronicles 29:12
Daniel answered and said: Blessed be the name of God forever and forever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding—-Daniel 2:20-21
Jesus declares that a Christian’s only Master is God.
He is saying—Because God is your Master, I say to you, do not be anxious.
A slave’s only responsibility is to his master, who is God.
For Christians, worry and anxiety are forbidden, foolish, and sinful.
Third—Believers are to be content because the Lord provides everything.
The supreme owner and controller is also the supreme provider, as indicated in one of his ancient names, Jehovah-Jireh, which means the Lord who provides. That is the name Abraham ascribed to God when He provided a lamb to be sacrificed in place of Isaac as recorded in Genesis 22:14. If Abraham with his limited knowledge of God, could be so trusting and content, how much more should we who know Christ and who have His whole written Word?
Paul assures us in Philippians 4:19—And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
WORRY IS UNNECESSARY BECAUSE OF OUR FATHER
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? —Matthew 6:26-30
The basic thrust of these verses is that a believer has absolutely no reason to worry, because God is his heavenly Father. He asks us—Have you forgotten who your Father is?
To illustrate his point, Jesus shows how unnecessary and foolish it is to worry about food, about life expectancy, or about clothing.
Worry about longevity?
And which of you being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Our culture is obsessed with trying to lengthen life. We exercise, eat carefully, supplement our diets with vitamins and minerals, get regular physical check ups, and do countless other things in hope of adding a few years to your lives.
The gift of life is a gift from God to be used for His purposes, for spiritual and heavenly reasons, not selfish and earthly ones. Our concern should be to obey, honor, please, and glorify Him, leaving everything else to His wisdom and care.
Worry about clothing.
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Matthew 6:28-29
The Lilies of the Field may have been a general term used of the wild flowers that grew in great variety and beauty graced the fields and hillsides of Galilee.
These beautiful decorations of nature make no effort to grow and had no part in designing or coloring themselves. They neither toil nor spin, Jesus said, stating the obvious— Yet l tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? —Matthew 6:28-30
Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?—Matthew 6:26
Worry is not a trivial sin, because it strikes a blow both at God’s love and God’s integrity. Worry declares our heavenly Father to be untrustworthy in His word and His promises. Worry is not only debilitating and destructive, but maligns and impugns God.
When a believer is not fresh in the word every day, so that God is in his mind and heart, then Satan moves into the vacuum and plants worry. Worry then pushes the Lord even further from our minds.
WORRY IS UNREASONABLE BECAUSE OF OUR FAITH
Therefore, do not be anxious, saying “What shall we eat? Or What shall we drink? Or What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God
and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Worry is inconsistent with our faith in God and is therefore unreasonable as well as sinful.
Worry is characteristic of unbelief. In the plural form, as it is used here—Gentiles usually referred to non-Jews, and by extension, to unbelievers or pagans. Worrying about what “to eat, drink, wear” are the things the Gentiles eagerly seek. Those who have no hope in God naturally put their hope and expectations in things they can enjoy now. They have nothing to live for but the present, and their materialism is perfectly consistent with their religion. They have no God to supply their physical or spiritual needs, their present or their eternal needs, so anything they get they must get for themselves. They are ignorant of God’s supply and have no claim on it.
No heavenly Father cares for them, so there is no reason to worry.
The gods of the Gentiles were man-made gods inspired by Satan. They were gods of fear, dread, and appeasement who demanded much, promised little, and provided nothing. It was natural that those who served such gods would eagerly seek whatever satisfactions and pleasures they could while they could. Their philosophy is still popular today among those who are determined to grab all the gusto the can get. Paul spoke clearly to those who have no hope in the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:32—Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.
To worry about our physical welfare and our clothing is a mark of a worldly mind, whether Christian or not. When we think like the world and desire like the world, we will worry like the world, because a mind that is not centered on God is a mind that has cause to worry.
The faithful, trusting, and reasonable Christian understood what Paul meant when he said in Philippians 4:6—do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Seeking God’s kingdom is losing ourselves in obedience to the Lord to the extent that we can say with Paul as he did in Acts 20:24—But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. The word “kingdom” does not refer to a geographical territory but to a dominion or rule. God’s kingdom is God’s sovereign rule, and therefore to seek first the kingdom of God is to seek first His rules, His will, and His authority.
We are also to seek “His righteousness.” Instead of longing after the things of this world, we are to hunger and thirst for the things of the world to come, which are characterized above all else by God’s perfect righteousness and holiness. It is more than longing for something in the future; it is also longing for something present and practical. We not only are to have heavenly expectations but holy lives as expressed in Colossians 3:2-3—Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
WORRY IS UNWISE BECAUSE OF OUR FUTURE
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.-Matthew 6:34
Making reasonable provisions for tomorrow is sensible, but to be anxious for tomorrow is foolish and unfaithful. God is the God of tomorrow as well as the God of today and of eternity.
If God bothers to array the grass of the field with beautiful but short-lived flowers, how much more is He concerned to clothe and care for His very own children who are destined for eternal life!
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
Jesus says—To be anxious even about things which we need to survive is sinful and shows little faith. A person who worries about those things may have saving faith, but he does not have faith that relies on God to finish what He has begun. We freely put our eternal destiny in His hands, but at times, we refuse to believe He will provide what we need to survive day by day.
It seems some people are so committed to worrying that, if they cannot find anything in the present to worry about, they think about possible problems in the future. Jesus assures us that Tomorrow will take care of itself. This is the conviction of the child of God who knows that tomorrow will take care of itself because it is in his heavenly Father’s hands.
Each day has enough trouble of its own is not a call to worry about that trouble. It is a call to concentrate on meeting the temptations, trials, opportunities, and struggles we have today, while relying on our Father to protect and provide as we have need. There is enough trouble in each day without adding the distress of worry to it. God promises His grace for tomorrow and for every day and throughout eternity.
However, He does not give us grace for tomorrow NOW. He only gives His grace a day at a tine as it is needed, not as it may be anticipated.
You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
When a believer is not fresh in the Word every day so that God is in his mind and heart, then Satan moves into the vacuum and plants worry. Worry then pushes the Lord even further from our minds.
Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow!
Tomorrow will be anxious for itself.
Sufficient for each day is its own trouble.
And my God will supply every need of yours
according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Sermon for November 8, 2020
Our consumer mentality is constantly telling us that life at its best consists of having more and more possessions and pleasures. As Christians, we know this is false. But the tug is so strong that many of us try a balancing act between what the Bible teaches and what the world tells us, between the spiritual riches God offers us in Christ and the worldly treasures that cannot feed our soul. Sadly, some of us lose our balance, and the results are devastating.
When Jesus said, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, He was speaking in terms that were highly relevant to his hearers. He was speaking of the ultimate futility of supposing that one can somehow amass wealth and keep it safe, and He referred to three things—one’s clothing, one’s food supply, and one’s gems and precious metals.
We can see the surface meaning of Jesus’ words, but the question is—what did He really mean by His command? Was He condemning wealth? No. The Scriptures nowhere contain a prohibition of private property. Nor is saving for rainy days forbidden.
In fact, it is encouraged, as in the parable of the ant in Proverbs 6:6-8—Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
Paul also tells us in 1 Timothy 4:4—For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.—He is telling us that we are not to despise the good things of life—as ascetics do—but we are to enjoy food and the comforts of life.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is prohibiting the selfish accumulation of goods.
In Luke 12:15, Jesus said—Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.
One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
Notice that our text does not say—Do not lay up for yourselves money on earth.
It says treasures. The Greek word used here is an inclusive term. It certainly refers
to money, but it is not confined to money. What Jesus has in mind are people who get their entire satisfaction from things that belong to this world only.
He warns against focusing our ambitions, interest, and hopes on the things of this life. If anything in this world is everything to you, it is an earthly treasure.
Verse 21—For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. We need to understand that here the word heart means more than it does in modern usage. Generally, we think of heart as a name for affections. The Bible uses it for the whole inner person, the core of our total being, the wellspring of all we do. This means that Christ is telling us that where our treasure is, there will be all of our total being.
This verse is a gracious mirror in which we can see where our hearts really are. It is natural for our vocation or our home to occupy a large place in our thoughts. However, Jesus warns against a total earthbound absorption with them. Realizing that where our treasure is—there is our heart also—we would do well to ask ourselves——-
1. What occupies my thoughts when I have nothing else to do? What occupies my daydreams?
These are the things I treasure, and that is where my heart really is.
2. What is it that I worry about most?
This tells me where my treasure lies.
3. Apart from my loved ones, what or whom do I most dread losing?
4. What is it that I cannot be happy without?
Now, we shift our focus to verses 21-24.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.
If then the light in you is darkest how great is the darkness!
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and money.
The eye is a useful illustration of spiritual possibilities. When the eye is functioning normally, the light it perceives has illumination of benefit to the whole body. Many different bodily functions may then be performed satisfactorily.
There is a Spiritual parallel here. Jesus speaks of the eye as the light of the body. The meaning appears to be that the eye is the organ that means light to the body. The eye is the source of light to the whole body. Apart from the eye, the body would receive no light; thus, the eye functions much as a lamp does. Thus it is very important that the eye be healthy.
An eye that is bad—means that it is diseased or impaired in some way. An eye that is not functioning properly does not bring to the body the benefit of light, and lacking a healthy eye, the whole body is seen as in darkness. There is disaster if the light within anyone is in darkness. Such a person may well think he has light, but to walk in darkness is to lack vision, to demonstrate that one has no light.
The climax of this saying is concerned with the spiritual rather than the physical meaning of vision. The light in you is not the light that strikes the eye. We might call this the brightness of goodness within a person. Just as a healthy physical eye means illumination for the bodily functions, so a healthy eye of the soul means enlightened for living.
Jesus is talking about the enlightenment that comes to the person who lives close to God. When that light is darkness, there is disaster! Jesus is saying that where there should be light in a person there is in fact darkness, a perversion at the very heart and center of a person’s life, a complete lack of vision.
When that happens, “the darkness—how great!”
Verse 24 deals with the mutually exclusive nature of serving God and possessions. No one can serve two master, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Can anything be more insulting to God—who has redeemed us from the slavery of sin, put us in Christ, and given us all things richly to enjoy—when we take the name of our God upon us to be called by His name, and then we demonstrate by every action and every decision of life that we actually serve money?
In discussing this verse in his book—The Sermon on the Mount—Martin Lloyd-Jones tells the story of a farmer who one day reported to his wife with great joy that his best cow had given birth to twin calves, one red and one white. He said, “You know, I have been led of the Lord to dedicate one of the calves to God. We will raise them together. Then when the times comes, we will sell them as I have said.” Several months later, the man entered the kitchen looking very sad and miserable. When his wife asked him what was troubling him, he said, “I have bad news for you. The Lord’s calf is dead.” His wife answered, “But you had not yet decided which was to be the Lord’s calf.” “Oh, yes,” he said. “I had always determined that it was to be the white one, and it is the white calf that has died.”
It is always the Lord’s calf that dies—unless we are absolutely clear about our service to the Lord and about the nature of our possessions. Who owns your possessions? The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that either God owns them and you serve Him, or else your possessions own you, and you serve them. In any case, no one ever really possesses them, although many people think they do.
May God give each of us the victory that comes when our gifts, wealth, time, friends, ambitions, and talents are turned over to Him, and we use them to establish indestructible riches in heaven.
Sermon for November 1, 2020
On this first Sunday back in church, I am leaving the Sermon on the Mount until next week. I want to preach on what I call a rather appropriate topic: QUARANTINE.
For the past several months, most of us have experienced being quarantined to some degree. This morning I want to approach it from a different context.
Thus—the message title—Spiritual Quarantine.
Quarantine simply means to isolate oneself from other people for a certain period of time for the purpose of not spreading a disease.
By calling my sermon Spiritual Quarantine, I hope to make some sense of what God has laid on my heart to say to us.
I am taking several ideas from the medical community on how we might protect ourselves from COVID 19.
They have suggested that when we are in public, we should stay at least 6 feet from other people (social distancing),
we should wash our hands often and thoroughly,
and we should always wear a face mask when in public.
The first suggestion, and the one we see most often is social distancing.
Social Distancing is for the purpose of not spreading the virus. When in public, one should maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from other people. During the few times I have been out of my house, I am not so sure this is working all that well.
To use an analogy, I can say that there are far too many Christians who practice religious distancing. By this I mean that they maintain a large distance from God. They try to keep a safe distance from God, and they do this by staying away from worship services,
not reading their Bibles, and very little praying. Maybe they have a fear of getting too close to God and becoming infected with His holiness and righteousness.
As we look at our text this morning, I want to break it down into its several parts.
The first part is Psalm 16:11—You make known to me the path of life.
We are all aware that we have many paths on which we may travel through life—the world— but they all end in destruction.
So God made many paths out of His highway—the Word—and they all end in salvation.
The way of the world is polluted, crooked, and leads to hell.
God’s way leads to heaven and a road map is found in God’s Word, the Bible. Psalm 119:35—Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Again, God’s Word provides a way in Proverbs 6:23— For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.
Carry this with you, and it will bring you into the way.
When you have this light, take Jeremiah’s counsel from 6:16—Thus says the LORD; Stand by the roads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.
All the ways of God are truth. Truth is so sure a way to life that John says in 3 John 3-4—For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
In your presence there is fullness of joy; As I think of the idea of reversing the thought here, I am reminded of the story of Jonah. So that you can get the picture, I will read the first chapter in its entirety. But before I read this, let me read Ecclesiastes 8:3—Be not hasty to go from His presence.
Jonah 1:1-16—Jonah Flees the Presence of the LORD
Verse 1—Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh that great city and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”
Verse 3—But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish away from the presence of the LORD.
He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD
But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him,
“What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god!
Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
And they said to one another,
“Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come ups us.”
So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him,
“Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us.
What is your occupation? And where do you come from?
What is your country? And of what people are you?”
And he said to them,
I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.
Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!”
verse—10 For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. Then they said to him,
“What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?”
For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them—
“Pick me up and hurl me into the sea;
then the sea will quiet down for you,
for I know it is because of me
that this great tempest has come upon you.”
Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the LORD,
O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.
So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.
Notice verses 3 and 10 above—away from the presence of the LORD—
For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD.
Some have taken this expression to indicate that Jonah believed it possible to escape God’s presence. The clearest passage denying the possibility of escape from the Lord is Psalm 139:7—Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?
By fleeing from the Lord’s presence, Jonah announces emphatically his unwillingness to serve God.
His action is nothing less than open rebellion against God’s sovereignty.
Is it possible that Jonah ran from the presence of the Lord because of fear?
Fear that the Ninevites might repent and be spared the disaster they deserved.
The result of such a repentance on the part of these pagans would have made Israel’s continued stubbornness and perseverance in sin appear all the more heinous and worthy of punishment and inevitable ruin.
Jonah must have thought that he could just walk away from a divine assignment.
The Lord used Jonah’s voyage to be a teaching moment. The plans of a Sovereign God are not so easily thwarted by the stubborn will of one prophet. Jonah was to learn that it was not so easy to resign the Lord’s commission!
The purpose of Jonah is to instruct God’s people more fully in the character of their God,
particularly His mercy as it operates in relation to repentance.
The message of the book may be summed up as—
What is likely to happen when people repent.
The second thought, and adhering closely to the idea of washing your hands,
is cleansing our hearts and minds.
A passage in Scripture that comes to mind is Ephesians 5:25-27—
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Here, Paul is talking about the church and the Word of God. The important phrase in verse 26 is “with the word.” The work of sanctification is done by or through the Word. The instrument which is used by the Holy Spirit in our cleansing is the Word.
As a person goes on in the Christian life, there should be less and less of the pollution of sin in his or her life. The Christian is not merely enabled to resist the power of sin, he/she is being cleansed form the pollution of sin; he/she is progressively being brought into a state in which he/she will be finally perfect. This is done by means of the Word—“with the Word.”
And finally—the third part—wearing a mask. This may be a bit of a stretch, but in a sense, it reminds me of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus confronted in the sixth chapter of Matthew. Jesus has a great deal to say about the hypocrites of His time. He begins by warning us not to make our Christianity a show.
Matthew 6:5—And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners, that they may be seen by others.
The actor in ancient Greece wore masks to portray the character he was playing. Today it refers to a person who is acting in such a way as to impress people, or someone who says one thing and then does just the opposite.
Such a person would be called a hypocrite. A hypocrite is defined as a person who plays someone or something that he or she is not. The Jewish priests and Pharisees would stand on a busy corner, or in the synagogue, and pray loud enough to be heard by those close by. They were more interested in what the people would think of them than what God thought.
My last thought at this point is the blessing—that Marietta and I have received during this quarantine. Our son and daughter-in-law—David and Theresa, who live in Prattville, Alabama, have been coming to be with us just about every Saturday to mow the yard and do other tasks that need our attention that neither Marietta nor I can take care of. This has been a tremendous blessing and encouragement to us during this time.
The advice of the Apostle Paul is very appropriate for this time.
Ephesians 5:16—making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Let us not waste our time, but let us make the best use of the time God has given us while we are at home during this pandemic. I do not know how long this covid 19 situation will continue, but I know God is in charge of what happens! With His help, we will be able to make the most of our situation.
We have more time to read His Word, more time to pray for our world, more time to pray for our church, our families and friends—and more time to send notes of encouragement to those we cannot visit. We are so blessed!
Let’s extend God’s blessing to those whom we know and love as well as to those whom we do not know!
Sermon for October 25, 2020
Fasting has been practiced for various reasons throughout history. In modern western society, fasting has become popular for purely physical and cosmetic reasons, and it is recommended in some diet programs.
Unlike giving and praying for which there are many commands in both testaments, fasting is not commanded by God. Both the Old and New Testaments speak favorably of fasting and record many instances of fasting by believers. However, it is nowhere required, except for the yearly fast on the Day of Atonement. Beyond that, fasting is shown to be an entirely non compulsory, voluntary act, not a spiritual duty to be regularly observed.
The phrase and when you fast supports the understanding that fasting is not commanded.
However, when it is practiced, it is to be regulated according to the principles Jesus gives in these verses.
Two extreme views of eating were held among the Jews of Jesus’ day. Many of them, like the ones mentioned in this passage, made an obvious display of fasting. Others believed that, because food is a gift from God, each person would have to give an account to Him on the day of judgment for every good thing he had not eaten. The first group not only was more prevalent but was more self-righteous and proud. Their fasting was not a matter of spiritual conviction but a means of self-gratification.
By the time of Christ, fasting, like almost every other aspect of Jewish religious life, had been perverted and twisted beyond what was scriptural and sincere. Fasting had become a ritual to gain merit with God and attention before men. Like praying and almsgiving, it was largely a hypocritical religious show. They would wear old clothes, sometimes purposely torn and soiled, dishevel their hair, cover themselves with dirt and ashes, and even used makeup in order to look pale and sickly.
Those wanting to call attention to their fasting would look gloomy like the hypocrites and disfigure their faces so that their fasting would be seen by others. Those whom Jesus condemned for these reasons were pretentiously self-righteous. Everything they did centered around themselves. God had no place in their motives or their thinking, and He had no part in their reward. In regard to fasting, some Jewish hypocrites literally resorted to theatrics.
When the heart is not right, fasting is a sham and a mockery. Those whom Jesus condemned for fasting in order to be seen by others were pretentiously self-righteous. Everything they did centered around themselves. God had no place in their motives or their thinking, and God has no part in their reward.
Jesus’ statement when you fast indicates that fasting is normal and acceptable in the Christian life. He assumes that His followers will fast on certain occasions, but He does not give a command or specify a particular time, place, or method. Because the validity of the Day of Atonement ceased when Jesus made the once-for-all sacrifice on the cross
(Hebrews 10:10), the single prescribed occasion for fasting ceased to exist.
Fasting is never shown in Scripture to be the means to heightened spiritual experience, visions, or special insight or awareness—as many mystics, including some Christian mystics, claim. Fasting is appropriate in this age, because Christ is physically absent from the earth. However, it is only appropriate as a response to special times of testing, trial, or struggle.
Fasting is appropriate during times of sorrow. When God caused the first child born to Bathsheba by David to be taken ill, David fasted while he pleaded for the infant’s life. This incident is recorded in 2 Samuel 12:16—David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. David even fasted on behalf of his enemies as recorded in Psalm 34:13—but I when they were sick—I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.
Overwhelming danger often prompted fasting.
King Jehosaphat proclaimed a national fast in Judah when they were threatened with attack from the Moabites and Ammonites as recorded in 2 Chronicles 20:3—Then Jehosaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all of Judah. From a human standpoint, they could not possibly win, and they cried out to God for help, forsaking food as they did so.
Queen Esther, her servants, and all the Jews in the capital city Susa fasted for three full days before she went before the king to plead for the Jews to be spared from Haman’s wicked scheme against her people as recorded in Esther 4:16—Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf.”
As the exiles were about to leave Babylon for the adventurous return to Jerusalem, Ezra declared a fast. Ezra 8:21-23—Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before God, to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king—The hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of His wrath is against all who forsake Him. So we fasted and implored our God for this, and He listened to our entreaty.
When the people of Nineveh heard Jonah’s preaching they were so convicted that they believed in God and called a great fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Fasting was sometimes associated with the receiving or proclaiming of a special revelation from God. As Daniel contemplated Jeremiah’s prediction of the seventy year’s desolation of Jerusalem, he gave his attention in Daniel 9:3—to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. A short time later, just before receiving another vision, Daniel made a partial fast by forsaking any delicacies, nor meat, nor wine for three weeks (10:3). It is important to note that, though fasting was related to the revelations, it was not a means of achieving them. Daniel’s fasting was simply a natural accompaniment to his deep and desperate seeking of God’s will.
Both before and after the Holy Spirit directed the church at Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Paul for special ministry, the people were praying and fasting—Acts 13:2-3—While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said—Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work for which I have called them.
Then after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
In every scriptural account, genuine fasting is linked with prayer.
You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast biblically without praying.
Fasting is an affirmation of intense prayer, a corollary of deep spiritual struggle before God. It is never an isolated act or a ceremony or ritual that has some inherent efficacy or merit. It has no merit at all; in fact, it becomes a spiritual hindrance and a sin, when done for any reason apart form knowing and following the Lord’s will.
Fasting is always linked with a pure heart and must be associated with obedient, godly living. There can be no right fasting apart from a right heart, right living, and a right attitude.
Sermon for October 18, 2020
THE LORD’S PRAYER—PART 2
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses
your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
but if you do not forgive others their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Although it may have been a genuine concern in New Testament times, too many Christians in the western world today think that such a request may seem needless and inappropriate. Why should we ask God for what we already have in such abundance?
Why ask God to supply our daily bread when many of us need to consume less food than we do?
This part of the Disciples Prayer, like every other part, extends beyond the first century
to all believers, in every age, and in every situation. In this pattern for prayer, our Lord gives us all the necessary ingredients for praying.
Bread not only represents food; it is symbolic of all our physical needs.
For Martin Luther, it was everything necessary for the preservation of this life;
bread, a healthy body, good weather, house, home, wife, children,
good government, and peace.
This part of the Lord’s Prayer is in the form of a petition but it is also an affirmation—
which is why it is as appropriate for those who are well-fed as for those who have little to eat. Above all, it is an affirmation that every good thing we have comes from the gracious hand of God. James tells us in 1:17—Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
This leads us to the source—God. The Father is the one addressed throughout the prayer; the One who is praised and petitioned. When all our needs are met and all is going well in our lives, we are inclined to think we are carrying our own load. We earn our own money, buy our own food and clothes, pay for our own houses.
Deuteronomy 8:18 tells us—You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Our life, breath, health, possessions, talents, and opportunities all originate from resources which God has created and made available to us.
Every physical thing we have comes from God’s provisions through the earth. Therefore, it is the sin of indifference and ingratitude not to recognize His gift daily in thankful prayer.
Supplication is expressed in the word give. That is the heart of the petition because it recognizes need. Even though God may already have provided it, we ask him for it in recognition of His past and present provision as well as in trust for His future provision.
We can pray confidently because God has promised abundance as David declares in Psalm 37:4—Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
In Jesus’ model prayer, the us are those who belong to Him. Speaking to believers, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11—He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
Jesus said in Luke 18:29-30—Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.
God commits Himself to meet the essential needs of His own,
The schedule of God’s provision for His children is daily. The meaning here is simply that of regular, day-by-day supply of our needs. We are to rely on the Lord one day at a time. To accept the Lord’s provision for the present day without concern for our needs of welfare tomorrow, is a testimony of our contentment in His goodness and faithfulness.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (6:12)
Debts—is one of five New Testament Greek terms for sin. The noun is used only a few times in the New Testament, but its verb form is found often. Some thirty times, it is used in its verb form, and twenty-five times it refers to moral or spiritual debts. Sin is a moral and spiritual debt to God that must be paid. In His account of this prayer in Luke 11:14—He uses the word that is best translated sins, clearly indicating that the reference is to sin, not to a financial debt. Matthew probably used debts because it corresponded to the most common Aramaic term for sin used by Jews of that day, which also represented moral or spiritual debt to God.
Sin is that which separates man from God, and is therefore man’s greatest enemy and greatest problem. Sin dominates the mind and the heart of man. Sin is the common denominator of every crime, every theft, life, murder, immorality, sickness, pain, and sorrow of mankind. It is also the moral and spiritual disease for which man has no cure. The natural man does not want his sin cured, because he loves darkness rather than light. Jesus spoke to this clearly in John 3:19—And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
Those who trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ have received God’s pardon for sin and are saved from eternal hell. Since this prayer is given to believers, the debts referred to here are those incurred by Christians when they sin. Immeasurably more important than our need for daily bread is our need for continual forgiveness of sin.
Because man’s greatest problem is sin, his greatest need is forgiveness, and that is what God provides. Although we have been forgiven the ultimate penalty of sin, as Christians we need God’s constant forgiveness for the sins we continue to commit. Therefore, we are to pray—forgive us. Forgiveness is the central theme of this entire passage (verses 9-15). Forgiveness is mentioned six times in eight verses. Everything leads to or issues from forgiveness.
Because we still fall into sin, we frequently require God’s gracious forgiveness. His forgiveness is not as Judge but as Father. As John tells us in 1 John 1:9—If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
As Judge, God is eager to forgive sinners, and as Father, He is even more eager to keep on forgiving His children. Hundreds of years before Christ, Nehemiah wrote in 9:17—
But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. As vast and pervasive as the sin of man is, God’s forgiveness is more vast and greater. Paul tells us in Romans 5:20—where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.
Asking forgiveness implies confession. Sin that is not confessed cannot be forgiven. That is the condition that John made plain in 1 John 1:9—If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us form all unrighteousness.
To confess means to agree with. When we confess our sins, we agree with God
that they are wicked, evil, defiling, and have no part in those who belong to God.
It is difficult to confess sins, when both Satan and our prideful nature fight against it. But this is the only way to the free and joyful life that is spoken about in Proverbs 28:13—
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
One of the sure antidotes to the process of moral hardening is the disciplined practice of uncovering our sins of thought and outlook, as well as of word and deed, and the repentant forsaking of them—John Stott
The true Christian does not see God’s promise of forgiveness as a license to sin— a way to abuse His love and presume on His grace. Instead, the true Christian sees God’s gracious forgiveness as the means for spiritual growth and sanctification.
He continually gives thanks to God for His great love and willingness to forgive
and forgive and forgive. It is also important to realize that confessing sin gives God the glory when He chastens the disobedient Christian because it removes any complaint that God is unfair when He disciplines.
Jesus gives the prerequisite for receiving forgiveness in the words—
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
The principle is simple but sobering:
if we have forgiven, we will be forgiven;
if we have not forgiven, we will not be forgiven.
Forgiveness is the mark of a truly regenerate heart.
Still we fail to be consistent with that mark and need constant exhortation because of the strength of sinful flesh.
We are to be motivated to forgive because of Christ’s example.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:32—Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
And John tells us in 1 John 2:6–-Whoever says he abides in him (Jesus) ought to walk in the same way in which He (Jesus) walked.
Because forgiving another person’s sin reflects God’s own gracious forgiveness,
the forgiving of another person’s sin expresses the highest virtue of a person.
In Proverbs 19:11—this is stated very clearly—
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Temptation is basically a neutral word in the Greek. It has no necessary connotation
either good or evil, as does our English temptation, which refers to inducement to evil. The root meaning temptation has to do with a resting or proving, and from this meaning is derived the related meanings of trial and temptation. Here it seems to parallel the term evil, indicating that it has in view enticement to sin.
God’s holiness and goodness will not allow His leading anyone, certainly not one of His children, into a place or experience in which they would purposely be induced to commit sin. This issue is clarified by James 1:13—Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God for God cannot be tempted with evil and He himself tempts no one.
Yet, James had just said in chapter 1 verses 2-3—Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. There is an interpretive problem here as to whether the Greek word in Matthew 6:13 is translated temptation or trial. As James tells us it is trial.
It was Chrysostom, the early church father, who said—the solution to this issue is that Jesus is here not speaking of logic or theology but of a heart desire and inclination that causes a believer to want to avoid the danger and trouble sin creates. It is the expression of the redeemed soul that so despises and fears sin that it wants to escape all prospects of falling into it, choosing to avoid rather than having to defeat temptation.
This petition is another plea for God to provide what we in ourselves do not have.
It is an appeal to God to place a watch over our eyes, our ears, our mouth, our feet, and our hands, that in whatever we see, hear or say, and in any place we go and in anything we do, Jesus will protect us from sin.
The implication of this part of the prayer seems to be:
Lord, don’t ever lead us into a trial that will present such a temptation that we will not be able to resist it.
It is laying claim to the promise that according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13—No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure.
When we sincerely pray, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
we also declare that we submit to His Word which is our protection from sin.
James got is right when he said in 4:7—
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Submitting to God is submitted to His Word.
I quote here what I believe is a favorite verse of many of us, probably learned as a child either in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School—Psalm 119:11
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
In a cursed world where we are battered by evil all around us, we confess our inadequacy to deal with evil. We confess the weakness of our flesh and the absolute impotency of human resources to combat sin and rescue us from its clutches.
Above all, we confess our need for the protection and deliverance of our loving heavenly Father.
Sermon for October 11, 2020
THE LORD’S PRAYER—PART 1
Matthew 6:9 & 10
Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come, Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
The Lord’s Prayer is without a doubt the greatest prayer of the Christian Church. This great prayer has been called The Lord’s Prayer for 2000 years. It would be futile to attempt to change its name. But, if it were changed, the best name change would be the Disciples Prayer— because that is what it really is. In Luke 11:1, the disciples requested that Jesus teach them to pray—Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of the disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.
The prayer’s six petitions are perfect for every person who has ever lived.
Its initial focus is upward, with its first three request having to do with God’s glory.
The remaining three requests are for our well-being.
God first, man second is the ideal order of prayer.
His glory before our wants. This is the perfect pattern for the followers of Christ.
No matter how far one advances in the matter of prayer,this remains the model and the challenge.
To the traditional Jew, Jesus’ prayer was revolutionary. Think about it!
God was referred to only fourteen times in the Old Testament as Father.
Then it was always as the corporate Father of Israel— never individually or personally.
And, now Jesus’ disciples ask him for instructions on how to pray. Jesus tells them to begin calling God their Father—their Abba!
Abba is the word formed by the lips of infants expressing unreasoning trust.
In his book The Lord’s Prayer, Joachim Jeremias says—In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus authorizes his disciples to repeat the word abba after him. He gives them a share of his sonship and empowers them, as his disciples, to speak with their heavenly Father in just such a familiar, trusting way as a child would with his father.
Jesus transferred the Fatherhood of God from a theological doctrine into an intense, practical experience, and he taught his disciples to pray with the same intimacy.
And that is what Jesus does for us.
“Our Father”—“Our Abba”—“Our dearest Father.”
This is to be the foundational awareness of all our prayers.
Does it undergird your prayer life?
Is a sense of God’s intimate Fatherhood profound and growing in your life?
Addressing God as Abba (Dearest Father) is not only an indication of spiritual health but it is a mark of the authenticity of our faith.
Paul tells us in Galatians 4:6—And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
The impulse to call on God in this way is a sign of being God’s child.
Romans 8:15-16 says the same thing:
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons,
by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirits
that we are children of God.”
Do you know that God is your Father?
Do you think of Him and address Him as your Dearest Father? If you cannot answer in the affirmative, it may be that He is not your spiritual Father and you need to heed the words of Scripture and come into a relationship with Him through Christ.
John tells us in John 1:12—But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Praying Your kingdom come does not suggest in any way that God has not been or is not presently sovereign King, or that His reign is only future.
As He is already holy, so He is already King, reigning in absolute sovereignty over both nature and history.
Psalm 24:1—The earth is the LORD’S and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.
God is already King, and His kingdom spans the entire universe.
Although God is already King, His reign is also future.
The verb come refers to a decisive time in the future when the kingdom will come once and for all— an event that will happen only once.
People have longed for this since the Fall.
We yearn for the time when there will be as Paul tells us in Romans 14:17 for the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The coming event of the Kingdom of God is no pipe dream. It is as sure as any established fact of history, and in it our greatest dreams will come true. The ultimate perfection of the kingdom can happen universally only in the eternal state, not in this world.
However, when Jesus came to this earth, He brought the kingdom of God in His own person. When he began his public ministry, the very first words from his mouth after reading from Isaiah were— Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. —Matthew 4:17
Later Jesus said of himself—The kingdom of God is in the midst of you. —Luke 17:21.
We can say that Jesus was the kingdom because He was the only person who ever fully accepted and fully carried out the will of the Father.
Jesus’ passion was the kingdom. It was the major theme of his preaching. The word kingdom occurs forty-nine times in Matthew, sixteen in Mark, and thirty-eight in Luke—103 times in the three Gospels. Before he went to the cross, Jesus said—I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well, for I was sent for this purpose. Luke 4:43
After the resurrection, the kingdom was still His passion as He appeared to His disciples, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Acts 1:3 Preaching the kingdom was His consuming passion.
How did Christ bring the kingdom? Primarily by bringing men and women into obedient conformity to the Father’s will. This is the meaning of your kingdom come in its context because the immediately following and parallel words are—your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Those who are in God’s kingdom strive to do God’s will.
When we see this, the kingdom becomes very personal for several reasons.
First, being in the kingdom means my will is bent to God’s will—even while my will wants to go its own way. It means repentance. Jesus often said, Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.—Matthew 4:17
Being a Christian, a member of the kingdom, means that we do not always do what we want but what God wants. To pray your kingdom come is to repent.
Second, this prayer demands commitment. Jesus was very direct when He said in Luke 9:62—No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is for those who have decided to follow the Lord Jesus Christ and do not keep longingly looking back. To pray your kingdom come is to commit ourselves to Him.
Third, the kingdom is to be pursued above all else. Jesus again gave the authoritative word in Matthew 6:33—But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Before all else, we are to seek the kingdom in obedience to Him. This dispels any idea of easygoing, do-nothing, armchair Christianity. To pray your kingdom come is to pursue it.
Fourth, the kingdom of God is for those who have a profound dependence upon God. We cannot over quote Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:3—Blessed are the poor in spirit (the beggarly poor in spirit) for theirs (theirs alone) is the kingdom of heaven. No one has the kingdom except those who have come to the end of themselves and have turned to God.
To pray—your kingdom come—is a commitment to live out the Beatitudes and the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount in dependence on God. That would be kingdom living now—a poverty of spirit, a mourning over the sins of the world, a requisite that springs out of those attitudes and actions, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, a merciful, forgiving spirit—getting involved in society and life because of singleness and commitment to God, even if that brings persecution.
Your will be done in me on earth as it is in heaven. Luther called this a fearful prayer. If some people really realized what they were praying, their words would stick in their throats. Considering the petition’s gravity, it is of the utmost importance that we understand what we are praying, then pray it with the utmost sincerity.
It is also important because submitting our wills to God is one of our greatest needs, though none of us finds it easy. Jesus tells us here that the ideal prayer should contain a section in which we bow before God saying—Let your will be done in my life, in this situation, at this time, just as it is in Heaven itself.
Your will be done (in me) on earth as it is in heaven. In praying this we invite God to conquer us, and that is why this petition is so scary. When we pray this prayer, we are asking God to do what is necessary to make His will prevail in our lives. And God then comes with gracious, kind violence to root out all impediments to our obedience. To pray this prayer may terrify us, but it will also deliver us from ourselves. It can be truly said that we have not learned to pray at all until every request in our prayers is subject to this one.
Your will be done is the petition that determines the authenticity of the other upward petitions, for if we do not mean it, we cannot truly pray hallowed be thy name or Your kingdom come. Truly praying your will be done is fundamental to all true prayer.
What else is our obedience to be like? The key is found in the second half of the petition: as it is in heaven. Not only is God’s will to be done by us, but we are to do it just as the believers are doing it in heaven at this moment.
How is it done in Heaven? Gladly with no reservation. It is possible to say Your will be done in a tone of bitter resentment, but that is not what God wants.
It is, however, to say your will be done with a note of cheer, for we know that is the way it is in heaven. To pray Your will be done is to pray that the perfect, loving heavenly Father’s will will be done in our lives. It is to pray what is good and acceptable and perfect—(Romans 12:2) This is what we need to keep in mind as we attempt to grow in obedience to God’s will. What foolishness it is to resist His loving will for us. To do so is to resist the best, to resist His love supreme.
Another thing that is helpful to keep in mind as we strive to grow in obedience is that in order to do God’s will, we need to know God’s will. Thus when we truly pray Your will be done, there must be a corresponding commitment to learn all we can about His will. This requires the continual study of the Scriptures, which are the main revelatory agency of His will. The Bible is infallible, but sadly, many believers are woefully ignorant of its contents. To truly pray Your will be done, is to commit oneself to knowing God’s will as it is revealed in His Word, then to do it.
Our Father, Our Abba, Our Dearest Father—
this is to be the foundational awareness of all our prayers. Does it undergird your prayer life? Is a sense of God’s intimate Fatherhood profound and growing in your life?
Addressing God as Abba (Dearest Father) is not only an indication of spiritual health but it is a mark of the authenticity of your faith.
Paul tells us in Galatians 4:6—And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father!
The impulse to call God in this way is a sign of being God’s child.
Romans 8:15-16 says the same thing—For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God.
Do you know that God is your Father?
Do you think of Him and address Him as your Dearest Father?
If you cannot answer in the affirmative, it may be that He is not your spiritual Father.
If this is the case, you need to heed the words of Scripture and come into a relationship with Him through Christ.
John tells us in chapter 1 verse 12—
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Sermon for October 4, 2020
PRAYING WITHOUT HYPOCRISY
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
Over the years a number of faults had crept into Jewish prayer life. For one thing, prayer had become ritualized.The wording and forms of prayers were set, and were then simply read or repeated from memory. Such prayers could be given with almost no attention being paid to what was said. They were a routine, semiconscious religious exercise.
The most common times were at the third, sixth, and ninth hours (9:00 AM, 12:00 noon,
and 3:00 PM, according to the Palestinian mode of time).
A second fault that had crept into Jewish prayer life was the development of prescribed prayers for every object and every occasion. There were prayers for light, darkness, fire and rain, the new moon, traveling, good news, bad news, and so on. No doubt the original intent was to bring every aspect of life into the presence of God, but by making the prayers prescribed and formalized that purpose was undermined.
A third fault, already mentioned, was the practice of limiting prayer to specific times and occasions. Prayer was offered when the given time came or situation arose, with no relation to genuine desire or need.
A fourth fault was in esteeming long prayers, believing that a prayer’s sanctity and effectiveness were in direct proportion to its length. Jesus warned of the scribes who, in Mark 12:40—and for a pretense make long prayers. The fault is in praying for appearances’s sake to impress others with one’s religiosity.
A fifth fault, singled out by Jesus in Matthew 6:7—And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Was that of meaningless repetition, patterned after those of pagan religions? In their contest with Elijah on Mount Carmel, the pagan prophets called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, O Baal, answer us, and they raved until the time of the evening offering. I Kings 18:26, 29
By far the worst fault was that of wanting to be seen and heard by other people, especially their fellow Jews. Most of the other faults were not necessarily wrong in themselves, but were carried to extremes and use in meaningless ways. But this fault was intrinsically evil, because it both came from and was intended to satisfy people.
It is that despicable fault that Jesus zeros in on. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. Prayer that focuses on self is always hypocritical, because, by definition, the focus of every prayer should be on God. The term hypocrite originally referred to actors who used large masks to portray the roles they were playing. Hypocrites are actors, pretenders, persons who play a role.
The hypocritical scribes and Pharisees prayed for the same purpose they did everything else—to attract attention and bring honor to themselves. That was the essence of their “righteousness” which Jesus said had no part in His Kingdom. Matthew 5:20—For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes ad Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The hypocrites of whom Jesus speaks had convinced themselves that by performing certain religious acts, including various types of prayer, they became acceptable to God. People today deceive themselves into thinking they are Christians, when all they have done is dress old nature in religious trappings.
Nothing is so sacred that Satan will not evade it. In fact, the more scared something is, the more he desires to profane it. Surely few things please him more than to come between believers and their Lord in the sacred intimacy of prayer. Sin will follow us into the very presence of God; and no sin is more powerful or destructive than pride. In those moments when we would come before the Lord in worship and purity of heart, we may be tempted to worship ourselves.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (6:6)
The primary point Jesus makes does not so much have to do with location—although, obviously that is important—but with attitude. If necessary, Jesus says, go to the most secluded, private place you can find and shut the door. Shut out everything so that you can concentrate on God and “pray to your Father.” Do whatever is necessary to get your attention away from yourself and others and get it on Him alone!
Jesus’ point has to do with the singleness of intention. True prayer is always intimate. If the heart is right and concentrated on God, even prayer in public will in a real and profound way shut one up alone in the presence of God.
In the pattern of prayer Jesus taught His disciples, he begins with “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9) Indicating that other believers may be present and that the prayer is corporate. But even when prayer represents the feelings and needs of others who are present, the supreme attention is to be on God. In that sense, even the most public prayer is in secret. Even if the whole world hears what we say, there is an intimacy and focus on God in that communion that is unaffected.
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (6:8)
God is neither ignorant, so that we instruct Him, nor hesitant, so that we need to persuade Him. He is our Father—a Father who loves His children and knows all about their needs.
If that be so, then what is the point of praying?
Let Calvin answer that question.
Believers do not pray with the view of informing God about things unknown to Him
or of exciting Him to do His duty,
or of urging Him as though He were reluctant.
On the contrary, they pray in order that they may arouse themselves to seek Him,
that they may exercise their faith in meditating on His promises,
that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties
by pouring them into His bosom;
that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect,
both for themselves and for others, all good things.
Luther put it more succinctly—By our praying…we are instructing ourselves
more than we are Him.
Prayer is sharing the needs, burdens, and hunger of our hearts before our heavenly Father, who already knows what we need, but who wants us to ask Him for it.
He wants to hear us, He wants to commune with us, more than we could ever want to commune with Him— because His love for us is so much greater than our love for Him.
Prayer is giving God the opportunity to manifest His power, love, and providence in our lives.
Sermon for September 20, 2020
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
These verses carry the core of Christian ethics up to anchor it in the character of God, for they teach that the Christian is to love others, not as a man loves his friends, but as God loves us. I believe that we must put the heart of the teaching in this way, for we miss the point of the verses unless we see that the standard is a love of which only God is capable.
This is evident in several ways. For one thing, verse 45 says that we are to do this in order to be sons of your Father who is in heaven. This means that we are to do it in order that we might be godlike in our conduct. God’s love is without discrimination because it extends to the just and to the unjust alike. Our love is also to be without discrimination. Because it results in action, our love is to express itself in action. We are to love those who are by all human standards—our enemies.
The fact that this is a divine standard and not a human one is also clear in the word for love that occurs in this passage. The Greek language has four distinct words for love, and whenever one of them occurs (as opposed to another) the choice is almost always significant.
The first word for love is one that the Bible never uses. It is the word eros, and it refers to sexual love. From it we get the word erotic. The Bible is aware of this kind of love, of course, but in biblical times the sexual love of the Greeks had become so perverted and debased that the word eros was rejected in biblical language as something contaminated.
The second Greek word for love is storge. It refers to family love. This is the love that a father and mother have for their children and that children have for their parents. This word is not in the New Testament either, although it could be.
The third word for love is philia. It refers to strong affection, and from it we get our word philanthropy (meaning a love for men), philharmonic (a love for music), and the name Philadelphia (city of brotherly love). This was the word Peter used when Christ asked him if he loved with the highest of love. Peter, conscious of his recent denial, replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” (John 21:15-17) This is the highest love of which man is capable.
There is a fourth word for love—a divine love—agape. This love is one that loves without variance. It loves even when the object of the love is hateful or unlovely. One might say that it is love even when there are ample reasons to discourage it. It is God-like love. Agape love is to characterize our lives as God’s children.
We have not really seen the true extent of this divine love until we go one step further. It is true that the love to which we are called is God-love—agape—and that this is an inscrutable love that exists entirely apart from the possibility of being loved back.
Where do we see this love if it exists entirely apart form the possibility of being loved back? Where do we see this love if it is God-love? Where is it demonstrated?
The answer is that we see it only in Jesus Christ and Him preeminently at the cross.
There is hardly a verse in the New Testament that speaks of God’s love without also speaking in the same context of the cross.
This suggests that to the biblical writers, God’s love was acknowledged to be seen there (the cross), and nowhere else.
Look at the following verses—in each of these verses, the cross is made the measure of God’s love.
John 3:16—For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Galatians 2:20—I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh—I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Romans 5:8—But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
It is not merely the fact of Christ’s suffering that makes God’s love so wonderful—
it is also the fact that He suffered for sinners who were in themselves naturally repugnant to Him.
One point should be mentioned here—
the same verses that tell us that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners —also tell us that He died for us while we were helpless, without strength with no possibility of our ever helping ourselves out of our lost condition.
Many people think that they can achieve much for themselves spiritually, but the Bible teaches differently.
First, it says that apart from God’s saving work through Christ, natural man cannot understand Christ’s teachings.
Jesus even spoke to the religious leaders of His day, saying in John 8:43— Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.
In other words, natural man has ears to hear, but he hears not.
Second, the natural man cannot receive the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said to his disciples in John 14:16-17—And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
Third, the Bible teaches that the unsaved man cannot use his will to submit himself to God’s law.
In fact, he is urged to rebel against it.
Paul makes this perfectly clear in Romans 8:7—For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law, indeed, it cannot.
Fourth, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:14—The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them
because they are spiritually discerned.
Peter also tells us in 2 Peter 2:14—They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!
In conclusion, I want to share with a very appropriate illustration.
While at a Presbyterian Mission Hospital in Ganado, Arizona, Dr. H.A. Ironside met a poor Navajo woman who had been nursed back to health through the consecrated work of a Christian doctor and Navajo nurses. She had been cast out by her own people when they thought she was going to die. After three or four days of exposure, she was found and taken to the hospital.
After nine weeks in the hospital, she recovered enough to begin to wonder about the unexpected care she had received. She said to one of the nurses—“I can’t understand it. Why did the doctor do all that for me? He is a white man, and I am an Indian. I never heard of anything like this before.”
The Navajo nurse, a Christian, said to her, “You know, it is the love of Christ that made him do that.”
The woman said, “Who is this Christ? Tell me more about him.”
The nurse called a missionary to explain the gospel. The staff began to pray. Several weeks passed.
Then a day came when she was asked, “Can you trust this Savior, turn from the idols you have worshiped, and trust Him as the Son of the Living God?”
As the Navajo woman pondered her answer, the door opened and the doctor stepped in. The face of the old woman lit up. She said, “If Jesus is anything like the doctor, I can trust him forever.” She came to the Lord Jesus Christ and accepted him as her Savior.
Do you see what it was that reached her?
It was love—not man’s love, but God’s love revealed in a man.
That is what you and I are to show forth to an ungodly and rebellious world, and we are to do it as sons and daughters of our Father so that many may come to faith in His unique Son.
O How He Loves You and Me
I loved you. Now remain in my love—John 15:9 NIV
O how He loves you and me. O how He loves you and me.
He gave His life, what more could He give?
O how He loves you; O how He loves me;
O how He loves you and me!
Jesus to Calvary did go, His love for mankind to show;
What he did there brought hope from despair:
O how He loves you; O how He loves me;
O how He loves you and me!
Sermon for August 9, 2020
HAVE YOU EARNED HEAVEN?
Today I begin with a different introduction to this morning’s message. It has absolutely nothing to do with the text in Matthew, but it has a great deal to do with something which happened 60 years ago. Marietta and I began our journey as husband and wife August 6, 1960. God has blessed us immeasurably: giving us two wonderful sons (Mark following me in the ministry, and David being an example of God’s love to his family and to the people who work with him at International Paper Company). God graciously allowed us to be happily married for 60 years, and for that I am very grateful. I do not know how much longer we will be together, but I am looking forward to every day that we will have together until the Lord takes us to be with Him.
Now to our Scripture for this morning:
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
In these verses, Jesus is saying that if a person is to get to heaven he or she must have a different and better righteousness than the scribes and the Pharisees exhibited. This meant that the person must turn his or her back on human goodness altogether and receive instead the freely offered goodness of God.
There may be some who would say—“What’s wrong with human righteousness? I think we would be in a bad way without it.” I agree in part with this statement. It certainly is much better to be surrounded by honest, upright, sensitive people (even if they are not Christians) than surrounded by scoundrels.
However, the point is that human goodness is not good enough for God. This means that although it will see one through this life, and often with flying colors, it will not see that person to heaven. There are several reasons for this.
First, the righteousness of which men are so proud is an external righteousness, and while people look naturally on outward appearance, it is God’s nature to look on the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7—but the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance
or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
Jesus knew men, and He knew that although the scribes and Pharisees were taking
a great deal of trouble to shine up the outside of their lives, they were nevertheless
unable to do anything about the true state of their hearts. In their hearts they were as sinful and as unacceptable to God as anyone else.
On one occasion, Jesus said—Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful,
but within are full of dead people’s bones and uncleanness.
What Jesus said of the Pharisees is true of every life. To a certain extent you and I can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps morally. Although we can do much outwardly, there is nothing we can do about our hearts. We cannot make our hearts loving if our hearts are not loving. We cannot be humble if we are proud. Therefore, the first reason why human righteousness will not get anywhere with God is that the only righteousness which you and I are capable of is external. And God demands a transformation of the heart.
Second, the reason Jesus was critical of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is that this external righteousness actually reduced the standards of the law and nullified it in many important points. These men could tell to the smallest degree exactly what each of the commandments meant.
When the law said—Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy—they could tell you precisely what one could do on the Sabbath and still keep the law, and what one could not do. Thus it was possible to move about, but only a Sabbath day’s journey—to eat, but not to cook food—to bandage a person who became hurt, but not to apply ointment or do anything actively to promote healing.
Jesus said—when you have done that, you still have not kept the law of God; you only have kept your watered-down version of it. It is quite possible not to go more than a Sabbath day’s journey, not to cook food, and in modern times not to go to work, not to play golf (or whatever it may be) and still disobey God’s commandment.
Is this not also true with us? God gives a commandment, and Oh! How we rationalize! We can make His commandment say what we want it to say, so that we can do what we want to do. God says that human righteousness will always function like that.
Third, Human righteousness is always self-glorifying instead of God-glorifying. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question—What is the chief end of man? And answers it—Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
If you are going about to establish your own goodness, you are really seeking your own glorification and not the glorification of God. You are like the Pharisee in Christ’s story. The Pharisee went into a public area of the temple and prayed (Luke 18:11-12)—God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.
To which Jesus must have said something like this—Do you mean to say that God hears that kind of prayer, the kind of prayer that asks Him to look at how good a man he is? Of course not! The prayer that God hears is the prayer of the tax collector who prays—“God be merciful to me a sinner!” Jesus knew that when a person will do that, then God will get the glory, even if by God’s grace that person does eventually come to live an upright and exemplary life.
Paul knew it also. That is why he wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9—For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
There is a fourth reason why human righteousness is unacceptable to God, and it is most important. Human righteousness is a different kind from that which God requires: God asks for divine righteousness. You can pile human goodness upon human goodness upon human goodness upon human goodness; you can refine and perfect it and polish it, but no matter how hard you try, you fall short of God’s standard because human righteousness is qualitatively different from the righteousness of God. It belongs to a different realm entirely.
Many years ago there was a Pharisee who found out that these things were indeed true and he experienced a transformation of his life as a result. He is probably the best known rabbi who ever lived. At any rate, he was certainly the one most effective in changing the history of the world. His name is Paul. In his youth he had glorified in his achievements as a Pharisee. He had achieved everything from the Pharisaical point of view. Yet near the end of his life, he writes that when he looked back to add it all up, he recognized that it came to nothing, and the only thing that counted was Christ.
Here is his testimony concerning all of this in Philippians 3:4-9—For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him,
not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.
Paul lists seven achievements in these verses, including four that were inherited and three that were earned—
First, he was a Jew, for he was born of the stock of Israel. This exposed him to all spiritual blessings—the law, the covenants, the promises—that God had given to the Jewish people.
Second, he was a pure-blooded Jew, for he was born of two Jewish parents (a Hebrew of the Hebrews).
Third, he had been circumcised on the eighth day of life, which meant that he was no proselyte or Ishmaelite, who was circumcised in the thirteenth year.
Fourth, he was of the tribe of Benjamin, the one tribe that had remained with Judah in the south at the time of the civil war in Israel. This meant that he belonged to one of the two tribes which had remained faithful to the temple worship and to the law.
Also, there were considerable advantages that Paul had won for himself.
In the first place, regarding his attitude to the law, he was a Pharisee. This was the strictest sect of Judaism, and to become a Pharisee was a matter of personal choice. Also, Paul was a zealous Pharisee, a fact proved by his early persecution of the church of Jesus Christ. Finally, he worked so hard at his calling that he actually came to consider himself blameless as a Pharisee before the law’s standards.
This was a tremendous list of assets from a man’s point of view. But the day came when Paul recognized that these things were worthless in the sight of a just and holy God. It was the day on which he met Jesus. Before this happened he thought that he had attained to righteousness by keeping his conception of God’s law. Afterward, he knew that all this righteousness was as dirty in God’s sight as filthy rags. He had once said, “As touching the righteousness which is in the law I am blameless.” He now said, “I am chief of sinners.”
Paul had something like a balance sheet in his life. Under assets he had listed all the things he had achieved for himself up to this encounter with Christ on the Damascus road—his birth, his education, his achievements, even the murder of Stephen. But when he met Christ, he came to know what true holiness was. He came to see what righteousness was. And, as he looked at all the things he had been accumulating in the white light of God’s righteousness, these things seemed filthy. He had no other word for them but “dung.” Thus, he moved the whole column of the things which he had considered assets over into the column of liabilities because, he said, These things have actually kept me from God’s righteousness. Under the column of assets he wrote, “Jesus Christ alone.”
God Righteousness—this is what salvation is all about. Is that what you believe? Or are you still among those who are spending a lifetime accumulating things that you think are going to earn heaven for you? If you are doing the latter, you need to learn that those things will take you to hell. Hell is full of human righteousness. You need to recognize the imperfection of this righteousness and accept the righteousness of God. Christians have always known this and, as a result, have written their recognition of this truth into a number of their hymns. One of the great hymns says:
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look I to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me;
Let me hide myself in thee.
If you will pray that prayer, God will wash you. God will cleanse you. And He will give you the righteousness that is above anything that man can attain, and He will receive you on the basis of that righteousness into heaven.
Sermon for August 2, 2020
JESUS ON RIGHTEOUSNESS
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you , until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Last week I shared some thoughts from Matthew 5:17 with the idea of three messages, one each on the following three verses 18-20. However, after thinking and praying about it, I have come to realize that I would do well to include all three verses in one message. In verses 17-20, Jesus gives a summary description of the radical righteousness of the kingdom, also introducing six great examples of how this righteousness is in continuity with the Old Testament Law.
In verses 17-20, we see Jesus’ highly personal statement of the radical righteousness of the Sermon on the Mount as it relates to the Old Testament Law. Verses 17 and 18 tell us of the radical righteousness of Christ and the Law, verses 19 and 20 tell us of the radical righteousness of Christians and the Law.
After presenting the radical Beatitudes and the two metaphors of salt and light, Jesus evidently sensed that some of His listeners thought that He was advocating an overthrow of the Old Testament Law. So He gave His unforgettable disclaimer, which set down for all time His relationship to the Law.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (verses 17-18).
It seems clear enough from Jesus’ opening words that He came to fulfill the Law, not to annul it. How did He do this?
First and foremost—Jesus fulfilled their messianic predictions. Both the prophets and the Law pointed to Jesus.
Jesus said in Matthew 11:13—For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. Thus the entire Old Testament had a prophetic function that was fulfilled in Christ.
Some of it was clearly predictive—for example, the prediction of Jesus’ place of birth in Micah 5:2—But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
And the crucifixion in Psalm 22:16—For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet.”
Jesus fulfilled all the messianic predictions of the Old Testament. This was His principal fulfillment.
Second— Jesus fulfilled the Law by dying on the cross and satisfying the demands of the Law against those who would believe on Him.
The entire sacrificial system in the Old Testament times pointed to Him. The sacrifices of the Old Testament prepared the people by instilling in them the conditioned reflex that sacrifice meant death. The Old Testament sacrifices prepared the people for the Lord Jesus’ death when He came to die for our sins. Jesus fulfilled what the sacrificial system had pointed to.
Third— Jesus perfectly kept all the commands of the Old Testament Law and Prophets.
Galatians 4:4—But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law.
Matthew 3:15— Prior to His baptism by John, Jesus said— Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.
Fourth— Jesus fulfills the Law in believers by means of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:2-4—For the law of the spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
We are able to fulfill the righteousness of the Law by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is what Ezekiel prophesied in 11:19-20—And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.
Fifth—Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures by bringing the great doctrines of the Old Testament to fruition by His teaching and person.
Bishop Ryle put it this way—
The Old Testament is the Gospel in the bud.
The New Testament is the Gospel in full flavor.
The Old Testament is the Gospel in the blade.
The New Testament is the Gospel in full ear.
The only conclusion is that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets in many dynamic ways and in no way destroyed the Law but rather completely superseded and fulfilled it. His claim is the most stupendous ever made. We stand in awe at the matchlessness of Christ! He is the Author of the Law, and He is its Fulfill-er. Nothing compares with the superb and mysterious authority with which He put forth the truth.
Notice the forever of the Law in verse 18.
For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota,
not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Jesus’ language is compelling. Verse 18—For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
The New American Standard Bible—For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.
The iota is translated the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet. To Jesus’ hearers, it would represent the yodh— the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which looks something like an apostrophe.
A stroke literally means little horn and refers to the small marks that help distinguish one Hebrew letter from another.
In other words, not only will the smallest letter not be erased, but even the smallest part of a letter will not be erased from the Law. Not even the tiniest, seemingly most insignificant, part of God’s Word will be removed or modified until all is accomplished.
Jesus brought to completion all the judicial and ceremonial laws and certain parts of the moral law—such as Sabbath observance. But God’s basic moral law, centered in the Ten Commandments, is still every bit as valid today as when God gave it to Moses at Sinai. During His earthly ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus fulfilled many of the prophecies of the Old Testament.
Others, such as the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, would be fulfilled in later New Testament times. Still other prophecies, both of the Old and New Testaments, are yet to be fulfilled. But without the smallest exception, every commandment, every prophecy, every figure and symbol and type will be the fulfillment of verse 18—For truly, I say to you, not until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
No other statement made by our Lord more clearly states His absolute contention that Scripture is verbally inerrant, totally without error in the original form in which God gave it. That is, Scripture is God’s own Word—not only down to every single written word, but down to every letter and the smallest part of every letter.
The Lord Jesus used Scripture’s authority to establish His own authority.
When John the Baptist sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus (Matthew 11:3-5)—Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? Jesus answered them—Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. In this reply, Jesus again referred to the same passage in Isaiah which predicted the Messiah and His work.
It is impossible to accept Christ’s authority without accepting Scripture’s authority, and vice versa. They stand together: To accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is to accept what He taught about Scripture as binding. Scripture’s authority is Christ’s authority, and to obey the Lord is to obey His Word.
Jesus said in John 8:47—Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.
FIRST— If not a single letter or stroke or tense of God’s Word is going to pass away, we should receive it for what it is. James tells us in 1:21—receive with meekness the implanted word, which is to save your souls. We should receive it because of the infinite majesty of the Author and His authoritative statements concerning it. We should receive it because of the price that God paid to get it to us, and because it is the standard to truth, joy, and salvation. And, we should receive it because not to receive it brings judgment.
SECOND— We are called to honor God’s Word. Psalm 119:103
Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
George Fox was called a Quaker because when he preached he would quake exceedingly through the force of the truth he so thoroughly understood.
Martin Luther never feared men, but when he stood up to preach, he often felt his knees knock together under a sense of great responsibility to be true to the Word of God.
THIRD— We should obey God’s Word. We should be diligent to present ourselves as Paul reminded Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15—
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
Paul wrote to the believers in the church at Colossae in 3:16—Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
FOURTH—We must defend God’s Word. Jude verse 3—I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Like Jude, we should fight for the integrity, purity, and authority of Scripture.
Spurgeon said—The everlasting gospel is worth preaching even if one stood on a burning fagot and addressed the crowds from a pulpit of flames. The truths revealed in Scripture are worth living for and they are worth dying for.
FINALLY—We live to proclaim God’s Word!
Says Spurgeon again—“I cannot speak out my whole heart on this theme which is so dear to me, but I would stir you all up to be instant in season and out of season in telling out the gospel message, especially to repeat such a word as this:
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
Whisper it in the ear of the sick, shout it in the corner of the streets, write it on your tablet,
send it forth from the press, but everywhere let this be your great motive and warrant.
You preach the gospel because the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
Sermon for July 19, 2020
SALT AND LIGHT
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?
It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light for the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it give light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
In these four verses, the Lord summarizes the function of believers in the world. Reduced to one word, that function is influence. Whoever lives according to the Beatitudes is going to function in the world as salt and light. Christian character consciously or unconsciously affects other people for better or for worse. As John Donne reminds us, No man is an island.
In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus talks about the influence of His people on the world for God and for good. In His high priestly prayer, Jesus said to His Father in John 17:15-18—I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so have I sent them into the world.
John wrote in 1 John 2:15—Do not love the world or the things in the world.
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Christ’s kingdom people are not to reflect the world, but they are to influence the world. They are to be in it but not of it.
Here is a mandate for Christians to influence the world. The Beatitudes are not to be lived in isolation or only among fellow believers, but everywhere we go. God’s only witnesses are His children, and the world has no other way of knowing of Him except through the testimony of who and what we are.
According to Jesus, the Christian is clearly to influence his culture. This must be true wherever the principles of the gospel work—against the religious, political, economics, or social issues of the Christian community. All this falls into a much clearer focus when we consider the actual uses of salt and light, particularly those that were most valued in ancient times.
Because the world is corrupt, it needs salt, because it is dark, it needs light. The biblical world view is that the world is corrupted and decayed—it is dark and darkening. Paul warns in
2 Timothy 3:13—Evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. The world cannot do anything but get worse, because it has no inherent goodness to build on, no inherent spiritual and moral life in which it can grow. Year after year the system of evil accumulates a deeper darkness.
In both verses 13 and 14, the pronoun you is emphatic. The idea is—You are the only salt of the earth. And You are the only light of the world. The world’s corruption will not be retarded and its darkness will not be illumined unless God’s people are its salt and light. The very ones who are despised by the world and persecuted by the world are the world’s only hope.
The you in both verses is also plural. It is His whole body, the church, that is called to be the world’s salt and light. Each grain of salt has its limited influence, but it is only as the church collectively is scattered in the world that the change will come. One ray of light will accomplish little, but when joined with other rays a great light is created.
In the text, are stresses being rather than doing. Jesus is stating a fact, not a command or request. Salt and light represent what Christians are. The only question, as Jesus goes on to say, is whether or not we are tasteful salt and effective light. The very fact that we belong to Jesus Christ makes us His salt and light in the world.
We are God’s salt to retard corruption and His light to reveal truth. One function is negative, the other positive. One is silent, the other is verbal. By the indirect influence of the way we live, we retard corruption, and by the direct influence of what we say, we manifest light.
Both salt and light are unlike that which they are to influence. God has changed us from being part of the corrupted and corrupting world to being salt and light to others. By definition, an influence must be different from that which it influences, and Christians must, therefore, be different from the world they are called to influence. We cannot influence the world for God when we are worldly ourselves. We cannot give light to the world if we revert to places and ways of darkness ourselves.
The great blessings emphasized in verses 3-12 lead to the great responsibilities of verses 13-16. The blessings of heaven are comfort, inheriting the earth, being filled with righteousness, being given mercy, being called God’s children, being given a heavenly reward, and being His salt and light in the world.
Salt has always been valuable in human society, often much more so than it is today. In numerous ways, Jesus’ hearers, whether Greek, Roman, or Jewish, would have understood salt of the earth to represent a valuable commodity. Whatever else it may have represented, salt always stood for that which was of high value and importance.
The primary characteristic of salt that Jesus is emphasizing is that of preservation. There was no refrigeration in those day, and the only way to preserve meat then was to salt it down or soak it in a saline solution.
In view of this, the underlying implication of His saying—You are the salt of the earth—is that the world tends toward decomposition and is actually rotting away. When the world is left to itself, it festers and putrefies, for the germs of evil are everywhere present and active. We live in a world that constantly tends toward decay.
This suggests to us the function of the church. The church, as salt, functions as a retardant to decay and a preservative in a disintegrating world. Jesus was saying in effect—Humanity without me is a dead body that is rotting and falling apart. And you my followers, are the salt that must be rubbed into the flesh to halt the decomposition. The church must be rubbed into the world—into its rotting flesh and wounds so that it might be preserved.
Believers, salty believers, are the world’s preservative. Do we make a difference in the lives of the unbelievers that we know and come in contact with every day? Are we salt?
If we are salt, how are we to maximize our effectiveness? We must be spread out upon the decaying world. Salt can sit for years in the saltshaker, but it will never do any good until it is poured forth. In Jesus’ time its effects were maximized when it was poured upon and rubbed into the meat. We must allow God to rub us into the world, without our becoming like the world. As God’s people empowered by the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us, we are to penetrate our culture. Does this text affirm us or mock us? Are we salt?
Is there such a thing as a desalted church? Jesus indicated there is such a thing, “if salt has lost its taste.” Actually, salt is an extremely stable compound and does not become tasteless. The consensus of most scholars is that Jesus is referring to its adulteration or dilution, which can happen in several ways.
The point is—it is dangerously easy for Christians to lose their salty, preserving influence in the world.
If we are not salting the world, the world is making us rot. The great tragedy is that often the world does us more harm than we do it good.
We are the salt, and Jesus wants us to cultivate our saltiness by constantly communing with Him and being constantly filled with the Holy Spirit. Then He wants us to get out of the saltshaker and into the world—rubbed into the rotting wounds of the world. And, He wants us to remember that though we are not much, a little salt goes a long way!
The foundational fact that Jesus is the light of the world is glorious, but it suggests the equally foundational but inglorious fact that the world is in darkness.
The darkness of the world is a spiritual darkness that dominates the entire world, and it is terrible. The real horror is that the inhabitants of the earth love it! John tells us in John 3:19—And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
Why is this preference for darkness? John tells us that the world loves darkness because its deed are evil.
It is really the world’s darkness that makes Jesus’ pronouncement so exciting. You [you alone] are the light of the world [and no one else!] If we are truly believers, we are the light of the world. Jesus said these words, and it is easily one of the most amazing statements to ever fall from Christ’s lips—especially realizing what we are like when left to ourselves. It is a fact—we are light.
Our light is a reflected light. It does not originate from us. However, I believe the Scriptures teach that the light is more than reflected, that we, in fact, become light ourselves.
Ephesians 5:8—for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.
Our light is derived from Jesus, not a ray of it comes from ourselves; but it is more than reflected. We are, as Peter says in 2 Peter 1:4—partakers of the divine nature. This is a mystery. It is a beautiful mystery. Somehow believers shine with the light of Christ, and it goes forth with life-changing effect. The facts are—Jesus is the light; the world is in darkness; somehow believers are light. If we are believers, we will shine somehow some way.
The day is coming when darkness will be gone. In eternity, we will be part of the shining light ourselves. Jesus said in Matthew 13:43—Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. This will be you and me!
Let us covenant with all our being to shine as brightly as possible in this dark world.
Let us covenant to expose ourselves to the face of Jesus in prayer.
Let us covenant to be visible for Him.
Let us covenant to shine wherever He places us
Let us covenant to remind ourselves that we always will be light—and to live in that reality.
Sermon for July 5, 2020
BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
One of the most obvious factors of history and of human experience is that peace does not characterize man’s earthly existence. There is no peace for two reasons: the opposition of Satan and the disobedience of man. The fall of the angels and the fall of man established a world without peace. Satan and man are engaged with the God of peace in a battle for sovereignty.
The seventh beatitude calls God’s people to be peacemakers.
God has called us to a special mission to help restore the peace lost at the Fall. The peace of which Christ speaks in this beatitude, and about which the rest of Scripture speaks is unlike the peace which the world knows and strives for.
God’s peace has nothing to do with politics, armies and navies, forums of nations, or even councils of churches. It has nothing to do with statesmanship, no matter how great, or with arbitration, compromise, negotiated truces, or treaties. God’s peace, the peace of which the Bible speaks, never evades issues; it knows nothing of peace at any price. It does not gloss or hide, rationalize or excuse.
It confronts problems and seeks to solve them, and after the problems are solved, it builds a bridge between those who were separated by the problems. It often brings its own struggle, pain, and hardships, because such are often the price of healing.
It is not a peace that will be brought by kings, presidents, prime ministers, diplomats, or international humanitarians.
It is the inner personal peace that only God can give to the soul of man and that only His children can exemplify.
The essential fact to comprehend is that the peace about which Jesus speaks is more than the absence of conflict and strife; it is the presence of righteousness. Only righteousness can produce the relationship that brings two parties together. Men can stop fighting without righteousness, but they cannot live peaceably without righteousness. Righteousness not only puts an end to harm, but it administers the healing of love.
God’s peace not only stops war, but replaces it with the righteousness that brings harmony and true well-being. Peace is a creative, aggressive force for goodness.
The Jewish greeting shalom wishes peace and expresses the desire that the one who is greeted will have all the righteousness and goodness God can give. The deepest meaning of this term is God’s highest good to you.
The most that man’s peace can offer is a truce— the temporary cessation of hostilities. Whether on an international scale or an individual scale, a truce is seldom more than a Cold War. Until disagreements and hatred are resolved, the conflicts merely go underground— where they tend to fester, grow, and break out again.
God’s peace, however, not only stops the hostilities
but settles the issues and brings the parties together in mutual love and harmony.
James confirms the nature of God’s peace when he writes in 3:17– But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable.
God’s way to peace is through purity. Peace cannot be attained at the expense of righteousness. Two people cannot be at peace until they recognize and resolve the wrong attitudes and actions that caused the conflict between them. They must bring themselves to God for cleansing. Peace that ignores the cleansing that brings purity is not God’s peace.
The writer of Hebrews links peace with purity when he writes in 12:14– Strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Peace cannot be divorced from holiness.
Righteousness and peace kiss each other is the beautiful expression of the psalmist (85:10). Biblically speaking, where there is true peace there is righteousness, holiness, and purity.
Trying to bring harmony by compromising righteousness forfeits both.
Jesus’ saying in Matthew 10:34–Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.—would seem to be the antithesis of the seventh beatitude. Jesus’ meaning, however, was that the peace He came to bring is not peace at any price. There will be opposition before there is harmony, there will be strife before there is peace. To be peacemakers on God’s terms requires being peacemakers on the terms of truth and righteousness— to which the world is in fierce opposition. When believers bring truth to bear on a world that loves falsehood, there will be strife. When believers set God’s standards of righteousness before a world that loves wickedness, there is an inevitable potential for conflict. Yet, that is the only way.
Until unrighteousness is changed to righteousness, there cannot be godly peace. Truth will produce anger before it produces happiness. Righteousness will produce antagonism before it produces harmony. The sword that Christ brings is the sword of His Word— which is the sword of truth and righteousness. Like the surgeon’s scalpel, it must cut before it heals— because peace cannot come where sin remains.
The great enemy of peace is sin. Sin separates men from God and causes disharmony with Him.
The world is filled with strife and war because it is filled with sin. Peace does not rule the world because the enemy of peace rules the world. Jeremiah reminds us in 17:9–That the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Peace cannot reign where wickedness reigns. Wicked hearts cannot produce a peaceful society. Isaiah reminds us that “There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.”
Mark tells us in 7:21-23–For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within, and they defile a person.
Sinful people cannot create peace, either within themselves or among themselves. Sin can produce nothing but strife and conflict.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exists, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown by those who make peace. James 3:16-18
Men are without peace because they are without God, the source of peace.
Since the Fall of man, the only peace that men have known is the peace they have received as the gift of God. Christ’s coming to earth was the peace of God coming to earth— because only Jesus Christ could remove sin, the barrier to peace.
The apostle Paul said it very well in Ephesians 2:13-14– But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.
Christ brings back together God and man, reconciling and bringing peace. Colossians 1:19-20–For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross. How could the cross bring peace? At the cross, all of man’s hatred and anger was vented against God.
On the cross, the Son of God was mocked, cursed, spat upon, pierced, reviled, and killed. Jesus’ disciples fled in fear, the sky flashed lightning, the earth shook violently, and the veil in the Temple was torn in two. Yet, through all that violence God brought peace.
God’s greatest righteousness confronted man’s greatest wickedness and righteousness won! Because righteousness won—peace was won. The God of peace intends peace for His world, and the world that He created in peace He will one day restore to peace.
Jesus said in John 16:33–I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation.
But take heart—I have overcome the world.
The one who does not belong to God through Jesus Christ can neither have peace nor be a peacemaker.
God can work peace through us only if He has worked peace in us. The messengers of peace are believers in Jesus Christ.
Only they can be peacemakers. Only those who belong to the Maker of peace can be messengers of peace.
At least four things characterize a peacemaker:
1. He is one who himself/herself has made peace with God.
Because peace is always corrupted by sin, the peacemaking believer must be a holy believer, a believer whose life is continually cleansed by
the Holy Spirit. Sin breaks our fellowship with God, and when fellowship is broken, peace is broken. The disobedient Christian is not suited to be an ambassador of peace.
2. A peacemaker leads others to make peace with God.
Christians are a body of sinners cleansed by Jesus Christ and commissioned to carry His gospel of cleansing
to the rest of the World.
The peacemaking spirit is built on humility, sorrow over its own sin, gentleness, hunger for righteousness, mercy, and purity of heart.
One of the purposes of the church is to preach Christ, and that is the same as promoting peace. We read in Acts 10:36–As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ— To bring a person to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is the most peacemaking act a human being can perform. It is beyond what any diplomat or statesman can accomplish.
3. A peacemaker helps others make peace with others.
The moment a person comes to Christ he becomes at peace with God and becomes himself a peacemaker in the world.
A peacemaker builds bridges between men and God and between men and the other men.
A second kind of bridge builder must begin between ourselves and others. Paul says in Romans 12:18–If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. God’s peacemakers must first be righteous themselves, and then must be active in helping others become righteous.
4. A peacemaker endeavors to find a point of agreement.
God’s truth and righteousness must never be compromised or weakened. However, there is hardly a person so ungodly, immoral, rebellious, pagan, or indifferent that we have absolutely no point of agreement with. God’s people are to contend without being contentious, to disagree without being disagreeable, and to confront without being abusive. The peacemaker speaks the truth in love. To start with love is to start toward peace. We begin peacemaking by starting with whatever peaceful point of agreement we can find. Peace helps to beget peace.
The result of peacemaking is eternal blessing as God’s children in God’s kingdom. Peacemakers shall be called sons of God. As peacemakers, we are promised the glorious blessing of eternal sonship in His eternal kingdom.
God loves His children as He loved Israel of old— as the apple of His eye. Psalm 17:8–Keep me as the apple of your eye.
The Hebrew expression apple of your eye referred to the cornea, the most exposed and sensitive part of the eye—
the part we are the most careful to protect. That i s what God’s children are to Him—those whom He is most sensitive about and most desires to protect. Offense against Christians is offense against God— because they are His very own children.
God’s peacemakers will not always have peace in the world.
As Jesus makes clear by the last beatitude—persecution follows peacemaking.
In Christ, we have forsaken the false peace of the world— consequently we often will not have peace with the world.