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1 Lessons on Matthew John Hendershot2 Text copyright 2013 John C. Hendershot All Rights Reserved Cover: The Evangelist M...

Lessons on Matthew John Hendershot

Text copyright © 2013 John C. Hendershot All Rights Reserved Cover: The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by an Angel (Rembrandt)

Dedication To our friends from the Becoming Closer class, for their constant encouragement and support.

Table of Contents Family Album – Matthew 1:1-16 The Birth of Jesus – Matthew 1:18-25 The Magi – Matthew 2:1-12 The Slaughter of the Innocents – Matthew 2:13-23 John the Baptist – Matthew 3 Temptation in the Wilderness- Matthew 4:1-11 The Call – Matthew 4:12-25 Beatitudes I – Matthew 5:1-5 Beatitudes II – Matthew 5:6-8 Beatitudes III – Matthew 5:9-12 Salt, Light and Law – Matthew 5:13-20 But I Say…Matthew 5:21-48 Stealth Christianity - Matthew 6:1-18 Social Security - Matthew 6:19-34 The Narrow Gate - Matthew 7 Two Men’s Faith - Matthew 8:1-17 Authority in Action - Matthew 8:18-34 Raising the Roof - Matthew 9:1-8 Grace and Power - Matthew 9:9-17 A Woman’s Touch - Matthew 9:18-35 Compassion, the Root of Evangelism - Matthew 9:35-10:23 Trouble is Constant - Matthew 10:24-42 Burden Is Light - Matthew 11 Lord of the Sabbath - Matthew 12:1-21 The Unforgivable Sin - Matthew 12:22-37 Seeking A Sign - Matthew 12:38-50 Parables - Matthew 13:1-52 A Mother’s Tale of Sex and Murder - Matthew 14:1-12 Walks on Water - Matthew 14:13-36 Out of the Heart - Matthew 15:1-20

Dogs - Matthew 15:21-28 Sailor’s Delight - Matthew 15:29-16:12 No Other Question - Matthew 16:13-28 Power and Glory - Matthew 17:1-13 Down From The Mountain - Matthew 17:14-27 Greatness and Humility - Matthew 18 Breaking Up - Matthew 19:1-15 What Do I Still Lack? - Matthew 19:16-30 Success - Matthew 20 Enter the King - Matthew 21:1-22 A Case of Authority - Matthew 21:23-46 An Old Parable - Matthew 22:1-14 Caesar’s Silver - Matthew 22:15-22 The Core - Matthew 22:23-46 Seven Woes - Matthew 23 The Mount of Olives – Prophecy - Matthew 24:1-44 Three Parables of the Resurrection - Matthew 24:45-25:30 Sweet and Terrifying - Matthew 25:31-46 Devotion and Betrayal - Matthew 26:1-16 Last Passover - Matthew 26:17-29 Garden Scene - Matthew 26:30-56 Trials - Matthew 26:57-27:26 The Crucifixion - Matthew 27:27-56 The Resurrection - Matthew 27:57-28:20

Family Album – Matthew 1:1-16 It is perhaps unfortunate that the first book of the New Testament begins with a genealogy. Most readers don’t want to read that, so they skip it. But this genealogy gives us some lessons: •

It introduces us to the family from which Joseph came; Joseph, who was to be the earthly father who raised Jesus.

It shows us how God permitted some of the most spectacular of sinners (and others) to be in the ancestral tree of Christ – for He inherits his claim to the throne of David from Joseph.

It serves the same general purpose that a family album does – so picture yourself pointing out the aunts, uncles and cousins.

So, let’s take a look at the pictures. We’ll skip the famous ones, and tour some of the lesser known folks. Women Three women, other than Mary, are mentioned here. They are not the most respectable of women, either. All three would have given good reason to be excluded if God were so inclined. The fact that these three are here tells us that Christ’s human side is very much like our own. Which, of course, fits the Son of Man. If these three are in the family, surely we are not going to be disqualified either. Tamar Tamar’s story is a rather simple, sexual one. 1 She must have been something special – one way or another. Let’s start with an explanation. In those days – and later codified in the Law of Moses – a woman’s right to have sex (you read that correctly) was established by the rule that a widow would be married to her late husband’s brother. Her first husband died (and it was well understood he died at God’s command). Her second husband (the first husband’s brother) refused to have anything to do with her; the kids would be accounted to the first husband, you see. God did not approve; the second brother died also. The third brother was a little boy at the time, so her father-in-law, Judah, told her to wait at her family home until the boy grew up. But Judah wasn’t really fond of losing another son to this black widow. He kept putting off the wedding until Tamar lost patience with the man. She dressed as a temple prostitute, and offered herself to Judah, her father-in-law! What’s more, she got pregnant. Judah didn’t connect her with his daughter-in-law, so when news of the pregnancy arrived, he condemned her to be burnt to death. She arrived at the execution with Judah’s seal, bracelet and staff – and revealed who the father of the kid was. An embarrassing moment, indeed. Neither of the parties in this one could claim much of righteousness. The double standard is very old, indeed. 1

Genesis 38:1-26

There are some lessons here: •

Judah tried to play God instead of following the rules. This is a bad idea, even if you think you are righteous.

God is very fond of using your own words and actions to condemn you, a trait seen in Jesus quite well. Rahab

We meet this woman at the siege of Jericho. 2 She’s a whor* – who hides two Israelite spies. That means she’s a betrayer as well. But she gives us an example worth looking at: •

She trusts in God – without having a presentation of the Four Spiritual Laws. She doesn’t really know too much – but she goes out on faith.

She also is relying on the people of God to keep their word, to save her and their family. It’s a reminder to us that we should keep our word too, even if the recipient is less than respectable. When Christ says, “Whosever will,” He means it. Ruth

Her story is found in the book of that name in the Old Testament. The first thing that strikes you is that she is not Jewish, but sticks to her mother-in-law Naomi even though it takes her from her own gods and puts her at the mercy of another God. She’s a gentile; an outsider. Christ welcomes them too. The story shows us, by example, the kinsman-redeemer. A close relative was permitted by law to redeem property which originally belonged to the relatives. It’s a picture of Christ, the Son of Man, redeeming us. It is the picture of the bride of Christ, redeemed by her Lord. The Kings Starting with David, the lineage of the King of Kings is traced through the royal house. We’ll skip David and Solomon, and look at the good, the bad and the fallen. Hezekiah Hezekiah was one of the “good” kings of Israel. He restored the worship of God to Judah, destroying the altars of the pagan Gods. (This would have him in hot water with the ACLU today, but they weren’t around then.) He was a restorer, as Christ will be at His return. He did have one problem – he bragged about his possessions to a delegation of Babylonians (who later sacked the city and removed those possessions). But one thing shows us his heart: when he 2

Joshua 2

began what was apparently a fatal illness, he cried out to God – who healed him. 3 He shows us the picture of a man whom God heals – the broken-hearted who come to him empty, even if that man is a king. Manasseh You’d think, with an example of such a good king (his father was Hezekiah), the next one would have a decent reign as well – and you’d be wrong. Manasseh reigned as king for 55 years 4, and during that time he was evil. He sacrificed his sons in the fire of Molech; he used the Temple as a place to worship other gods. God sent prophets to him, to change his ways. It didn’t help. The only thing that did make a difference was this: The Babylonians took him captive. The shackled him, put a ring through his nose much like you would a pig, and hauled him off to Babylon that way. When he got there, he repented. God heard his plea and restored him to his kingship. So it was that this one king turned around. Many others did not. One example he does set: God welcomes the repentant, no matter how much evil they have done. Uzziah Uzziah was a king who was just about perfect – and took too much pride in his perfection. 5 He was victorious; he invented clever war machines, he had the people keep the faith – he was just about everything you’d want in a good king. Except for one thing: pride. He thought he was so righteous and great that he could offer incense on the altar of God. God had other ideas, which Uzziah should have known. The priests rebuked him (rather dangerous that) but God convinced him. For this sacrilege, God gave him a quick case of leprosy; his son would rule in his place from that day on. There’s a lesson there too: all of us are sinners. If we think we know the rules, then we ought to follow them. Prophecy One thing we need to know: in prophetic words, a man could be a stand-in for one of his descendants. The Son of David would know this. Let’s look at three individuals in Christ’s lineage, in the aspect of prophecy. Judah (This is the same Judah who had sex with Tamar). As Jacob was on his death bed, he blessed his sons. This is the blessing he gave Judah: 3

2 Kings 20:1-11 2 Chronicles 33:1-20 5 2 Chronicles 26 4

"Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father's sons shall bow down to you. "Judah is a lion's whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. "He ties his foal to the vine, And his donkey's colt to the choice vine; He washes his garments in wine, And his robes in the blood of grapes. "His eyes are dull from wine, And his teeth white from milk. (Gen 49:8-12 NASB) This is the prophecy that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah. You can see much else in here that can be related to Christ. The reference to Shiloh, however, has caused much scholarly ink. •

It could be a reference to the Prince of Peace.

It could mean “to whom it belongs” - meaning that the kings of Israel would come out of Judah until the Messiah claimed the kingship.

It might be a reference to Shiloh, the city, and events which happened (or will happen) there. It’s not clear, but virtually all agree it refers to the Messiah. Josiah There is a fascinating prophecy for Josiah:

Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. He cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, "O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, 'Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.'" Then he gave a sign the same day, saying, "This is the sign which the LORD has spoken, 'Behold, the altar shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.'" (1Ki 13:1-3 NASB) This takes place about ten generations before Josiah is born – and he does exactly that. He literally digs up the bones of the priests of Baal and burns them on this altar. It is a forerunner of Christ, in his zeal. Zerubbabel

This descendant of David was not a king – the kingship had been abolished – but he was a principal in the rebuilding of the Temple. 6 About this man, who was not a king but of the royal lineage, two prophets wrote: On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, "Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, 'Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? 'But now take courage, Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD, 'take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,' declares the LORD, 'and work; for I am with you,' declares the LORD of hosts. 'As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!' "For thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. 'I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD of hosts. 'The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,' declares the LORD of hosts. 'The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,' says the LORD of hosts, 'and in this place I will give peace,' declares the LORD of hosts." (Hag 2:1-9 NASB) The prophecy clearly refers to the return of our Lord. Zerubbabel is the stand-in. In these days, a prophecy about a man could be seen as being fulfilled in one of his descendants. The theory (biologically incorrect) was that the descendant was in the ancestor’s body at the time of the prophecy, and therefore it would apply to him. 7 Even more startling (and argued over) is this passage: Then the angel who was speaking with me returned and roused me, as a man who is awakened from his sleep. He said to me, "What do you see?" And I said, "I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side." Then I said to the angel who was speaking with me saying, "What are these, my lord?" So the angel who was speaking with me answered and said to me, "Do you not know what these are?" And I said, "No, my lord." Then he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts. 'What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of "Grace, grace to it!"'" Also the word of the LORD came to me, saying, "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. "For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel--these are the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth." Then I said to him, "What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?" And I answered the second time and said to him, "What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?" So he answered me, saying, "Do you not 6 7

See Ezra 3:2-8 See, for example, Hebrews 7:1-10 for a parallel example.

know what these are?" And I said, "No, my lord." Then he said, "These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth." (Zec 4:1-14 NASB) Followers of prophecy have little difficulty identifying the two trees with the two witnesses of Revelation chapter 11. Various interpretations have been proposed for these two witnesses; but you can see that the prophecy is connected to this one. Zerubbabel’s anointed ones are the same ones seen by John. Is there a point to all this in the family album? Indeed, several. •

First, the most unlikely people are found as ancestors of Christ – and if they are fit for His family, we are too. No matter how “outside” you feel, no matter what sins you have committed, he still says, “Whosoever will.”

Next, just because you’re from a good family doesn’t mean you can presume upon God. You still need to come to Him with a humble and contrite heart. And you still have to watch what you’re doing.

Finally, there is a great day coming, a day longed for and welcome by all those who love God.

The Birth of Jesus – Matthew 1:18-25 I know of no subject which divides all of Christianity (including Catholic and Orthodox) more than the view of the virgin Mary. It is one of the division points between Roman and Greek churches; it is major point of division between Catholic and Protestant as well. It would be a major division point between Protestant and Orthodox too, if we ever got to know each other. But in what follows, we will stick with Matthew’s wording and see what can be learned – and what can be left. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US." And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Mat 1:18-25 NASB) Joseph We may begin with the seldom studied character of Joseph. He’s a man with a problem. Mary, being betrothed to him, is actually living in the house of Joseph’s parents, if the custom of the time holds true. As a practical matter of fact, it would have been almost impossible for Joseph to have had sex with Mary; he certainly reacted as if he was not the father. But in his reaction we can see the character of this righteous man: •

First, it is clear that he is a follower of the Jewish Law. There is no sex outside marriage. That’s what he follows; that’s what he expected Mary to follow.

We know also that he is not a vengeful man, given to anger – for he stopped to think about this development.

He is instead a patient man, for he takes time to think through the situation. Options From his point of view, he had three options:

He could make a proclamation concerning Mary, accusing her of adultery (which would be the case under the Law.) At the least Mary would be ostracized for life; it is quite likely that the village would have stoned her to death.

He could, on the other hand, simply pass over the incident and marry her anyway. It would ruin his reputation, however, for he would then be an accomplice to adultery.

He could do as many other families have done – you send her away to some relatives who aren’t local, let her have the baby and (perhaps) give the child to someone.

In his wisdom, Joseph chose the third option. To select the first would have been vengeful. To select the second would make him a sinner also. So, the quiet, peaceful route was chosen. In this there is wisdom; but God had other plans. A man of obedience The method by which Joseph gets his explanation – and his marching orders – is a very personal, intimate one. •

The angel appears to him in a dream. The shepherds needed the full angel chorus; Zechariah needed the angel in person; Joseph is sufficiently trusting of God that a dream suffices.

The angel reminds him of his ancestry: he is a descendant of David, the king of Israel. The matter is one of family, then.

The dream arrives as Joseph is pondering what to do.

Joseph is given two explicit instructions. One concerns the child’s name. It is not apparent in the English, but the original carries with it the implication that the child’s name is already selected; Joseph is merely being informed as to what it already is. The angel also gives him a command of courage: “Do not fear…” Undoubtedly tongues will wag; times will be tough. But do not fear. Mary We shall skip the usual compendium of arguments about Mary, confining ourselves to listing the prominent views. But before that, we have an interesting question: Why a virgin who was betrothed? Joseph’s male organs are not involved in this; why did God select a young woman who was already engaged? •

First, this gave her son a genealogy. Descent was always taken from the male side of the house; by this logic, Christ’s right to the throne of David comes through Joseph.

Second, there is the practical fact that after the fuss dies down, Mary has to live in the community. A single mom with a child out of wedlock would be ostracized at the least (remember the woman at the well?)

Also, there is the little matter, seldom mentioned these days, of their flight to Egypt. Such a journey in those days was perilous indeed with a man; without such she is in real danger of rape.

Views of Mary As promised, a slightly biased review of the views of Mary: •

Theotokos. In the Eastern Orthodox view (and many others) Mary is viewed as the “God Bearer.” This view gives Mary a place above other women, for her child was greater than all other men. This view prevailed until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. It then became convenient for the new religion to have a Goddess, like the other religions. (There are some striking parallels between Mary and, for example, Isis.)

Mother of God. This is the Roman Catholic view. In this view, Mary is not only higher, but she also (in some way) is to be considered part of the Godhead. She therefore takes a prominent place in worship. Out of this view have come doctrines which “must be true” if Mary is indeed a participant in the Godhead. For example, the Immaculate Conception (meaning that Mary was born without original sin) and the perpetual virginity of Mary. The clear implication is that without Mary, in particular, Christ could not have come. This has been raised to the point where the late pope, John Paul II, seriously gave consideration to announcing ex cathedra that Mary is co-redemptrix with Christ.

Model woman. In the Protestant view Mary is seen as a model of what women should be. This has produced its distortions as well, but we may bring out some points regarding her character. o

Obedience. Like Joseph, this young girl takes on a challenge for which she could not have prepared. Only the habit of obedience would produce such a meek reply. (Remember, Moses objected to being given his job).

o

Purity. Could God select someone without a pure heart?

o

Devotion. In her reply (in Luke) we see one who is so devoted to her God that she calls herself the “handmaid” of God. Not puffing herself up or proclaiming her divinity, she is happy to be a servant.

Henry Halley, a Bible commentator from the 1920s who was a fire breathing opponent of the Catholic Church, condemned that church but separated Mary from her worshippers: “It arose on the ruins of the Roman Empire, in the name of Christ occupying the throne of the Caesars; a Revival of the Image of the Roman Empire inheriting the Spirit thereof; ‘the Ghost of the Roman Empire come to life in the garb of Christianity’ ... It brought itself to power through the prestige of Rome, and the Name of Christ, and by shrewd political alliances, and by deception, and by armed force; and by Armed Force and Bloodshed has maintained itself in power“ (flaming capitals in the original) -- from which you can see how he felt about the Catholic church. Yet see how he views Mary: “Mary was a quiet, meditative, devoted, wise woman, most honored of women, queen of mothers, sharing the cares common to motherhood. We admire her, we honor her, and we love her because she was the mother of our Savior.”

Virgin Birth We shall speak somewhat more about the Incarnation in a later lesson, I hope, but the concept has given the church trouble (and heresy) from the very beginning. The question to be faced is this: How can God, the sovereign of the universe, be a little baby? The Scripture gives us very little to go on. But we may see it in the titles He carried: •

He called himself the Son of Man – meaning he was of human descent. He didn’t just crawl out of the spaceship.

He is also Son of God. These two cannot be reconciled – outside the Virgin Birth. Why is this necessary? Why did God go to this trouble? Why not a flaming angel telling folks to write down his words?

First, there is a long history of prophecy – from the Garden of Eden onward – that proclaims the coming of the Messiah in just this way. We were warned.

Next, there is the Law of the Jews – which requires the perfect sacrifice. If his own people are to have any chance to accept him, this must be satisfied.

For those not under the law, they could still understand the concept of ransom – someone else paying for my release. There is only one question Who do you say that Jesus is?

I say that He is the one born of the virgin, Mary. So he is fully human as I am. He knows my weaknesses.

I say that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the long promised Holy One of Israel.

I say that He is the Son of God, bearing the same essence that unites Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This I believe; on this I have staked not only my life, but my life eternal. God helping, I can do no

other.

The Magi – Matthew 2:1-12 It is the stuff of Christmas; the three wise men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. Much about this scene is the addition of legend, but in the truth we know we can see how the homage of these strangers brings honor and glory to Christ even to this day. Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'" Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him." After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. (Mat 2:1-12 NASB) Circ*mstances It is curious that of all circ*mstances surrounding the birth of the Christ child, the story of the Magi is the one most often challenged. Matthew knew Mary, of course, and we cannot doubt that he got the story from her. But to the modern, scientific mind, the ancient words seem a puzzle. We shall see what we can find in the Scriptures to enlighten the story of the Star. The Magi It is generally agreed that the Magi are astrologers, from somewhere to the east of Jerusalem. Which astrologers, however, is still a matter of debate. Babylonians, Chaldeans, Persians have all been suggested. But there is one thing we do know about these men from history: they have a track record of doing things like this. It is recorded in ancient records that certain Magi showed up to make sacrifices in honor of Plato at his death. Similarly, Alexander the Great was so honored at his birth as the conqueror of the east. So we know two things: This was not unique – and we have no idea how it is they knew anything about this. But there is one thing we can learn from them: note that they did not ask if the King of the Jews was born – they asked where. You can learn a lot about someone from the questions they ask. Doubt asks if; faith asks where.

The star Nothing in this account is as talked of as the star. A supernova, a hallucination, a comet, an astrological conjunction – all these have been suggested. We may gather some clues from the story which may help us out. 1. Only the Magi saw the star. This implies one of three things. It may be a vision planted in their brains by God. It may be some conjunction of the planets and stars which was significant in their system of astrology. It may also be both, as we shall see. 2. They saw it rise in the east – which sounds illogical as they then headed west to investigate. It is a fact that all stars rise in the east, as do the sun and the moon. So evidently it was a heavenly body of some sort, at least until they reached Jerusalem. 3. Consider the sequence of events. First, the Magi see the star in the east – and head to Jerusalem. Then they don’t see the star – for they stop to ask directions. They head towards Bethlehem, this time guided by a star that moves before them, ultimately selecting out the place where the child lay, for which they rejoiced. 4. Finally, note that Herod inquired for – and got – the exact time the star appeared. It implies that they had an exact time, told in the stars. From this we might draw some conclusions. In the first part of their journey, they seem to have only the fact that the King of the Jews was born – which sounds like astrology. But when it was necessary to find the precise location, the star moves with them. Rather than call this conundrum, I submit it clears it up. Astrology got them close – to Jerusalem. The guidance of God brought them to the Christ. Our world is like that. Lots of religions and methods will cause you to become a better person. Only Christ can lead you home to the Father. Metaphors One thing this passage does: it produces metaphor from Christian writers. Here are three of profit: •

He is indeed the Bright and Morning Star. Do you follow where He leads, or just use the light to read the paper?

The kings of the earth do homage at his birth with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold stands for the treasures of this earth; frankincense (usually, just incense) is the symbol of the prayers of the faithful; myrrh is used to embalm a body at death. Do you bring your treasures to him as offering? Are your prayers constant? Do you look to Him as your strength even in death?

Here’s one you may have missed: the name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” In that manger lay the Christ, the bread of life, the Savior.

Reaction Herod The first thing to note is that Herod is absolutely convinced by the Magi and the priests in this. The demons believe and tremble. Herod’s reaction is much the same; his only thought is to rid himself of this rival for the throne. There is a sly wickedness to this man. He takes the Magi aside secretly before lying to them. You can see the purpose: he doesn’t want the court to pressure him into going to worship the child. He tells them Magi that he will come and worship too – but he asks the exact time they saw the star appear. This, we shall see in the next lesson, determines his plan to rid himself of this danger. Is that not the way of the world? When the Prince of Peace comes, the first thought is to prevent Him from being proclaimed. It is a capital offense in most Moslem countries to be a Christian. Religious freedom is the rule in countries which are (or used to be) Christian. Who’s afraid of whom? The Priests First, let us recall that the priests did not see the star. They weren’t looking for it. But they quickly accepted the fact that the Magi did. The situation appeared to them that the Magi did not know where to turn next; they were asking directions. The priests found those directions in the Scripture: "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity." (Mic 5:2 NASB) To explain a present fact, they turned to prophecy. These were the right wing fundamentalists of the day. We may learn from their example: •

Do you seek your explanations in prophecy and proverbs, or in the cynical mind the world will give you?

Does your faith need a miraculous sign, or are you among those who have heard and yet believe? 8 The Magi We may learn as well from the Magi:

They stopped in the obvious place, Jerusalem, to ask directions. If someone asked directions (spiritual) from you, would you know the way well enough to tell them? 8

John 20:29

They were obviously prepared to do honor to the King of the Jews, the Christ. You acknowledge that you owe him that honor; are you prepared to give it? The time will come when that will be very important indeed. The Incarnation

Nothing is so striking about the incarnation of our Lord as this: it was done in complete humility. C. S. Lewis called it the “supreme miracle,” for without the incarnation there is no sacrifice – and no salvation. But because he came without pomp and ceremony from the world, it appears that “the world knew him not.” It is a harbinger. The kingdom of Satan rests on the power of the world; it is no surprise that the Christ, then, was so often opposed to the establishment. The opposition of Satan Perhaps these are not so obvious as questions, but it seems worthwhile to ask them. This business of Satan’s opposition to the birth of Christ could easily have been handled in other ways. Specifically: •

Why didn’t God command the Magi to take the child and His parents with them on their return? It would, after all, have been a high form of worship to do so. But perhaps God was not so inclined to do this, so that we might have the example of His flight to Egypt. It is a picture of the command of Christ to flee persecution. 9 It also is a portrayal of the prophetic words, “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit.” 10

Why didn’t God simply slay Herod? Can you ask? Does the Prince of Peace come by the death of any man? The one who wills that all men be saved? 11 Lessons for us today

It is a simple and present dilemma. God is righteous; God is omnipotent. He is also Love. By His righteousness He should cleanse the planet of its sinful inhabitants; by His love he should redeem it. Omnipotent doesn’t cover contradictions. But sacrifice does. The love and righteousness of God are reconciled at the Cross, and upon that sacrifice salvation is offered to one and all. The time of his favor is short; the time of His return is soon. Consider this well: if his birth in a stable caused kings to tremble, how much more will He cause them to tremble at His return?

9

Matthew 10:23 Zechariah 4:6 11 1 Timothy 2:3-4 10

The Slaughter of the Innocents – Matthew 2:13-23 It is well known: being innocent does not protect you from pain and peril. Indeed, from the point of view of the evil, it makes you just that much easier to exploit - or destroy. Here is a famous example of the problem: Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him." So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON." Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE." But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, "Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead." So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: "He shall be called a Nazarene." (Mat 2:13-23 NASB) Suffering of the Innocent It is problem enough for us that there is suffering in this world. If God’s such a nice guy, why did he allow this in our lives? This question is often asked in hospital corridors. But when it is asked, it’s usually in the context of, “Why did this suffering happen to me? Or the someone I love?” This instance is different. Did Christ cause the slaughter of the innocent? Let’s take another case and see where our thoughts lead us. You will remember Peter’s miraculous escape from prison: Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a

light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter's side and woke him up, saying, "Get up quickly." And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and put on your sandals." And he did so. And he *said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me." And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. When Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting." And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. They said to her, "You are out of your mind!" But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, "It is his angel." But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, "Report these things to James and the brethren." Then he left and went to another place. Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there. (Act 12:1-19 NASB) Please note: the soldiers who were guarding Peter – some commentaries say that they were actually chained to him – were executed for their failure to keep him prisoner. It hardly seems just, that. Whatever else need be said, we see that Peter cannot be held responsible for the deaths of the soldiers. He was inadvertently the proximate cause, but there was no way he could have prevented it, or even foreseen it. Had he known beforehand, he might have objected to the process – for a Christian causes no harm to someone which can be prevented. The same cannot be said of Christ. It is clear from the prophecy in Jeremiah that God knew that this slaughter was going to happen. By his coming in this place and time, he knew that these innocent babes were to be mercilessly slaughtered. So we cannot claim it was inadvertent. Why do the innocent suffer? We might start with a more general question: why do the innocent suffer at all, at anyone’s hand? The Christian answer has always been: We live in a fallen world, tainted by sin. The place is run by a cherubim in rebellion named Satan. It’s an old maxim: tell me why God created Satan, and I’ll tell you why there is evil in this world. It seems hardly bright of God to do such a thing, knowing what suffering would be caused. God’s answer is not to defend His creation but rather to suffer like us. He came in the form of a baby; when he grew up He became the lamb of God. The Innocent One suffered too. To create beings

with a free will implies the possibility of rebellion against the truth; but to suffer and die to end that rebellion in forgiveness is indeed divine. With that, we shall examine God’s defense. God’s Defense There are several ways in which God allowing suffering is seen to be righteous: •

First, suffering is for this world; for the children of God, this suffering will be rewarded in the life to come.

Second (though not in this case) suffering may bring forth a greater good. The Crucifixion was horrible suffering – which yielded up salvation.

Such suffering is often God’s discipline – which is a bit hard to see in this instance.

Those are the classic arguments. But may I point out something? It is utterly presumptuous to even debate the issue. His ways are high above ours; we cannot know the answer in this life. As Job put it, “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” 12 The real relationship between church and state The prince of this world The New Testament makes it clear: the things of this world are ruled over by Satan. 13 His rule is markedly different from what me should want: •

He blinds the world to the Truth. 14 Christians often are troubled by the way non-Christians see things. They should be more troubled by the way non-Christians don’t see things. He is actively working to prevent the people from knowing the Truth.

He can be seen in various disguises; a common one is to appear as an “angel of light.” Indeed, Lucifer is his name. His schemes often are portrayed as being goodness itself. We slaughter a million babies a year to “prevent back-alley abortions.” 15

Fraud comes naturally to him; he is the father of lies – and the father of liars. Lying is his native language.

Most important, we must remember that our struggle is against him. We are not to be bystanders in this conflict. Character of Herod 12

Those interested in exploring this topic more fully would do well to start with C. S. Lewis’ classic work on the subject, The Problem of Pain. 13 Matthew 4:8-11 14 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 15 The entire history of the abortion movement shows this same sort of deception. What’s disturbing is our casual acceptance of it.

In Herod’s character we can see the kind of ruler Satan wants in place. •

He wants one who will act in anger. Herod had the innocents slaughtered in a fit of rage.

He’s also a man of duplicity – asking the location of the child “to worship him.” (The rest of the history of the man includes murder, intrigue and what some consider plain insanity.)

He is a man with no care for the right – only for might. He has the soldiers, the soldiers have swords. Nothing else counts, in his mind.

He is, foremost, a man of pride. He will tolerate no rival because he has no humility before God. Pride – the sin by which Satan fell. The Christian’s reaction

If you will see it, the normal state of affairs between church and state is one of conflict. Both claim the highest allegiance of the citizen; only one can have it. We in America have been blessed to have seen this only lately; but the time is coming when the choice will need to be made. When that happens, what is the Christian to do? Joseph gives us the example here: flee. Even when he is returning, he is told to find another province in which to live. He goes to Nazareth for fear of Herod’s son – who, after all, would have the same motive as dad did. Sometimes that’s just not an option. In such case, the Christian is then privileged (you read it right) to suffer in imitation of his Lord. In such case we are commanded to patient endurance, for this finds favor in God’s eyes. 16 In all this we are not to fear, nor even be troubled. 17 If you look at it through “forever eyes” you will see it as it truly is: a brief moment of darkness which will be swept away by the light of our Lord’s return. Prophecy It is instructive to deal with prophecy at this point. The entire question of suffering is changed when you consider the Lord’s return. Our attitude towards it changes as well. So let us look at the prophecies surrounding his first coming, and the reaction they got. •

He was to be called a Nazarene. Search as you will, there is no place in an English translation which will provide this. The usual verse cited for this is Isaiah 9:11. It makes no sense – unless you know that the word Nazareth means a sprout, a bud, a branch. The Hebrew would be clear at the time; the English is not.

The slaughter of the children was prophesied. 18

16 17

1 Peter 2:20 1 Peter 3:14

The return from Egypt was also prophesied. 19

That last is important. In the symbolic interpretation, Egypt is usually a stand-in for sin. So, if you are teaching on the Old Testament, you see the flight of the Jews to be a symbol of our flight from sin. Similarly, in the New Testament the Son is shown coming out of Egypt – a symbol of His sinless nature. Reaction So how did Joseph and Mary react to this? Their conduct is a model for us even today: •

First, they show us the virtue of obedience. The angel commands, the couple goes. Prompt obedience finds favor with God.

Nest, they show us the virtue of trust. It is one thing to blindly obey; it is another to obey one in whom you trust. Trust in the Lord with all your heart; you will find Him worthy of it. Today

We are concerned today with His second advent. What should the Christian be doing about the imminent return of the Lord? •

First, keep on the watch! His return is like a thief in the night; you will not know the hour of his return.

But you will see the signs of the time. Be on the lookout for those, so even though you don’t know the time, you’ll recognize the season.

Finally, heed the warnings of prophecy. The First Megalithic Church of Laodicea is not nearly as healthy as she thinks she is.

18

Jeremiah 31:15-17. Usually quoted as only the 15th verse, Jeremiah makes it clear that these innocents will rise from the grave. It is a prophecy of slaughter – and hope. 19 Hosea 11:1

John the Baptist – Matthew 3 John the Baptist is a figure of mystery to most modern Christians; a footnote found at the beginning of Christ’s ministry. We shall examine today who he really was, what was his life-message and then see how the Trinity is first revealed to us.. Now in those days John the Baptist *came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, "THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, 'MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!'" Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? "Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. "The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he *permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." (Mat 3:1-17 NASB) Herald of the Messiah We would do well to remember here that Matthew’s primary objective is to present Christ as the Messiah and King of the Jews. His Gospel is dedicated to proving to the Jews that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. The thrust of this chapter is that the last of the Old Testament era prophets, John the Baptist, testifies that Jesus is the Messiah. So let’s look at John in that light. John, the Prophet Please note that at this point in Matthew’s history Jesus has yet to perform his first miracle. Indeed, most scholars think that the wedding at Cana is yet to happen. Despite this, John’s testimony is

clear and strong. It is so strong, and John so convincing a prophet, that later the Pharisees must waffle on John’s message – because they know the people all saw him as a prophet. 20 The role of a prophet One thing is clear: John sure looked and acted like the typical Old Testament prophet. He lived in the desert, dressed in poor clothing and – did what prophets do: He was one who would forthtell the words of God. He had no hesitation about calling the hypocrites a “brood of vipers.” It is the distinguishing mark of the preaching of a prophet: he really doesn’t care which earthly powers he might be offending, as long as he is bearing the message of God. • He was also one who would foretell what was to come; in this instance, the soon arrival of the Messiah. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets; indeed, his own coming was prophesied. 21 The people heard him gladly for he was a voice from God, offering repentance to the sinner. •

One must pause to wonder about the church today: • •

Are we really familiar with the prophecies yet to be fulfilled? Do we really think they could be fulfilled? If this were the church, do you not think that things would be different? Exemplar

Consider how, even today, John the Baptist’s life is an example to all of us. While not being fond of camel hair, and having no desire to eat locusts, there are some things to which we should pay attention: • •

First, this is a man who rejects the materialism of his day. He has reduced his lifestyle to the purely necessary. Second, his life is one of sacrifice – to the glory of God. Could the church today even be faintly thought guilty of these virtues? Voice in the wilderness

It is ever the role of the prophet: the voice in the wilderness. A man running around in a camel hair jacket (and camels are unclean animals), preaching in the desert. He was a clear alternative to the happy connivance of “religious” life in his society. He walked the talk, as we say. God honors such men; indeed, John had the distinct honor of being a martyr for God, of which our Lord tells to be glad, for great is the reward in heaven. 22 Knowing the man, we may now look at his message. John’s Message

20

Luke 20:1-8 Isaiah 40:3 22 Matthew 5:10-12 21

It is a fascinating thought: the wicked were drawn to this man. The hypocrites of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees went into the desert to hear this man. And what did they hear? “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” It is a fact that Christ reserved his anger solely for the hypocrites. It seems the divine style, as John uses it here. This habit will eventually cost John his head – but even there, Herod is drawn to John like moth to flame. John’s message is simple and easily understood. Repent – and prove it. Don’t just mouth the words, show God that you mean it. And if you won’t? The unquenchable fires of hell await you. You can see that this man would have a tough time getting a job as a pastor. The politeness of modern Christianity is almost suffocating. We speak of a “Christless eternity” instead of hell. For those who are in this life without Christ, what does this sound like? Certainly not hell. Christ the Message John’s message, shortly put, is Christ Himself. It is so high and holy that John fears to wash the feet of Christ. His understanding of Christ is that He is so far above the Baptist that he could not even help with the man’s sandals. Do we lift Christ up like that? Do we proclaim Him as the Good News? Confession There is one way to tell if we are doing it right: confession. Non-Catholics view this as a Catholic ritual; it is much, much more than that. We are told to confess our sins to each other.23 From the earliest days of the church, confession was a requirement of the Christian. 24 Confession precedes repentance, in the Old Testament and the New Testament. There is one huge difference between the two, however. In the old covenant, you had to go find the prophet in the wilderness. In the new covenant, Christ comes to you, for He wills all to be saved. The Trinity We cannot pass through this section of Scripture without recognizing its primary intellectual problem: the Trinity. We see the Trinity complete at the baptism of Jesus. We know that John’s baptism is by water; Christ’s by Spirit and flame. 25 But this instance raises two difficult questions: • •

First, why does Jesus need to be baptized? Baptism is for cleansing from sin, and He had none. Second, what is the nature of the Trinity? How can God, who is one, also be three?

23

James 5:16 1 John 1:8-10 25 Acts 2 24

The Baptism of Jesus The question seems obvious at once; certainly John had no difficulty in stating it. Christ should baptize him, not the other way around. But please note something: there is no recorded instance of Christ ever baptizing anyone. His disciples baptized; the church baptizes – but Christ does not. Evidently it is something reserved for his children. This is our first clue. The early church held that while Jesus was indeed sinless, He bore in his flesh the sin of the world. Thus it was that the baptism of his flesh was necessary. There are other reasons as well. Some of the earliest writers hold to a different view: that by accepting baptism he was in a sense cleansing the water so that it might now cleanse us of sin. Beyond that, there is a practical side. In the millennia to come, many times the Gospel would be brought to someone who was considered nobility. The preacher might be indeed a peasant, and the duke might think it beneath his dignity to be baptized like a common peasant. The answer is here: if the King of Kings was willing to be baptized, what’s your problem? The Trinity It is the foremost puzzle of Christian life: how can God be one and yet three? We cannot really answer that question, but we can gather some clues from this incident: • •

The heavens open and the Father speaks. Do you not see that the heavens MUST open? God is Spirit, not matter or energy. 26 He must breach the wall between heaven and earth to proclaim His Son. The Spirit comes “as a dove.” It is not certain whether or not this means a physical bird or simply the way in which the Spirit descends. But the human heart is the destination of the Spirit. Perhaps the dove is chosen in memory of the dove that returned to Noah with an olive branch. For by the Atonement God brings peace to his rebellious children. Christ – God in the flesh – humbly submits as one under the Law of Moses. This is so that He may be crucified and die; this is the purpose of His coming.

The Trinity is still a mystery. We may never really understand its nature, but we can know the Father’s glory, respond to the call of the Spirit and call Jesus to our hearts. Perhaps we know enough of the mystery after all. Now that we know, let us do.

26

If you disagree, then consider this: the universe is, by definition, all matter and energy of all places and all times. If God is matter and/or energy, then He is part of the universe. How did part of the universe cause its own creation?

Temptation in the Wilderness- Matthew 4:1-11 The passage is a familiar one. Some think it does not pertain to them; after all, this is the temptation of the Christ. But Christ is human, completely human like the rest of us. The temptations were put in human terms, and we shall see that the defenses used are available to all of us. Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." But He answered and said, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'" Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and *said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, 'HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU'; and 'ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'" Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'" Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me." Then Jesus *said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. (Mat 4:1-11 NASB) Preparation Let us first examine the preliminary actions of this engagement. We should first note that Jesus is in the wilderness after a spiritual “high” – baptism in the Jordan. Satan has good reason to attack at this time: • • •

First, as other accounts make clear, Satan has been working up to this point. We are seeing only the final assault. 27 Next, consider the value of victory for Satan. If he can tempt you successfully after a spiritual victory, it is very discouraging. “If I couldn’t resist then, when could I?” It’s a time when Satan might find his victim overconfident. One thing is certain: you should expect it. Physical preparation

Fasting is a spiritual discipline’ it carries with it the slight disadvantage of hunger. If you’re hungry enough, you might just do anything for food. People have turned cannibal before. But see Satan’s attack; it is indirect. He doesn’t tell Christ what to do, he flatters Him (“if you are the Son of God…) first. Even in the temptation of the flesh, Satan couches his words with flattery, appealing to pride. 27

Found in Luke’s account, however, this is one of those “you have to know the Greek” things.

Fasting has an interesting side effect: it makes you sympathetic with the hunger of others. It also reminds you of the obligation of the rich (that’s us, American Christian) to feed the poor. You may not think much of this, but do you not see that Satan is tempting Christ to feed himself? “Me first.” If the Son of God were to convert stones to bread (He won’t, but we’ll see that later), surely he should do so to feed the poor. We are almost immune to this issue in our society. But may I share a passage of Scripture I had never thought through before. 28 It concerns the city of Sodom. Ask anyone in the church today what caused the downfall of that city, and you will be told, “hom*osexuality.” But hear the word of the Lord: "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. (Eze 16:49 NASB) Why the wilderness? Satan picks his geography well. • •

In the wilderness, yielding to temptation is done without anyone observing it. So we minimize the impact of the sin. Satan, however, delights in the fact that he now has a juicy “guilty secret” – which can only be protected by more sin. It also gives Jesus an excuse – hunger in the wilderness, let’s be reasonable. That sets in motion the sin of self-justification – another handle for Satan. Christ is training his young wrestlers by letting them see how the Master does it. Temptations

What follows now is rather traditional in interpretation. You’ve seen it before (I hope). You might ask why no brilliant flashes of extraneous rhetoric are in this; the answer is that the traditional answers are the right answers. They play Beethoven’s Fifth more than once, too. Particularly with regard to lust, modern man has been taught that failure to give in to temptation will result in terrible psychiatric problems. Give in, and enjoy, and see your shrink to get over the guilt feelings. (Does not apply to holes in your head due to wife finding out.) Think this through. You experience fear; giving in is cowardice. You experience the desire for more; giving in is greed. All our natural desires are intended to be suppressed (the right word, not repressed) by a selfcontrol which we are to develop. All, that is, except sex – and that exception is broadening into the other seven deadly sins. The order given here is that which Luke uses; it is the order of the magnitude of the temptation. We shall see that Satan likes to use the lowest level temptation he can.

28

As many would guess, I’m indebted to Chrysostom for the point and for the Scripture reference.

Sins of the flesh Satan will use these if he can: • • •

Lust – the desire for forbidden sexuality. This produces guilty secrets quite easily. It also leads to a great deal of self-justification and bitter, bitter divorces. It has no saving virtues, and is greatly aided by the physical side of life – male hormones, for example. Gluttony – the ravening desire for more, in the physical realm. This is usually restricted to eating, and in particular stuffing yourself while those around you starve. In a nation where even the beggars are rich, it’s hard to see this. Try fasting, and see if you immune to gluttony. Anger – That furious rage which comes when you believe your own self-justifications. Anger is greatly honored in our society – when it’s used to motivate the voters. Where would environmentalism be without three piece gray vested oil company presidents? Anger is a favorite of Satan’s; things said in anger may need to completed when sober. Sins of the world

Hormones come and go; age may conquer lust, and doctor’s orders may conquer gluttony. Bitter experience may conquer anger. But there is another class of temptations, greater than those of the flesh. If the flesh won’t work, Satan will try the sins of the world: •

• •

Envy. Why should that other guy be so rich? It is the principle weapon of American liberal politics. Envy touches many; if allowed to ripen into anger, it produces votes. This also works, usually without the anger, to sell retail items. Why should the cheerleader have a beautiful face while I have acne? Greed. If you don’t have envy, there is always greed. Greed says that I should have more – whatever the consequences to anyone else. It is the principal weapon of American conservative politics. It is the chief method by which we obtain poverty-stricken multimillionaires. Sloth. Yes, laziness. The habit of doing nothing about anything. Usually associated with good intentions, it means that we approve of righteousness in theory, but not so much that we would do anything about it. The great sin – Pride

The great tool of Satan is pride (also translated “arrogance.”) If you are serious about sin, this is Satan’s chief weapon. Have you ever heard someone use shame as a technique for achieving selfcontrol? “Another chocolate fudge triple syrup banana split? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” We appeal to pride to deal with the other sins – and Satan laughs. It is the sin of the Pharisees; recall that Christ called all other sinners to repent, but the proud he rebuked in anger. Dealing with pride is difficult, but not impossible. Aftermath There are a few lessons we should take away from this incident.

The Christian’s defense The key thought is this: Christ is human, fully so. He was tempted, as we are. His defenses worked for Him; they will work for us, if we will but use them. • • • • • •

First, Christ was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. His life was governed by the Spirit, and therefore He was prepared. Next, His verbal defense comes from knowing the Scriptures. The virtues of frequent reading and memorization are hereby proclaimed. Fasting – denying the body to strengthen the soul – has its desired effects. Others not mentioned in this context, but equally valuable: Prayer – the life of constant prayer is constantly well guided. Fellowship – Christ took comfort of the angels; we should not neglect fellowship with each other. The obedient heart – you’re not smart enough to outsmart Satan, let alone God. But you can triumph through obedience. I don’t need to know how the air pump works if I’m using it to pump up the tires. First Adam, Second Adam

It is interesting to note how many writers have made the comparison between the fall of man in Adam and the triumph of Man in Christ. They see in this the fulfillment of this prophecy: And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." (Gen 3:15 NASB) St. Paul used this concept: So also it is written, "The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1Co 15:45 NASB) From the failure of Adam in the garden to the triumph of Christ in the Wilderness – what a Savior we have. Fruits of Triumph What shall we walk away with? • •

We see that even the greatest of temptations can be overcome – by men. He is human; such temptations as He had are in human terms. He triumphed; we can too. Christ knows what temptation is like. He’s been there, done that and bought the t-shirt, as the saying goes. Which means He can assist us in resisting temptation too.

It is clear: there is no possible alliance between Christ and Satan. Anything that presents itself that way is a deception of the Father of Lies.

The Call – Matthew 4:12-25 It is a happy occasion when one of your children marries. Of course, they are in love – but you are pondering just what might be said about the unknowns of marriage: •

They don’t know where life will take them. Geography uncertain, neither destination nor paths laid out. • They don’t know what experiences they will have along the way. Some will be gainful, others not – but they have no idea of this. • Perhaps most important of all, they do not know the truths they will need to learn. “What” they do not know. Their relationship adventure spins about “who,”, not “what.” All they really know is a person, the beloved person. On this, they risk their lifetimes of happiness and joy. We shall see a similar call in this lesson. Beginning of Christ’s Ministry Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: "THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES-- "THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED." From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Mat 4:12-17 NASB) It is important to note that Jesus begins His preaching when that of John the Baptist ends. They don’t overlap, and Jesus is careful to have this so. Why? • • • •

One simple reason is that all earthly ministries have an end to them; this is how God changes those ministries. Another reason is to avoid any confusion about who really is the Messiah. John’s purpose was to go before the Messiah; he would be a failure if the world took him to be the Messiah. As God the Father had His prophets, so must God the Son. John is the last of the Old Testament prophets, for now Messiah is come. Perhaps most important, John’s imprisonment confirms to the crowd his holy life – and therefore the Messiah he introduces. The retreat into Galilee

You will note that Jesus comes to John at the Jordan to be baptized – but begins His ministry some distance to the North:

(The map is taken from the Son Light maps insert in E-Sword)

Why did he retreat into Galilee? • • •

One reason is simply this: so that the prophecy would be fulfilled. In fulfilling it, He also explains it. Another reason is an example to us. We are taught to flee persecution, so that the Gospel might spread. Here we are taught by example. But I suspect his real purpose was to find his disciples – they would be rough and ready men, not ones with the polished sophistication of Jerusalem’s Pharisees. His message

So Christ begins the first year of His ministry on earth, and His message is, “Repent.” Not, as most suppose, “Be born again.” In all the New Testament, the phrase occurs only twice: once for Nicodemus 29 and once in First Peter. 30 Why should one repent? Because the Kingdom of Heaven31 is at

29 30

John 3:1-10 1 Peter 1:3, 23

hand. The time to choose is now. The kingdom is at hand; it is easily available to you. The kingdom is at hand; you must reach for it, for God will not drive you into it. You have to grasp it. The Call Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He *said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Mat 4:18-22 NASB) Jesus calls His first disciples. It often puzzles modern Christians why Jesus does things this way. After all, if we wanted disciples, we’d write a curriculum, have it reviewed and improved by experts (while raising support for it) and eventually set up an academy of some sort. This is a grievous error. Person to person Understand the difference between modern and ancient teaching: modern teaching aims at pouring facts (and often enough prejudices) into the eager minds of children – who, by the way, get very bored with this approach. Is it any wonder, then, that the student (having been taught that teen age rebellion is both inevitable and good) often refuses to have more of it? True teaching has but one purpose: to bring the students up to the example of the teacher. Our youth understand this implicitly: look at the bracelets with WWJD on them. They want to follow in the right way, but our educators make this very difficult. To the ancient mind, the education would be student learning to be like teacher, and then passing along that wisdom. As late as the 19th century in America, the president of the United States could put this simply: Give me a log hut, with only a simple bench, Mark Hopkins 32 on one end and I on the other, and you may have all the buildings, apparatus, and libraries without him. --James A. Garfield The ultimate example of this is Christ Himself. So then, how does one follow Christ? The life of those who are called

31

The expression is found only in the Gospel of Matthew. All others use the phrase, “Kingdom of God.” Most scholars think that Matthew was following Jewish custom at the time, which forbade the very mention of God’s name, lest by some accident you blasphemed it. Matthew, you will recall, is writing for the Jews, not the Gentiles. Much of the preaching in Matthew concerns itself with that kingdom. 32 Noted educator and president of Williams College.

Jesus gives you a simple illustration: Take up your cross and follow Me. 33 It sounds so dreadful – and then He tells us that His burden is light. 34 How can this be, unless you carry your cross with His help? “But” you may ask, “how could anyone endure such things for a lifetime?” It depends upon your motives. Parents do this almost without thinking; they never really give up teaching their children. Why is this? Because we love our children. Love is also the cause of taking up the Cross – love for God Himself. 35 Learn at the feet of Jesus, then walk in His ways. Bearing the Cross On of my favorite writers put it this way: TO MANY the saying, “Deny thyself, take up thy cross and follow Me,” (Matt. 16:24.) seems hard, but it will be much harder to hear that final word: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” (Matt. 25:41.) Those who hear the word of the cross and follow it willingly now, need not fear that they will hear of eternal damnation on the day of judgment. This sign of the cross will be in the heavens when the Lord comes to judge. Then all the servants of the cross, who during life made themselves one with the Crucified, will draw near with great trust to Christ, the judge. Why, then, do you fear to take up the cross when through it you can win a kingdom? In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross is highest virtue, in the cross is perfect holiness. There is no salvation of soul nor hope of everlasting life but in the cross. Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life. He Himself opened the way before you in carrying His cross, and upon it He died for you, that you, too, might take up your cross and long to die upon it. If you die with Him, you shall also live with Him, and if you share His suffering, you shall also share His glory. Jesus on the march Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan. (Mat 4:23-25 NASB) You will note, please, that Jesus was “going.” The Great Physician makes house calls, it seems; there’s an example that needs following. What is he doing? 33

Matthew 16:24 Matthew 11:30 35 Matthew 22:37-38 34

• • •

He is teaching. This is not a showman; it’s the Messiah teaching His people the truth. He is proclaiming the Gospel – the Good News of the kingdom. He is healing.

Of course, once word of this gets around, Jesus is going to find Himself with a crowd. Why does the crowd follow Him? • •

For some, it is to watch the healing. Some for their own healing; others for the novelty of it; and for many, it’s the miracle that they think will become the fortress of their faith. Others are attracted by His fame. He becomes a celebrity. Interestingly, many come from great distances for this. But, at least, they came. Today Is it so much different today? Consider:

• •

Many will come to hear a great preacher speak – as long as he keeps his preaching from becoming meddlesome. There are many who preach today who claim miraculous powers – speaking in tongues, healings – many leading others astray. For if your income depends upon donations from TV viewers, you don’t want to preach too much about taking up the cross.

The choice is every before us: come to church, listen to a nice sermon, beat the Baptists to the coffee shop for lunch. But consider well the nature of your Lord’s claims upon you. You call Him Lord; then know this:

Without the Way, there is no going. Without the Truth, there is no knowing. Without the Life, there is no living.

Beatitudes I – Matthew 5:1-5 Children are taught to memorize these verses. In the world of those who memorize Scripture, this is an adult favorite as well. We shall see that by these words our Lord encourages us to live the life of a true Christian, servant to the Servant King. We shall hope to give these small virtues their due. When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mat 5:1-5 NASB) Preliminaries Most teachers prefer to skip the first two verses, so glorious is the wealth that follows. But all Scripture is profitable; we shall mine what we can. Jesus saw the crowds; crowds that had heard of his miracles and followed along. Notice, please, that Jesus the Healer went to the people, like an old fashioned doctor making house calls. Now the crowd follows him. So He accommodates them again, going up the mountain to find a natural amphitheater . He then sits down. It is a sign of authority; in those days, the teacher sat while the students stood. But this is no sign of pride; notice please that Jesus could have sat in the market place. It would have greatly amplified his popularity. Christ chose the mountain, not the marketplace. Content with these preliminaries, the disciples come to Him. They seem to know that He is about to say something important. Only when all these things are arranged does He open His mouth. The NIV omits this, thinking it an ancient flourish of language. It is not. For its clear implication is that He has not been teaching them by word, but by example. Christ instructs us by word – and also in silence. What follows begins with the word, “Blessed.” Kindly note that this is indicative, not imperative. Christ, the lover of my soul, woos me with blessings. He places no restriction upon the blessing of God; not “certain people” or “some” but all. See how open are the arms of God, reaching to the furthest and least! The word translated here as “blessed” means one who is “supremely blessed.” 36 Humility – verse 3 Christ picks an interesting word for “poor.” It is a word picture of someone cringing. The word is used of beggars who must cringe before their benefactors to obtain some coins. This is humility that sees us as beggars who have no merit before God, and therefore must beg in all humility.

36

Strong’s

We may contrast this with the “rich in spirit.” This is the man who walks in his own pride and merit. If you can picture the beggar, you can picture the gentleman who walks by; a potential source of revenue to the beggar – if only your cringing humility is visible enough. We may clear up one confusion: this refers to those who are the poor in spirit by choice. It’s something you decide to do. This is not about those who have been humbled by life’s experiences; it’s the one who is humbled by choice. That’s the one who sees himself as he is; and knows who God is – and trembles at the difference. Pride The first blessing is opposed to the first sin: pride. Satan first sinned by pride, for he said he would be like God. It is also the sin of Adam; for Satan lured him with the promise that he (Adam) would be like God. Here is the evil of all evils – and our defense is humility. The kingdom of heaven What, then, is this blessing? In many ways Christ describes it; may I bring to your mind but three? • • •

It is the pearl of great price. 37 It is beyond all that we can do; it will cost us everything to obtain – and when we are blessed by it, we rejoice. It is the landowner who paid all of his laborers alike. 38 It seems unfair; grace is like that. There will be those we see in the kingdom who have done so much; others, so little – and all are welcome. It is the wheat and the weeds – a kingdom which has its hypocrites and imposters. 39 Mourning

Mourning? Why would mourning be blessed? It is simply the outward expression of the poverty of spirit. It is public notice that you are indeed what you claim to be: a child of God – in godly sorrow. Godly sorrow? Paul explains it this way: For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2Co 7:10 NASB) Do you see it? You should mourn that which is wrong: •

Mourn indeed for your sins; regret and repent. 37

Matthew 13:45-46 Matthew 20:1-16 39 Matthew 13:24-30 38

As we are taught, 40 we are to mourn the sins of our church, our people, our nation. Did our Lord give us an example of this? Indeed:

This is the Man of Sorrows – weeping over the grave of Lazarus. 41 This is also the Messiah – mourning over the intransigence of Jerusalem. 42 And the purpose of this mourning? Comfort. So that we might receive from Him and His people that arm around the shoulder that is sometimes the only solace that works. We mourn – and He comforts us. • •

We can’t repay that – but we can pass it along. His comfort is given to us so that we may comfort others. 43 And – even greater – this mourning will come to an end. It will be turned to joy at His return. 44 Meekness, gentleness It is difficult to define this word in our time. It is related to humility. Perhaps we can pick up its meaning from the instances which written in the Scripture; Christ tells us that His yoke is gentle. 45 What is the load that our Lord has given you – without His comfort and strength? He shares our burdens; so we should share the burdens of others. • In the Triumphal Entry Christ told those around Him that He was coming in meekness, riding on a donkey.46 It is the entry of the King in peace, not the conqueror in war. The King of Kings comes in peace even today; • It is also said to be an ornament of the Christian women. 47 It is best seen in its absence today. For meekness is not presumptuous – we do not claim that our being a Christian puts us, by rights, next to Christ. On the contrary, we are not “me and Jesus in the phone booth,” we are those who see Him as He is (or will be) – and know from this who is God (and more importantly, who is not.) •

Indeed, the opposite of meekness might well be said to be self-seeking. We hear much about obtaining our rights. Jesus Christ did not come to get His rights. He came to get His wrongs – and I am so blessed that He did. It is simply this: the meek and gentle do not trust their own power, wisdom and ability. James put it this way:

40

Daniel 9:1-19 John 11:35 42 Matthew 23:27 43 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 44 Revelation 2:14 45 Matthew 11:29 46 Matthew 21:5 47 1 Peter 3:3-4 41

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." (Jam 4:13-15 NASB) Inherit the earth Despite Getty’s rejoinder (“the meek shall inherit the earth – but not the mineral rights.”) it is promised from of old that the earth – this terrestrial ball – will go to the children of God. 48 Only in Revelation do we see the details of the promise: the New Heaven and the New Earth. 49 Meekness must be important to the Christian – for at least there is a grand reward for it. Soliloquy The construction of this lesson was an emotional thing. I came to the end of the preparation knowing that something more must be said. So let me ask you three questions: • • •

Does the church teach – both in word and action – the virtue of humility? Or is it just an obsolete thought, no longer appropriate for the modern church? Consider well: the church is not the preacher, nor the teacher. The church is us. Is it not the case that the sorrow that leads to repentance is the sole and exclusive property of movements like Celebrate Recovery? Outside that, where do we lead the church into godly sorrow and repentance? Can it be said that the men of the church are gentle and meek? Can it be said of the women? Do we not (especially for women) teach exactly the opposite? What would gentleness and meekness do for the typical Christian marriage?

48 49

Isaiah 60:20-21 Revelation 21:1-2

Beatitudes II – Matthew 5:6-8 It is the fact: if you want to start your own religion, it is wise to demand of your converts things which are hard to do. Don’t eat this; fast on Tuesday. Do pray seven times a day. All this has the seeming advantage that you can work your own salvation – and therefore you need not ask for mercy. Christ placed no outer burdens on us – only those that flow from the tasks of the heart. Indeed, these beatitudes might well be call “right craving.” Last week we spoke of what you are; this week, what’s in your heart. Hunger and Thirst "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Mat 5:6 NASB) From the heart May we make one obvious point? One does not hunger and thirst if we already have the object of that desire. I don’t thirst after water; I have plenty. Only the things we don’t have can be desired this way. Righteousness, therefore, is not ours. But our Lord does not prescribe obtaining righteousness by our own hard work (though that hard work will be a result of obtaining it.) This is no trivial desire. Look at the verse again; substitute “want” for “hunger and thirst.” The meaning becomes trivial; righteousness is then on a par with wanting a new car. This is passion itself. The opposite sin It may not seem obvious at first, but this passion drives out its opposing sin: covetousness. How greatly superior it is for us to refrain from coveting that which belongs to our neighbor so that we may passionately desire the things of God! This is the antidote to our usual hunger and thirst – avarice. It is the matter of the heart: you will desire something, and desire it passionately. Which is the better desire: the new BMW or God’s own righteousness? They shall be satisfied Always remember: God’s gifts are greater than all the passion and desire of His saints. It is always so; His bounty exceeds all that we can desire. So if He says you will be satisfied, satisfied you will be. How could it be otherwise? Do you crave food? What, then, of the One who is the very Bread of Life? Are you thirsty? Who is the source of living water? Sometimes this will turn you to action – the One who is righteousness itself cleansed the Temple, you will recall. Mercy

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Mat 5:7 NASB) We must begin by acknowledging that the word translated here as “mercy” has two meetings in Jewish thought: • •

It may mean mercy in the sense of forgiveness, which is the usual interpretation here. It may also mean giving charitably, as one who has “mercy on the poor” is loved by God. Often enough in the church we find that these are very closely related, for a leading cause of poverty is dumb decisions. This is also a cause of enmity between Christians. It is not sufficient to pardon; one must put pardon into practice. From the heart I hope it is apparent to you that God is merciful. When we are merciful, we are imitating God – which is commanded to the Christian. 50 Indeed, what a bargain! We give the forgiveness of mankind – corrupt and imperfect as it is – and our Lord returns to us the mercy of God: greater than all our sins, pure in love, and more than sufficient for us. It is this imitation of divine mercy that makes our mercy real, for we can call on Him to sustain us in this. When we do this mercy, it is not only real, but regal – from the King of Kings, through us and on to the children of God. The opposing sin The opposing sin is indeed a deadly one: vengeance. Vengeance may be taken in violence. But the vengeance of sneering at your fallen opponent is every bit as deadly a sin. Justice and mercy need to be mingled into a common stream; indeed, there is no mercy unless justice exists first. Shakespeare, in his Merchant of Venice, expressed it this way: “The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed; It blesseth him who gives, and him who takes: ’Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown It is an attribute of God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s, 50

Matthew 5:44-45

When mercy seasons justice. Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That, in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. Why, all the souls that are, were forfeit once: And he who might the ’vantage best have took Found out the remedy. How would you be, If He who is the top of judgment should But judge you as you are? O! think on that; And mercy then will breathe within your lips, Like man, new made How shalt thou hope for mercy, rend’ring none?” Pure in Heart "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Mat 5:8 NASB) Astronomical concerns One of the marvels of modern technology is the Hubble telescope. It orbits the earth, lifting it above the atmosphere. Totally automated, it has greatly expanded our knowledge of the universe. But when it first arrived, the scientists were shocked to discover that the lenses were not ground correctly. A Space Shuttle mission (and a few million dollars) were required to fix it. The truth of the matter: no matter how much it costs, you cannot see perfectly with an imperfect instrument. And the proper instrument for seeing God is the pure heart. So, what lessons may we learn on this? •

If the windows are dirty, then clean them – to let the light in. Your heart is the window of the soul; keep it clean and the Light of Life will pass through it.

It doesn’t matter how clean the path is, if the instrument is defective. Hubble sees problems, not stars. Your own eye, if it is strong, welcomes the light. If it is weak, you squint and get your sunglasses. So then, keep your heart pure, and it will see. From the heart Paul puts it this way:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might (Eph 1:18-19 NASB) The pure heart is the perfection of our love for God – and allows us to see hope, riches and surpassing greatness from God. Opposing sin Is there a sin which opposes the pure heart? Indeed there is: hypocrisy. We need say no more than that. At the Resurrection Is this really important? Indeed, it is. We walk by faith, and see dimly. At His return we shall see face to face. It is one of the oldest promises in the Scripture: "Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:26-27 NASB) Final Thoughts You may not think these things too important, as they are seldom visible. But I must remind you: the Creator longs for the day that all the world may see Him reflected in His creatures. • • •

The heart that hungers and thirsts for righteousness – so that the world may know the One who is righteousness. The heart that is merciful – so that mercy may be seen with judgment. The heart that is pure – so that all will know, this is the real thing.

Beatitudes III – Matthew 5:9-12 Until verse 10, there is no indication of the trouble that such virtues will bring. Now, however, the Christian is told to face the opposition which will surely come. It is convenient, then, to ask why such trouble will arise? I submit to you three possible answers: • • •

It is not possible to be a peacemaker without “interfering” in the lives of others. There are many for whom peace is simply the deprivation of the causes of war. Grudges are very often cherished. It goes further than that, You will be persecuted for pursuing righteousness, for evil is (in the eyes of the world) fun and profitable. Ultimately, you will be persecuted for bearing the Name – for this world is Satan’s own system, and he will hunt down those who bear the name if he can. The battle is spiritual, as well as physical. Peacemakers "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Mat 5:9 NASB) An expensive hobby How expensive? Hear the story of Dan Sickles: 51

In the 1850's Dan Sickles was a prominent Congressman, elected via the Tammany Hall machine. He moved in the graft ridden circles of Washington wheeling and dealing. One of the men he dealt with was Philip Barton Key, an attorney and the son of Francis Scott Key. Key did legal business for Sickles, and soon the two men became fast friends. This would be unrecorded except that Key also became friendly with Mrs. Sickles. Too friendly, to the point of adultery. One day Sickles walked into the shabby downtown apartment the lovers kept for such trysts and shot Key through the head. He then went to the Attorney General's office, handed in the gun and surrendered himself. The trial was a national sensation. His defense attorney was Edwin Stanton, later Secretary of War under Lincoln, who used - for the first time, evidently - the defense of "temporary insanity." He used it successfully. Sickles was acquitted. When he returned to the halls of Congress every other member publicly ostracized him. No one would sit near him; when he spoke all the other members would leave. Perhaps you think this is the just treatment of a murderer who got off on a technicality like that. Perhaps it is just. But murder was not the reason that Sickles was treated like a leper. The real reason: he forgave his wife, and took her back. 51

Yes, I know I’ve used this one before. They recycle Beethoven’s Fifth too.

Perhaps the man just wanted the tranquility in marriage he thought he had. Peacemaker: it’s a man who overlooks the cause of the squabble, letting it go. The urge to argue and squabble is indeed great in the human species; it is the peacemaker’s virtue to rise above the cause of the argument, and let peace prevail. This will be at the peacemaker’s expense; the squabblers would rather continue the argument. The issue applies in the great as well as in the small. At least one party to war will state its aims to include a just and lasting peace. The spread of peace Let’s begin with the obvious: those who are at peace in themselves are most likely to spread peace to others. All can see that. But do you not see that peace, like beauty, proceeds from within? •

It begins with peace within. When I am at peace with God and myself, it is a short step to include those I hold dear. • It spreads first to family and friends, for they know us best. • Then, it may spread to the world. It happens the same way in the church. If there is peace in the church, there is unity. If the church is united, it is also at one with God. Reward To the peacemaker is given the reward of becoming one of the sons of God. And why not? Our Lord is the supreme example of the peacemaker, for He is our peace.52 He is the one who reconciled us to God, bringing the peace that surpasses all understanding. We, then, as His children, should imitate what He did. Indeed, we are told that we are ambassadors of reconciliation between God and man. 53 There is a curious numeric point in this. This is the seventh beatitude; seven, the Hebrew number of perfection, for God rested on the seventh day. The seventh day was a day of rest, and thus a day of peace. Being a peacemaker, a child of God, brings us much closer to the perfection we imitate. First purity, then peace There is a reason this is given to us immediately after the blessing of the pure in heart. In gaining the purity of heart we fortify our souls, so that when peacemaking turns ugly, we will not compromise. 54 The Truth has no alliance with evil. A Chinese proverb puts it this way:

52

Ephesians 2:14 2 Corinthians 5:20 54 I am indebted to C. H. Spurgeon for this point. 53

If there is righteousness in the heart there will be beauty of character. If there be beauty of character, there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world. Persecution for Righteousness’ Sake "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:10 NASB) Note, please, that the persecution here does not refer to the supreme cause of persecution, the Name of Christ, but just ordinary, everyday righteousness. The price of peace- and righteousness Sometimes the price of pursuing peace is the persecution by the wicked. It is the same with righteousness. Thomas á Kempis put it this way: All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace. Sometimes the way of peace seems to conflict with the way of righteousness. So it appears to those who want to be comfortable. But to those who understand Christ’s example, the conflict can be resolved by our willingness to sacrifice. But there is more to it than just sacrifice. Reaction to persecution This is often unfamiliar territory. We are accustomed to living at peace within our society; what happens when we stand up for righteousness? • • •

We will be met with intimidation. We are not to fear such intimidation; 55 greater is He within us. This action on their part will be dealt with at the Judgment; 56 it is our task to reject the intimidation. Indeed, we are to count such persecution as a joy; 57 which means that we are going to get a lot of joy in this life. The root of the matter is this: the man who is at peace with God and with the church can say, “Fear God; dread naught.” Our reward

Your heavenly Father knows that you must have motivation. You didn’t like the idea of being poor in spirit, nor will you like the idea of persecution. But both of these have the same reward, the kingdom of Heaven. When Satan takes you seriously, it means you are genuinely on the Lord’s side. 55

See also 1 Peter 3:13-16 2 Thessalonians 1:4-7 57 James 1:2-5 56

For the sake of the Name "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mat 5:11-12 NASB) May I give you a parallel here? The Apostles were joyful when they were judged worthy of being persecuted “for the Name.” 58 The early church, when persecuted, phrased it that way. But “the Name” seems nebulous to us, where it was clear to them. May I give you a parallel? To the patriot, Old Glory is not just a scrap of cloth. Many in this world hate that flag; some even in this land. It does not matter to the one who loves this country; the flag is the visible sign of the heart of liberty. When someone insults it or burns it, we are aggrieved as well. The Christian should have the same reaction to someone who misuses the name of Christ. To do so is to insult the name I love. So, picture the Name as taking the same role as the flag, and you will understand this section better. The fools for Christ One of the first things our persecutors will complain of is that we are not acting rationally. Why won’t you Christians just get along and go along? • • •

First, there is the example of our Lord. He didn’t make an alliance with the Pharisees; so He went to the Cross a sinless man. If the cause of Christ is greater than life, so we too do not fear persecution. The Apostles, too, looked like fools 59 – throwing their lives away following the way of Christ. Our leaders must lead, and this is where they must go. Indeed, we are the servants of Christ – and the servant is not superior to his Master. 60 Persecution today

Please, realize one thing: such persecution is inevitable. The Scripture tells us this over and again; yet we are always surprised (and not very peaceful either) when it happens. We see the blessings of God on a Christian nation to be our heritage; the world sees wild-eyed right-wing fundamentalists (hereafter, WRFs). And what does our Lord tell us to do about it? and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. "But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. "For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 58

Acts 5:41 1 Corinthians 4:10 60 John 15:20 59

(Mat 10:18-20 NASB) Persecution tomorrow Is it going to get worse? You have but to look elsewhere in the world. May I give you one example? In India, the headlines in one of the party newspapers read, “Evil Mother Teresa part of Global Christian Conspiracy!” It will not be long coming here in America; indeed, the Chinese church is praying that it comes swiftly, so that in persecution the church might be purified and become the center of this nation once again. When it comes, aim high. Do not ask by what weasel method you can slink out of it; rather, take it as the great honor it is. As the Gospel tells us: "You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. (Mar 13:13 NASB) Epilog May I share with you an illustration which may offend? Please take it in the Spirit; you will see the point soon. Here’s a picture I found on the internet:

You see the Marines in full dress uniform, preceded by the color guard with the flag. Only the man in the wheelchair – a disabled veteran – stands as Old Glory is paraded. The others? They enjoy the benefit of living in the land favored by God, where they may say what they please and worship as they think best. But the veteran has sacrificed for that flag; therefore it means much more to him than

it does to the others. They see only one more element of a parade to entertain them; he sees the flag – and the nation – for which he has sacrificed so much. It is much the same for Christians. If you have been persecuted little and sacrificed little, then the Name is just a name. If you have endured the persecution of this world and sacrificed all for the kingdom, it is the Name above all names. Have you put your life and fortune on the line for Jesus Christ?

Salt, Light and Law – Matthew 5:13-20 The connection between this passage and the Beatitudes is usually overlooked. But Christ has just taught His disciples that they will be persecuted; now, He teaches them what they are to be in the face of persecution. Salt "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. (Mat 5:13 NASB) Let us begin with an Old Testament background, for Christ’s hearers – from then well into modern times – would have understood the common uses of salt which are no longer with us. • •

Indeed, the covenant of the Law was described as a “covenant of salt.” 61 The covenant God made with the house of David is also described as a “covenant of salt.” 62 The symbolism is there for purity and its eternal nature, as we shall see. Every offering – with a slight exception – had to be salted. It is a grand lesson. The exception was the thank offering – one give not as a requirement of the Law, but given in gratitude. Salt was not required; leavened bread was used. The things of God are pure and unadulterated; the offerings of man are made with the symbol of sin (leaven), showing us that even a sinner’s offering can be made acceptable in gratitude. Taste

One thing about salt: a little goes a long way. If you’re a cook, salt is measured in pinches, not inches. Salt, too, has a rough edge in its taste. It is a powerful flavoring – and if you use too much, the recipe is a failure. See the picture? The salt of the earth is the same way; the church began with but twelve apostles; wherever it goes, its people are “different.” Indeed, the salt of the earth might just be irritating wherever they go. This is one of the “why” answers to persecution. Uses Other than cooking, there are two primary ancient uses of salt: Salt was used as a cleanser, a purifier. 63 Salt was often used as a preservative (it’s how we got ham). When the salt of the earth come, they are to lead the people to purify themselves in confession and baptism; thus will they convey eternal life to the world. • •

61

Numbers 18:19 2nd Chronicles 13:5 63 nd 2 Kings 2:19-22 62

Application Some us get the point; if salt loses its ability in taste, in purifying and preserving – what good is it? Indeed, we are taught that even our conversation is to be seasoned with salt: Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Col 4:6 NASB) Salt in the voice is the product of grace for the soul. Grace? Yes. You are the salt of the earth – as opposed to the dirt of the world. Christ has selected you, sought for you and by his blood obtained you. May your speech show it. Light "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Mat 5:14-16 NASB) Light follows salt. As one ancient writer put it, to live well precedes teaching well. Christ, the light of the world We must first note the dilemma: Christ is the light of the world. Who are we to say that we are? Christ gives us the answer: "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world." (Joh 9:5 NASB) We, then, are the imitators of our Lord Jesus Christ – for as He shined first, we must shine the same way. Consider this: We are placed on a hill; the world will carefully examine our conduct. You might think this unfair; but I say that the hill on which the Christian stands is no ordinary hill, but the Rock, Jesus the Christ. Just as everything He did met with scrutiny by His enemies, so will our actions be examined. Being light is first what we are to the world, and then what we do in it. The nature of light

Light, as metaphor, includes the nature of purity in light. There is no such thing as dirty light. In the time of Christ, light was mostly sunlight; the rest candles or other fires. His hearers would have known this, and caught the message. But more than that they would see light as we would in the phrase, “I saw the light.” We still “enlighten” people. Christ’s hearers would have recited the Psalm which declared the Word to be the lamp for my feet, a light on my path. 64 Obvious implications Christ has, of course, just finished speaking on the subject of persecution. If you live in a time when Christianity is unacceptable, the temptation is to hide your light – let no one know that He is your Lord. By telling us to put it on the lampstand, Christ tells us that we cannot do this. If you put the candle under the basket, it’s not long before the candle goes out. Do you not see that persecution makes your light more visible? While others are hiding their light, your light remains – and therefore is seen as brighter. Some of us don’t like that. But there is a warning here, also. Your works should cause others to glorify God, not be a hypocritical pretense for your own ego. Matthew Henry put it this way: Mankind, lying in ignorance and wickedness, were as a vast heap, ready to putrefy; but Christ sent forth his disciples, by their lives and doctrines to season it with knowledge and grace. If they are not such as they should be, they are as salt that has lost its savor. If a man can take up the profession of Christ, and yet remain graceless, no other doctrine, no other means, can make him profitable. Our light must shine, by doing such good works as men may see. What is between God and our souls, must be kept to ourselves; but that which is of itself open to the sight of men, we must study to make suitable to our profession, and praiseworthy. We must aim at the glory of God. If we are to be salt and light, and not be a monument to our own righteousness, we must seek the righteousness of God. Our own is insufficient to bring glory to God. But righteousness has its price tag, too. Come to fulfill "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:17-20 NASB)

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Psalm 119:105

Words for the teacher A lady of my acquaintance – Catholic, and therefore much less familiar with the Scriptures – told me that her theory of the Law and Christ is this: In the Old Testament we meet the angry Father. In the New Testament we meet the loving Son. It’s a fairly common theory. It’s also wrong. The truth is that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. All Scripture points to Christ, one way or another. Jesus does see them in opposition but in harmony. He exhibits great care for the Law – and no particular respect for the lawyers. Thus it is that he cautions the teacher: be careful to keep My commands. Teach the Gospel, and all of it. Do not set aside any of it. You might think this would be fairly obvious – but it’s not. •

Where is the teaching on divorce? Divorce is as common as water in the evangelical, Biblebelieving churches. Christ’s words are sloughed off with the phrase, “Oh, that’s first century culture.” • Where is the church’s teaching on greed, or envy? • And – for the most obvious point – has anyone heard about hell lately? It’s passed off as “a Christless eternity.” The teacher’s reward depends upon how well he conveys the Gospel. In this teacher’s opinion, that means that you make no distinction in which part is “cultural” and which is not. The application of the truth changes; the Truth does not. This lays upon the teacher a great and heavy burden. But God lays no burden on us without giving us the means to carry it. It is a heavy burden, but our Yokefellow is very strong. Fulfilling the Law There are two ways in which Christ may be said to fulfill the Law: •

First, He is the prophetic fulfillment of the Law. Hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament are fulfilled by Christ. Most Bibles have a list of these; it is worth your time to examine this. The sheer number – and in some cases the utter improbability – is well noted. • Second, He fulfilled the Law as our atonement sacrifice. His death was in accordance with the Law, in great detail. It can also be seen another way. If you know only the music of Bach, the music of Beethoven seems a real surprise. But you soon would recognize that Beethoven worked in the same musical tradition; he has simply extended and enhanced the ability of the composer to bring his message to us. One craftsman stands on the shoulders of the prior one. Christ is upheld by the Law; He did not disown it. We shall see next week His phrasing of this: “But I say to you…” The heavier burden How can our righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees – the right wing legalists of Christ’s day? There is only one way; by His blood. His suffering is our righteousness; it is well to keep it in mind.

But I Say…Matthew 5:21-48 One of the ideas most commonly omitted from a study on the Sermon on the Mount is that this is an example of Christ’s claim to authority – indeed, the authority of God. Throughout the Old Testament the prophets proclaimed, “Thus saith the Lord.” Christ comes, saying, “But I say…” To some this causes confusion. How is it that Christ can overrule the Law? Simply put, He does not. He extends it. He takes it from the legal form (“thus far and no further”) and extends it to right living. The One who crafted the Law now reveals the Will behind it. Thought, word and action "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. "Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. "Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. (Mat 5:21-26 NASB) The power of thought, word and action (It should be noted that “angry” is “angry without cause” in the King James. Most modern scholars consider this a late addition.) It is one of the simplest of paradigms. You think; you open your mouth before having thought well enough and soon actions to match your words are required. This is often enough the source of sin in our lives – some words more than others. Christ speaks here of “the court” then “the supreme court” and finally hell itself. 65 In prior years, until his death, my wife and I visited a convict in prison. He was mentally ill, and the psychologists working with him would tell him he needed to stop his “stinkin’ thinkin’.” That’s easy to say and hard to do, as we shall see. But it points out that the root of the problem is in the mind. If you can stop it there, it’s a lot easier to deal with. So how, then, do we deal with this source of the problem? How do I do that? 65

The NIV is a bit more explanatory: judgment, the Sanhedrin and hell. The first could put a criminal to death by strangulation or beheading; the Sanhedrin had the power to stone someone to death; and hell is to be interpreted here as hell, not a Christless eternity.

Paul put it this way: We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete. (2Co 10:5-6 NASB) We train our thoughts by bringing them to Christ. Indeed, James tells us 66 that we can’t tame the tongue by ourselves. So we should do what any sensible Christian would do when in over your head: we ask Christ to do it for us. We tame animals by our superior intelligence and will; God will do the same for us, if we will but ask. There is a curious effect in this. Those who are “right-living” find that their circ*mstances change imperceptibly. They no longer get the chance to foul their mouths, because those around them expect that they won’t. If you hang around Christ long enough, you begin to act like him. Reconciliation One modern author remarked upon the difference between the church of 1900 and the church of 2000. He said that we go to church to get something out of it. They went to church to give thanks for it. Perhaps this explains the weakness of the church today. But think of it: why should God accept the worship of one who nurses a grudge? Since Cain and Abel there has been a difference between acceptable worship and non-acceptable worship. Want an example of how powerful this is? Richard the Lionheart did not take Communion for several years because he knew he would have to reconcile with Phillip, King of France. Only when he knew he was about to die did the priest get the call. Is this restricted to our brothers? No indeed. It is clear that this also applies to our enemies as well. Indeed, the mere fact that there is conflict is sufficient to cause the Christian to seek reconciliation. Vows, Marital and Otherwise "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. "If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. "It was said, 'WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. "Again, you 66

James 1:26

have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.' "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil. (Mat 5:27-37 NASB) One of the common reactions to teaching about divorce is, “You can’t be serious.” That’s why Christ includes the verses about eye and hand. It is that serious. The eye signifies contemplation; the hand, action. This life is the proving ground for the next. It is His intent that His children will come home to Him whole – but if you have to cut off the opportunity for sin, then cut it off. You’d be better off without it. Christ is deadly serious here; there have been Christians who have actually done this. 67 Marriage To be brief about it, here is the classical understanding of Christ’s teaching on divorce: •

Lust, à la Jimmy Carter, is a sin. If you haven’t made a pact with your eyes on this, it’s best you should. • Divorce is permitted only for the cause of adultery. (Separation is an option with much wider possibilities.) That means what it says: no other reason allowed. • This is so, even though the Old Testament appears to make divorce (by the man at least) easy. (There was a rabbinical debate on this at the time, and Christ didn’t straddle positions.) As He explains, that was given as a better option from being able simply to pronounce her as divorced. That last one brings up a point we should clearly understand: any system of law is inherently flawed. The law may forbid this and allow that – but the will of God is still your goal, even if the law can’t express it that way. Do not think this only for men: If you permit yourself to gaze often on fair countenances you will assuredly be taken, even though you may be able to command your mind twice or thrice. For you are not exalted above nature and the strength of humanity. She too who dresses and adorns herself for the purpose of attracting men’s eyes to her, though her endeavor should fail, yet shall she be punished hereafter; seeing she mixed the poison and offered the cup, though none was found who would drink thereof. For what the Lord seems to speak only to the man, is of equal application to the woman; inasmuch as when He speaks to the head, the warning is meant for the whole body. (Chrysostom)

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Origen, for example, castrated himself. Which does seem a bit extreme, but….

I leave you with one last thought on this: adultery is essentially dishonesty of the worst sort. When you marry, you take a wedding vow. If you commit adultery, you have betrayed your spouse and crushed your sworn word. No oath at all The oath, then as now, was taken as a sort of guaranty that the man talking was telling the truth. Men would swear by various holy objects (the Temple, for instance) that what they were telling others was indeed true. It did not take long for the lawyers to come up with fine haired distinctions about which oaths are binding. It was held that God would hold you to such an oath, as long as the formula was followed correctly. You can see the difficulty in court. 68 One ancient saint put it this way: They who live in the simplicity of the faith have not need to swear, with them ever, what is is, what is not is not; by this their life and their conversation are ever preserved in truth. There exists no law which tells us what to do other than the law of love. All other forms merely point out our sins. Be perfect 69 "You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. "Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. "Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. "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 causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mat 5:38-48 NASB) Things material This passage is often interpreted to mean that it doesn’t mean what it says. But it does. In this Christ tells His followers that they are to go beyond the Law – as God does. God the merciful should inspire us the merciful. Indeed, the usual objection is that I needed that coat and why should I walk that mile? One must ask: is your God so weak (or so untried) that you think He will not provide? Or is it that you don’t trust Him to provide? 68 69

The temptation to refer to Bill Clinton in this context is almost overwhelming. I hope this does not refer to typing.

See what he puts before us by command! In the things material we are to conform our actions (including our wallets) to God’s way, not ours. The half-hearted need not apply. Enemies We understand about loving those who love us – it’s polite, at least. But may we take it step by step? • •

Sometimes even our friends cross us, and we begin to treat them as enemies. How about competitors? In the modern capitalist realm of social Darwinism, aren’t they to be crushed and destroyed? • Often enough, in the worry and fray of friends and competitors, we can’t even name our enemies – we’re too busy making them. What matters, though, is that we deal with our enemies using the weapons of God, and not those of Satan. It is no accident that anger is a sin; likewise envy. So then, we must pick up the weapons of God. Chief among the is the willingness of the Christian to suffer for God’s sake. Go the extra mile? Think of how this baffles people who do not know Christ! 70 Love your enemies It sounds so strange, love your enemies. But it is exactly what God does. As Christ points out, the weather isn’t different for the good and the evil. Indeed, were God to make following Christ a sure path to riches in this world, we would be overwhelmed with new Christians. Christ’s point is that now you know what is right, you should follow God in doing it. That’s not natural. Indeed, we are called to do things that are supernatural, in that sense. We are to turn our impulses to obedience, and be greater than the animal nature in us. Christ commands us to the possible and the impossible. If we will but dare, He will make all things possible. Epilog Walk away with these two things: • •

The authority of Christ displayed here brings to His followers tasks possible and impossible. But with the task comes His aid. Be obedient – and dare. The goal of the Christian is not simply to “pass,” but to be perfect.

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For a Biblical example, see David and Saul

Stealth Christianity - Matthew 6:1-18 It is at once famous and unknown. The Lord’s Prayer, with the possible exceptions of John 3:16 and the 23rd Psalm, is the most recognized section of Scripture. Of those three Scriptures, this is the one that is prescriptive rather than descriptive, for it tells us where we are to aim in prayer, so that we might hit the target in the world outside. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. "But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. "So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. "Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 'Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 'Give us this day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 'And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]' "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. "Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. "But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Mat 6:1-18 NASB) The practice of stealth Ostentation is a curious thing. It is very closely allied to a desire for virtue. For as those whose hearts are pure long for the power to make things right, they must make some sort of show to the world. People can be convinced with an ostentatious display; the temptation is to believe the press releases and think yourself grand. This is an understanding which is not available to most of us. As Augustine pointed out, until you struggle with ostentation you do not know its real strength – or its subtlety. Many a man has given large amounts of money so that the building would have his name on the outside – and thought himself a benefactor in the process. Where is the boundary between benefactor and glory hog? In almsgiving

It should be noted that Christ presumed that his disciples would give to the poor. The lesson is common in the Old Testament, but usually mentioned in passing in the New Testament. It is the opposing virtue to the sin of gluttony, a point that often surprises. Christ did not turn the stones to bread. Gluttony is often quite public (“I’m going to take you out to have the finest steak in Texas”); it says that I live in excess. Almsgiving should not have that public nature, but should be given in secret. What shall you expect from God if you give Him nothing? In prayer There is, of course, one sense in which prayer must be public – in worship. As worship and service should match, it therefore follows that you should pray in private as well. The problem is in praying so that people will think you are a pious Christian. But it is possible to take this to the extreme: “I am so pious that I never pray in public.” The virtues of praying alone, in secret, are well known: • • •

No interruptions! A time to hear as well as a time to talk. A time to reveal that which you can reveal to no other. And, most important, your Lord rewards those who pray in secret.

We are commanded not to use vain repetition. I wonder if that includes those wonderful messages I keep getting which tell me to pray this prayer and pass it on to 500 of my closest friends, doing so in the next 5 minutes, as God is waiting to hear from me. Is that also “vain repetition?” One of my favorite writers, Chrysostom, summed it up this way: You do not then pray in order to teach God your wants, but to move Him, that you may become His friend by the importunity of your applications to Him, that you may be humbled, that you may be reminded of your sins. It helps to know who He is and who we are. In fasting Until very recently the church recognized fasting as a form of sacrifice for God. She also recognized that the frauds would appear to fast as well. The phrase is “when you fast” not “if you fast.” One reason this was such a commonplace was it was recognized as depriving you of food – so that the poor might eat. What you might have eaten was to be given to the poor. The modern equivalent might be the price of a restaurant dinner given to a food bank. Some time in the middle 19th century, the fashion turned against this. We have lost the sense of this as virtue. Perhaps the ancients knew something we don’t know. Prayer: the things of God

The ideal prayer begins with the things of God. We shall see this first, and then the aspects of the prayer down at the human level. Our Father In those two words Christ defined the church and most of western civilization with it. It begins with the acknowledgment that He is God – and perhaps more important that we are not. It sets the stage for all else. Western Civilization? Of course; it depends upon the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God. He who denies either is a barbarian – and we now have plenty of barbarians. The Jews did not know God as father; Islam denies it too. For the Christian holds this as fundamental. Chrysostom again: For what hurt does such kindred with those beneath us, when we are all alike kin to One above us? For who calls God Father, in that one title confesses at once the forgiveness of sins, the adoption, the heirship, the brotherhood, which he has with the Only-begotten, and the gift of the Spirit. For none can call God Father, but he who has obtained all these blessings. In a two-fold manner, therefore, he moves the feeling of them that pray, both by the dignity of Him who is prayed to, and the greatness of those benefits which we gain by prayer. Hallowed be your name There is a significant trinity in the Lord’s prayer: three ways in which we plead for His will; three ways in which we plead for our benefit. What does it mean? • • •

It is the plea that His Name be held as sacred, not as an obscenity. It is the plea that His Name be held as sacred within us. By this we glorify God. It also means that much of what we do in the church is done in the Name. We pray in that Name, baptize in that Name, bury in that Name, and by that Name we will be drawn from the grave at the last. Your Kingdom come

More literally, “the kingdom of you, let it come.” It will come, whether we will it or not. We may welcome it, as here, or oppose it – but it will come. But do you not see what a high degree of faith and confidence this implies? The world sees no resurrection of the dead; the world thinks us hopeless halfwits. With the same evidence they have, we ask to see the resurrection of the dead and the final victory of righteousness. The faithful can see it; the cynic need not even look. Your will be done You have asked for the kingdom to come; now work to bring it about. Even if it seems (as often it does) that God’s will makes no visible sense.

I recently attended a funeral. One of the eulogists offered us this thought: if you are a Christian, you will not die until you have fulfilled your God-given purpose. Once you have, why would you want to stay? Prayer: things of man May we begin with what is not in here? • •

There is no sense of asking for long term security. There is no sense of asking for victory or vengeance. These are the things of this world. They remain in time; the Christian remains in eternity. The only intersection of time and eternity is “now.” This prayer seeks out the things of “now.” Our daily bread May I point out the word “our”? Daily bread is usually thought of as being earned, and so it is, commonly. The possessive pronoun changes that: • •

If we made the bread, and are stingy with it, we are eating someone else’s bread, for he commands us to share. If we stole the bread, or deceived others to get it, we are eating someone else’s bread; it is not ours. To say “our” implies that we have responsibility for others eating too. Forgive us our debts

The tense implies the present; we forgive now, not tomorrow. Sometimes we have to forgive continuously, the offense is that great. So it is required; indeed we are told that we will not be forgiven unless we forgive. For most of us, this means that we must cast aside the rubber yardstick. Your own standards of judgment will be applied to you. If your standard finds something offensive, then you will be measured by that. When you think that through, things change. I find myself much more prone to forgiveness than when I was younger. My standard now is “Forgive? No problem!” That’s my standard; but did I mention to you that there are no perfect Christians? Lead us not into temptation Either individually or as a group, this part of the prayer makes it clear that we are not strong enough to resist temptation. To pray for this is to admit weakness – either by yourself, in your group, or both. It says, we are weak. But therefore it also says that He is strong; it is a recognition of His power. It is also a recognition that He will indeed keep you out of trouble – if you will but ask. If you should get into such trouble, appeal to Him for deliverance. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Social Security - Matthew 6:19-34 The problem of wealth in America is largely confined to the middle class. The rich feel it in different ways; the poor have so little that they must trust God. But it is almost a definition of the American middle class that they see in their finances clear and present danger. It shows up in (at least) these three ways: • • •

The desire for security. To know that you have enough money packed away so that you won’t have to worry. You have to worry now, of course, but later you won’t have to. (Big surprise coming on that theory). The desire for saving face. If you have money problems, and we all do at one time or another, you don’t want to let it show. Otherwise, people will conclude you do have money problems. Then they might offer to help – and how would that make you feel? The desire for the “right stuff.” We want so much to be accepted in the group; we therefore want to buy the right thing. The slightest mistake in constructing the look (or the rebuild on the house) is worse than death. So let us see what our Lord has to say about all this:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, 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 that is in you is darkness, 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 one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. "For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? "And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? "And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Mat 6:19-34 NASB)

Looking for Security “It doesn’t cost to look.” Yes it does. If you’re looking for security in the form of your money (or pension, or Social Security, or whatever), just looking can give you problems: • • •

You get to worry about what might be. It is a fact that God will not take your worries from you if you’ve borrowed them. God does not deal in “might be” but “is.” You become, in fact, less secure. If you put your heart where your money is, you transfer what is valuable to a place where it can be stolen or used up. This also divides you – for a while. Usually the Christian will try to serve two masters, and it works for a while. The deciding point is often unnoticeable. That’s why Christ tells us to seek first the kingdom. Security in God

My wife’s father tells me that money is a fine servant but a poor master. He is wealthy in this world’s things, so I suppose he knows it from experience. Experience. Think back upon your own experience, see which path you have followed: •

Those who put their faith in God experience a “trust relationship.” That’s a relationship in which each party must have trust for the other. Each knows the other to be trustworthy; promises will be kept. • Those who put their faith in money have a “service relationship.” Neither party can trust the other, so precautions must be taken, progress monitored carefully and audits run to catch anything going astray. Both these are methods of managing the future. Now, knowing that the future, like the past, belongs to God, just which method do you think is going to work? Tithing Most of us see out tithes as provision for the preacher. This is good; your tithe says that you support your church. But your tithe also tells this story: you believe in God’s providence. No matter what else may occur, you believe that 90% with God will be more secure than 100% without Him. Now the math of that does not seem to work. But math is very short on trust71. If you want to measure the results, get a calculator. If you want the results to measure, tithe. Saving Face “I don’t have any money problems – at least not that I’d want you know about.” When money troubles arrive we don’t want anyone to know. We’ll do almost anything to save face.

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Except, of course, for Fermat’s Last Theorem

For example, here’s something that happened to me – and stuck so that I put it into our cookbook: Beans, in our society, are somewhat a symbol of hard times, of poverty. We sometimes say that a person is "down to their last bean." I know the feeling. The layoff is the cloud over the aerospace industry, and when I was laid off, we ate beans. Lots of beans, particularly in Navy Bean Soup. We were a young couple, with one child and another on the way, and it was rather a difficult time. The church we attended was mostly middle class, and being out of work was somehow not quite respectable. So when anyone asked, "How are things going?" I always answered, "Fine." My pride was not going to allow me to say what I was really thinking: "I'm worried stiff, don't have two nickels to make change for a dime, and I have a wife who's pregnant and a small child to care for." It was a small church, however. In a small group you notice these things. So one day the minister's wife (a sweet soul) came up to me (privately) and handed me a food basket. You want to know what pride is? It's wondering how you're going to pay for next week's groceries, and still saying "Give it to somebody who needs it." It sounds so generous, so self-sacrificing, so "Christian" and it's so false. Praise God, the lady was wiser and gentler than I. "John," she said, "how are they going to learn to give if you will not receive?" Accepting what God gives us One occasionally gets the complaint that God not very forthcoming in providing. Why is it that all those promises about prayer seem to go unfulfilled? • •

One reason is that you may be using God as an means to your end. “Oh Lord, make me the smartest investor in the stock market,” is not going to be met with the answer you want. It may, however, cause you to lose enough that you begin to pay attention to the God you pray to. Another reason is that you might not be giving faithful stewardship of the money you have. If He can’t trust you with a little, will He give you a lot? Seek contentment in the kingdom of God first. Then He will provide for you. It is well to review some of the symptoms first:

Are you misusing what He has given you, in order that you may have “more?” This can be as obvious as the heroin addict stealing to support his habit or as subtle as a man buying a car for the status it gives. If you only shop at the Mercedes dealership you’re pretty certain to come away with a Mercedes. • For others, impulse buying is best done by credit card. Don’t think; want. Grab it now! This is a sinkhole for money. But for many of us there are times when the money is tight through no fault of our own. (Any father who has given his daughter in marriage knows this story). Medical bills often can cause this. If so, are we still too proud to admit the difficulty?

Envy One of the sure symptoms of saving face is envy. Your neighbors all have big, powerful, high speed cabin cruisers. You have a rowboat. Obviously, you need a cabin cruiser, right? That’s what the world will tell you. But let’s see if your neighbors understand your problem. The test? They are constantly telling you that you’ll get a great deal on a boat down at their dealership. And what do you do about it? Worry – about how you’ll ever keep up. 72 Get along, go along Sometimes we want what the other guy has; other times we just want to be one of the boys. It is amazing what people will spend just to be thought one of the right people. That’s the thrust of Christ’s point when he speaks about the eye being the light of the body. He, and his hearers, would have been familiar with the thought that “the eye is to the body as the mind is to the soul.” So the question might be asked, just what am I looking for? Sometimes it is our personal gain, but more often it is our own glory. “I am so cool.” If our eyes are constantly comparing us with others (who, of course, define “cool”) then they are not looking for the things of God. You know it, of course: • • •

The desire for the “right” things, such as the right clothes, the right car, the right neighborhood. The unthinking purchase: it looked cool, so I bought it. I didn’t even look at the price. The unthinkable purchase: I had the abortion because being pregnant and (insert excuse here) is definitely not cool. Where your treasure is, there your heart is also. Easily led astray

The Christian is taught to be holy, as God is holy. Sometimes this drives us away from the saving face or social acceptability. The way we remain holy starts with “lead us not into temptation.” We balk at that when it comes to money; we know what our wallets should look like. Perhaps we should find out what he wants our wallets to look like. He is sovereign; do you believe it? Finale Recently I have installed a personal finance program on my computer. Setting it up means that I have to get all the records into it. It’s a great reminder of how much I have. It also brings up temptation: I have so much, what could a little more hurt?

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The opportunity for sacrifice in such situations should be quite evident – and isn’t.

The Narrow Gate - Matthew 7 Lest any of us consider that the Christian life be one of ease and relaxation, swinging gently in the hammock, Christ gives us instruction to the contrary. To wit: "Do not judge so that you will not be judged. "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. "Why do you look at 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,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? "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. "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. "Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? "Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Mat 7:1-12 NASB) The Golden Rule defines for us the principle of the internal yardstick. In everything you do, you put yourself in the other fellow’s position and ask yourself how you’d like to be treated. Fair’s fair. But Christ adds to this some additional teaching, given for our guidance in applying this rule. Correction vs. Judgment The problem is one which hits every Christian at one time or another. How can I not judge? Your Christian brother is mired in his own sins, and often will use this very passage to keep you from action. How can I “judge not” when the sin is so obvious? We need to distinguish correction of sin from judgment. Correction is done in love and mercy; judgment belongs to the Lord. So how do we make this distinction clear to the sinner? It is not what we say but what we live that will stand answer for this question: •

We are taught to hate the sin and love the sinner. Slipping off the tongue this sounds rather pious. But there is one Christian for whom your “love the sinner” is obvious. That’s you. You must be clear that whatever has been done does not affect the fact that you’re dealing with a child of God. Wouldn’t you like that kind of treatment for your sins? • We have one example to give them: our own self-judgment. If we are known as one who judges himself, then correction is easier to take. This is a rather dangerous business. Judging others comes very quickly to the human mind. Chrysostom cites the example of a monk sitting down to a (rare) feast of a meal – to find that those about him do not rejoice that the man in poverty is eating well tonight; rather, they condemn the size of his dinner. Do you see the beam in the eye?

Beware indeed, therefore, of how easily the loving correction taught becomes the quick judgment of the hypocrite. Pearls One very good reason to avoid judgment is that it soon will be applied to those outside the church – whom God alone is to judge. 73 The plain truth is that offering Scriptural advice to those outside the church is (if I can borrow a metaphor) like trying to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. Indeed, in evangelism it is the function of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin and judgment. Until this happens, none of those outside the church would accept correction. Ask, seek and knock One thing you will find: if you care for someone, it is not long before you take that person to the Lord in prayer. Do you not see that God will have nothing to do with your request if it’s made with the beam in your eye? But if you judge yourself, look what He opens up! Much has been made of the progression “ask, seek, knock”. The reason is simple: most of us give up far too quickly. If your heart is right with God – that’s the reason this injunction is given in the context of judgment – why wouldn’t He grant your prayers? If you know how to be kind to your children, how much more will He be to His children? Therefore Do you notice that the Golden Rule is given following that word, “therefore”? That’s a dangerous word. It connects what went before to that Golden Rule, don’t you see. Why shouldn’t I judge others? Because the same standard will be used on you. Therefore be sparing of others and God will be sparing with you. Am I to be judge over those outside the church? No, that’s God’s task. You are to be prudent in your dealings with them instead – so that they may see you as one who forgives, not one who judges. Therefore be persistent in prayer, just as you would have those praying for you. Ask earnestly. Seek what you ought to, not your own pleasures. Knock at the door with the beam removed, in humility. The Narrow Gate 74 "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? "So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. "A good tree cannot produce bad 73

1 Corinthians 5: 9-13 It should be noted for those with varying translations the narrow way is often referred to as the “strait” (as in “strait and narrow”.) The word is “strait,” not “straight.” Strait means narrow, not linear. We might describe someone as being in ”dire straits” for example. 74

fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "So then, you will know them by their fruits. (Mat 7:13-20 NASB) Precision guided munitions Have you seen the pictures of precision guided munitions going into a building – by a particular window – and then exploding? Those things are expensive, compared to ordinary bombs. But they are worth it for they take out a specific target. Your life as a Christian is like that. You have a target to hit. The target is small; the way to get to it, narrow. You must go along the right roads: • • •

Travel down the road of sacrifice – taking up the Cross. It is not a low cost item. Travel down the road of suffering – for suffering and persecution you will have. Travel down the road of child-like faith – not the cynical freeway. Decoys As if narrow were not bad enough, there are decoys along the way:

• • •

The Pharisees lured with the decoy of legalism. Just follow the instructions to the letter – it doesn’t matter if you are sincere or not, if you know the rules. Others will provide you with cheap grace – a forgiveness and a pat on the head, then no real work required. Drop by the church now and then, listen to a sermon – you’re just fine. And – particularly strong in our time – is materialism. Things make you happy, and dull the longing for the God of Truth. Fruits

Sounds like a bad situation on the battlefield that is life. How do I know the truth from the fraud? Christ’s answer is simple: what results do you seek? Be warned; this method has its drawbacks: • • •

It takes time. You might have to be patient with someone or some church. It will probably be a source of argument. Listen with your ears – and with the Holy Spirit. It may be a long lesson in patience, too. Is the matter important? It’s a heaven and hell decision, as we now see. Lord, Lord

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' "Therefore everyone who hears these

words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. "And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. "The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell--and great was its fall." When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Mat 7:21-29 NASB) Rejection Rejection is a terrible thing. We often think the loving God would not do such a thing (despite the history of the Old Testament.) Just what, or whom, does He mean by that? • •

He will reject “name only” Christians. These are not hard to find; they’re in church every Sunday. They will compliment the preacher on his fine sermon, and show up again next Sunday. But the words never actually affect there lives. Others who appear to be working for Christ – but actually lining their own pockets 75, or building up celestial brownie points. The test

He tells us simply how to determine this. The test is whether or not the test-taker is doing the will of the Father. Here are some tests for you: • • • • •

Do you live in the imitation of Christ? Ask not only what He would do; ask also how He would be. Do you search out the will of God, or wait until someone mentions something interesting? Having searched it out, do you take time to meditate upon the word of God? Having done that, do you go out and do the will of God? As you go, are you judging others? Results Christ gives us a test of how we have done. He portrays it here in a rainstorm.

• • •

First, note that He says “when”, not “if.” Even in Palestine, the rains are going to come. It is going to rain. Troubles, triumphs and tragedies are going to happen to you. If you wish to withstand live, then you must build on the right foundation. There is only one true foundation, and that is Jesus Christ. If you are wise, you will build on it now – and not wait for the rain.

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The temptation to mention TBN at this point is overwhelming.

Two Men’s Faith - Matthew 8:1-17 Authority, and its response of Faith, cannot truly be separated by the Christian. Here we see through Matthew’s eyes some examples of great faith. The Leper When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus *said to him, "See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." (Mat 8:1-4 NASB) If you will Take a comparison here between this leper and Martha, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. Martha knew that whatever He asked, the Father would grant. This man knew that it would take only the will of Jesus. Do you see the difference in their perceptions? Martha, who knew Jesus well, believes that He is close to God. This man, who is a stranger, has concluded that God need not be referred to – as the Christ was here. Martha sees Him being close to God, and Jesus rebukes her faith for it. This man sees things more clearly. “If you will” is the request, but the compassion of Jesus is greater than that. The Son of God wills; the Son of Man touches. It is the human gesture of concern; it is also a sign that the man is now ceremonially clean. Go Tell no one, he says. What? What do I say to the curious (“Say, aren’t you the guy who…”)? What do I say to my family? (“You think my wife is going to take silence for an answer?”) What do I say to the priest? Why did Christ command this? The usual explanation is that it is not yet time for this to come out. Christ can gather a big crowd without something like this. Perhaps, though, it was the great humility of our Lord, who never sought His own honor, but that of the Father. It may be that Christ knew that under the Law of Moses the man would be obliged to make the offering 76, and therefore gave him this command. It is a reminder to us, though: with the gifts of God come the obedience of His children. Leprosy, a picture of sin

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Leviticus 13-14; a remarkably long passage for this.

We need to see that leprosy, in the thinking of the time, would be regarded as a sign of sin. The leper was required to stay outside the village; he was to warn off anyone who came near with “Unclean, unclean.” We see it as a disease, they saw it as Divine Judgment. It is no surprise then, that some form of ritual cleansing was involved. In the ritual itself, the offering is described as a guilt offering, a sin offering and most importantly atonement. The Law stops short of making leprosy itself a sin – but you can see why they considered it God’s judgment. There is a curious picture in the law about this. In addition to the animal sacrifice, the cleansed one was to bring (for the ritual) hyssop, some cedar wood and a scarlet cord. Hindsight shows us the truth: the hyssop was used to dispense blood in purification rituals – and also vinegar to Christ on the Cross. It is the implement of purification. Cedar wood – very aromatic – would become the wood used in the Temple. The scarlet cord would soon be the sign of the sinner saved – as Rahab was at the battle of Jericho. Purification, the house of God and a sinner saved. It is a powerful image. The Centurion And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented." Jesus *said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. "For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it." Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And Jesus said to the centurion, "Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed that very moment. (Mat 8:5-13 NASB) (It should be noted that Luke’s account differs significantly. It may be that Luke’s account is simply filling in the blanks. It may also be that Luke is actually portraying obsequiousness in the Jews – which Matthew, writing for the Jews, left out as being gratuitously insulting.) Recognition of authority The centurion is of remarkable faith for at least one reason. How much harder it must have been in those days to believe when you are a Gentile, and by definition cut off from the favor of God? But this does not deter him. We can see how much the centurion respects the authority of Christ in two ways: • •

He calls Him “Lord” – when the centurion is of the army which conquered this land. He does not bring the man with him. This is a matter of kindness to the servant; it is also a sign of faith. This Jesus doesn’t need to touch him.

Sometimes, what we call faith is simply a trust in the authority of the God of the universe. Christ’s response There is something unusual about Christ’s response in this. The man has simply stated the problem; he does not ask (yet). As if in anticipation, he offers to go to the man. It is unusual in that Christ usually waits to be asked. Perhaps He simply wanted to make it easier for the Gentile. The response is a shock: I am not worthy. • •

Have you not heard what a great aid to conquering faith is found in the virtue of humility? It is also a reply of a considerate man. A Jew entering a Gentile house became ceremonially unclean. Then comes the real shocker: I am a man under authority also. It is not that the centurion recognizes the authority of Christ – it is that he recognizes the obedience to authority in Christ. He lives under authority every day; he recognizes another such under the authority of God. If you are to please God, you must believe that He exists, and rewards those who seek Him. 77 Jesus now turns to the crowd to teach them. It is stated that Jesus marveled at the man. As Son of Man well He might. It is His desire to teach all who will learn, and this lesson is worth the stop in the day. Here indeed is faith; the confidence that God can act – and that He will. The faith is rightly placed. He acts with all speed, and the man is immediately healed. Christ did not enter this man’s house. But He certainly lived in this man’s heart. Thus shall He separate the sheep and the goats. Saved to Serve When Jesus came into Peter's home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him. When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: "HE HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND CARRIED AWAY OUR DISEASES." (Mat 8:14-17 NASB) (This passage excites much commentary because it contradicts the Roman Catholic view of Peter as the first pope (who, by definition, is celibate)). It is almost unnoticed that Peter’s mother-in-law is in his home. See here the ordinary righteousness of this man, Peter. He is a fisherman by trade, so the house is rather small. That she happens to be ill this day is not the point; the point is that Peter cares for her. It is an example for the rest of us. 77

Hebrews 11:6

Peter also demonstrates another virtue. It appears they have been heading toward Peter’s house all along. But there is no sense of Peter hurrying the Lord along. If we look at Christ’s entry into the house, we can learn why. Do you not see that His entry is accompanied by His humility? The ancient ones considered hosting any traveler to be an honor, a sign of favor and wealth. Christ and the Apostles enter with a sense of humility, then, as being the recipients of hospitality. Christ heals the woman; He also does so that she immediately regains her strength. She then turns to what she understands to be her task, her service. If the exact site of Peter’s house were truly known, it would be a shrine. It would be a shrine because Christ went there, and Christ healed there. Would we respond in like fashion if he enters the heart? Consider just what her response was: • • •

She is “saved to serve.” It is humble service, but service to God nonetheless. She waited on Him. Her service has one object: Jesus, the Christ. But the servant King replies in kind: He serves us, bearing our burdens. The pictures are simple and easy to understand. They point to one thing: the authority of Christ. The leper is given to beg and then obey. The centurion is given faith and then act upon it. Peter’s mother-in-law is given healing, and she rises, saved to serve. We might then well ask: just what is my response to the authority of the Living Christ?

Authority in Action - Matthew 8:18-34 It is a constant of atomic level physics that one cannot see the innards of the atom. Only by making it interact with other particles can the invisible be made known. How much more, then, can we learn of Christ as he interacts with those around Him! In this lesson we shall see the authority of Christ in actions, hoping to discover the authority of the Christ by what He does. Unconditional Surrender Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side of the sea. Then a scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go." Jesus *said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Another of the disciples said to Him, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But Jesus *said to him, "Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead." (Mat 8:18-22 NASB) One item which is often missed in the study of this passage is the sequence: Jesus gives orders for the boat to leave. This pressures two men who might have preferred to wait a bit for the kingdom of God. The decision then faces them: what will I give up for the kingdom of God? It is the “secret” of discipleship: I surrender all. It’s just that some of us would like to surrender all – later. The scribes Scribes had been a part of Jewish society for a long time. They were prominent as recorders – as Baruch wrote down what Jeremiah told him. At this time they are predominantly experts on the law of Moses. Many of them are also Pharisees; for the most part (there are exceptions) they tend to be legalistic. It’s an occupational hazard shared today by teachers. As an expert in the Law, it was common to be relatively rich. Christ does not reject the scribes; He wants them to grow into those who know both the Law and the Christ. As He said it: And Jesus said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old." (Mat 13:52 NASB) This particular scribe had a problem: he had a comfort zone. Note that Jesus makes no inquiries; he instead answers his thought. It is a sign of humility in Jesus that he does not wish to embarrass the man. This scribe probably saw in Jesus some sort of “super-rabbi” or a once-in-ahundred-years prophet. As such, it would be natural for a scribe to want to follow this man. But this will not be in the man’s comfort zone.

The test of the disciple is this: Is it “I surrender all” or “let me get back to you on that.” The scribe evidently did not go with Jesus; we may conclude that he flunked the test. The funeral This disciple might have appealed to the scribe for this one. It is well established that it is the child’s duty to bury parents. We see this in Elisha being called by Elijah 78, where he goes back to say goodbye. But there were two exceptions to this command: •

The High Priest was ordered not to make himself unclean by touching a dead body – even that of his father. 79 • The Nazirite was also to refrain from touching a dead body. 80 Considering that our High Priest is Christ – and that He was known as a Nazarene – we might well conclude that this disciple’s vision of Christ is a bit limited. But that’s the point of this section: just who is this Jesus? Humility of Christ It’s not as if Christ were flaunting his authority; in fact, He makes His claims in the softest and gentlest ways. Consider: • • •

He answers the scribe’s thought – not his bold assertion. He leaves the decision to each disciple; there is no hint of force or pressure. This, despite the power He will shortly display. Evidently (we really don’t know) the scribe didn’t follow; the young man did. way, see what is proclaimed:

But taken either

The authority of Christ over His followers is absolute and supreme. A Teaching Trip When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing!" He *said to them, "Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?" Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, "What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?" 81 (Mat 8:23-27 NASB) He sleeps

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1st Kings 19:19-21 Leviticus 21:10-11 80 Numbers 6:1-8 81 It should be noted that Mark tells this story a little differently – and his version is rather humorous, if you catch the point. 79

The creator of all things, King of Kings, is asleep in the back of the boat. Christ actually slept! Consider the implications: • • •

It is another sign that He is fully human. If He were God only, He’d need no sleep. But it’s still His universe, and the storm will take a while to build up to the point of danger. One last: their lack of faith is no hindrance – either to the storm or to Christ. So then, just what is it that Christ is teaching them here?

First, he is teaching them how physical difficulties – aren’t. So often we take counsel of our fears; we should be taking counsel of Christ. Second, it is well to think humbly of yourself. The disciples figured that Jesus would help with the boat, taking directions from (say) Peter, who was a fisherman. He did what they asked; what’s the problem? Please note this too: Christ taught this lesson to the disciples; it’s a private lesson, if you will. His humility cloaks His power. Even the winds and the waves… If sleeping on the couch is a sign of Christ being fully human, stilling the wind and the waves is certainly a sign of Christ being fully divine. Can you imagine the look on Peter’s face? By His Word he created all things; by His Word he stills the storm. It shows us, therefore, that The authority of Christ over the universe is absolute and supreme. Demon Possession When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. And they cried out, saying, "What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. The demons began to entreat Him, saying, "If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine." And He said to them, "Go!" And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters. The herdsmen ran away, and went to the city and reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region. (Mat 8:28-34 NASB) Side note: do demons really exist? Begin with some obvious facts. Ask the missionary to peoples and tribes who have never known God. They’ll tell you that demons are very real, demon possession (especially by the shaman) well known. It is only in Christian countries that Satan tries to persuade us that he (and therefore God) doesn’t exist. Most Americans today believe in mental telepathy but deny the existence of things

spiritual. So let us examine this belief, and suggest some questions which might assist us in dealing with such people: First, does the spiritual world exist at all? Most people would agree that it does – but have no idea why this might be logical. If it does exist, it must be made of matter and/or energy – because that’s all that exists. But consider: Let me start matters by defining the universe: I hold it to be all matter and energy, in all places and in all times. Now, have you ever heard of anything which willed itself into existence? We know the universe to be of a certain age; there was no universe before then. So, something caused the universe to start. That something (Christians would say Someone) must be other than matter and energy – because if it were matter and/or energy it would be part of the universe. That something exists outside the bounds of the universe; that Someone is not matter or energy but spirit. Well, that works for matter and energy – then. Is there anything outside the universe that is still true today? There is indeed. Suppose that tomorrow morning the universe ceased to exist (and you with it). Would the Pythagorean theory still be true? Of course it would. It is true, and therefore part of Truth – which needs no universe. If you need more, look to the pigs. Pigs don’t go lemming on you. 82 Christ comes to the demon possessed No one brought these two to Christ. That’s fairly obvious; these two had sufficient strength when the demons are in them that nobody can keep them chained up, let alone lead them as docile sheep. They are the most miserable of sinners; therefore Christ goes to them. It’s as if Christ has no comfort zone – and we shouldn’t either. It gives one pause: just who should we be bringing before the Living Christ? A short stay The demons give us an interesting interaction: First, the mere presence of the Christ puts them into “beg for mercy” mode. His very presence torments them. As it often happens, the Christian need not mention his religion to cause the obscenity to stop. Even to the demons, Christ is charitable. The end of the world has not arrived; He permits them into the pigs. 83

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It’s also worth noting that the pig is a ceremonially unclean animal. The refuse of the spiritual world would feel quite comfortable there. 83 Which raises more questions than it answers. What is the relationship between demon and body?

That last, however charitable to the demons, obviously is not going to curry favor with the owner of the pigs. Whose swine would be next? More to the point, the man that has that authority over demons – what might He do next? One thing we may conclude from all this: The authority of Christ over the spiritual world is absolute and supreme. The Authority of Christ Matthew later puts it this way: Mat 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Here it is proclaimed, after the Resurrection. Before the Resurrection it was visible to all who would look. After the Resurrection it is stated by the one man who ever called the shot – that He would rise from the dead. Someday, soon please Lord, that point will be obvious to one and all. What should we be doing in the meantime? Let His words speak to us directly: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mat 28:19-20 NASB)

Raising the Roof - Matthew 9:1-8 (The astute reader will note that today’s section of Scripture is mirrored in Mark and Luke; from them we derive the additional detail that this man was lowered into the building through the roof.) Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, "Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven." And some of the scribes said to themselves, "This fellow blasphemes." And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, and walk'? "But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--then He *said to the paralytic, "Get up, pick up your bed and go home." And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Mat 9:1-8 NASB) We shall examine the players in this drama – the paralytic and his friends, the Pharisees, and Christ Himself. Lessons from the paralytic “Seeing their faith” It is a sad thing, but many Christians have the misimpression that faith is some sort of commodity, to be prayed for. It’s somewhat like “credit” in that sense. Your monthly statement for your credit card will tell you how much credit you have left. You can use that credit to purchase whatever you desire, so it is convertible to any number of things. Some people have faith like that. Like Mr. Micawber, they have faith; they’re sure that “something will turn up.” They have faith – in faith. That is not the faith found in the Scriptures. As we can see here, faith is accompanied by action. This is not a magic formula for faith. It is the logical result. You can no more separate faith from action than you could turn off gravity on this planet. 84

More important than that, faith is not an abstraction – it is “pointed” at Jesus Himself. It is the confidence that makes you know that Jesus will do as He said. It is faith in a Person. It is not clear from the text whether or not “their faith” refers to the friends who undid the roof, or also to the paralytic. But I think it means both; otherwise the man would have at least objected. So often the power of Jesus is self-limited to the faith of those He would have believe. Commands Christ gives this paralytic three commands:

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James 2:14-17

• • •

“Get up.” Show me your faith by your obedience! Anyone can have a theoretical opinion on what might or should happen; but true faith means that you rely on Jesus. When He says “get up,” – Get Up! ”Pick up your bed.” There is a highly practical side to faith in Jesus. Most of us will never be called to great things; but we will soon find many good things to do. “Go home.” Do not stay within the mountain top experience; rather, return to the valley of sin below – and spread the Good News. A greater thing…

If you decide you need to go into the business of producing miracles, don’t go around forgiving people – it offends folks. Healing meets with favor from practically everyone; but forgiving someone can rip the bandages off old wounds. It is, in human beings, a greater thing to forgive than to heal. Healing, you see, belongs to the physical universe. When you die, you leave it behind. Forgiveness belongs to the spiritual, As a result, forgiveness is eternal, and things eternal belong to God. Which thus brings us to the objections of the Pharisees. Lessons from the Pharisees Let’s start with a definition: just what is “blasphemy?” Fifty years ago the definition was clear. Incomplete, but clear: it meant using God’s name in anger in an improper way. And “improper” was the right adjective, so people saw it as defying convention. In the rush to prove ourselves rebels without a cause, and in the great desire to make men and women interchangeable parts we have decided that it is no longer improper, but “realistic.” But consider a few other examples of blasphemy: • •

Let’s start with the teacher or Christian who tells someone “God really wants you to do…” If this is something explicitly revealed by God to you, then it would be sinful not to share it. If it’s just your own opinion, to attach God’s name to it is blasphemy. It goes further than that. Often enough the advice isn’t personal; it’s a blanket command. When the preacher tells you that God has revealed to him that we should all move to South America… Argument

It is precisely the second of those points that the Pharisees are debating. Those of you who are old enough will remember the original version of Miracle on 34th Street. In it, an old man is to be locked up in a mental ward because he believes he is Santa Claus. The hero of the piece concocts the only logical defense: the man really is Santa Claus. So, if you go around claiming the powers of God, then you are or are not a fraud depending on whether or not you can make good the claim of being God.

Is it important? Yes. The Pharisees understand quite clearly that anyone claiming to forgive sin is claiming to be God (this was before the confessional in the Catholic church). God is always the one offended by sin; you sin against Him when you sin against His children. He’s also the one with clean hands. Since He is offended, He can forgive. Since He is innocent, His forgiveness carries with it the forgiveness of others. After all, He’s the one with power to do something about it – eternally. “Why are you thinking evil…” I’m not sure the Pharisees got this point – as it is yet another proof that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. They should have known what David told Solomon: "As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever. (1Ch 28:9 NASB) This, for those who hold their thoughts to be their own, is more than a little spooky. This Jesus fellow reads minds! What a proof of his divinity this is! That’s why I don’t think they got it. Envy These religious leaders face a choice: they can accept Christ for who He claims to be; or they can stick with Moses. The former is unknown territory; they’re experts on the latter. In the former they are nobody; in the latter, big fish. It’s perfectly understandable – if you reject who Christ is. Christ meets this reaction frequently. He simply states Who He Is – and leaves the choice to the follower. Interestingly, their opposition helped spread the kingdom. Had He been the product of the Pharisees, He would have been seen as one more legal barrier. Instead, He is the door through which one passes the barrier and enters heaven. Lessons from Christ Gentle forgiveness It may safely be assumed that Jesus noticed the roof being torn apart for this man. See, then, how gently Jesus treats this man and his friends. • • •

There is no objection to the hole in the roof. Likely enough some of the material fell on Jesus, but He did not complain. He did not direct them to return after the lesson. He welcomed the man. The priests are aggravated; likely enough the man was sufficiently a sinner that he expected their condescension. But see how Jesus greets the man! “My son,” a welcome word to a man used to the abuse of being a beggar. “Take courage.” It is a moment in which the man on the mat is not certain. Is this all just so much foolishness? Or is He the Son of Man? Fear is inside him; Christ calms that fear.

It is with this as a greeting that Christ forgives this man’s sin. His oneness with God It is not hidden; here is yet another place where Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be God. He plainly claims the power to forgive sin. We need to examine that. Let us suppose that you’ve had enough of this lesson and decide to punch me in the nose to end it right here. I then acquire the privilege of forgiving you. Why? Because you punched me, not someone else. It’s the person who has been sinned against that has the privilege (and for the Christian, the duty) of forgiveness. So why does God have the right to forgive as well? Think about it: when you sin, you usually offend someone – but every sin is against God. So for every sin you have committed, He has the power to forgive. But it’s more than that. God is willing to forgive – if you are. If you won’t forgive the other fellow, God won’t forgive you. So it is that a terrible, wicked sinner may come to be forgiven by God, but not by Christians. Guess whose opinion counts for all eternity? Just to make it all clear, Jesus demonstrates the power to forgive sins. The argument is simple: Only God can cause miracles. God would not give such power to a fraud. 85 Therefore, anyone who has this power has been given it by God – or He is God. Notice please that Christ forgives the man before healing him. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to miss the point. Obedience So the man got up, rolled up the mat and took it home with him. Did he somehow “feel” the healing? Or, was this a test of the man’s faith? Perhaps. But whatever else it was, it was a test of his obedience. Obedience. He tells us to forgive. It is a command; do we treat it as such, or is it merely a “good idea?” There is power in the man’s simple obedience; faith is increased and his body healed. Do we continue in that power? Obedience to his commands; the faith that saves – living in the power of the Resurrection; that’s our question. Do we forgive others as He forgives us?

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Which may explain why the “miracles” of faith healers in our time all seem to be internal.

Grace and Power - Matthew 9:9-17

“He ate with sinners so that you may know His grace and power” 86

This section relates the call of Matthew. In accordance with the modesty of writing of the time, Matthew gives us little detail about himself. In this account it is not even clear that Matthew is the one holding the reception for Jesus; the writers Mark and Luke give us more detail. One thing Matthew does not withhold – his occupation. It is comforting to note that a man who was a tax collector – for the invading, conquering Romans – can go from such a despised life to being an apostle of Christ. Indeed, of the twelve, we know the call of only five (the others being the fishermen Andrew, Peter, James and John). In each instance the occupation was at the bottom of the social ladder. But when such a man as Matthew is saved, what is his reaction? He throws a party! It is no somber event; Matthew celebrates it by giving a banquet – and inviting all his low life friends, too. It’s a lesson for us: the angels rejoice when a sinner comes home. As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector's booth; and He *said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?" But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mat 9:9-13 NASB) The Call Christ moves on After the healing described in Matthew 9:1-8, Christ does not stay in that place – but rather moves on. Why? Why is this man always without a place to lay His head? • • •

First, he’s made his point – the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins. A second reason is this: He does not want to provoke the Pharisees; rather He gives them time to think. He came to seek and save the lost. Even those lost in hypocrisy. 87 And, He has a little recruiting to do. Matthew no doubt was familiar with the reputation of Jesus; perhaps even made himself noticed by Jesus. No matter; the Son of Man has chosen him; he can accept both forgiveness and call, or reject. Christ’s terms; not his own. The call of Christ May we examine the call of Christ and Matthew’s reaction? Learning from them what we can? 86 87

Rabanus, AD 776-856, Bishop of Mayence (Mainz), noted also as a hymn writer. See the parallels to the woman taken in adultery, John 8.

• • • •

The call is simple and direct. Simple enough to appeal to the smallest of minds; its directness comes from the power of Christ Himself, and therefore beyond true comprehension by the greatest of minds. The call rescues the sinner. Matthew’s employers will certainly not like this; indeed, this move may have been with some danger in it. The sinner cuts the past life off; Christ calls him to move forward in the kingdom. The call requires courage – especially on the part of those who are called to a specific role. The call is cause for celebration. Celebration? Indeed. But remember the younger brother in this. Timing

Many have noted how God’s timing is perfect – even if we don’t see it. Matthew would not have responded with the fishermen; it was too early in His ministry for this. But now that Matthew has seen and heard the grace and power of the Christ, he’s ready. It’s a curious thing. “Levi” means adhesion, or clinging to something. “Matthew” means “given” or “a reward.” The one who used to be stuck in the tax collectors tent is now both giver (in his Gospel) and gift receiver. The transformation happens quickly, for the power of Christ is great. Mercy, not sacrifice Jesus eats with sinners A story is told from the American Civil War. A sergeant in the Union Army lived in a boardinghouse. As was the custom of the time, everyone in the boarding house ate at the same, large table each night. One night the sergeant was surprised to see that the boarding house had taken in six new guests – all of them generals. After the military formalities, one of the generals remarked to the sergeant, “You don’t often get an opportunity to dine with generals, do you, sergeant?” “No sir. Before the war I was particular about who I ate with; now, I’m obliged to eat with just about anybody.” The church has had a conflict from its very founding. We are told to make disciples, with no qualification other than that they are sinners. 88 That says we should not at all be “particular” – because there’s a war on. That’s evangelism. But we are also to nurture the Christian; as part of this process the Christian grows away from worldly things. We are not to associate with a “brother” who refuses to repent. The net result is an organization which will go anywhere, no matter how vile, to preach the good news. And yet wants to be a collection of virtuous souls, too. Are we the hospital of sinners or the health club of saints? Worse, why do we want to choose between the two? You mean we can do both? Sure. But there is one thing that needs be recognized to do this: all of us are sinners. We may be sinners who can help rescue others; we may be the rescued – but we all need rescuing. The church is both, you see; but only sinners would recognize that. 88

Some of us are exceedingly well qualified in this. Like me.

The Pharisee’s complaint It is interesting to note that the Pharisees direct their questioning to the disciples, though clearly the question is aimed at Christ. 89 It’s a back door approach. The intent is to use the pressure of social gracefulness (don’t answer what you weren’t asked) to keep Christ silent and attack His disciples. There are two reasons for this: • •

First, the Pharisees have learned by now that it’s not easy to spar with Jesus of Nazareth. Second, they hope to separate His disciples from Him. Go and learn Christ’s reply is short and to the point.

He tells them to go. If you’re not comfortable in the house of this tax collector, then leave. You have better things to do anyway. • Better things? Yes, like “learn.” To learn is to change, preferably for the better. When commanded, it is required. Change is difficult – especially when you think you know it all. • Note, please, just how pragmatic Christ’s response is. He gives them a simple illustration (the doctor) which is easy to understand but yet makes the point clearly. He then follows it by a command – taken from the Old Testament about which they were supposed to be such experts.90 Good teaching, followed by command. There comes a time when the debate must stop and the action must begin. A pure heart produces acceptable sacrifice. John’s disciples Then the disciples of John *came to Him, asking, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. "But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. "Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved." (Mat 9:14-17 NASB) The person and power of Jesus There is an extraordinary nature to this. Look at it from the point of view which asks, “Just who is this Jesus?”

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Luke’s account makes this clear, in comparison. The parallel with the “Jesus Seminar” folks is rather disturbing.

His mere presence sets aside the regulations given in the Law of Moses. Therefore one greater than Moses must be here – and Moses was indeed great in God’s kingdom. • His presence alone is a cause for rejoicing! The mere fact that He is physically present is reason for a party. Indeed, note that the disciples of John ask why the disciples of Christ do not fast – and Christ replies by telling why they cannot mourn. To be fasting in His presence is indeed mourning; He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. Teaching technique May we take a moment to see Jesus teaching technique? •

He begins with a couple of homey metaphors – things that everyone of that day would quickly understand. It may be deep, it may be profound, but Christ puts it into a word picture that is easy to understand. • May we point out that He used two such metaphors? Repetition has its place in learning. This is part of the condescension (in the good sense) of Christ. Despite Who He is, He still knows our weaknesses and leans down from the heights of heaven to reach those of us on sinful Earth. Old and New Now, it is clear that the new covenant is greatly superior to the old one. Gone are the animal sacrifices and rituals. But it is still true that the old wineskin holds some good wine, and so we treasure the Old Testament as well, for it is full of wisdom for us. The old and the new meet each other and kiss. The day is coming, however, when we shall see this metaphor of marriage before our eyes. The wedding of the Lamb of God 91 is coming; soon, Lord, soon. Take home • • •

Christ came to die for all sinners, including the lowlifes of this world. He has commanded the church to call the lost and make disciples – with no limitations on who. Sometimes, our own righteousness stands as a barrier to this; especially when we take great pride in it.

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Revelation 19:5-9

A Woman’s Touch - Matthew 9:18-35 It is not clear until you have carefully read all three Gospel accounts that all these incidents take place on the same day. Our Lord, it seems, was a very busy man. While He was saying these things to them, a synagogue official came and bowed down before Him, and said, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live." Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, "If I only touch His garment, I will get well." But Jesus turning and seeing her said, "Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well." At once the woman was made well. When Jesus came into the official's house, and saw the fluteplayers and the crowd in noisy disorder, He said, "Leave; for the girl has not died, but is asleep." And they began laughing at Him. But when the crowd had been sent out, He entered and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. This news spread throughout all that land. (Mat 9:18-26 NASB) Jairus, the synagogue ruler (He is identified by name in the other Gospels). It is a desperate and humbling circ*mstance for the synagogue ruler. Jairus has spent much of his life in study of the Law; we may assume that he has risen to prominence on the strength of his own brains and hard work. But even for such a man there are spiritual perils: •

“To know” is not the same as “to do.” This is not obvious to man, as it rather creeps up on you. It’s quite possible to be so enamored with the glory of the Word of God that you forget to practice it as well as teach it. I’ve done this myself; when the ride is over it’s a very bumpy landing. • There is also a certain sense of complacency that comes over you when things are going well. It feels comfortable; growth in the kingdom is often uncomfortable (think about your prayer life). • Worst of all you may come to the point of pride. You know so much, you’ve taught so much, you’ve been here so long that you feel it perfectly right to look down on others. Did any of these afflict Jairus? We do not know. All we really know is that his daughter was dead, and the pain of that fact drove all pride and dignity from his mind. If he could not ask, he would beg. When the going gets tough, the tough turn to God. The servant of God It is a grand thing to be allowed to be a servant of God. But in times like this, the servant is taught some lessons that seem bitter at the time: • • •

The servant must accept God’s humbling. To rail at God and reject such humbling is equivalent to telling Him that He made a mistake. And who are you to do that? Nor can the servant of God turn away from Him, as Jonah did. On the contrary, if God is humbling you, it means you have something yet to receive from him. Seek his face! Then, having sought Him, ask your question – and expect an answer.

Lessons for the Christian From this section we may learn: •

We are not to be afraid, especially about what “might happen.” Will you take counsel of your fears or of your Lord? • “Only believe.” It sometimes seems hard to take, but the common experience is that you are to fear not and believe – and then do the ordinary things of a servant of God. So many of us are ready to take up the quest; we will do the high and noble. But it’s quite a letdown to be told that the nursery needs workers. • Believe in what? Believe in the promises of Christ. Take Him at His word, and have full confidence in Him. We cannot leave this example without asking: how did the Pharisees see this miracle? There are those who say that if they saw but one miracle their faith would be rock solid. The Pharisees saw – and said it was the devil’s own work. The Woman’s Touch Theology It is a common thing for Christians (indeed, all mankind) to produce what are called “talismans.” Rosary beads are the most common form of Christian talisman, along with St. Christopher medals and crucifixes.92 In evangelical churches, such things used to be regarded as fakes and frauds. But we may notice here that this woman sees the hem of Jesus’ garment as just such a talisman. It is as if the hem itself (which is quite decorative in this culture) can do the healing. Jesus allows this. It seems that having lousy theology is, therefore, no barrier to the healing of Christ. He knows what lies beneath that belief: her faith. Just because your theology is out of whack doesn’t mean He will throw you out. On the contrary, He welcomes sinners of all denominations. Unclean, unclean If we are to truly understand this woman, we need to know a bit about the Mosaic Law. 93 By its provisions she is ceremonially unclean. Normally, that’s not too big a problem; any woman would be considered unclean through her menstrual period. But this woman can see no end to her being unclean. We might presume that she would think that Jesus, as a teacher, would reject her because of this. So, she decides not to give Him the chance. Consider how humbling this must be. • • •

She approached him from behind; Christ had to look around to find her. She approached him in a crowd – so no one else would notice. She did not dare touch him – just the garment. 92

The point is numerical only. My own church is now in the process of assembling bracelets made of various colored beads, calling them “powerbands.” These are to be given away by those on a short term mission trip. 93 Specifically, Leviticus 15:25-33

Christ’s reply It is exceedingly comforting to hear Christ’s reply. In a situation where many “great men” would have been irritated, at least, His reply is full of comfort: Daughter – For a woman who has been shunned as unclean for the last twelve years, can you imagine how this one word must have brightened her face? • Your faith has made you well – Notice the humility of Christ! He doesn’t mention His own power (obvious enough). Rather, He moves in divine humility, honored by His Father. • Go in peace – See how He reaches into the human heart! A woman so unclean must have been a bone of contention (do we invite Aunt Mabel to the party or not?) is sent home carrying divine peace. The most curious part of his reply is this: “Take courage.” She has been healed; why would He now tell her to take courage? There is one simple explanation for this. •

Consider, for a moment, how intertwined the accounts of this section are. Jairus is waiting for an answer when the woman touches that hem. Perhaps Christ made this comment to give courage to Jairus, but without shaming him. Sometimes our providences are someone else’s encouragement. Blind Men As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus *said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They *said to Him, "Yes, Lord." Then He touched their eyes, saying, "It shall be done to you according to your faith." And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them: "See that no one knows about this!" But they went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land. As they were going out, a mute, demon-possessed man was brought to Him. After the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed, and were saying, "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel." But the Pharisees were saying, "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons." (Mat 9:27-34 NASB) The reader will please note the phrase, “when He entered the house” – we are still at the home of Jairus. Their plea There is a curious progression here. As they call out to Jesus, the blind men call him “Son of David.” They are acknowledging that Jesus is a descendant of David (a point necessary on two fronts: Joseph, so that his title may be clear; Mary, so that His humanity might also be clear. Fully human, fully divine.) But when He answers them, they call Him “Lord”. In the first they acknowledge Him in a way congenial to the Old Testament; the New Testament believer places his trust in his Lord.

Lord. The word implies two things: •

They owe Him obedience. By His inquiry they know He is listening to them. But if they are to gain his favor they must have a relationship between them – and if He can heal the blind, Lord is a modest description. • They acknowledge His supremacy as well. This would have been more commonplace in their society than in ours. Simple enough, but may I ask: Do you give Him your obedience? Do you acknowledge His supremacy? If not, just who is blind? Do you believe…? If you do, then “according to your belief” it will be done. Christ here shows us a couple of principals for Christians: • •

According to your faith it will be done – the greater your faith, the greater the gift Christ can give, for He limits Himself to that which our faith will allow. Why? Because God can only be sought by those who believe He exists – and that He rewards those who seek Him. 94 God allows our faith to be the valve which lets His power through. 95 By the prince of demons

May we pay just a touch of attention to the man demon-possessed? He gets only two verses, but we might note one important thing: the man himself never asks for healing. He was, after all, mute. Christ needs no invitation to throw out the emissaries of Satan – nor does He require faith. But we meet here the unforgivable sin: the Pharisees are the sinners. To attribute to Satan that which clearly belongs to God is a betrayal of God. Of all people, the Pharisees (the right wing fundamentalists of their day) should know this best. It is a sad, sad passage. Evangelism As we shall see next lesson, this crowded series of events prompts Christ to send His disciples out on the first great missionary trip. Such is the compassion of Jesus, that the burdens of His people prompt Him to send the light to all of Israel.

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Hebrews 11:6 It should go without saying that we do not control God. But there are always those who misunderstand.

Compassion, the Root of Evangelism - Matthew 9:35-10:23 You will remember that chapters and verses were added to the New Testament many years after it was written. While they form a convenient and useful frame of reference, we must remember that Christ and the Apostles did not think in terms of superscript numbers. Setting an Example Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He *said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." (Mat 9:35-38 NASB) We sometimes miss the point: Jesus taught in their synagogues. He is attempting to reach the people through the religious structures of the day. We should recognize that He did not come to set aside the Old Testament, but complete it. Just what, then, was He doing? • • •

He was teaching. Much of the New Testament, specifically the letters, carries that teaching, along with the Gospels. Note, please, that this is first – the position of prominence in the writing of that time. It should be the most common activity in the church. Its lack can be seen clearly. He was proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. The evangelical nature of His message is clear. Things are about to change; the kingdom of God is at hand; be ready to welcome the changes. He was healing. We no longer have this power – which the Apostles clearly had and has not been long absent from the church. Indeed, the Pentecostal section of the church still says they do it. The Good Shepherd

The phrase in this translation says “felt compassion.” It is an unusual Greek word, signifying a very deep emotion, deep to the point of being distressful. It is the picture of one who loves deeply, grieved at the sight of His loved ones. Why? •

They are distressed. The word can also be translated “harassed.” It’s a picture of those who were greatly burdened with religious formalism. The religious leaders of the day were fond of providing continuous improvement (as we might say in business today) to the Law of Moses. Thus the average man found himself enmeshed in details – the perpetual flea-hunt. 96 They are dispirited. The word in the Greek means something that is cast out or flung away. It is as if the religion of the day examined them, found them wanting and vigorously threw them onto the scrap heap. There seems to be neither joy nor hope for them.

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The comparison to the current practice of micromanagement is almost inevitable, isn’t it?

The harvest To us, the situation would indeed seem dismal. But not to our Lord. He saw with the eyes of the Spirit – He saw a harvest. These people were ready to hear the Good News; they’d lived with the bad news long enough. Let us see this harvest through the eyes of Christ: • • • •

Even in ancient Judea, limiting Himself to the House of Israel, there is an abundance to be done – if we will just look at it and see it. We are to pray not for superhuman strength and endurance, nor miraculous gift – but for more workers. The worker is not the center of the church; Christ is. We are to pray – which means we are casting the load upon our Father. This tells us that we are not to presume upon Him, but rather ask humbly for some more help. That implies, does it not, that we have accepted the task? The common result of this is well known: if you will cast the care and burden upon Him, acknowledging that He alone deserves the glory, he will amplify you with more workers – and more success. Mission

Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him. These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. "Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. "And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. "As you enter the house, give it your greeting. "If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. "Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. "Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city. (Mat 10:1-15 NASB) Having set the example for his disciples, Christ now sends them out. Before they go, He gives them their marching orders. First, they are to work miracles on behalf of the people. Second, they are to preach the Good News.

Would you note, please, that only the Christ could give such a command? It is a present proof of authority that the Apostles on this expedition performed miracles at the command of Christ. Perhaps our inability to do this today comes from our lack of obedience to His commands. Accusation As we see, the Pharisees are quick to condemn these miracles of healing. The accusation is that Christ is in league with the Devil. Many of us, when faced with accusation, wrap our cloak of righteousness about us and pull back. We argue that if they’re going to be ungrateful about it, we can just take our charity elsewhere. Christ did not. As Chrysostom remarked, “He that ceases to do good because of accusation shows that his good has been done because of men.” Kindly understand that whatever you do for Christ will be a basis for accusation (ask me about my brother-in-law in that regard). So accusation is a test: do you do your good works for Christ, or for the praise of men? When someone accuses you of false motive, how do you react? If you will react as Christ did, by continuing to do what is right despite the accusation, you are doing God’s work for God’s reward. He will reward you with greater love for others (including your accusers) and a greater joy within. Sometimes he has a few other surprises, as well. Methods Christ does, however, lay out a methodology for his disciples. They are not to go in whatever style they can afford; rather in the style he prescribes. 97 •

They are not to view this as either a source of or requirement for money. God will provide as they go. So they are not to take a bag with them (this was the tool of the wandering pagan priest, begging coins for his goddess). Instead, they are to rely on simple hospitality. • They are not to seek any improvements in their physical comforts; rather, they are to be content with what they have. Is it conceivable that the wanting for more could be evil? • But do not take this lightly; your actions here will be binding in heaven. If they receive you, well and good. If not, Sodom and Gomorrah will have it better on the judgment day. (I shouldn’t need to point this out, but none of this mandates against paying the preacher a decent salary. Paul makes this point, in passing, in 1 Corinthians 9:7-14). Shrewd and Innocent "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. "But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. "But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. "For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. "Brother will betray brother to 97

As one lady put it, “First class isn’t a ticket. It’s a style.”

death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. "But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. (Mat 10:16-23 NASB) (It is clear that much of this is prophetic for the spread of the church; as such, we will deal with it in the present tense.) Why? Why is the Christian to be shrewd and innocent at the same time? It’s simple: persecution is coming, you need to be prepared. • • •

The enemies of Christ will use the criminal justice system of the day to persecute the Christian (just ask abortion protestors). To deal with this, be innocent. Factually innocent. It doesn’t mean you won’t be convicted; but it helps with the odds. Others will examine you in public forum. Be shrewd in your replies, knowing the traps of the enemy. But also be innocent; it is a great defense against the subtle wiles of Satan. You will need to do much with little – so you’d best be a shrewd manager of the little. Prophesied – trials and troubles

Most people rank death as the second greatest fear in life, right after the terror of public speaking. Don’t worry about it; your words will be given to you. You wouldn’t be up there speaking if it weren’t for Him; He will take care of you. Of course, one of the most distressing aspects of this is not the public side, but the family side. It is clear that as times grow worse the name of Christ will split families – with betrayal as the result. It has happened many times before; there is no reason we should be exempt. But just who is the most important person in your life? Ultimately, it comes down to this: we will be hated for the sake of the Name of Christ. That hatred, that persecution is our glory. When persecuted, flee There is a great comfort in this passage. Not all of us are cut out to be martyrs. Not all of us are able to spend ten years in prison for speaking out against abortion. My son practices Kung-Fu; I practice Run-Fu, the ancient art of achieving inner peace and harmony by getting my rear end out of the way as fast as I can waddle. How comforting, then, to hear the command to flee. Our Lord knows our courage, or the lack of it. He takes the persecution of the enemy and uses it to spread the Gospel.

There is one last side note: the cities of Israel prophecy. Some hold this fulfilled at the Resurrection; others hold that this is the prophecy of the conversion of the Jews in the holy land. Perhaps it means both. But of this you can be sure: your sacrifices for the Name will not go unrewarded. At His return, many will share in His glory.

Trouble is Constant - Matthew 10:24-42 It often surprises Christians to discover that they are going to have trouble in their lives simply because they are a Christian. We will attempt to correct that misimpression in this lesson. Disciple not above his Teacher "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. "It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! "Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. (Mat 10:24-26 NASB) The Lordship of Christ It is the natural characteristic of most human beings that they have someone they admire, someone they follow. It’s clearly seen in young boys, in whose minds they see themselves as being their hero. Years ago this was understood; sports figures were seen as role models; good sportsmanship was a display of good character. But we may observe a few points along the way: •

Nobody picks their hero from the second string. Pick wisely, for you will soon be following his lifestyle. • There is no sense being a disciple if you are not obedient to the discipline. You may want to be the next great quarterback; if you do, practice. • Becoming a disciple changes you. Hopefully, for the better. Do you see now what the lordship of Christ is about, disciple? If you claim Him as Lord, you have picked well. Follow through in obedience, and rejoice in the changes in yourself. The household of Christ Jesus refers to His disciples here as His “household.” In other words, they are family to Him. I’m sure you know how family loyalty works – or at least should work – offend my kids, offend me. It’s the same view from the outside; to offend my kids assaults me – and you already know you can bank on that. What kind of insult do we bear? Look at it here: they accuse Christ of being in league with the Devil. Of course, we view this as being “then,” not “now.” This view is incorrect. Want proof? Go to your favorite web search engine and look for two words: “sinister” and “Christianity.” You will quickly find two kinds of sites dominate the search results. The first are sites berating the Christians for even thinking there is any kind of conspiracy against them. (After all, if we’d just turn into liberals …) The second are sites which will provide all the evidence you need for just such a conspiracy. The truth is that if we name the Name, we will share the blame. Sadly, many Christians are indignant when this happens. Why would they pick on innocent, charitable little old me? You bear the Name, that’s why. Don’t be indignant about it; accept it for what it is.

The antidote to fear Some of us, of course, are neither indignant nor resigned – but afraid. Do you see that word, “Therefore?” The natural reaction to those who can lock you up, beat you and steal all your money is to be afraid. But let’s put this in perspective: How much more greatly should we fear God? We are indeed between two fears, and we should know which of the two is more powerful. Sinister conspiracies are easy to accuse, hard to prove. Christ therefore warns us against them – and gives us the antidote. Life is just temporary anyway; but the Day is coming when all will be known. We need to look at it just that way; when we do, holy boldness is given to speak the word. Tell you in darkness "What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. "So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. "But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. (Mat 10:27-33 NASB) Speaking in the light In the darkness – especially in the darkness of evil – Christ will speak to you. Even though the times are evil, His presence, His Word are there to guide. But this is to be no secret; rather, public knowledge. Likewise, if He gives you a whispered word, you are to share it publicly. “Speak in the light.” Are we only to speak in daylight hours? I think not. Speaking in the light can mean two other things: • •

It means that we should speak openly and publicly It means that we should speak in an open and revealing way. Not our sin but Christ’s salvation is our message. Of course, when you do, you will be threatened as well as reviled. When that happens, remember that your Lord conquered death. His early disciples reviled death, considering it of no consequence except as an honor to be martyred for the faith. The result of that faith is the church today. As ever, the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church. 98 Not significant – but well known Little is much, when God is in it. Did you really think that He is ignoring you as you go about your appointed tasks? Perhaps He is testing you instead, tempering you for your next appointment. 98

Tertullian

You think not? Consider his infinite patience in dealing with you. Long after humankind would have thrown up their hands in despair, God still is working with you, because of His great love. A day is like a thousand years; His ways are not our ways. But count on it: He knows your name, your thought, who you are right down to the number of hairs on your head. 99 Confession and denial We are familiar with the expression “put your money where your mouth is.” But here we have “put your mouth where your treasure is.” We so often hear that faith without works is dead – but so is faith without commitment. Why would He demand such a thing? • • •

First, it is to train us in boldness of speech. It also brings us to greater love, for to speak for Christ is to care for others – and with this commitment your love for others will grow. Finally, if this is the glory you get during persecution, how much greater will be your reward when He comes again? Not peace, but a sword

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. "For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. "He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. "He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. "And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." (Mat 10:34-42 NASB) Civil War The death and destruction caused by war are always grievous. But of all types of war, a civil war provides the greatest grief, for in civil war brothers shoot brothers. What, then, motivates a man to take up arms against his own father or brothers? Consider the American Civil Way. Why was it fought?

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A task which, in my case, has become progressively easier as the years have passed.

For some, it was a crusade against slavery. Most of these were found in the churches, for it was the church that carried on the campaign against slavery. For them, it was a matter of Divine will. • For others, particularly in the South, they saw themselves as protecting their homeland against the invaders from the North. • Still others had no quarrel with slavery – but saw the Union as the great test of liberty and selfgovernment. It was a sacred trust, handed down from the Founding Fathers. The matter is simple: they loved their families, but loved “the cause” even more. It is the same today. The command of Christ is that I love my wife and children. But if one were to decide to be a hom*osexual… The example of Christ in this is plain. Wherever He went, His mere presence obliged a split between evil and good. The low class sinner welcomed Him for His offer of salvation; the pious legalist rejected Him for exactly that. The power of paradox Christ is the hub; our other obligations of love are the spokes in the wheel. He does not explain why the paradox exists; He simply says it does. • • •

As for family, note the exception “more than me.” Love of family is commanded – when it does not go against the call of Christ. That’s a measure of just how serious the call of Christ truly is. We are to take up the Cross – to bear the burdens He says His disciples will bear, like it or not. Stop grumbling, accept the suffering so that you may also share His joy. Ultimately, the principle of paradox applies to our entire life. If you become enamored of this world, getting yourself well adjusted into it, then Christ will become a nuisance. He is best dealt with by decorating a corner of your home in religious motif – and then congratulating yourself as you “have it all.” In fact, you have traded Someone for nothing. The mixture is clear: if you want the blessing, bear the burden. Your mother told you to do it the hard way – and she was right! Receives you, receives Me

Remember we spoke of “Love me, love my kids?” The reverse is true, also: “Love my children, love Me.” It is the boundless, overflowing love of Christ that tells us here of his system of rewards. •

Do you receive a prophet in your home – simply because he is one, not for what you expect to gain? (This is “in the name of” a prophet.) if you so acknowledge him and uphold him, then Christ will reward you like He will reward the prophet. • But I don’t know any prophets. Fine. Do you know any righteous people? • But I don’t have the money to entertain such people. Fine. Even something so small as a cup of water in the name of one of His disciples, given to one so insignificant as a child, will bring its reward. There it is. The call of Christ will cost you everything you have and everything you are or could be. It is a life of constant persecution and trouble, requiring boldness and the overcoming of fear. It is the demanding life; it is also the rewarding life – eternal.

Burden Is Light - Matthew 11 The diligent student will note, from verse 1, that this action takes place with the disciples absent. It is necessary; why would anyone ask a disciple for healing or forgiveness when the Christ is present? A question which has its uses even today. Note also that, after the disciples have left, Christ Himself goes about preaching and healing. They have no one to run back too until He meets them again. What we see here is that which Lord does without His attendants. We would do well to remember that sometimes we, too, will be alone before the Lord. John the Baptist When Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? "But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces! "But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. "This is the one about whom it is written, 'BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.' "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. "For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. "And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Mat 11:1-15 NASB) A Theologian’s Debate Among the early church fathers a debate arose about this passage – concerning the motives of John the Baptist. There are three stated possibilities: •

It may be that, alone and imprisoned, John is losing faith, wondering if it was all a fool’s errand. So he sends to be reassured. This seems incompatible with the statements of Christ concerning John’s greatness. In modern times this has become much more acceptable; I attribute this to a lack of recognized lordship in modern thinkers. Another interpretation, much debated in early times, was that John was contemplating his own death. He therefore sends to Jesus to ask if He, too, will allow Himself to die – and thus require John’s services as a herald in the underworld. This theory seems to have come and gone in fashion as the years passed. This is favored by the more theoretical (e.g., Jerome) and discounted by the more practical (e.g., Chrysostom).

The third theory was this: John was contemplating his death. He seeks a way to turn his disciples over to the Christ. If he simply tells them again that he is less and Christ is more, his disciples might have been inclined to attribute this to a modesty fitting a prophet. Therefore, he sends two of the most trusted so that they might themselves see and hear, and so convince the others. Christ’s reply

It is interesting: in the face of the Pharisees Jesus has no hesitation in proclaiming Himself the Christ. But to the disciples of John, looking for the “expected one”, He simply points them to the prophecies concerning the Christ – and the evidence that those prophecies are fulfilled. Some things he cites are miraculous; others ordinary – but the thought behind this is simple: look with your eyes, hear with your ears and judge for yourselves. The same method may be used today. No offense taken Christ’s parting words to John’s disciples are a keen insight into human thought. Some of the most painful human conflicts come between two good things. My bunch is a good bunch; I’ll stick with my bunch. 100 My team’s quarterback is better than any other. It’s a natural human reaction, and commonly used to inspire performance. It’s often hard, therefore, to see the best when the glare of the good is in your eyes. Indeed, we are often offended by someone touting some other leader. Christ, however, is the rock of offense and the stone of stumbling. All other great religious leaders seem to have happy endings; Christ ends on a cross, like a common criminal of the time. If you consider the shame of His death, it would be hard to accept Him as Lord; therefore the Christian must despise the shame and glory in the Cross. For the crowd Jesus does not address the crowd until John’s disciples are gone – He has no reason to offend them, but his blunt approach to the crowd might have distracted them from their mission. When they depart, Jesus answers the question in the minds of the onlookers. For their questions are rather different. From their perspective, they’d like Jesus to clear up John’s status with them – and Him. Jesus then points out to them a very human characteristic: whatever God says or does, it will be held against Him: •

Did you go to see a reed swaying in the wind? Someone who pleases your ears with the latest and greatest in inoffensive sermons? Hardly. • Or did you go into the desert to hear this man because he’s part of the religious or political establishment? To ask is to answer at once. Absurd. So Christ points out the problem as it applies to John and to Himself. John is the classic prophet – camel hair coat and locust and honey diet. Official reaction: this guy must be nuts. So Jesus comes 100

Even if I go bananas trying. (Sorry, just couldn’t resist that one).

along, partying hearty with the common sinner – and the reaction is that He’s a drunk and a glutton. There is just no pleasing you people, is there? John is… Almost as an afterthought, Jesus explains John’s role. He is the prophet prophesied as the forerunner, the messenger. 101 In a phrase of distinct honor, he is named as Elijah – the consummate prophet of the Old Testament. Elijah – if you will accept it. John’s testimony is either that of a desert crazed nut case or a prophet of God. The authorities were in no doubt whatever; a nut case can be safely ignored. A fortress besieged John preached that the kingdom of God was at hand. To understand this passage correctly, we may picture the kingdom of heaven as a fortress under siege – surrounded by the violent and wicked who want in. They know that they will never get in by fulfilling the Law, but now another way seems at hand. And they are only slightly premature; at the Resurrection the gates will open; at Pentecost the armies of heaven begin their march around the globe. A Friend to Sinners "But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon!' "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds." (Mat 11:16-19 NASB) Christ’s comparison here is telling even today. Just what does the messenger of God appear to be? • •

If he’s one of those austere, self sacrificing souls who holds prayer vigil, fasts and is possessed of extremely little – then he’s a nut case. But if he’s an ordinary guy – including the eat, drink and be merry part – then obviously he can’t be God’s messenger. How ungodly this man is; he eats and drinks with the common sinners. God just can’t get it right, can He? Not a new story

This is not a new story. For 1500 years God – through His prophets – tried to teach the nation of Israel just what He is like through the means of the Law of Moses. The result was a wretched confusion of interpretations, most of whose adherents were hypocrites. 101

Malachi 3:1. Note that the word translated “messenger” can also be translated “angel.”

So God finished that by sending the reign of Grace – which seems to have no idea of what we’re supposed to be doing. Forgiveness, it seems, is impossible. God can’t win, no matter what He does. Wisdom by her children The first reaction to the Gospel from the scholarly, intelligent and self-sufficient souls of this world is, “You’ve got to be kidding.” It seems so simple, indeed to the point of being foolish. It appears to be a complete paradox – and it is, as long as man thinks he is in the position to judge. For to pronounce judgment on Someone you must be somehow greater. As long as man thinks himself in such a position, the gospel will seem foolishness. So what’s the average guy to do? The answer is the same one John’s disciples got: stick around and see. Wait for wisdom to show its results. Woe to You Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. "Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. "Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you." (Mat 11:20-24 NASB) One might ask why so vigorous a condemnation? This is, after all, the loving God, right? True enough, but it is also the just God. Perhaps it’s this way: • • •

You didn’t keep the Law of Moses. You didn’t even repent when you saw the miracles of Christ. God condemned Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon without those advantages; is it not just to condemn you even more because you did have these things? May I submit, for your thought, three failures that condemned the cities?

• • •

Failure to see the sin. Failure to learn the lessons of history. Failure to heed the warning signs of God. America, anyone? Burden is Light

At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. "Yes,

Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Mat 11:25-30 NASB) This begins with Christ’s confession. Kindly remember that confession has two meanings in the Scripture: • •

One may confess one’s sins, or One may confess God’s greatness. 102 Here, Christ gives us the example of proclaiming the greatness of God. And in particular, He uses this to explain to His listeners something of eternal importance: He is the only way to God the Father. Only way? Modern Christianity has largely rejected that. Denominations that used to sing “Nothing but the Blood” now pass the time with “Kumbaya.” The idea is clearly taught in the Scriptures; the same spirit that accepts hom*osexuals as church leaders has no problem with this, either. The authority of Christ In the kingdom of God, you get responsibility from God – and authority to match. Christ here tells us that all things have been handed over to Him. From that, we may deduce that all authority is His as well. In this passage, however, Christ makes it clear that such authority is exclusive. Thus the paradox: the proud in their own wisdom cannot see it, for it leaves no room for their own brilliance. The humble accept it as revealed. So it seems you either accept this as beyond you but blessing you, or you look around for another solution to the problem. Some of us have been looking for a long, long time. Come to me Christ’s appeal is simple: skip the theory, come to me. I am the One. See the steps: • • •

Recognize that your burden is heavy (you are a sinner). See that his burden is light! (Salvation is His free gift) Learn from Him. Yes, there is much to know – but first things first, then your education. Christ’s burden is the burden of grace – the burden of being forgiven. It will humble your pride to admit you have something to be forgiven; you must have the humility of repentance. But even in that He does not shame us – He restores us. Truly, this burden is light.

102

Matthew 10:32-33

Lord of the Sabbath - Matthew 12:1-21 It is tempting to skip over many of the arguments with the Pharisees. After all, they are long since gone; the temple worship was abolished forcibly in AD 70 when the Romans sacked Jerusalem. The value in these arguments is not in studying the Law, nor because we need to deal with Pharisees – but in seeing just who Jesus really is. The Authority and Person of Christ At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath." But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? "Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? "But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. "But if you had known what this means, 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent. "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"--so that they might accuse Him. And He said to them, "What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? "How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Then He *said to the man, "Stretch out your hand!" He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him. (Mat 12:1-14 NASB) Mercy, not sacrifice (Most translations use “mercy” where the NASB uses compassion). Do you not see what Christ is saying? He tells the religious leaders of His day, the right wing fundamentalists of the time, that they missed the point completely. •

“If you had known” – this carries with it some powerful implications. First, it implies that you could know. The matter is not buried under layers of ceremonial law; it’s in front of your face. • The implication is that if you had just searched for it, you would have found it. It is a teacher’s frustration; people will not search the Scriptures for what may be known. This, when there is limitless power, mercy and understanding in a few short pages. • From which we may also deduce that such meaning is hidden from the hypocrite. Isn’t the hypocrite the one who wants the reputation of a Godly man – but doesn’t want the humility that goes with it? In pride we judge the Scriptures; in humility they judge us. The result of failure is evident: the Pharisees condemn the innocent. They have read (indeed, written) the fine print, and missed the point.

But there is one other thing you may note: Christ talks quite calmly to this bunch of Pharisees. Indeed, it appears that they have no answer to His argument. The Pharisees, who consider themselves better than anyone else, take this rebuke in apparent calm – it seems that they recognize the personal authority of the man. Over and again we see Christ walking through crowds that would stone Him; there is something of that here. Something greater than the Temple To understand what a claim to authority and power this is, you must first know what the Temple meant to the Jews. Five hundred years before it was first built, the Jew was commanded to present his sacrifices there – at “the place where God shall place His Name.” Solomon built the first one, later destroyed and rebuilt and destroyed again, to be rebuilt again by Herod the Great. The attitude of the Jews can still be seen by observing the crowds at the Wailing Wall. It is the most sacred place on earth. Abraham went to this spot to sacrifice Isaac; David stayed the plague meeting the angel on this spot. To those who study prophecy, it is genuinely that: the most sacred spot on earth. Christ claims to be greater. Indeed, how could He not? Who pointed the Jew to the one spot? Who stopped Abraham mid-sacrifice? Who commanded that the Temple be built? Lord of the Sabbath Christ makes this claim almost in passing. But see its significance to the Jews: the Sabbath distinguishes them from all other people. What they do – or rather, don’t do – on Saturday is unique to the Jews (at this time; Seventh Day Adventists come rather later). How can Christ claim to be superior to it? • • •

He is superior by right of creation. On the seventh day God rested, and hallowed the Sabbath thereby.103 He is superior to it as Law-Giver. From Him come the Law and the Prophets; therefore, as the One who ordains the Sabbath, He is superior to it. He is superior by right of Resurrection. He stayed in the tomb over the Sabbath – and rose on what we now refer to as the Lord’s Day. The old law is done; grace arrives. The Limitless Demand of God Easy to please, hard to satisfy

It seems that God is indeed easy to please – but impossible to satisfy. Consider some of the demands He makes on us: •

We are to be perfect – just like He is. 104 103 104

Exodus 20:11 Matthew 5:48

• •

If we break even one of God’s laws, we are guilty of shattering them all. 105 And – even if you kept every last tiny regulation, you would still find that something is lacking – for animal sacrifices cannot make real atonement. 106 It is therefore a great blessing that we are no longer under the Law. The Law points to the Christ

It is important to realize that God did not give the Law just to inflate His own ego. He gave it because we needed it. The principles shown in the Law are given for the blessing of His people, not to shackle them. The Law, indeed, is said to be our schoolmaster. 107 This is one reason we study the Old Testament even today; it is a window on the mind of God. By searching it we can see what He thought necessary for the ancients – and translate that into our own time. Indeed, the Law was given to “hold the fort” until the time was right for the coming of the Christ. The animal sacrifices point us to Christ and the Atonement; the laws of conduct are still fruitful today. 108

The Law and the Spirit The logical among us might notice that Christ brings forth as his defense for the disciples a precedent – a precedent in which David the King asks for, and gets, bread which the Law forbids him. It is likely enough that the Pharisees might have replied that it is no defense to bring another sinner forward to compare; both are to be condemned. But the Old Testament does not condemn David. That lack of condemnation implies that here is an exception to the Law. What is not condemned becomes a precedent. The Pharisees, from their lack of reaction, probably got this point too. The reaction of the Pharisees is indeed rather interesting here. Sabbath breaking produced a mild interrogation; healing on the Sabbath drives them to a murderous conspiracy. Why? The former is a debating point; the latter is a point of authority – and pride. Christ is the divider. 109 To those who accept Him, He is love, joy and peace. To those who reject Him, there comes a spirit of anger, jealousy and murder. By their fruits you will know them. The Meekness of Christ But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah 105

James 2:10 Hebrews 10:1-4 107 Galatians 3:24-25 108 Luke 16:16 109 Matthew 10:35-36 106

the prophet: "BEHOLD, MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN; MY BELOVED IN WHOM MY SOUL is WELL-PLEASED; I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM, AND HE SHALL PROCLAIM JUSTICE TO THE GENTILES. "HE WILL NOT QUARREL, NOR CRY OUT; NOR WILL ANYONE HEAR HIS VOICE IN THE STREETS. "A BATTERED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK OFF, AND A SMOLDERING WICK HE WILL NOT PUT OUT, UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY. "AND IN HIS NAME THE GENTILES WILL HOPE." (Mat 12:15-21 NASB) Don’t tell May we take up a minor mystery here? Why does Jesus send them away with instructions not to tell anyone? • • •

It’s clear that the healing is bound to be noticed. By prohibiting them from telling others, he impels the others to find out. It is also so that they don’t mention it – and therefore give pride no opportunity. Most of all, this is the fulfillment of prophecy. Gentle Jesus

Glory is to God what style is to an artist. It is the Glory of God in the flesh to conduct Himself in humility. Here the prophecy tells us what that means: • • •

He will not quarrel. Do you notice how His encounters with the Pharisees rather resemble a one-punch fight? He does not debate with them; He answers them. Sometimes with a miracle, sometimes with a precedent – but always with humility and gentleness. He will not cry out. Christ is not a one-man circus. There is no sense here of a public relations machine. The sinner must come to Him. He will not raise His voice in the streets. The relationship is personal, not one which depends upon great moments in preaching. In this, we see the humility of the Christ, and an example to each of us. Until

Just what is this “battered reed?” We may understand it this way: for those whose faith is weak and hesitant, Christ does not condemn them. Rather, he keeps knocking at the door, waiting to be asked in. You may hear the Gospel but once in your life, but from then on there is a knocking at the door. Just what is this “smoldering wick?” Oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The smoldering wick is the lamp running out of oil. To those who desire to flame, He gives the Spirit without measure. The Gentiles

Do remember that the Jewish attitude towards Gentiles was (and often still is) that they are fit only as fodder for the fires of hell. (One of them explained this to me during an elevator ride at college. He seemed quite sincere and very pleased with the concept 110.) Quoting again from the Prophets, Christ tells us of His work with the Gentiles: • • •

First, that justice will be proclaimed among the Gentiles. Has this happened? What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit, but to convict the world of sin and of judgment? Second, that He will lead judgment to triumph. Is this not the spread of the Gospel to the entire world? Finally, it is in His Name the Gentiles (that’s us) will hope. The Light of the World is Jesus; in Him we have our hope. Lord of All

The Lordship of Christ is seldom taught these days. If a woman no longer need obey her husband, but merely respect him, how then can we say the church should obey her Lord? Indeed, we still seek a Savior – but a Lord is inconvenient. But Lord He is: • • •

He is Lord by right of creation. All things were created by Him; in Him all things have their being. Lordship is His right. He is Lord by choice – you named the Name and claimed His promises, being baptized in that Name. You chose Him, and you must take Him upon His own terms. He is Lord of eternity. He holds the keys of hell and death; He alone is alpha and omega, beginning and end. If you will not make Him Lord in your life here, then what?

110

But see Deuteronomy 7:7ff

The Unforgivable Sin - Matthew 12:22-37 It comes as a surprise to modern man that there could be such a thing as unforgivable sin. Since the modern position is that man passes judgment on God, not the other way around, it would seem that here is a point to parallel Sodom and Gomorrah – after all, shouldn’t the loving God forgive everything? We shall see. House Divided Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, "This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?" But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons." And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. "If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? "If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. "Or how can anyone enter the strong man's house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. (Mat 12:22-29 NASB) The principle It is common to quote Lincoln when he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” But if you dig through the older editions of Familiar Quotations, you will see that this quotation comes from this section of Scripture. Lincoln was quoting it, knowing that virtually all his hearers would understand the principle as given in the Scripture. It was an apt quotation, considering the strife of the Civil War. But the principle has not gone away. Our nation now blesses “tolerance” (by which we mean intolerance of the Truth, in favor of whatever…) and “diversity” (by which we mean “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere.”) This cannot continue; we will either continue as a Christian nation or break apart – for we are a house divided. Worse than that, the American church is a house divided. I do not mean Roman Catholic vs. Protestant; that division remains but (in America at least) seems to have lost its power. Indeed, the evangelical and Catholic find common ground in things like our opposition to abortion. The right wing Catholic holds to many tenets that our common with the evangelical Christian – but not common with the “mainstream” church. Even in the evangelical churches, the apostate is common enough. The Great Divide The point was raised here by Jesus in answer to a severe accusation. There are three answers to the only question: Who do you say Jesus is? •

Liar. This is the accusation they raise here, that Jesus is in league with the father of lies, Satan.

Lunatic. In their time, this would be demon possession. He is an unwitting or unwilling pawn of Satan. • Lord. He is who He says He is: God in the flesh. The first two are dealt with by this argument. Jesus simply points out that Satan does not oppose Satan. Ultimately, the fraud is exposed – or the light shines through. Here, in meekness, Christ confronts his adversaries. His claim is not made in arrogance but in humility – which neither the liar nor the lunatic would do. •

Easy to accuse, hard to prove In our own time we have added a new wrinkle to the argument: conspiracy theories. Of course, the proof a great conspiracy is that there is no proof for it; it’s all been hidden so well. Knowing that, the conspiracy depends upon a selective memory for facts. Start with your theory; select the facts to “prove” it; declare all other relevant facts to be lies and distortion by the evil priesthood of the church. For example: The Da Vinci Code. Pieces of this have been around for quite a while. Note that the work is advertised as a work of fiction, while presenting itself as being based on the facts. (Satan is alive and well.) • Gnosticism. Of course, the “true facts” have to come from somewhere. The Gnostics were the early church’s Da Vinci code. They professed to having received “secret revelations” from God. • Mormonism (and a bunch of other so called prophets). These profess in our own time to be additional revelations from God – which are being persecuted by the Pharisees of the church. “We’re the only ones who have the real truth.” It is fitting that this section starts with the healing of a man blind and mute. Satan wants to control what you see and hear; as we shall see, this is the back door to the things you treasure. That treasure Satan wants to claim as his own. •

The Unforgivable Sin "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. "Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. (Mat 12:30-32 NASB) “…in all Holy Scripture there is not perhaps so great or so difficult a question as this.” (Augustine). What is it, really? The truth of the matter seems evanescent. Christ mentions it; John the Apostle; Paul too – but it seems we have only a limited insight on it. But perhaps we can narrow it down a bit: •

First, it is clearly not a “sin of the flesh.” It must be a sin of the spirit, for it is against the Holy Spirit, who is not corporeal.

Second, we know from history of the early church that virtually all the heresies which arose attacked the Trinity in some fashion. Since we have mystic union by the Holy Spirit, who indwells all Christians, any attack on the Trinity (and thus the divine appointment of the Church) must be this sin. Or so the early church fathers concluded. • Note, too, that the phrase is “who speaks a word” against Christ (logos). But it is “speaks against” the Holy Spirit. This carries with it the verb tense of continuous present tense. From this we can conclude it takes some time to commit the unforgivable sin. My own view is in line with these ideas. Forgiveness is a process. First you must hear the Word; then you must repent. If you refuse to repent, you are calling the Spirit a liar, for the task of the Spirit is to convict the world of sin and judgment to come. Can hell hold heaven hostage? One might ask, why should there be an unforgivable sin? After all, God is a loving God, forgiveness is part of His nature of love. Why, then, would God proclaim a certain sin to be unforgivable? Consider the opposite position: a man could spend his life in sin, telling God that He’ll just have to put up with it and forgive it – it’s God’s hobby, you know. Indeed, he could make himself to be his own hostage; if God doesn’t forgive, I’ll do something even worse. This is the state in which man has no conviction of judgment to come; if this can be forgiven, then what was the purpose in Christ’s death? This position denies sin and repentance; how then can such a person be saved? Interestingly, there are schisms in the church over this matter. The most famous is that of one Novation. His sect arose after the end of the great Diocletian persecution. Many weak Christians simply gave in to the demand of Diocletian that he be recognized as a god. When the persecution was over, many who had seen their family members dipped in tar, crucified in the morning and lit as a torch in the evening were unwilling to accept the repentance of those who gave in to the pressure. Novation called this the unforgivable sin. His schism died out as those who had been through the persecution died out. The modern church errs in the other direction. She denies that the unforgivable sin exists. There are now “alternate paths” to God, according to mainstream churches. There is no sense of this in the Scripture – but this is what defines the mainstream church. As the Episcopalians did when they began ordaining hom*osexual priests, they announced that they were guided by the Holy Spirit in doing so. This is, in my opinion, a further fracturing of the Church Christ loves. Fundamental unity of the church One of the common characteristics of Christians is that they believe in the unity of the church. “He who is not with me is against me.” There’s a line in the sand to cross, not a fence to straddle. For those who cross that line, Christ prays that we should all be one. Indeed, the instruction is rather clear: Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your

calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. (Eph 4:1-7 NASB) The church is the body of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. 111 You are either in, or out. If you refuse conviction of sin, and therefore decline repentance, you are out. As long as you do this, you are unforgivable – because you do not ask forgiveness. By their fruits "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. "You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. "The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Mat 12:33-37 NASB) Make the tree Notice, please, that Christ’s words to the Pharisees start with, “make the tree.” It is clear, therefore, that this is something we have a choice in. We cannot choose to be/not be a tree (human); we can choose which kind of tree. It also means that we have the power to do this, for Christ does not command that which cannot be done. (He often commands that which cannot be done unaided by the Spirit.) This section is addressed to the Pharisees. They are those who live by their works, not their faith. Christ therefore appeals to their own conception of good works. He pleads with all to repent and be forgiven, but the plea comes in many different ways. Out of his treasure In another place Christ refers to this as “out of his storehouse.” Note the key word, treasure. He is not talking about the things you have, but the things you treasure. It is a question of the will. There are those who treasure things evil. It may be a string of adulteries; a fascination with the toys of this world or, worse yet, pride. There are those who treasure things which are good. Is this important? The Day of Judgment is one day closer today; it’s coming is sure. Then where will your treasure be? Every careless word

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1 Corinthians 12:13

Note that the phrase is “every careless word.” The justice of God will be very fine on the Day. The admonition applies to all of us. And if this is so, what does this say about our not-so-careless words? The principle of the yardstick is still with us: by what you speak you will be judged. God is simply using the yardstick you us – and proclaim to all others.

Seeking A Sign - Matthew 12:38-50 “If I only saw one miracle, I would believe. I would have so much faith. So why can’t God work a miracle in my sight?” We will examine this and a few other modern misconceptions. A Sign Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. "The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. "The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Mat 12:38-42 NASB) An evil generation Have you ever wondered why God gives you no control over the miraculous? Perhaps the reason is this: you would not be able to avoid trying to please people, gratify them and amaze them all at once, just by working your pet miracle. Indeed, most of us would soon become a freak show. Like the illusionist of modern times, we would dazzle people – but with what? A God who is a tame lion, jumping through hoops at our command? Is the Lord of Hosts really so much like a dog? When we treat Him like He was ours to command, His lack of response is understandable. Permit me a parallel. There are women of my acquaintance who genuinely possess their husbands. “My husband would do anything for me,” they say, and they can prove it. Is that the kind of husband you would have, ladies? A flunky? Yet we treat the Lord of Hosts with greater contempt than that. Do we seek him for His love, or our vanity? This generation is quite similar to ours, in fact. Christ describes it as an adulterous generation. For us, this is true physically as well as spiritually. And like them, we are proud of it. Proud? How often have you heard sentiments like, “I don’t want to be puritanical about it…?” We are proud of our “enlightened” view of sex; we are also proud of our “enlightened” view of the faith as well. Gone is the thunderous sermon on heaven and hell; hell is now simply “a Christless eternity.” To the non-Christian, just how terrifying does that sound? The only sign God is not the tame lion. He will produce His miracles in accord with His purposes. It is not ours to command.

Indeed, we may ask, “what is the use of a miracle?” If we could all levitate mountains into the sea we would soon have scientists who studied “levitationology.” It would cease to be a sign; just earthmoving by alternate methods. Moses showed many signs to the Israelites; but it’s clear that their interest was held much more by water in the desert than it was by the God who produced it. We would agree with Faust: a sound magician is a mighty god. But Faust was wrong, for there is but one God. For those who deny this, there is only one miracle given to them: the Resurrection. The greater the witness Christ now establishes the danger to those who ask for a miracle to prove that God is with us. If the other fellow believed on lesser evidence, will you not be condemned for your lack of faith? •

In the negative sense He cites Nineveh. Of all the prophets, Jonah was the most recalcitrant and unwilling. He approached his task like most of us would approach mucking out the stalls. Yet, despite that, and with no miracle to prove anything, they repented. How much worse, then, for our generation which commands God to either produce miracles or shut up? In the positive sense He cites the Queen of Sheba. She journeyed a great distance (at a time when women just did not travel) at great expense to hear Solomon’s wisdom. Again, there was no miracle in this either. But if you will not accept the negative example, then the positive one should move you. What have you done to seek the Lord? There is often comfort in the memory of past things; there is also warning. The Worthlessness of our own Reformation

"Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. "Then it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came'; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. "Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation." (Mat 12:43-45 NASB) Spiritual Vacuum Please note that this passage is also part of the response to the Pharisees demand for a miracle. He is warning them of the results of their placement of God in their lives. The matter is relatively simple, actually. Despite what modern man thinks today, Man is not his own god. As one writer put it, inside man there is a “God shaped vacuum.” The Pharisees would have comfortable in our generation, for we teach that man can overcome anything. God is simply a sideshow; a crutch for those who will soon leave the gene pool. We believe that whatever our problems are, we can defeat them without any help from anyone. As the folks from AA would tell you, you’re in denial. If you don’t allow God to fill that vacuum – completely – it will be filled. You cannot even fill it by making yourself into your own god, nor even your own demon. But you can surely delude yourself into thinking you can.

You can’t beat somebody with nobody It’s an old saying in politics: you can’t beat a somebody with a nobody. If pride rules your life, matters can only go from bad to worse. You can imagine someone trying to clean up his own life, throwing out the problem and proudly proclaiming it. You are defeating lust with pride; it’s like swapping a bad cold for cancer. Lung cancer can cure pneumonia, you know. Permit me an example. One of my co-workers had a regular cycle of joy and despair. First we would hear about her wonderful, life changing love – EST, country western dancing; practically anything would do. Eventually it would let her down – and she grew more bitter with each cycle. She was seeking that which she could not recognize; it is no surprise that she could not find it. This is how it will be Note the future tense. Things are going to get worse, for that generation and ours. We, like they, are convinced that we can clean up our act solely by our own effort. We, like they, are wrong. Mother and Brother While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! "For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother." (Mat 12:46-50 NASB) Extremism It comes to each of us at some time or another: someone in the family rants and rails against the fact that you are a Christian. You have the choice: harmony in your family OR the love for Christ. If you pick Christ, you will be called an extremist, one who does not practice “moderation in all things.” Christ suffered this too. Despite who He is, the family obviously came by to remove the boy from the public eye. They wanted Him to step outside and meekly go home with them. But see what leverage they were attempting: • •

They did this while He was still speaking. They did this in front of the crowd, making it publicly known that they did not believe.

His rebuke is thus all the more telling: just who are my family? Those who do the will of God. It raises the point: what do we mean when we say, “the family of God?” Family vs. family

Those who have known true fellowship in the family of God find it difficult to describe. Indeed, it is sufficiently rare in this part of the world that its witnesses seem indeed to be very few. They find it very difficult to explain just what it means to be in the family of God. Perhaps the test is this: many of us have friends who have shared a good laugh with us. But have they shared our sorrows? Have they cried together with us? One of the family traits in God’s family is that we, like the Holy Spirit, come along side those who ache. Taking care of the family The matter is relatively simple: put God first in all things. As Augustine said, “Love God – and do as you please.” Want the example? "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Mat 25:31-46 NASB) The Head of the Family will own you in your service to His children; He will disown you in your stinginess.

Parables - Matthew 13:1-52 Have you ever taken a little child by the shirt front and yelled, “Listen to me!” ? It’s a temptation that all parents face. You can tell by their faces that they heard what you said – but weren’t listening. Our Lord used parables with that same effect; in His instance, however, he separated wheat from chaff by who heard – and who really listened. Sower and the soils That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, "Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. "Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. "But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. "Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. "And others fell on the good soil and *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. "He who has ears, let him hear." (Mat 13:1-9 NASB) "Hear then the parable of the sower. "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. "And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. "And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty." (Mat 13:18-23 NASB) It helps to have the key to the puzzle, sometimes. This is the parable of evangelism, and it serves as warning to all who preach the Gospel. The path Note, please, those on the path are not hard-hearted; they are the ones who did not understand the Gospel. They never get the chance to reject the Gospel, as it seems nonsense to them. It is not surprising. If you wish to see God, you must use the right telescope. That telescope is a pure heart. The Gospel is often opaque to those who are hard hearted. They have spent so much of their lives practicing the art of “not listening” that the Gospel makes no impression on them.

But we see the virtue of persistence here. Satan comes in and removes the Gospel as quickly as possible, lest here or there it might find a crack in the concrete. There is might grow, uprooting pavement with it. That is not God’s most common method. He knows what to do with hardened ground: Plow it up. Sometimes it takes a sharp plow to break open a dull mind. The rocks It is the most heartbreaking of tales, and your teacher has seen it far too often to deny its existence. The word of the Lord comes to someone; at first, all is enthusiasm and delight. But the person receiving will not or cannot put down roots. A whiff of persecution and they are off to the next new thing that will save them. If you ever wondered how some people flit from religion to seminar to mystic and back again, just remember: tumbleweeds aren’t designed to have deep roots. The thorns Here we find the curse of modern America. Worry and wealth grab our minds; we then rationalize our departure from the faith. But may I point out something to those who know that worry is good and wealth even better? • • •

The seed sown in your life is exactly the same Gospel that was planted in the lives of the great saints. The problem is not with the preacher; the problem is with you. Did you expect this to be easy? Remember, thorns grow naturally in the ground. You cannot avoid the problem if you really want to be a Christian. Either the thorns or the seed gets the nutrients in the soil. You are that soil; you decide which gets nourished and which is starved. The good soil By their fruits you will know them. What are the results in your life? Short Parables The treasure in the field

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Mat 13:44 NASB) Permit me some questions: • •

A man finds the treasure and hides it again, rather than sharing the information with the owner of the field. Why? Perhaps it is Christ’s way of telling us that the treasure is out there, but we have to find it. He sells all he has – true faith may cost you all that you have and are.

The treasure is a source of joy to the man – as our faith should be to us. The pearl of great price

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Mat 13:45-46 NASB) Like the kingdom of God, the pearl is precious and expensive, more so in this time than in our own. But see one difference between this and the treasure in the field: this man was looking for pearls; when he sees this one, he needs to make a choice. A financially prudent man would not do this. Spiritual prudence is different. You can’t jump the canyon in two hops. The dragnet "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. "So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mat 13:47-50 NASB) (Dum, ta dum dum – sorry, couldn’t resist that one.) This is one I love, for it says that the kingdom of heaven will haul in all sorts of characters – and at the end of this age they will sorted, good fish, bad fish, sheep and goats. The Gospel is open to all; only at the end of the age will the separation occur. Leaven He spoke another parable to them, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened." (Mat 13:33 NASB) This parable may be seen it two ways: • •

It may be seen as the church’s effect on the world around it. We are few, but our witness can change the world we live in – even if only by example. It also is a picture of how the church really spreads – quietly, working its way into the world but not becoming “of this world.” Mustard Seed

He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES." (Mat 13:31-32 NASB) This is the way the kingdom grows: bit by bit until is shows itself a haven in the world. From small beginnings the church becomes visible – and visible as a haven. Wheat and Weeds Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. "But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. "But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. "The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' "And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves *said to him, 'Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?' "But he *said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. 'Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn."'" (Mat 13:24-30 NASB) And He said, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. "So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. "Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Mat 13:37-43 NASB) This often quoted parable has a few surprises in it yet. May I present for your consideration three thoughts: “While his men were sleeping” For evil to triumph it is only necessary that good men do nothing.” How well we Satan’s work in this! “Political Correctness” is everywhere; raise no objection to hom*osexual behavior, adultery, spin control – the list seems endless at times. In the church we may add to that lists of “Thou shalt not offend.”

Who, one might ask, is supposed to be out there objecting to the changes being imposed on the church? By Scripture, elders are to lead in this. But do they? Before you judge them harshly, ask how far and how hard you would follow them. Perhaps the difficulty is that they can lead only the willing. “Allowed to grow together” If we might ask the divine farmer a question: just why did you let them grow together? One reason is fairly simple: they look alike until fully grown. So if He did uproot, we would be puzzled, and many of us would also be uprooted with them. A similar thought comes in our judicial system; we would rather acquit a hundred criminals that convict an innocent man. At the end of the age Did you notice something about the end? He will gather the weeds first. (I wonder what Hal Lindsey would say about that.) But let us pursue the thought about the end times further. He will tie them into bundles; in other words, he will gather them together. It is but speculation to think that many “mainstream” churches a bundling themselves together so that the world might see a smiling face, benevolent Protestant tea sipping society. One last; as with Lazarus, those in the barn (heaven) will see those being burned. It’s part of the punishment. Why? And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" Jesus answered them, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. "For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. "Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. "In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, 'YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES, OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.' "But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. "For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Mat 13:10-17 NASB) All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "I WILL OPEN MY

MOUTH IN PARABLES; I WILL UTTER THINGS HIDDEN SINCE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD." (Mat 13:34-35 NASB) Why did Jesus teach in parables? • •

Some of us just won’t get it any other way. “Draw me a picture.” Parables carry both an intellectual thought and an emotional appeal. (Weeds, ugh.) The result is greater commitment than intellect alone can command, and longer lasting than today’s emotions. • Christ is, as ever, the gentleman at the door who “stands and knocks.” Parables bludgeon no one. • They are also a sound example for teachers! But there is one last: the Christian who hears the parable, grows from it. Those who are not, grow away. To him who has, more will be given. To him who has not, even that little will be taken away.

A Mother’s Tale of Sex and Murder - Matthew 14:1-12 Whenever the word “Herod” pops up in the New Testament, it produces a search for the genealogy chart. There were plenty of them at this time. Here’s what one reference 112 says about it: This was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, by Malthace, and tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, which produced a revenue of 200 talents a year. He married the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, whom he divorced in order to marry Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, who was still living. Aretas, to revenge the affront which Herod had offered his daughter, declared war against him, and vanquished him after an obstinate engagement. This defeat, Josephus assures us, the Jews considered as a punishment for the death of John the Baptist. Having gone to Rome to solicit the title of king, he was accused by Agrippa of carrying on a correspondence with Artabanus king of Parthia, against the Romans, and was banished by the emperor Caius to Lyons, and thence to Spain, where he and Herodias died in exile. Thus the players. Here, then, is the account of his most noted deed: At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, and said to his servants, "This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him." For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had been saying to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." Although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet. But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Having been prompted by her mother, she *said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." Although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus. (Mat 14:1-12 NASB) Herod It is instructive to study the character of Herod. You will find him to be quite a modern man, in fact. The story of his murder of John the Baptist would make a good one for our modern crime shows. What kind of a man would do such a thing? A man of fear And just what is Herod afraid of? •

He’s afraid of John the Baptist. You would think this would not be so, as he’s got the man in prison. But John is a righteous man – and Herod’s usual methods have no influence on him.

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I have absolutely no idea how to footnote this reference. It’s from the Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge, as distributed by e-Sword, found at www.e-Sword.net. If you are looking for the best in Bible study software, this is it. And it’s free, too. Oh, and TSK is copyright expired, thus public domain.

• •

Interestingly, he’s afraid of those sycophants at the party. How do we know this? He feared to violate his oath. If a ruler is a snake in disguise, those around him don’t trust him (hence the oath). They are always watching him. He must appear, then, to be a man of his word. As stated, he fears the crowd – uneasy is the head under the crown. They know John to be a prophet. And they know Herod to be a Herod. The man is sorry for what he has done. But no one confuses this with repentance. A captive of his desires

“If it feels good, do it.” It is the motto of my generation, and Herod would have been right at home with it. Virtue is admired. So are dead heroes. Herod’s desire shows up quickly: • • •

This is, after all, a man who seduced his brother’s wife. This brings new meaning to “family ties.” Even if Philip were dead, this would be contrary to the Jewish law. 113 Remember Queen Vashti? 114 This is a similar performance; in this instance the girl is quite willing. Herod enjoys showing off the sweet young thing to a party with the boys. Turnabout is fair play, however. Herod seduces Herodias; now Salome seduces Herod. His lust drives his decisions. A man of “convenient religion”

What do we mean by “convenient religion?” Just this: Herod (and now the rest of us) pick and choose among the various religious beliefs of the time, selecting the parts we find convenient – or expedient. That’s why he thinks Jesus is John the Baptist, risen from the dead. But I would point out to you the arrogance of this point of view. It says, simply, that all religions are open as a smorgasbord and I, man the great, will select my spiritual meal from among them. It is, in fact, the elevation of man to the status of God. But it’s a fearful selection too. Herod in his choices simply follows the crowd – when expedient. Salome A little background first: she is the daughter of Herodias by her first husband, Philip. That puts her in a position which is rather tenuous; her life pretty much depends upon her mother’s position, as she is not the daughter of Herod. She was probably thirteen or fourteen years old, the common age of marriage in that society. Her name is not in the Scriptures, but is given to us by Josephus. And, she was one hot babe. The word translated as “dance before” actually means that she was in the middle of the men. The kid was a runway dancer and stripper. What every girl wants…

113

Leviticus 18:16. The exception was to take a dead brother’s wife who had no son. See Deuteronomy

114

Esther 1:10-12

25:5.

Is power over men. The easiest way to get it is with sex – promised, implied and or delivered. But may we point out: • • •

First, this is a sinful desire. From Eden woman has known that man is to rule over her; 115 this is crude manipulation with the object of murder. Second, that every girl practices exactly this skill from infancy. It’s a shock to dear old dad to discover that his two year old daughter gives a great imitation of mom’s “come hither” look. If you let it run its course, this results in incest and pedophilia. If it feels good, do it. The head of John the Baptist on a platter Why the head on the platter?

• • •

First, it means he is certainly dead, and dead now. Herod is given no room to weasel his way out of it by promising to do it later. There is a practical reason as well: this way, she won’t have to listen to John’s final sermon. Finally, the main reason: so that Herod won’t hear John’s last sermon – and be dissuaded from beheading him. She’s keeping the situation under control – her control.

"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Mat 10:37 NASB) Herodias We have little to say about Herodias – and none of it is good. • • •

She is first an adulteress. Her society would have equated this with prostitution; sex had rules in those days. At the very least, she’s a woman who cannot be trusted, even on oath. This is a conspiracy to commit murder – with her own daughter as the co-conspirator. And what grievance had she against John? Only this: he is a righteous man. Not content with her own depravity, she teaches her young daughter how to do the same. The villainy of the crime is all the evidence needed. A world like our own May I point out a few of the obvious parallels to our own time?

• •

First, that the innocent still suffer for righteousness’ sake. Chastity is considered an affliction, not a virtue. And in accord with modern virtues, those so afflicted are mocked and despised. Our fears are much the same, too. We fear the crowd; we particularly fear being seen as “different.” Even the leaders take popularity polls.

115

Genesis 3:16. Space does not allow me to say why this works; but just in case you think I’m from another planet, yes, I know, my society considers this a horrible idea.

• • •

Our passions – and lack of control – are very similar. In our society, a woman is valued for her appearance (and her willingness to have sex with one and all). This gives some women power over men; it gives others a bitter hopelessness. We still work in “convenient religion,” even those professing to be Christians. All those passages relating to marriage which seem inconvenient – whether for feminism’s sake, or for adultery – are now “cultural.” We still have the same reaction to those who proclaim the truth in public. In 2000 Jerry Falwell sued the FBI to obtain files which were used to slander and threaten him. Fact based or not, isn’t the reaction now one of, “he deserved it”? When you read this section, you weren’t shocked; you considered it normal government behavior. The tumble of our morality continues. Incest is quietly brushed aside (despite the damage done by it); pedophilia is still condemned – for a while. What then, should we do? May I give you the words of a wiser man 116 than I?

… let us weep for Herodias, and for them that imitate her. For many such revels now also take place, and though John be not slain, yet the members of Christ are, and in a far more grievous way. For it is not a head in a charger that the dancers of our time ask, but the souls of them that sit at the feast. For in making them slaves, and leading them to unlawful loves, and besetting them with harlots, they do not take off the head, but slay the soul, making them adulterers, and effeminate, and whor*mongers. Consider this: we are members of the body of Christ. When we have sex outside marriage, we unite the members of the body of Christ with the body of a prostitute 117. Even to do in thought is sin. 118 So why should the children of God weep for such? The saints must weep for sin, and the sinners. Our task is not just to reject the sin; our task is to bring the sinners home. It is a daunting task; but do not forget in whose power you walk.

116

Chrysostom 1 Corinthians 6:15-18 118 Matthew 5:27-28 117

Walks on Water - Matthew 14:13-36 This section has a very rare characteristic: it is told in each of the four Gospels. It evidently was a very powerful experience. Feeding the Five Thousand Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, "This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!" They *said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." And He said, "Bring them here to Me." Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children. (Mat 14:13-21 NASB) Christ into the desert We so often hear of Christ going away into some desolate place to pray that we think little of it. But the question must be asked: why this time? It is on the heels of the news that John the Baptist has been executed; Herod seems to think that Jesus is John, risen from the dead. Is this simply fear of the authorities? It is certainly reasonable to think that John’s execution caused his escape to the desert; but the connection might not be what you think. • • •

It is certainly convenient to escape Herod’s clutches. But consider that Christ leaves no chance to Herod to “add murder to murder.” There is little chance that Herod will repent; but not “no chance.” The primary reason is this: it is not time. His sacrifice on the Cross is about a year away. The Divine Appointment will be kept. Finally, it is an example to us. Some of us will stick around to be martyrs to the cause; but most of us want to run away. Jesus sets us the example of fleeing persecution. The crowds follow

Jesus hasn’t exactly made it easy for the crowds. See what barriers those who want to follow Jesus had to face: • •

They’re going after him on foot – in the desert. For those of you who have ever walked the desert, you know how quickly the urge to give up comes. Hunger is their companion; there is nothing to eat where they are going.

It is no surprise, then, that Christ heals the sick among them. But note carefully: their good work in following Him is not the reason He heals – His compassion is. Miracle of the old creation One value of this section of Scripture is that it defines, by example, two different kinds of miracles. This is a miracle of the old creation; a point which may be determined by its action. •

The loaves are divided and then are multiplied. Isn’t this a picture of the natural method? Barley seeds (the pieces) are planted and much barley grows, making for more bread. As it is with the seed, so with the Master. • The loaves are given to the disciples to give to the people. God speaks to the people only through His children. It’s a principle of the Christian life: Christ often starts with what you will bring to Him, and then multiplies it in kind. Walks on Water Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "You are certainly God's Son!" When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent word into all that surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick; and they implored Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured. (Mat 14:22-36 NASB) The Disciples Perhaps this might strike you as unimportant; but let’s look at the disciples, first. Their actions and attitudes form the background for Peter’s actions. • •

Christ had to send the disciples away. They went unwillingly, but obediently. He had to make them get into the boat. They are sent into the storm – so that they will know on whom they should call. We teach our children to dial 911; He teaches His disciples much the same.

The action is in the 4th watch – approximately 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM. They have been obliged to struggle throughout most of the night. Sometimes our Lord puts us in the boat, sends the boat into the storm and lets us struggle until, in His time, He comes to our rescue. •

Peter Peter is a man of action, if nothing else. We may learn from his actions how we are to behave as well. •

He starts with the lordship of Christ . He won’t come out of the boat except by the command of his Lord. But he has the courage to ask that the command be given. • He’s still not sure if it is Jesus – but he is sure of Jesus. • If there is one picture we may gain from this episode, it is this: fear and faith are opposites. Often our problem with faith is not doubt – it’s fear. Peter demonstrates something that may surprise Christians: one man can be both strong and weak in the faith. Would you have the courage to ask that the command be given? To walk on the water? Would you then be so weak as to take counsel of your fears? Strong and weak in the faith – same man, same time. Christ Christ’s reaction to Peter (and the disciples) is instructive: •

As Peter begins to sink, He does not chide him for his lack of faith. Rather, He reaches out to save him. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. • Note, too, that only after He gets into the boat does he calm the storm – and then it’s a short trip to harbor. It’s only after the storm they worship Him as the Son of God. Like many of us, they wait until the storm is over to praise God. This is a miracle of the new creation – the creation coming at Christ’s return. He walks on water; He passes through locked doors after the Resurrection. We know little about it, but it seems that some direct control over nature is implied. Someday we will know. Soon, please Lord, soon. Miracles There is a good deal of misunderstanding about miracles, especially in this scientific age. You will often hear something like: “Miracles are scientifically impossible, and therefore they don’t happen.” This is a tautology. It presumes its conclusion. Imagine the sequence as follows: 1. The definition of “miracle” is something which appears contrary to the known laws of the universe. Both the incidents listed here qualify. 2. We have a book that records many miracles. 3. But miracles are scientifically impossible; therefore the book must be false. 4. Therefore there is no historic evidence for miracles. 5. Therefore they never happened.

Do you see that step three presumes the conclusion? It’s a logical fallacy which used to be familiar to Americans. But we decided to make high school geometry more relevant – and stopped teaching logic therein. May I give you a non-miraculous parallel? Consider the Yeti – the “abominable snowman” of the Himalayas. Scraps of evidence surround many physical sightings of this creature. Yet the biologists insist (and rightly) on a full specimen before they will believe the creature is real. It is not unreasonable to believe that the Yeti exists (from the historical evidence); it is not scientifically proven, either. The source records of the miraculous are historical, not scientific. Let me give you an example of why this must be. A few days ago, the Los Angeles Times, in its role as bulwark of the truth, published the results of a scientific study. In this study, two groups of patients having serious illnesses were selected. One group was simply there as a comparison; the other group names were passed on to devout Christians to be prayed for. The results were then compared. It may come as a surprise to you to find that the study concluded that prayer had absolutely no effect upon the outcome for these patients. This sounds odd at first (prayer changes things) but it isn’t. God is not fooled by the labels. This is an attempt to manipulate God and measure the results. Such a god is one who can be commanded by men – if you have the right incantation. But if God is who the Scriptures describe, He is far above our puny experiments. Would He not be insulted by the arrogance of the investigators? They, after all, are trying to manipulate the God of creation. Hint for you fellows: it doesn’t work. It is the central problem of any experiment purporting to determine the existence or characteristics of God by scientific means. God is not “the force”. As Richard Feynman once pointed out, such an experiment is doomed from the start. The basic method of science is to set up two identical situations, and for one of them you have God, and in the other you don’t. The problem with this is simply this: if God doesn’t exist, how do you turn Him on? And if He does exist, how do you turn Him off? Science and magic, twins Science has the same presumption as magic: if you manipulate things in accordance with the laws of the universe, you can produce desired results. Either with the right chemicals or the right incantation, there is power. The only real difference is that, in western civilization, magic doesn’t work very well – science does. So then, how is that miracles can possibly happen, given our faith in science? There are two common explanations: • •

Augustine puts it this way: there is a hierarchy of natural laws. Miracles appeal to higher ones; daily life is run by the lower ones. C. S. Lewis (after Boethius) put it this way: miracles are an injection into reality by God. Drinking too much miraculous wine makes you drunk, not miraculous.

Why is all this important? Simply this: the church is at a crossroads. Either miracles happen or they don’t. Either the histories are right or they’re not. In particular, two miracles are intrinsically linked with orthodox Christianity: the Incarnation and the Resurrection. If there are no miracles, then Christ is not God in the flesh. If He is not God in the flesh, he is not an acceptable sacrifice for sin. If He did not rise from the grave, then everyone who believes in Him is a complete fool. It’s that important. The church has come to the point in the last fifty years where she must either embrace or explain away miracles. Those who embrace them stay within the ranks of orthodox Christians of all times. Those who do not find themselves without a compass. They can no longer trust the Bible; it is no wonder that they find themselves picking and choosing the bits and pieces of Christianity (and other religions) as they see fit. But do you not see that this puts the purported Christian in the position of judging God? It appears that all religions are equally valid; but as Orwell might have put it, some are more equally valid than others. They touched the hem of His garment; we touch His body and blood. They believed and took hold. As for us, …

Out of the Heart - Matthew 15:1-20 One of the great consistencies of the New Testament accounts is the way in which Christ dealt with the Pharisees. With the exception of a small number (Nicodemus comes to mind), He turned on them the ferocity of His wrath. He called them hypocrites, and for a religious person (especially one who has dedicated his life to service) it is a mind cracking insult. Perhaps it was intended to be such. Tradition Abused Then some Pharisees and scribes *came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? "For God said, 'HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,' and, 'HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.' "But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God," he is not to honor his father or his mother.' And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. (Mat 15:1-6 NASB) The value of tradition It is fashionable to deride tradition these days. I submit to the contrary, however, the thoughts of the orthodox Jews. They begin their prayers with the phrase, “Our God, and the God of our fathers.” The tradition is explained this way: if He is not your God – meaning that you have truly believed – then you have nothing but an empty tradition. If He is not the God of your fathers, then you can be deceived by “every wind of doctrine” that comes along. Tradition is the vote of those who don’t happen to be walking the planet at the moment. Our church has traditions, too. One of the most prominent traditions we have is to proclaim ourselves to be a non-traditional church. Tradition, we are told, is for those who simply are holding on to the past, and nothing more. Are we traditional? Well, we use Welch’s grape juice instead of wine. All the other churches in the restoration movement do likewise, and have done since the rise of the “temperance” movement. It is a tradition, and none dare look into it. Tradition, I submit, is of great value. It preserves you from the error of the moment by pointing you to the solutions of the past. But tradition must be kept in its place. It exists in the church to instruct you in what those in the past considered wise. The danger comes when your tradition stands before the word of God. The best defense Note, please, that the Pharisees in this passage are not the locals from Galilee. They’re from headquarters in Jerusalem. The man’s fame has spread, so the religious leaders come down to the sticks so that they might put this man in His place. They come with the highest authority in Judaism – and so it is that the blame on them is so much greater. The higher the responsibility, the greater the fall.

Note that their opening salvo is in the form of tradition. They have no basis in the Law of Moses to accuse Him, so tradition will have to do. They were expecting to hear what they would have said: some clever reply from some clever rabbi. The intent (as of this time) is not his death, but rather somehow to co-opt Him into “the system.” It is a characteristic of God. The pious, learned hypocrite understands things only after they are clear to the humble. What you understand depends upon how you listen. If you’re listening to make an argument, you will not hear what He really says. Honor your father and mother The Old Testament provides ample instruction in how you are to treat your parents: with great honor. This seems just; after all, they put up with you through how many difficult years? Indeed, even to speak evil of your parents was cause for the death penalty. 119 The straightforward mind would view this as a command. But the Pharisees had found a way out of this. The process was to solemnly dedicate to God whatever was necessary to keep your parents warm and fed. This put the parents in a difficult situation: •

They could ask the child, now grown, for support – and be reviled for their unholy demand. It would be sacrilegious, in their view. • Or they could starve to death. The real reason, of course, is money. So it is they made the house of prayer into a den of thieves. Hearing and Understanding "You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'" After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, "Hear and understand. "It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man." (Mat 15:7-11 NASB) Practical hypocrisy There is a present example which shows you just how easy it is to slip into pious hypocrisy. Consider the humble offering envelope. In some churches your giving is posted on the wall; which tends to tempt the wealthy into hypocrisy (“I’m no sinner; look how much I give”). In ours, by contrast, we have blue offering envelopes. I am told that the numbering system used is an aid to those in the office who count the offering, and with this one could not quibble. It would be poor stewardship to avoid the

119

Exodus 21:17

tax deductions available because of the gift. But the envelope system is as open to hypocrisy as the list on the wall – and at much less expense. 120 Hypocrisy in the offering plate is rather limited in these days of checks and credit cards. It was greater in the days of gold coin, I suspect. But showmanship is not the chief tool of the hypocrite. Rules and regulations are. Don’t eat this; don’t go there; don’t touch that. If you wish to lead people astray from Christ, the method most common is that. (Did you know that Mormons are forbidden to drink hot liquids, including coffee?) You see the point. Hard work is used as man’s replacement for God’s grace. So it is that the hypocrite seems to be a hard worker – it’s just that the work doesn’t produce the results God promises. The right to accuse It is a maxim of Anglo-Saxon justice: the accuser must have clean hands. (Pun intended). So it is that Christ here does not bother to defend his disciples; rather, he assaults the Pharisees. See how this is done: the argument comes from the Old Testament (hence, Moses and Isaiah are their accusers) – and goes against their tradition, not the Law. It is a consistent problem. If we’re not adding to the Scriptures, we’re taking away. Need a couple of examples? •

In our congregation, the phrase that “the body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit” is now used to justify commanding the believer to eat organic foods and join a health club. No mention of prostitution121 or sex – that’s cultural, and no longer applies. • For additions, I would point you to the number of classes (well attended) that our church runs whose main subject is not Christ, nor the Scriptures, but modern pop psychology. You may think I’m being hard on my home church. I would be if there were not plenty of evidence that the church in America is well down the trail of addition and subtraction. There is a sense of blasphemy about it; but that you may judge for yourselves. How often today does the church act as an extension of the Republican party? Do not take His name in vain. Hearing and understanding Please note: Jesus calls the crowd to Himself. He wants to make it clear to the average man of the time that this is important. He then tells them that uncleanness (of great importance in the ceremonial part of the Law) was not a matter of what you ate but what you thought. He does so in plain text – no code required. It’s not a parable. But it is simple and radical – like so many great ideas. Stone of Stumbling

120

Your author has but one functioning eye, thus no depth perception. Those around observe me trying to put the envelope in the bag, and undoubtedly draw their own conclusions. The folly of conclusion jumping is hereby proclaimed. 121 See 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 for the original context.

Then the disciples *came and *said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?" But He answered and said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit." Peter said to Him, "Explain the parable to us." Jesus said, "Are you still lacking in understanding also? "Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. "These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man." (Mat 15:12-20 NASB) The Pharisees were offended Peter thinks there’s something wrong here. The Pharisees, after all, have been portrayed to him as truly religious figures who are to be treated with reverence. So it is not unexpected that he points out the offense to Christ. The word he uses for “offended” is the root word from which we get our word “scandalize.” In short, Peter is trying to smooth things over a bit. But our Lord is the Stone of Stumbling, the Rock of Offense. It is in the very nature of things that righteousness should appear offensive to hypocrisy. Hypocrisy itself often makes heavy use of “good manners.” It is undoubtedly a case of poor manners to accuse someone of being a hypocrite, especially to his face. But just as you would want your doctor to level with you about what your disease is and what that might mean, it is no favor to the hypocrites to allow them to continue as such, uncontested. Surgery is just a friendly attack with a knife. It seems, at first, that Jesus makes no effort to reform the Pharisees. But in fact He is doing just that. By clubbing them over the head with their sin, He hopes that they will see the light. It is not a very effective technique, evidently. But that is hardly our Lord’s fault. Peter wants an explanation Peter – a man whose automobile would have a big engine and no steering wheel – wants Christ to explain “the parable.” Jesus tells him that he has missed the point entirely. But to make the matter clear, He tells them that if something is not from God it will, eventually, be uprooted and destroyed. (Contemporary America might just be a good example). Note, please, that this does not necessarily imply that God’s plants never get ripped up; we can certainly destroy what He has planted. So what does Christ do in this instance? He chews them out – and lets them alone. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to state your case, then sit down and shut up. We’re responsible for the planting; the growing is God’s business.

It’s a tough time for the disciples. They’re Jewish; those dietary laws are sacred to them. It will be some time before Peter sees the sheet let down from heaven. Out of the heart The reader will please note that ‘the heart” at this time would be considered the seat of a man’s will – not his emotions. If you wanted to refer to emotions in this time, you would reference a person’s liver. So Christ is not talking about some passionate mistake; rather, He’s talking about the cold-hearted will of one who deceives others with his attempt at imitating the real Christian. We need not worry about it; it takes a while, but eventually the fruit of a man’s life is shown. It takes a little while for the heart of a man to be seen – but the hypocrites heart will eventually give rise to the words to match. There is one last thought with which I leave you. It is the hypocrite’s reward: "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' (Mat 7:22-23 NASB)

Dogs - Matthew 15:21-28 It’s a short passage of Scripture; it is one of only two places in the New Testament in which Christ praises someone for their “great faith.” Curiously, both are Gentiles; there are other similarities too. We begin with the Scripture: Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once. (Mat 15:21-28 NASB) Tyre and Sidon Tyre and Sidon are well known in ancient records. Trade with them – and invasions – are recorded in Egyptian records as early at the 14th century BC. It was noted for its wealth, its trading prowess – and its wickedness. A glance at the map will give you the location:

As you can see, this area is to the north of the Sea of Galilee, along the coast. But it is still within the boundaries of Israel as laid out by Moses and Joshua:

That’s important; as we learn here, Christ was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. The region therefore serves as a place in which Jesus can get some rest and be alone (or alone with His disciples) without the pressure of the crowd. The city of Tyre is known in prophecy by its doom. 122 Thus, when Christ condemns the cities around the Sea of Galilee, his comparison to Tyre and Sidon is rather shocking in context. The Woman Much is left unsaid about this woman. How did she hear about Jesus? How did she know where to meet Him? Perhaps most fascinating of all is this: she came; her husband did not. Was she a widow? Who can say? Humility One thing we do know: she came in humility. This might be the reason she came, that her husband would not humble himself. If so, it shows the lengths to which she would go to obtain her daughter’s healing.

122

Zechariah 9:1-4

Interestingly, she does not try to evoke Christ’s sympathy with her daughter’s troubles. She came for mercy, not sympathy. How often have we prayed for the healing of some little one who tugs at our heart strings – and have done so because God “ought” to heal them. Interesting too is this: she did not argue. She accepted what He said – and begged. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Patience Patience and persistence are virtues often praised, sometimes preached and rarely practiced. This woman had the same attitude that the widow before the unjust judge had: dogged persistence. 123 She bangs on the door so persistently that the disciples (good Jews, all of them) ask Jesus to send her away. It’s obvious she found no champion to raise her cause; she was, after all, an unclean woman, a woman of the Gentiles. Notice, please, her reaction to rejection. When Christ Himself tells her no, she does not argue. Instead, she plants herself directly in front of Him and worships Him. She kneels on the ground and bows down to Him. It is worship, and all know it. Faith Like the centurion who said he was not worthy to have Christ under his roof, 124 she expresses her unworthiness and His glory by accepting what He says to her, without complaining. Like the centurion, she has come out of her home and sought Him out – ready to listen, ready to obey. She calls Him Lord. She calls Him Son of David. She knows Him for who He really is. She’s not hoping to get lucky; she’s hoping the begging will work. But will it? Christ If you are to understand this section correctly, we must take a detour through the theology of the matter. Indeed, at this time, no one would have seen it correctly, for God revealed it later to Peter and Paul. The concept is this: the rejection of the Messiah by the Jews is the root of taking the Gospel to the gentiles. How so? •

As Jesus tells us here, He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He is the Son of David; these are His people. He promised He would come to them. • The rejection of the Messiah by the Jews opened the Gospel up to the Gentiles. 125 • Ultimately, it is prophesied that the Jews will indeed return to their Messiah – which comes just before the resurrection of the dead. 126 It is therefore no surprise that He won’t even speak to her; it is not the time of the Gentiles yet. Note, please, that his opening statement is not spoken to her, but to the disciples, yet in her hearing.

123

Luke 18:1-8 Luke 7:1-10 125 Acts 13:46 126 Romans 11:1-15 124

It is not right Why is not right? He is for the house of Israel. God keeps His promises. The salvation Jesus brings is very precious indeed, but it needed to be rejected by Israel before it would come to the gentiles. Christ puts this quite bluntly: what He is doing is for Israel. No room is given for them at this point. His expression – the one about the dogs – is difficult to translate, as the word used for dog really means “puppy.” Perhaps He meant by that to encourage her. The word picture is not that of a pack of hunting dogs kept in kennel, but of the puppy, the children’s pet. She doesn’t miss a beat. Perhaps she had a dog in the house; perhaps she remembered a puppy with fondness. As Snoopy once said, “Anything that hits the floor is legally mine!” She accepts the role of puppy, and begs. Christ’s response Sometimes unnoticed in the studies of this passage is the phrasing Christ uses. It’s sufficiently obscure that the New International ignores it and misses the point. The King James is more literal; the most literal of interpretations all have the same language: the language of creation. “Let it be to you…” echoes the Genesis account saying, “Let there be light.” He is creating, ex nihilo, something new: the Light of the world. Our Faith It gives us no profit if we do not ask the right questions. What do we do when Jesus ignores us? It is going to happen. Often enough you will pray for weeks on end for something, and it seems that God just isn’t listening. I suggest these three things from our example in this lesson: • • •

Humble yourself. Get in front of Him, down on your knees and worship Him as the God He is. It is not your merit but His mercy that counts. Persist. How soon we give up! Especially when we know that “it ain’t over until it’s over.” 127 Ask others to pray for and with you. It is an honor to be asked to share such a task; if you are asked, treat it as such. What do we do when Jesus follows silence with rejection?

• •

When she was rejected, her reaction was to worship Him. He is Lord; you are not. He owes you nothing; you owe Him everything. Do we accept our place in His plan without contradicting Him? Do we accept the humbling He is giving us – for our own good? 127

By Yogi Berra, of course.

Do we say “Lord, help me, even though I don’t deserve it?” sympathetic are our circ*mstances?

Or do we point out how

We have logical minds – which are below the level of God’s foolishness. 128 Permit me to close with this quotation from Chrysostom: Observe this woman’s prudence; she does not dare to contradict Him, nor is she vexed with the commendation of the Jews, and the evil word applied to herself; “But she said, Yea, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” He said, “It is not good;” she answers, ‘Yet even so, Lord;’ He calls the Jews children, she calls them masters; He called her a dog, she accepts the office of a dog; as if she had said, I cannot leave the table of my Lord.

128

1 Corinthians 1:25-29

Sailor’s Delight - Matthew 15:29-16:12 It is, perhaps, unfortunate that verse and chapter divisions were required. With computer search tools it is much easier to find things these days. The chapter divisions suggest that there is a logical break point at verse 1. This is not the case in this session, which we shall take piece by piece. Feeding the 4,000 Departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee, and having gone up on the mountain, He was sitting there. And large crowds came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them. So the crowd marveled as they saw the mute speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel. And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, "I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way." The disciples *said to Him, "Where would we get so many loaves in this desolate place to satisfy such a large crowd?" And Jesus *said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven, and a few small fish." And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; and He took the seven loaves and the fish; and giving thanks, He broke them and started giving them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. And they all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, seven large baskets full. And those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And sending away the crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came to the region of Magadan. (Mat 15:29-39 NASB) Healing first It is a fact: if you’re going to convince the average human of something, you will need his attention first. The method of getting that attention matters too, for if you get his attention by robbing him, for example, you can convince him – that you are a thief. God understands this fact. So it is that Christ performs his healing first, convincing the crowd that here is a man from God (at the very least). But in every group there are those who are waiting for the main course: feed me. In our own time we find the “prosperity Gospel” – God wants you to be rich; He will make you rich if only you will give to His cause, and no better place than right here in our television ministry. Which brings up the question: what if God doesn’t make you rich? The usual answers run along the lines of “you weren’t really sincere about giving.” There’s something to be said for that; but often enough God is concerned first with your healing. If the wounds of life still bleed, it’s healing you need, not riches. So if you are expecting riches – monetary or not – and not getting them, perhaps He is healing you before feeding you. There is a parallel to this in our own lives. Sometimes the sinner walks through the church door only to find that he is shuffled off to the “right” Bible class. We are sometimes so anxious to feed that

we forget there is healing to be done first. So it is that we have the example of our Lord to remind us: first things first. Ask not, and you shall receive It is not usually noted, but see that the crowd does not ask Him for bread. They may or may not have heard of His feeding the five thousand, but they are willing to starve themselves (or at least fast) so that they might have His healing. The phrasing in the Greek here means that Christ was restoring lost hands and feet; I suspect the awe was at such a level that it would have seemed inappropriate to ask for such a feeding. But Christ’s compassion flows this way. His blessings do not depend upon our righteousness but on His compassion. Speaking for at least one sinner, I’m glad that this is so. Christ often works this way; before we perceive the problem, the people of God have turned to Him, petitioning a solution. So it is that we often find ourselves puzzled at what God is doing, only to see later that His compassion was meeting needs we did not feel were important. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Growth in the faith If you make the comparison with the feeding of the five thousand, you will see a growth in faith. • •

The people no longer thought they must touch Him or His garment; it is sufficient now to lay the crippled at His feet. The example asks the question: who should we be bringing to Him? The disciples no longer challenge Him as to how this can be done. Not after the feeding of the five thousand. They’re not sure how it will be done – but they know He can do it. The example asks the question: are we telling Him what must be done first? Pharisees

The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. But He replied to them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' "And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah." And He left them and went away. (Mat 16:1-4 NASB) It should be noted that the very earliest manuscripts have neither the ending of the second verse nor all of the third verse. These apparently are additions; Jerome was aware of the difference, however, and considered the additions valid. (AD 391-403). The Pharisees, testing/tempting

The Pharisees – though they would be shocked to understand it – share something in common with the modern agnostic. They believed they were in a position to pass judgment upon God. In the Pharisees time this was due to hypocrisy and arrogance, as they were the “experts” on God; no one knew God better. The agnostic today relies upon arrogance and hypocrisy; arrogance, in that he passes judgment upon God; hypocrisy in proclaiming himself a seeker – but only a seeker after the God he wants, not the God Who Is. Man sits in judgment on God; in this manner he prevents himself from knowing who God really is. It is important to do this; otherwise, He may introduce you to yourself, sinner that you are. But if know God as He really is, you will discover yourself honestly – and know that He seeks the wandering and lost. See the signs of the times Christians tend to fall into one of two categories when it comes to “signs of the times.” •

There are those who, by the grace of Darby, Lindsay and Peretti, know all the answers. Everything that is happening in Israel is a sign of the times – and a lot more outside. Those who follow such a theory often find themselves with more signs than they know what to do with. • There are those who don’t follow such a crowd, and wonder whether or not such things are indeed signs of the times. The answer is relatively simple: God’s timing is hidden (“no man knows the hour”) but His plan is not. He tells you that He is returning – and He also tells you how to behave in the meanwhile: • • •

Don’t goof off, but do what you are assigned to do Don’t be a hypocrite; He, after all, is not a false God. Why should you be a false Christian? Don’t neglect the good works He has commanded you. Analyzing the signs of the times is no substitute for Christian charity. Why no other sign?

So why, then, doesn’t God hang out a few signs for the wicked? It would be so very convenient to have fire and brimstone hit every now and then. So why not? • • •

First, there are signs and there is seeing. To see God requires the pure heart – clearly not present here. If you seek God earnestly, he will be found. The question is one of intent. But if you seek only your own good, you will see nothing of the things of God.

Men of Little Faith And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread. And Jesus said to them, "Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, "He said that because we did not bring any bread." But Jesus, aware of this, said, "You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? "Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? "Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? "How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Mat 16:5-12 NASB) Getting the point It is a connection not often made: little faith means you often “don’t get the point.” Why should this be? • • •

Little faith means little obedience. As Bonhoeffer once observed, “Only those who believe, obey. But it is equally true that only those who obey, can believe.” Our lack of obedience is often a barrier to understanding what God is trying to tell us. Since we have so little faith (looking forward) we see no sense in looking at the past to find our faults. We have our children study history for a reason. Little faith means little results; little results make us disinclined to ask for big ones. Given our track record, what else would we expect? Leaven

Leaven, for a variety of reasons, isn’t really the example it used to be. But if I used the word “cancer” you would see the threat: •

Cancer, like leaven, is a slow, silent and insidious threat. So it is with false teaching; there are no neon lights to proclaim its arrival. • Cancer, like leaven, does its work best when the body suffering from it does nothing – wishful thinking that it will go away by itself. Or perhaps it’s a refusal to see the obvious. Doing nothing helps false teaching grow. • Cancer, like leaven, may at first seem like something multiplying good, not evil. Its victims may start to lose weight, usually welcome in our society. False teaching often comes with real enthusiasm. But leaven still has one good example for us: when baked in, a hard crust conceals the airy lightness inside. Could such leaven be with us today?

“Not in our church,” is the proud proclamation. The phrase, “Bible believing church,” is presumed to ward off all elements of false teaching (especially those of the Bible believing heretics down the street). We don’t see the problem, staunch Christians that we are. But consider: • • •

All Scripture is profitable – so why is this in the Bible if not to warn us of the dangers of false teaching? This is not Biblical babbling, but a warning to the body of Christ. The insidious nature of false teaching tells us how it is done: the matter seems good to most people. Only the stuck in the mud don’t see the virtues of the new way of looking at things. Besides, we argue, it’s trivial. What difference can it make?

Let me give you an example of “what difference?” Consider the doctrine of marriage now proclaimed from the pulpits of Bible believing churches: Despite the Bible to the contrary, a woman owes neither obedience nor submission to her husband. Isn’t this what the church has always taught? • Despite the Bible to the contrary, men and women are interchangeable parts – either can be the leader in marriage. • Despite the Bible to the contrary, our views on marriage really don’t have any impact on the frequency of adultery, fornication and hom*osexuality. But surely, you say, surely this is not all that important, is it? We’re modern people; we know better, right? •

Consider then what our picture of marriage has done to the doctrine of the church. The ancient church – by which I mean from the beginning to perhaps a hundred years ago – used marriage and Christ’s relationship with his church as logically interchangeable. You knew the relationship of Christ and the church by looking at marriage; you knew the ideal of marriage by looking at the relationship of Christ and the church. • • •

We now tolerate adultery nicely; we also tolerate “other” religious views as being broadminded. The thought that Christ is the only way is viewed as narrow minded and old fashioned. (Think what this does for evangelism, folks.) The woman need only “respect” her husband; the bride of Christ need only respect Him – no real obedience required. We need only call Him, Lord, Lord. Obedience is now seen as “legalistic.” The husband was required to be the spiritual leader of the family, as Christ is of the church. Now, we expect little more than attendance and tithing. As the church, we expect little of Christ. Perhaps this is why He disappoints us; we expect too little of Him.

No Other Question - Matthew 16:13-28 I am indebted to the late Fr. Charles Fields for the point: there is no other question. “Who do you say that I am?” On the answer to that your life hinges – now and eternally. Heaven and hell, truth and falsehood, life and death, judgment and reward, all hinge on this one question. It merits, then, our attention for at least one lesson. Who do you say that I am? Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." He *said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." (Mat 16:13-19 NASB) It may first be noted that Jesus asked this question of His disciples in an area where the Jews did not reside. Safe from the pressure of religious leaders, away from the crowd, the disciples could answer freely. Note also this: He did not ask them who the religious leaders thought He was. Fact, not expertise, determines this answer. No other question The point is at once simple and profound. It is, has always been, and always be the defining truth of the church universal, militant and triumphant: Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God. In his reply Christ calls Peter “Simon Barjona,” Simon the son of Jonas. It is as if He is reassuring him that as certainly as he is the son of Jonas, so Jesus is the Son of God. We may note also that Jesus asks who the people say “the Son of Man” is. It connects the facts: the One who is fully divine is also fully human. Anything less is heresy, leading astray. It has often been tried. The gifts of Christ May I ask you to notice something? God the Father has given Peter the revelation of the Christ; Christ Himself then gives the gifts mentioned here. He is not conveying them; He gives, for He is equal with God the Father. And what gifts! •

The keys of the kingdom of heaven – which in Matthew means the church (remember all those parables?). We often speak of “the key to the problem.” The key to entering the kingdom of God is in this confession. Those who live their proclamation of the Christ have entered this kingdom.

Binding and loosing – which particularly relates to forgiveness. How do I know I am forgiven? Because I forgive. Because I forgive, they are forgiven – by me, and God. I cannot forgive on your behalf, but I can forgive for myself. When I do, God Almighty wipes away that sin from them – and mine as well. Blessed are you

The revelation of God that Jesus is the Christ is indeed the chief of our blessings. It is revealed; if He chose to hide it, we could never know it. Consider the greatness of this revelation: to mortal man, a fisherman from Galilee, the sticks of the Jewish nation, was given the message that the prophets longed to hear. Salvation is come! And consider the impact of that revelation: before the Crucifixion Peter is a man of little courage, intimidated by a servant girl into denying his Lord. After the Resurrection, the fish becomes a lion. A section not strictly necessary It should not be required for those in the classroom to cover the arguments of the Roman Catholic church and dismiss them for their self-serving nature. But for those who may not have encountered this before, the matter is reviewed. Briefly put, the Roman Catholic church claims, based on this passage of Scripture, that theirs is the only church, and the Pope the infallible ruler of that church. Setting aside the dubious logic of such a claim to begin with, and the history of deception which accompanied it, we may observe the following: First, this view is relatively new. universal has such authority.

It is a distortion of the undoubted truth that the church

Second, the problem has been complicated by the typical Protestant response that the words “Peter” and “rock” have, in the original, two very different meanings. Peter is Petros in the Greek; rock is petra. These are claimed to be “little rock” and “shelf rock” (perhaps after the ruins at Petra) respectively. In fact, these are the same words; petra is the feminine form; Petros is the masculine. This has clouded the Protestant response, and rendered it ineffective. Perhaps we may bring to bear the witnesses of the pre-Protestant Roman Catholic church. These are quotations from the Catena Aurea, the “golden chain” commentary on Matthew written by the greatest philosopher of the church, Thomas Aquinas. He quotes its greatest preacher (Chrysostom) and its great theologian, Augustine: That is, On this faith and confession I will build my Church. Herein shewing that many should believe what Peter had confessed, and raising his understanding, and making him His shepherd. (Chrysostom)

I have said in a certain place of the Apostle Peter, that it was on him, as on a rock, that the Church was built. but I know that since that I have often explained these words of the Lord, “Thou art Peter, and on this rock will I build my Church,” as meaning upon Him whom Peter had confessed in the words, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God;: and so that Peter, taking his name from this rock, would represent the Church, which is built upon this rock. For it is not said to him, Thou art the rock, but, “Thou art Peter.” But the rock was Christ, [1 Cor 10:4] whom because Simon thus confessed, as the whole Church confesses Him, he was named Peter. Let the reader choose whether of these two opinions seems to him the more probable. (Augustine) Just who carries apostolic authority? If it is the lineal descendants (by hierarchy, not the flesh) of Peter, it would seem that the Orthodox church has an equally good claim on the title. But the Orthodox hold to the same answer we do: the authority of the Apostles is possessed by those who follow the teaching of the Apostles. Not everyone who says , “Lord, Lord” will be saved. Chrysostom, who lived in a time of one church unchallenged by division, said simply that there was one church, with all authority – and no conflict. Should you require some Scriptural support, may we point out two points? The first is the one referenced by Augustine: For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. (1Co 10:1-4 NASB) And if the question of binding and loosing seems to be in doubt, then consider that Christ also explicitly gave such authority to the entire church: "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." (Mat 18:15-20 NASB) If the history of the matter interested you, look into the “Pseudo-Isadoran Decretals.” The Suffering of Christ

Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You." But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's." (Mat 16:20-23 NASB) The warning The question immediately comes up, why? Why not proclaim this truth of God? It is speculation, of course, but perhaps it is because revealing this before its time would weaken, not strengthen, the faith of those who heard it from Jesus. It is interesting to note that Jesus does not “teach” this to His disciples – He “shows” it. The more literal translations make it clear that He “must” suffer – in the sense of “being necessary.” He can only give them the reason for the necessity; they are not yet capable of seeing what God will do, and why. Of which fact Peter gives example. Peter’s aside, man’s view Peter’s argument is quite simple, really: • •

Jesus, the Son of God, has the power to avoid this fate. He is Lord; how can it be necessary for Him to suffer? Indeed, it is unjust; it is unfair; Jesus has done nothing to deserve death. Why then would He accept the Crucifixion? Peter, giving policy advice to God 129, finds that the good is the enemy of the best. Christ’s rebuke

The foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of God. Like so much else that God does, we see the truth and treasure of it after it happens. As Paul put it, Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1Co 1:20-25 NASB) Take up the Cross 129

And how often I have done that…

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." (Mat 16:24-28 NASB) Steps 1, 2, 3 It sounds so simple, and it is. Three steps to begin to follow Christ: 1. Deny yourself. “Begin to be what you are not; cease to be who you are.” (Gregory the Great circa AD 540-604) 2. Take up your cross. Take it; it is a choice, not a burden imposed. Take up yours; it belongs to you, you need not borrow another’s. You are best suited to bear it; it is best suited to bring you close to your Master. Continue with it, even if it leads through suffering to death. 3. Follow Him. Deny yourself first; suffer as you must – but in all things in all ways follow your Lord and Savior. His eye is on the sparrow; you keep your eyes on Him. Count the cost Can you buy the favor of God? With what currency? By what actions can you place the Almighty in your debt? Do you think you have a contract with God? A contract is between equals; a covenant is given by God to His people. He has paid for it at the Cross and proclaimed it by the Resurrection; you can praise Him and accept it, or deny Him. With one comes the prize, the other punishment – and there is no compromise position. Your call. The coming kingdom Why is this so important? In this world the kingdom is composed of those who worship Christ; ultimately it will be composed of those transfigured at the resurrection of the dead. What you must understand is that these two kingdoms are one in the same: the kingdom of God. Epilog Next lesson we shall see the Transfiguration. Ultimately, to take up the cross is to follow your Lord; we are not above the Master. But see where this suffering leads! The ancients said Per crucem ad lucem – from the Cross into the Light! Lead on, O King Eternal – even through the valley of the shadow of death. Home is where the Light is always on.

Power and Glory - Matthew 17:1-13 Six days later Jesus *took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and *led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, "Get up, and do not be afraid." And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone. (Mat 17:1-8 NASB) 130, 131 Why? It is the favorite question of pestiferous three year old children. It is also a tool of inquiry for those who would understand. Why the Transfiguration at all? This is (obviously) no accidental happening – there are no accidents with God. 132 Indeed, then, why? • • •

So that – as promised – some might see the kingdom of God coming in power before they die. 133 To confirm to the disciples – with great power – that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, as Peter has confessed a few days before. Per Crucem ad Lucem – from the Cross to the Light. He tells them of His suffering to come; but He also shows them where this will lead. Why these three disciples?

• • •

Because these three are the most preeminent among the Apostles, the closest to Christ. These, being the closest to Him, are also the most fearful of His prophecy of His own death. To counter this fear He gives them the vision of what follows the Cross. It provides to these three the “testimony of two or three witnesses” needed under the Law to establish something in court. 134 Moses and Elijah are two; the Father is the third.

130

Parallel accounts are found in Mark 9:2-13 and Luke 9:28-36 There appears to be a discrepancy in the number of days between Luke and Matthew. This is generally explained by Luke counting inclusive of ending dates, Matthew only the days between. 132 Which – to borrow a great line from Peter Kreeft – is what distinguishes God from a Los Angeles freeway. Dual meaning intended. 133 Matthew 16:28 134 Deuteronomy 19:15 131

Perhaps most important, so that they may learn the necessity of coming down from the mountain top of God to the valleys of sin below. They wanted to stay; God had other plans. They must carry the Good News to the world. Why Moses and Elijah?

• • •

Moses and Elijah represent “the Law and the Prophets.” By their appearance they show the supremacy of Christ to the Law and the Prophets. So that the disciples might know that Christ is Lord of the dead (Moses) and the living (Elijah, who never died.) Both of these spoke to Him about His coming departure, so that Christ, the Son of Man, might be encouraged. And that His disciples might be encouraged too. Baptism and Transfiguration

It is a distinct point: the voice of God has thundered from the heavens before – at the baptism of Jesus by John. At that incident, there is no fear recorded; the scene is gentle and calm. In this scene there is fear; why? • • •

First – by the other accounts – Peter offers to build three tabernacles.135 It isn’t specifically stated, but evidently this was the wrong thing to do. So the disciples are aware of their failings before Almighty God. There is, of course, the uncanny nature of the encounter. They’re not quite sure what to make of it – but there’s plenty to fear here. From the Old Testament we know that no one may see the glory of God – and live. 136

So fear besets them. It takes the familiar voice saying, “Get up, and do not be afraid” to conquer that fear. It’s like a child with a nightmare; what a relief to wake up and see the familiar, loving face of the father who rescues you from danger. It is necessary, for the storms of fear must be calmed before teaching can begin. And when they look up, who do they see? Jesus, Alone. It tells us something: • • •

It tells us of the unity of the Trinity. You need not hear the Father thunder from heaven, nor the Spirit in the form of a cloud – all that is God is in Jesus, the Christ. It tells us that our practical example is Jesus, the person of God in the body and soul of man. It tells us, as the Father commanded, that we are to hear Him. Elijah Must Come

135

It is approximately the time of year for the Feast of the Tabernacles, in which the devout Jew constructs a tent and camps out, so that he may know what it was like for his ancestors in the wilderness. 136 Exodus 33:18-23

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead." And His disciples asked Him, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" And He answered and said, "Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. (Mat 17:9-13 NASB) Transfiguration – sample of what is to come God has a curious way of repeating Himself – poetic, in a sense. In the Psalms we see poetic echo in words; here we set up a poetic echo whose second half will be the transfiguration of the children of God. The baptism of Christ is our sign of the first transfiguration – the transfiguration of the soul in Christian baptism. The Transfiguration on the Mount is the sign of the second transfiguration to come – the transfiguration of the entire human being, body, mind, soul and strength. At the Resurrection the glory of God will indeed be revealed, His children transfigured so that no longer do they need to hide their face from it, but rather see it and praise Him. One might ask: is there any reason for this? Why a bodily resurrection? Why not just a happy transition to ghost-hood? Permit me a simple thought. There is in this world much evil; we shall take as our example Adolf Hitler. Do you think that Hitler got what he deserved for his actions in this world? I submit you don’t; how can one be properly punished for six million deaths? Where then is the justice of God? Either God is unjust or God is weak – or both. Or He isn’t finished yet. God has yet to close His books on Hitler – or you. Or me, either. Elijah will come The disciples are worried about what they have been taught in prophecy. It is clear that before the “great and terrible Day of the Lord” Elijah is to come to turn the hearts to God. 137 They associate this with the coming of the Messiah; as yet they have not perceived that the Messiah will come twice – once as the Lamb of God, then as the Lion of Judah. Christ makes it clear that Elijah also comes twice – and at this coming, it’s John the Baptist of whom He speaks. Many believe that at the next coming Elijah himself will return. This is based not only upon what Christ says here (which, after all, could mean another man like Elijah, as John the Baptist was) but upon the idea that every man must die once. 138 Elijah, along with the other man who did not die, Enoch, are believed in this view to be the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation 11. 139

137

Malachi 4:5-6 Hebrews 9:27 139 Revelation 11:1-12 138

It should be pointed out that this interpretation is not the only one for this chapter; in another view the witnesses are seen to be the Old Testament and the New Testament. The argument will continue, I suspect, until the Lord returns. What are you going to do about it? It is often useful to end a lesson with, “so what?” What is it that the teacher expects the student to do as a result of the lesson? • • •

Rejoice. Here is the evidence of the life to come and its glory. This is where the Cross leads, and we will share it with our Lord. Watch and Pray. Be ready for His return at all times. There are many predictions of the time of His return – but there is always time to be ready, if you will seize it. Reach out. This is good news; that’s what “gospel” means. Take that good news to all who will hear.

Down From The Mountain - Matthew 17:14-27 It happens to every Christian: the mountain top experience is followed by a trip down in the valley. The three disciples now follow Jesus down the mountain, and find the crowds waiting for them. When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. "I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him." And Jesus answered and said, "You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me." And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once. (Mat 17:14-18 NASB) 140 Remember, please, that in our last lesson Christ was transfigured before Peter, James and John. They are now returning to the valley below. The first thing that greets them is – the crowd. Please notice what the three disciples do next: nothing. Is this in obedience to command, or fear of public speaking? No matter; it’s back to reality – leaving the real reality behind for a while. Perhaps it is just as well. Christ has told them to shout from the housetops that which He reveals in secret. 141 Most of us would tell Him we’d like to, but we are afraid of public speaking. Which may explain why He tells us so little in secret these days. Difficult? Yes it is. But the time of secrecy has long since passed, and we need to heed our Lord’s command. The faithless generation Some assume that Jesus’ words are directed towards the disciples for their lack of faith. The words are actually directed at the crowd, and speak to their faith. The point is of some importance. The boy is said to be a “lunatic” – literally “moon struck”. The name is evidence of a culture that considered sun, moon and stars to have influence on the mentally ill or demon possession – a form of animism crossed with astrology. Such people are still with us today. Christ then points out the barriers to faith – for that is what it will take, faith on the part of the father – found in that generation. See if either seems familiar: • •

Unbelief. This is not so much a failure to believe as it is a failure to commit. Oh, we’re Christians, sure, but we have good luck charms, medals, candles and mysticism to help us along too. As Ray Bolger ( the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz) put it, “Some people do go both ways.” Perverted. The word in the Greek originally meant, “distorted.” It’s not that we don’t believe marriage, we’ve just distorted the word to include hom*osexual marriage as well.

140

For those with such curiosity, Duke University has a collection of ancient papyri, one of which is of this passage. See http://odyssey.lib.duke.edu/papyrus/records/241.html. 141 Matthew 10:27

Bring him to Me After such a rebuke, you might think that Christ would have nothing to do with the man or his son. It is not so, and in this there are two lessons: • •

As Remig put it, this is “an example to preachers to attack sins but to assist men.” A perverted generation, but still the lost children of God. It servers as a reminder to us that we are to take all our cares and troubles to the Lord. 142 Little faith

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not drive it out?" And He *said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. ["But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."] And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day." And they were deeply grieved. (Mat 17:19-23 NASB) (It should be noted that verse 21 is not found in the most ancient of manuscripts, and may be a later addition.) Faith suffers without the presence of Christ. The nine disciples below have been without the presence of Christ for some time now – and their faith suffers from this. Perhaps as much as a week has gone by without Jesus. Without clear touch with the Master, faith fades. So how do we as Christians handle such a situation: By prayer, for one way. Look at the habit of Daniel: Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. (Dan 6:10 NASB)

Remember: He will not exclude us from life; we are the ones who exclude ourselves from Him. Mustard Seed Faith

142

Matthew 11:28-30

This is a much debated passage. May we take this one simply and cleanly? • • •

If your faith is inadequate, whose fault is that? Have we even asked Him to help our unbelief? Why is this so common? Perhaps it is our habit “hedging our bets” that is at fault. Christianity in moderation – don’t let it run your life. That’s halfway faith. Better no faith at all. Why don’t we ask for faith? Perhaps we are not willing to wait for the mustard seed to grow. Why the disciples are going to need such faith

From the mountain top He showed them His glory; in the valley He tells them of His coming death. They’re going to need the mustard seed faith to get through that. Note what kind of faith is the minimum requirement: • •

It is a faith in God Himself. They need to know that no matter how black things look, God will work His plan. It may be a small faith – but it needs to be a living faith, like the mustard seed. Sovereignty of Christ

When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" He *said, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" When Peter said, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are exempt. "However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me." (Mat 17:24-27 NASB) Taxes, taxes The tax spoken of here has its roots in the Old Testament 143. At this time the tax was voluntary, so the men who are coming to Peter have no real authority. But Peter takes it as a challenge, and announces that his Master does indeed pay the “temple tax” as it had become. This tax had a curious history: In the original, all were required to bring this tribute – there was no favoritism. Everybody paid the same thing. The tax was an atonement tax – a tax which all men paid, because they are all sinners. The Sovereignty of Christ

143

Exodus 30:11-16

Jesus has a problem here. On the one hand, He has been instructing His disciples on just who He is. How can you tax the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? He has no need of atonement; He is sinless. No one on earth has jurisdiction over Him, for all authority is given to Him 144. But He has also set an admirable record for complying with the Law of Moses – not the one as distorted by the Pharisees, but the one given to Moses. Since He was the Giver, it is gracious on His part to condescend to do so. “Who do you say I am,” He asks His disciples. The very Son of God, in the flesh; indeed, in the form of a servant. He must show His disciples that He remains the Son of God even though He pays this temple tax. The power of Christ – in the details The incident that happens next is not quite a miracle. No natural laws were violated by this procedure – but the laws of probability have been well stretched. This is called a “providence” of God, after the God who provides. May I point out a few little things here? The amount is exactly that which is required. When God provides, He sometimes provides exactly – so that you and I will think about it. The amount was for “you and I.” In effect, that makes it a ransom shared. The ransom is for all of us. Epilog The Crucifixion is coming, and Jesus is preparing his disciples for it. To this end He shows them the glory His death will bring. To this end He strengthened their faith in valleys as well. We may well ask, for what is He preparing me?

144

Matthew 28:18

Greatness and Humility - Matthew 18 In my youth there was a boxer named Muhammad Ali. He was an excellent boxer, probably the best of his time. But his time is gone; where he once proclaimed “I am the greatest!” he is now old and feeble, his brain damaged by his boxing. God humbles the proud. As we shall see, His instructions to His children are quite different. Who is the Greatest? At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. "And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. "If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. ["For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.] "What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? "If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. (Mat 18:1-14 NASB) 145 You should remember that this takes place just after Christ’s instruction to Peter on how to pay his taxes. The disciples took this as a sign of Christ favoring Peter, and therefore desire to know who will be the big shots in the kingdom of God. Christ’s reply is startling to them: he takes a child, an infant, places him before the disciples and tells them they must be converted (“turned around”) to be like the little child. It is an object lesson; every time they see a child, they should see the kingdom of heaven. Humility in the Kingdom It is not the age of the child to which Christ refers, but the characteristics of a child: •

Innocence. The child has done no wrong, and the innocence of babes is always before us.

145

Verse 11, shown in brackets, is not found in the most ancient of manuscripts.

• • •

In that day, the social position of the child was the lowest possible, teaching us that the kingdom treasures the humble. Trust. An infant has complete trust in his parents, as we should have for our Father in heaven. Purity of mind. As we often find out, what the child is thinking is what the child is saying. Much humor is thereby created; this too is an aid to humility.

Indeed, the example of humility in the kingdom is Christ Himself. To those outside the kingdom He is the Judge; to those inside, the one who humbled Himself for our salvation. What you see is often determined by how you look. Indeed, to make the point clear, the humble are always to be welcomed in the church and treated with affection. Christ goes so far as to say that if you do so for one of these little children, you do it for Him. Offences must come It must not be thought that the Christian is promised a path strewn with rose petals before an adoring church. On the contrary, “stumbling blocks” are inevitable. Sin, pain and death are inevitable; even Christ was tempted; He was in pain and died on the Cross. So it’s going to happen. This sometimes gives rise to the idea that, after all, the more sin there is, the more God’s grace abounds, so let’s all give Him something more to forgive! 146 It is absurd. So it is that the sin of putting a stumbling block in front of someone else is sin also, no matter how cleverly disguised. But if this is done to ensnare the little children – whether children in age or in age as a Christian – this offends Christ Himself. The rule of thumb therefore is to give offense to no one, but always forgive offense given to you. The younger heart should have no offense, lest it become a stumbling block; the mature heart should take no offense. We have said that the stumbling blocks of life are inevitable, but we should not be the ones providing the masonry. Indeed, we are to get rid of whatever stands between us and Christ – and if he would have you pluck out your eye, how much more does this apply to friends who are stumbling blocks to us? Permit me an obvious example: approximately one of every four pregnancies in the US today ends with an abortion. 147 Yet the evangelical church, as a whole, has almost dropped its opposition. Perhaps we need to remember that the angels of these little ones are before the face of God. We have seen the offence; we must now deal with the offender. Church Discipline

146 147

Romans 6:1-2 Safe, legal and rare – words mean what I want them to mean.

"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." (Mat 18:15-20 NASB) Do Something It must be noted: this is not a section of suggestion or technique but of command. The offended are not permitted to do nothing about it. • • • •

It is a command: forgive. It is a command: correct your brother’s fault It is a command: seek help in correcting your brother’s fault It is a command: take it to the church if need be. Is it not a sin to refuse the Lord’s commands? So why do we fail to do these things? Reconciliation is costly – to the reconciler. As Christ demonstrated at the Cross. In private Let’s be clear about this: church discipline is not about your pain, but your brother’s fault. If you approach your brother to complain of the damage he has done, you miss the mark. You are to approach him about his sin, not the damage it caused you. And you are to do this in private; why? • • • •

To preserve his sense of shame. You do not want to tempt him into killing his conscience. To keep him from being pressured into making a public defense of his sin. You are trying to make it easy for him to repent, not justify himself. To preserve the reputation of the church. It’s better to clean your laundry before hanging it out on the line. To ensure that correcting the sinner is an act of love, not an act of self-righteousness. Two or three witnesses

If that first trip didn’t do it, get some help. Don’t bear the burden alone, but ask the church to come along side and help. Bring a couple of witnesses with you. Why? • •

First, as we see here, to establish the facts. There should be no doubt about what happened. Next, because this helps prevent revenge. If the one offended is you, rejection of your reconciliation tempts to revenge. Let cooler heads prevail.

• •

Also, so that the church knows you have done your part correctly, seeking to return the sinner in reconciliation. You may need some correction too! Finally, so that the offender might experience some social pressure designed to produce righteousness. And if that doesn’t work? Tell it to the church

Perhaps the hardest part of church discipline occurs at this stage. It’s certainly not very common! Why would you tell the church? • • • •

First, so that the person does not continue to pretend to be a Christian while openly sinning. Next, to make the matter “official.” So that there will be no doubt as to what the church teaches – as the world is watching. More people, more social pressure. Finally, so that the reputation of the church does not suffer from harboring a hypocrite and looking the other way. Binding and loosing

As if to encourage this, Christ tells us not to worry about our missteps in this – He tells us that the matter will be the same in heaven as we have it on earth. This is not a promise that anything the church does, no matter how stupid or sinful, will be ratified; rather, it is His promise that the Spirit will guide each of these steps to the right result. And that may explain why we don’t use church discipline so much these days. Perhaps we’re afraid where it will lead. Repeat Offenders Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus *said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. "When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. "But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. "So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. "But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' "So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' "But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. "So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. "Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in

the same way that I had mercy on you?' "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (Mat 18:21-35 NASB) Objections Peter responds to Christ’s teaching as he has been taught from youth; there must be a rule and regulation for this. Presuming it is in the limits of forgiveness, he asks, how many times? Peter is generous, by the standard of the time. The interpretation of the law was that three times constituted the limit. It is one of a series of objections raised to the concept of forgiveness. “How many times” is a human concept; the limitless is a divine one. Humans are willing to pardon the repentant (sometimes) but are not willing to pardon the unrepentant.148 We think it’s permissible to stop forgiving; we think it optional in dealing with those who will not repent. Here we find one of the great uses of the parable. Our questions are finite; the methods of God are not. Instead of giving them times and limits, he tells them a little story. The Kingdom of Heaven The interpretation is, I am sure, both familiar and easy. The overwhelming mercy of God dwarfs whatever forgiveness we might be obliged to embrace. But even in this we may learn something; consider the slave’s demeanor. In the face of the Lord, he is on the ground begging for forgiveness. But to his fellow slave he is haughty and arrogant. Do you not see that failure to forgive is a form of hypocrisy? Unexpected lessons May I point out to you some lessons which may not have appeared at first reading? • • • •

First, this failure to forgive after such forgiveness “deeply grieved” his fellow slaves. Hypocrisy should be offensive. Next, the slaves reported this to their lord. Do we take such things to the Lord in prayer? The lord reacts with anger. What would you expect? Is it not righteous anger? Why, then, would we trifle with God’s anger? This reaction is the correct one to such injustice. What do we do about injustice we see in our time?

One last: when the servant was repentant, his lord forgave. When he was not, his master called him wicked. The result?

148

Yet see how David treated Saul

• •

At the first offense, here on earth, the slave was forgiven. Even if he had not been, he could have expected the prison. In short, this trip through the punishment for sins is light, and forgiveness is readily available. But where he could have been sold, along with his family, the second time he was handed over to the torturers.

On earth, forgiveness if you forgive. In hell, no hope of forgiveness, only endless torment. Today is the day, now is the hour.

Breaking Up - Matthew 19:1-15 I know of no other teaching than this lesson’s which is more firmly resisted by the church today. The precepts of the Scripture are crystal clear, and therefore we are all the more inclined to “see through” them. We must, therefore, start at the beginning so that we might see what Christ taught – even though it is no longer taught. Mat 19:1-12 NASB When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; (2) and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there. (3) Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" (4) And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, (5) and said, 'FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'? (6) "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." (7) They *said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?" (8) He *said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. (9) "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (10) The disciples *said to Him, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry." (11) But He said to them, "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. (12) "For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it." The Situation – then and now Three schools Ultimately, Jewish thought produced three schools (by great Rabbis) of thought concerning divorce: •

The school of Shammai held that the only reason for which a man could divorce his wife was her adultery. Even in that school, it was not mandatory; rather, a man could follow the example of Hosea. But once divorced, there was no return. 149 • Hillel was much more liberal. Basing himself upon a variety of Old Testament passages, divorce was permitted in a wide variety of circ*mstance. This included things like spoiling his dinner; walking around with her hair down in public; speaking to another man in public; raising her voice or criticizing his parents. • After the time of Christ (about 100 AD) rabbi Akiva proclaimed that “any indecency” was grounds – including the indecency of the husband finding a prettier girl. Women, it seems, were disposable items. It is tempting to point fingers at the ancients for this. All it really does is show that the concept of a “trophy wife” is not nearly as new as we think it is. 149

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

The Pharisees The Pharisees do not ask him this out of some intellectual curiosity. It is a blatant attempt to trap Jesus. If He sides with Shammai, he risks His popularity with the people. If He sides with Hillel, there are plenty of Scripture passages to throw in His face. It appears perfect. But may I point out one obvious fact? Those who seek out a divorce lawyer do not do so to strengthen their marriage, but to end it. Which, I suspect, will stand in nicely as their motive behind the motive. In my youth divorce still carried the faint air of disrespectability in the church. In those days, a woman seeking a divorce would rent a motel room in Las Vegas, Nevada for six weeks. Having thus satisfied the legal requirement for residency, Nevada courts would grant a divorce for practically any reason. At a time when many states still had laws on the books making adultery the only cause for divorce, you can imagine what this did for the tourist business in Nevada. Not to mention the supply of available women with experience. The church today It is, I hope, blatantly obvious that the church no longer teaches that divorce is a sin. Indeed, it is hard enough to find a sermon on the subject of adultery that doesn’t cause an exodus from the church. This is true even of “Bible believing” church congregations. One reason for this is rather simple: anywhere from a quarter to half of the people in the church have been divorced. At one time I thought this was a case of the clergy being unwilling to voice their unpopular teaching. No more. I once made the mistake of pointing out to three of our staff members that (following C. S. Lewis on the point) any society which judges women by their appearance is permanently unfair to women. I got an interesting reaction: “My wife knows that if she ever loses her face or her figure, she’s begging for a divorce.” The other staff members around nodded in agreement. I must tell you that I stood there with my mouth open and silent – which is a rather rare phenomenon. 150 It is a sad fact: faithfulness in marriage is seldom mentioned and no longer required. The pattern of the church is that of the world. But it is interesting to watch a divorce from the teacher’s point of view. A couple divorcing has a very noticeable attendance pattern, designed to make sure that the church thinks everything is fine – until the divorce is over. But even then, everything is fine. God’s Plan It is fruitful to see how God intended marriage to work. If the rules change, we can at least find a good example.

150

It should be noted that no church is perfect; it should also be noted that we did not pick this church, it was selected for us by the Holy Spirit. It should also be pointed out that I don’t know exactly why, either.

From the beginning Let us examine three principles which started with Adam and Eve: •

We are made “in His image.” Marriage is not just animal coupling. We are to take account of right and wrong, not just our animal lusting nature. • We are made “male and female.” Those are not interchangeable parts. The role of man is not the role of woman, especially in marriage. As marriage is the picture of the church, this is also true of roles in the church. • Marriage makes us “one flesh.” Divorce should feel like ripping your right arm off – because it is. Is this important? God must think so, I submit, in that He often uses adultery to portray the idolatry of Israel. Reaction: the Pharisees The trap having been set, the Pharisees now spring it. What about what Moses said? It is worth the time to answer this objection, for in that answer we may see an approach to adultery and divorce which might just work for this evil generation. We must consider principle, law and permission. •

Principle – things like “one flesh” express the desire of God for His children. Whether or not divorce is permitted, it is God’s intention that marriage be lifelong – and faithful. • Law – there comes a point, however, when the desire of God cannot be enforced by His children of faith. So we set up laws to govern these situations, as we do not have the power of God to enforce the principle. In civil society, for example, we have a much lighter set of criteria for divorce. This is about all we could enforce. • Permission – there are also those things which God permits but does not require – which means that law is useless. For example, Hosea took his “wife of adultery” back into his home. So it is that our treatment of the divorced is not one of unbending condemnation but should be one which welcomes the sinner home. It is not ours to judge; just because the legal paperwork didn’t say “adultery” doesn’t mean that adultery is absent. We need to preach the principle, enforce church discipline as the occasion presents, encourage those in troubled marriages to be forgiving – and welcome home even the worst of sinners. Reaction: the disciples The disciples, interestingly, catch the point immediately. Christ has already taught them that divorce brings adultery just as much as adultery brings divorce. 151 They reach the obvious conclusion: if it’s really that tough, then maybe we shouldn’t get into it in the first place. But that’s tough too; male hormones will be male hormones. Christ’s answer points up the severity of the situation. Some men will be able to do this; in essence being eunuchs. For the rest, such chastity is the gift of God. And most of us don’t have it. The Children 151

Matthew 5:32

Mat 19:13-15 NASB Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. (14) But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (15) After laying His hands on them, He departed from there. This passage is not usually connected with the teaching on divorce, but Matthew places it as being contiguous. We shall see that it has its bearing on the subject. Blessing A little background: at this time, it was customary for women to bring their small children to be touched and blessed by anyone recognized as being a rabbi. It remains, in some sense, to this day. We like to shake hands with a popular sports figure, for example. Two things distinguish this practice: • •

It pays honor to the one who is doing the blessing. It says that you think such a person worthy of honor. As such, it is also an act of humility, especially at this time – when women (low in status) would bring a baby (even lower in status) to be blessed by someone high in status. Purpose

This episode points up that marriage is designed to produce children. Hear what the prophet Malachi had to say about it: Mal 2:13-16 NASB "This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. (14) "Yet you say, 'For what reason?' Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. (15) "But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. (16) "For I hate divorce," says the LORD, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong," says the LORD of hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously." One of the purposes of marriage is to produce God-fearing children. This too can be abused, but this is the principle. Have you ever considered just what divorce does to the children of marriage? • • • •

What does the divorce teach the children about the sanctity of marriage? Is it given by God, or is that just natural adult hypocrisy? What does divorce do to the home environment of the children? Do they need security, or a front row seat for the fight? What does divorce teach them about faithfulness? Is it OK to lie to your boyfriend/girlfriend when you see your mother lying to your father? What does divorce teach them about the value of others? Are women to be handled with honor, or to be squeezed for what they can give, then thrown away?

And if I might add a note: what are grandparents supposed to teach their grandchildren in the face of such examples? The nature of children May I point out the characteristics of such children? The ones that make them the “of such” which constitute the kingdom of heaven? • • • •

Obedience Teach-ability Trust Loyalty Children are often “in over their heads” in understanding marriage and divorce; they must therefore trust in their parents. Bitter is the disappointment when those parents fail them. Do we consider their eternal destiny when we decide to divorce? Epilog May I leave you with three points? • • •

We are not concerned with law but with principle – that our “one flesh” be wholeheartedly committed to a marriage in God’s style. It is wise to ask: how is my marriage doing? If it is doing well, then reach out to others whose marriage is in trouble. You may be the lighthouse which guides them home.

What Do I Still Lack? - Matthew 19:16-30 No subject is approached more delicately by the average preacher than money. It is understandable; offerings and his salary seem directly connected. However, the Bible teacher is usually a volunteer, and we can say things a bit more bluntly. The story of the rich young ruler certainly gives us the opportunity. What Good Thing? Mat 19:16-22 NASB And someone came to Him and said, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" (17) And He said to him, "Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." (18) Then he *said to Him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; (19) HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." (20) The young man *said to Him, "All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?" (21) Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (22) But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. Meeting Christ Meeting the Christ is usually a shattering experience. If ever there was a man who would have qualified for the “good guy” award, this is the man. From Christ’s reaction we can see two of his characteristics: • •

He is sincere. Christ takes him by his words, and treats him as an honest inquirer. He is obedient. He is a man of “ordinary holiness,” the backbone of the church, the good guy. He is also a man who knows he is lacking something. So he goes out looking for it.

Christ, at first, reaffirms to him to message of the Old Testament: “Do this, and live.” Christ points him to the commandments. (It is interesting that Christ omits the one about envy – which would say that this man has no desire for it). Salvation is by works – until the Messiah comes. But it is exactly that point that the Christ challenges him on: you have relied on your good works, but you know in your heart of hearts it is not enough. The rules, it seems, are necessary – but not sufficient. Christ fulfills the Law Such a challenge cannot come from someone who is simply a prophet or a rabbi – for a prophet or a rabbi must point you to God, not himself. Christ, it seems, teaches by degrees. He first points out the Law, and then hits him with the one question that goes right to his soul: are you willing to give it all up, and follow?

Isn’t it curious: if we preach to a prostitute, we expect her to give up prostitution if she wants to follow Christ. To the white collar criminal we say, “Sin no more.” But to those who are owned by their money, we are curiously silent. Why is this? • •

First, it’s hard to condemn someone who’s chasing the same almighty dollar you are. But more importantly, we need to distinguish sin from sinner. We must, as Chrysostom put it, not condemn the riches but the enslavement thereof. Follow me

One point often missed here is that Christ does not merely command the man to forsake his riches. It’s easy enough to argue (I just did) that he needs to be rescued from the enslavement of riches. It is hard then to state, “Follow.” But if we do not, we risk substituting the nothing of niceness for the money we know so well. It is not sufficient to take away; we must have something which overflows the hole in the psyche. The response, it seems, is one which consumes the entire human being. A parallel may be seen in the use of the phrase, “born again.” We treat it as a synonym for salvation; Christ Himself uses it but on one occasion, the visit from Nicodemus – who is another man of ordinary holiness. The sinner is called to repentance; the righteous are called to the new birth. How can these two ways be reconciled? Only in Jesus Himself. He tells us that He is the way, the truth and the life. These two ways are the path to Him – and it’s the destination who counts. All Things Are Possible Mat 19:23-26 NASB And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (24) "Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (25) When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, "Then who can be saved?" (26) And looking at them Jesus said to them, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Despite Tevye’s plaintive cry (“would it spoil some vast celestial plan, if I were a wealthy man?) there is peril in wealth. •

• •

Now that you’ve obtained it, you get to worry about it. I inherited a few gold coins from my mother. Before then I had no need for armored storage. Fortunately, I also inherited an armored file cabinet. Otherwise, I could be up nights worried about the burglars taking what I never earned. On the other side, wealth gives you a false sense of security. I’m rich, everything is going to go well. Some people solve their problems with a check book. Which means that some of their problems go forever unsolved. Some find that money is the chain that binds them to “the crowd.” Their desire is to be in, accepted, one of the beautiful people. Without money, it’s just a dream; with money, it’s a chain around their neck. Even a gold chain is still a chain.

Ultimately, it is still true: you cannot serve two masters. That is the problem here; the man didn’t wish to change masters. The disciples’ question

To understand the reaction of the disciples, you must remember what they’ve been taught. To them, riches to the righteous was the way God rewarded those who were righteous. This is one of the repeated themes of the Old Testament; this attitude is the foundation for the conflict found in the Book of Job. Christ’s view utterly contradicts this. The disciples are quite naturally perplexed; if a person as righteous as this ruler can’t make it, who can? What about us? To this question Christ answers with paradox: the last shall be first, the first shall be last. Since it’s His view that counts, we may take this as fact – but we still need a little explanation, right? • •

Salvation is “either or.” So we’re going to be surprised to see some of the death bed repentant people at the throne of God. Some of those folks might even be the rich. We may see charity from the rich, and praise it. God sees the heart, and rewards it accordingly. Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner. Muddles on Money

Our church has lately put forward a major capital campaign. It is interesting to see our view of money in the mirror of the church asking for it. •

Some are cynics, and see only a minister’s desire to inflate his own importance by having a bigger, shinier building. 152 These folks don’t count in this funding drive – since they’re not contributing. • Some are offended by some aspect of the campaign – like the intent to have a small version of Starbucks in a gathering area. Others see this as a way of reassuring the visitor that we are, after all, human. • Some are offended by what they see as the secrecy of the campaign – and unfortunately this has been a problem. But do you not see that your attitude towards the building campaign is simply a mirror of your own. And it still true: he is no fool if he would choose to give the things he cannot keep to buy what he can never lose. First and Last Mat 19:27-30 NASB Then Peter said to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?" (28) And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious 152

For the record, this is not my opinion – but a relatively common one.

throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (29) "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. (30) "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first. The temptation of the have-nots Most of us, in our own minds, think of ourselves as being the “have-nots” rather than the “haves.” The classification is not really based upon our wealth; by the world’s standard we are fabulously wealthy. It is based upon our opinion of ourselves – and we can see that view reflected in our temptations. See if any of these seem familiar: • • •

Envy – looking at what someone else has and wanting it. Do you ever find yourself saying, “If only I had enough money, I would…” Blasphemy – the real reason you don’t have enough money is that God has somehow, arbitrarily, chosen you to suffer. (Read Job all the way through and see how God answers this). Condemnation – as St. Jerome said, it is easier to condemn the hoard than it is to quit the propensity. We seem to be quite capable of saying that riches are evil and how can I get more of them? Usually, it’s someone else’s riches that get condemned. The riches of the children of God

Money is a distraction. As such, it is a temptation to each of us – just a little more and I’ll be happy. We miss the present fact that Christ promises us our reward, both now and forever. We shall judge the nations – if only by example. In the meanwhile, He promises to provide for us now and provide many times that much when He returns. He attaches but one condition: “for my Name’s sake.” Just because you’re suffering doesn’t mean you are suffering for Christ. But if you accept it at His hand, acknowledging His lordship and care for us, the burden is His to reward. First and Last It is a curious fact: in His ministry on earth Christ appealed much more to the lost sheep than the found. The soul that is mired in sin longs to be clean; thus the prostitutes and tax collectors arrive before the “good people” do. Respectable people seem to have their work cut out for them in this – remember the day laborers who each got a day’s wage, no matter when they started? Reward is His business, not our own. So what then should the Christian do? Luk 13:23-30 NASB And someone said to Him, "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" And He said to them, (24) "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. (25) "Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, 'Lord, open up to us!' then He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.' (26) "Then you will

begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets'; (27) and He will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.' (28) "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 yourselves being thrown out. (29) "And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. (30) "And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last." Keep your eyes on the prize, and don’t concern yourself with someone else’s money.

Success - Matthew 20 Following upon his discourse Christ now gives the disciples a parable about the kingdom – and a disturbing one it is, too. The Laborers Mat 20:1-16 NASB "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. (2) "When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. (3) "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; (4) and to those he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And so they went. (5) "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. (6) "And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he *said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' (7) "They *said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He *said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' (8) "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.' (9) "When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. (10) "When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. (11) "When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, (12) saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.' (13) "But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? (14) 'Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. (15) 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?' (16) "So the last shall be first, and the first last." The finite nature of man Man, being the top predator on the planet, has the privilege of making up his own mind about things of ultimate importance. We comprehend so much that it is a little difficult to think that there is something we could not comprehend. So in our mental picture of God, we see him being just like us. So we see ourselves in this picture. We’re the day laborers waiting on the curb; at each time this landlord comes up and offers each of us a one hundred dollar bill in exchange for a day’s work. It is perfectly natural, then, that when this landlord pays everybody the same thing, we have two reactions: • •

One is that this landlord is a bit daft; we certainly wouldn’t do it that way. The other is a combination of bitterness and envy. If we’re the guys who have worked all day, we wish we were the guys who were called at the end of the day. We envy them. But we’re finite. We imagine the landlord has a limited number of $100 bills. We could certainly give him some spending advice. But what if his supply of hundreds is limitless? Does that make a difference? Look at it from the point of view of the laborer at the end of the day – whom we might identify as the person who accepted Christ as Lord at the very end of life, a deathbed conversion. We are

jealous of all the fun he had – which shows our view of sin as desirable. How much fun it would be to live an evil life and repent on the last day! This may explain why we are not told how long we will live. The infinite nature of God We must now make a mathematical digression. We may take as our example the Infinity Hotel. The hotel known for having an infinite number of rooms, and an infinite number of guests to fill them. Suppose the hotel is full, and another guest arrives. No problem! We just move the guest in room 1 to room 2, room 2 to room 3, and so on. We now have a space for another guest! Ah, but suppose an infinite number of new guests arrive; what then? Simple. Room 1 goes to room 2; room 2 into room 4 – everyone doubles their room number. Now all the odd number rooms are vacant – which, of course, is an infinite number of rooms. Now then, suppose the landlord of the vineyard had this capability as well – an infinite stack of hundred dollar bills. What’s another hundred to Him? God, you see, calls the worker out of his infinite love. The key to understanding this labor is simple: God calls them when they will come. Only when pride gives way to obedience will God make that call. This is very encouraging to those late in life who hear that call – a point which needs be made. It is His will that none be lost, even late in life. That doesn’t always sit too well with us. Remember the older brother? The nature of the kingdom It happens frequently enough: when deciding where charity or help should go, the sinner’s worthiness is one of the criteria. We don’t have an infinite stack of hundreds, so we parcel out what we have carefully. One criterion is whether or not the recipient is “worthy.” What makes a recipient worthy or unworthy? •

Natural disasters produce worthy recipients. We don’t ask to see the criminal records of the people we’re passing out blankets to. • People in trouble of their own making might be worthy recipients – especially if they are related to us. • People with whom we have no sympathy (poverty stricken Arab terrorists, for example) are not worthy recipients. Interestingly, we judge other people’s giving somewhat in reverse. Those who give to the least worthy are often judged the most noble. God, following that to its infinite conclusion, is the most noble giver of all. Indeed, He goes to some lengths to show that our worthiness is NOT one of His criteria: Deu 7:7-8 NASB "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, (8) but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD

brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. What counts is not the worthiness of the people of Israel, but God’s faithfulness. What counts in salvation is not the merit of the sinner but God’s love. That’s why salvation is open to all – for His will is that His love should be extended to everyone. Politics as usual The reader should note that a number of women, including Salome, the mother mentioned here, followed Christ throughout His ministry. They evidently were also contributors financially. Mat 20:17-28 NASB As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, (18) "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, (19) and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up." (20) Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. (21) And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She *said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left." (22) But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They *said to Him, "We are able." (23) He *said to them, "My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father." (24) And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. (25) But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. (26) "It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, (27) and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; (28) just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." The warning shot It was abundantly clear to the Pharisees that Jesus claimed to be the Christ; that He said more than once that He would rise from the grave – to the point they asked Pilate to put a guard on the tomb. Why, then, the disciples would not understand this point is puzzling. Other than terminal stupidity, it has been suggested that their hopes were so pinned on an earthly conqueror that they discounted such an idea. We hear what we want to hear, don’t we? Networking Let’s be clear about it. The way to success in this world depends very much on who you know. This is easy to abuse; for example, every large church is likely to have someone whose entire reason for going to church is to make sales contacts. It was normal then, it’s normal now – we just call it networking.

Salome, no doubt, figured she could at least get in the early bird request. She has, after all, followed this man around for some time, and likely enough has contributed financially. She probably feels she’s owed a favor; she may feel that her sons would be awkwardly placed to ask, but not mom. To understand the difficulty, consider this question: what do you get for a rich man in the way of a birthday present? It’s tough; my wife and I have that problem, and it is not easy. Pictures of the kids are the odds-on favorite. If that’s a difficulty, just how do you give so richly to God as to put Him in your debt? How do you get Him to “owe you one?” To ask is to see the problem. Which Salome didn’t. Christ, in His reply, wisely chooses to give the answer to mom’s questions to James and John directly. He does so by telling them of the route to greatness in the kingdom of God. Greatness in the kingdom The matter is rather obvious once you know the answer – and the example. Consider the Servant King, Jesus the Christ. He is the ultimate in “greatness,” and He came to serve. Now, if He does that, what does that say for the rest of us? Is it not obvious that greatness comes from service? And that service is best expressed as the imitation of Christ, the supreme example? Your mother was right: you have to do things the hard way. Most church organizations have a hierarchy, and it’s easy for the higher-ups to forget this. Being honored and respected is a good feeling; it’s important to remember how Christ got there – because that’s our route too. As Chrysostom put it, “How much soever you humble yourself, you cannot descend so far as did your Lord.”

Example of Greatness Mat 20:29-34 NASB As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him. (30) And two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, "Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!" (31) The crowd sternly told them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" (32) And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, "What do you want Me to do for you?" (33) They *said to Him, "Lord, we want our eyes to be opened." (34) Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him. Humble service to the great and visible is one thing; humble service to the invisible people is another. The crowd understands this; the blind beggar is a nuisance, constantly asking for money. The crowd wants to hear the rabbi, see a healing or some other miracle. They’re not interested in a blind beggar or two. If they had seen Mother Teresa, they’d have told her to minister to the Brahmins, not the Untouchables.

Do you not see it? To Christ, the status of the recipient of His mercy means nothing. More importantly, nor does the history of the recipient. Not one of us deserves His mercy; that’s why it’s mercy. He does not ration it out to the most worthy; He distributes freely to all. Humility in service Even on the way to the Crucifixion we may note the humility of Christ. He stopped for the beggars. The wording in the Greek implies that he (and the caravan of hearers) came to a dead stop. Only then does He call to them. It’s as if He had only one thing to do at the time; But call them He does. It’s a lesson for us – we need to persist as these blind men did. We also need to be grateful when He aids us. And afterwards, we need to follow Him. The Light of the World An interesting summary of these thoughts can be found in the Gospel of John: Joh 9:1-5 NASB As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. (2) And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" (3) Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (4) "We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. (5) "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world." Do you see the point? The question of whose sin, like the question of who is worthy, misses the point. The Light of the World must bring glory to God. And Jesus tells us 153 that we are the light of the world. Even the candle can imitate the sun; even the least of us can imitate the Son.

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Matthew 5:14

Enter the King - Matthew 21:1-22 We come now to the last week in Christ’s earthly ministry – the week which culminates in the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. It is the most studied, most written over week in history. We shall do our best to add nothing to the accounts while adding something to your understanding. Triumphal Entry Mat 21:1-11 NASB When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, (2) saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. (3) "If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them." (4) This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: (5) "SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, 'BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.'" (6) The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, (7) and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. (8) Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. (9) The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!" (10) When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, "Who is this?" (11) And the crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee." As prophesied One of the main themes we shall see in the study of this week is the fulfillment of prophecy. The matter is shown here in these three instances: He comes in riding on a donkey’s colt. 154 The donkey or mule, when ridden by a king, symbolizes that he comes in peace; the horse is for war. • The “hosanna” here – the word can be translated “save now” – comes from the prophetic Psalms. 155 • The palm branch – is a symbolic reference to the “Branch of Jesse.” Jesse is David’s father, and it is prophesied that the Branch would come as Messiah. 156 The first of these prophecies is a mystery from the Old Testament; the second is a borrowing of the prophetic literature; the third is a connection to prophecy. All three are validly considered as prophecy; but we should be aware that not all prophecy is as explicit as the first. •

Coming as

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Zechariah 9:9 Psalm 118:25-26 156 Jeremiah 23:5 155

The nature of Christ’s first coming is completed in this scene. His humble birth and backwoods upbringing started Him into this, but in this scene we see Him as He presents Himself to the Jewish nation: • • • • •

He presents Himself as King – the King of the Jews; prophetically, the king over all God’s people. He is hailed as Savior (“Hosanna”). It is most likely that at this time the crowd saw Him as being a revolutionary leader against the Romans, but the phrase is still correct. He is known as the “prophet from Nazareth.” Indeed, he is the prophet that Moses spoke of who was to come. 157 He is the Creator – for whom else would the rocks cry out? (This is found in the parallel accounts). Most of all, He is coming as our sacrifice. He knows what will happen; He knows that it must. Praised

One of the great contradictions of the modern evangelical church is that of praise. Americans inherently resist praising anyone for who he is; we will praise what he has done. Especially after he has just done it. But in this instance praise is for who He is. Prophecy is for action; praise deals with God’s essence, His existence. See how praise takes these forms: • • •

It acknowledges his character as the one who can save – thus linking Christ directly with the Father’s character. It proclaims Him blessed by God, and therefore worthy of praise. It proclaims Him as Son of David, and thus the one prophesied. Character, blessing and fulfillment of prophecy – these are the elements of praise seen here. Cleansing the Temple

Mat 21:12-16 NASB And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. (13) And He *said to them, "It is written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER'; but you are making it a ROBBERS' DEN." (14) And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. (15) But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became indignant (16) and said to Him, "Do You hear what these children are saying?" And Jesus *said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF'?" The trade It’s useful to us to review just what was going on. Christ had cleared the temple three years earlier at the beginning of His ministry. Evidently it didn’t take the priests too long to return to business as usual. There were two primary activities here: 157

Deuteronomy 18:15

One was the selling of doves. A pair of doves was the sacrifice of a poor man. These doves had to be unblemished; evidently the ones brought by the poor man were usually not good enough. So the family members of the priests households would sell doves which were pre-approved! The pious poor man was swindled in this way. The other was in money changing. The Old Testament specified offerings in terms of Jewish coinage; the Romans insisted on the use of Roman and Greek coins as a blessing to commerce. Therefore, your offerings had to be exchanged into sanctuary shekels – at a magnificent rate. It seems also that for those who didn’t have the cash, a loan could be made. Instead of interest, the rate of exchange was even higher – thus avoiding the Old Testament prohibition of usury.

These people were, in short, selling the benefits of the sacrifices commanded by God – and making a bundle off of it. Religion, to them, was a profitable racket. You might think this an ancient example, but it persists today. (Look up “prayer cloth” on the Internet.) It is one thing to recover expenses for publications (done that) but another to hawk a cruise to Alaska. 158 It is a temptation down to the modern day; I suspect as the fire of faith dims, the pleasure of profit grows. Temple as forerunner One of the consistent methods of interpreting Scripture is the idea that things in the Old Testament foreshadowed things of the church. There are three ways we can see that in the Temple: •

• •

We hold that our own church buildings are holy. Remember, holy means “set aside for God.” This meaning is often stretched a bit; we have a chorus of barbershop quartets practicing in our sanctuary. This type of use is not as common as in my youth, when churches looked upon their facilities as available for the public good. So we see that maintaining the good name of Jesus may result in what otherwise appears odd. The Temple is referred to as the “house of God” – in which we would see the church today. So in purging the Temple Christ sets an example for us which would seem to promote church discipline. The Temple is also the forerunner of the “temple of the Holy Spirit” – the body of the Christian. So it is that Paul complains to the Corinthians about their use of prostitutes. Its purity is also our concern.159 The day of wrath

One of the solid answers to the dilemma of evil (God is all powerful, and good – why is there evil in the world?) is the Day of Wrath. Portrayed in both the Old and New Testaments, it tells us that God is not finished with us yet. He continues to give us grace so that all would have the chance to repent. We have seen that prophecy fulfilled is cause for praise; this one, too. Out of the mouths of babes 160 158

Which happened once in our congregation, and has not been repeated. One must dissent from the current interpretation, which is that it is a requirement that Christians eat none but organic foods and join a health club. 159

Consider what is said, not who said it. May I repeat something to you? He is gone now, but I remember Curly as one of my heroes. In a time where Christianity was officially barred on campus (a state university) he sat at the crossroads and called out, “Jesus loves you.” How did he get away with such a heinous violation of church and state? Perhaps the fact that he was in a wheelchair, the victim of a stroke, with boils all over his body may have had something to do with it. Can you picture yourself the university policeman who busts a paraplegic stroke victim for saying, “Jesus loves you?” The Fig Tree Mat 21:17-22 NASB And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there. (18) Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. (19) Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He *said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered. (20) Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, "How did the fig tree wither all at once?" (21) And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen. (22) "And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." The fig tree in question is much debated in commentaries. It is sufficient to say that there are certain fig trees which do produce fruit this early in the season. One might also note that the fig tree was “by the road” – which made it a public resource, not private property. For the benefit of the disciples We must remember that Christ is teaching His disciples by example: • • •

First, that the faith is not all honey; His teaching includes some things that are not at all sweet, but stern. Second, that prayer has power – even when not applied to the sweet and the light. Destruction comes by prayer as well. We often try to claim this promise for our own benefit – it is well to note the example is one of causing destruction. Have we the fire to pray for the collapse of Islam? The symbol of Israel

The passage is also well understood in terms of the symbols involved. You must remember that the fig tree is a frequent Old Testament metaphor for Israel. From this we may see what Christ’s condemnation of the fig tree meant: • •

It is a condemnation of the hypocrisy of Israel. Like this fig tree, they are all leaves and no fruit. The condemnation is effective; since this time Judaism has been hereditary, but not evangelistic. 160

Psalm 8:2. The quotation is not exact; Christ in fact gives specific meaning to it.

Worse, the state of Israel was destroyed soon after, as Christ prophesies elsewhere. Since then until 1947 (the “time of the Gentiles,” perhaps?) the Jew has wandered the earth. The nature of prayer

We see it here in the negative sense, but this passage brings up a serious problem for most Christians. I prayed; I believed; nothing happened. The usual response is to say that any prayer outside God’s will is denied. But that misses the point: why is the prayer of the American church so ineffectual? You have but to read the biographies of saints of the nineteenth century to know that it was not always so. So I ask you: why is prayer so commonly unanswered?

A Case of Authority - Matthew 21:23-46 From the novelist’s point of view, the Pharisees are a necessary bunch. Jesus is little given to making cosmic philosophical statements. He much prefers the arts of dialog and parable. There is no complete theological textbook in the Bible; the closest we get to that is Romans. So we must examine the Scripture more carefully. A textbook will teach you the facts; Christ reaches to the heart. The Nature of Authority Mat 21:23-27 NASB When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?" (24) Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. (25) "The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?" And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Then why did you not believe him?' (26) "But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet." (27) And answering Jesus, they said, "We do not know." He also said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. To the heart There is a great shrewdness in how Christ handles this. He has no interest in giving them the textbook answer (which He will do for His disciples), but rather He knows that this is a matter of the heart. See His approach: •

• •

“The fornicator thinks no one is chaste.” He knows their hypocrisy – and therefore knows that they think He is like them. They just can’t figure out His “angle.” He will use this against them, giving them the opportunity to pronounce upon His parables. He will then use their own answer to convict them. His question, therefore is aimed at their hearts. His intention is to convict them of sin. He is sufficiently confident of the truth of this that He will allow them to be the judges of the truth he exposes. We might ask, why didn’t He just give them a direct answer? There are two possible explanations. One is that we do not tell little children the adult answers to their questions. They are not fit to receive the blunt truth. Another is this: their eyes are closed tight by the hatred they have. Christ’s intent is to skewer their pride, not harden it. John the Baptist

John is dead, but his influence on that generation did not die with him. The people considered him a prophet, like those in the Old Testament. By bringing up his name, Christ contrasts the urbane, well dressed and rich appearance of the priests with the rough exterior of the prophet. It’s a subtlety He does not use aloud, but it’s there. Why is John so considered? •

John was free of the love of money and the ego often associated with “public” religious work. You respect a preacher a lot more if you know he is not in it for the money.

• •

His life and message were consistent. He looked and acted like a prophet from the Old Testament. Most importantly – John’s credentials were shown in the hearts he convicted of sin. When the preacher convicts you of sin, it’s a good sign the man is who he appears to be. Such a power is not within man, but comes from God. One source – or many?

The Pharisees have a building block missing in their reasoning. They believe that there are multiple sources of authority – secular as well as sacred. But the truth is otherwise: Mat 28:18 NASB And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. So all legitimate authority (as distinguished from power) comes from God, through Christ. This thought carries with it a radical idea: servant leadership. The Master who washed His disciples’ feet set the example for us. Authority, rightly used, is for the blessing of those under that authority. And now you know the difference between authority and tyranny. Two Sons Mat 21:28-32 NASB "But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go work today in the vineyard.' (29) "And he answered, 'I will not'; but afterward he regretted it and went. (30) "The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, 'I will, sir'; but he did not go. (31) "Which of the two did the will of his father?" They *said, "The first." Jesus *said to them, "Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. (32) "For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him. If you ask your opponent to pass judgment upon your argument, it speaks of a high confidence in the righteousness of your cause. Remember Nathan’s little story to King David? 161 The stories are rather obvious, and so is the conclusion. We all know that delivering on Monday beats attending on Sunday. When introduced to someone, we often ask, “What do you do?” It is impolite to ask next, “What do you want people to think you do?” Even the Pharisees get the point. My son is a lawyer, and his poor, simple father often asks what appears (to me, at least) a simple question of law. I read something in the paper, and I get curious. He gets verbose, making great use of “if”, “and” and “else”. But this case is too obvious for that. Indeed, Christ confirms their grasp of the obvious – and then points out the consequent facts. Tax collectors and prostitutes

161

2 Samuel 12:1-25

It’s a common dichotomy in the church: health club for saints, or hospital for sinners? I recall an incident when we first joined this congregation. We were invited to return to a class the next week; in declining I explained that my wife and I would be visiting a Christian from our previous congregation – in prison. The lady was utterly shocked. No real Christian would ever go to prison (you might want to check that with St. Paul), and no real Christian would ever admit to being a friend with such. (She’s right; he was more than a friend. He also was a member of my Bible class there, which does not say very much for the teaching.) So we might examine ourselves on this. It’s useful to ask: do our attitudes and words welcome the different, the low class, or do they hinder their coming? We have a young man in our congregation who has tattoos, body piercings and hair coloring. He’s a friend to some in our class; we welcome him. But if he came in by himself, knowing no one, would we welcome him then? The answer, I suspect, is that some would and others wouldn’t. We might well ask if that’s what we want. Churches attract certain people. Any church our size certainly welcomes good Christians who have just moved into the area. But let’s not confuse that with evangelism. If we are to reach “the prostitutes and tax collectors” we need to open up, not tighten up. I don’t get it It is a complicating fact that, like the Pharisees in this passage, some people just don’t “get it.” What is conviction to you may be babble to me. The cause might be my hypocrisy – or the culture in which I was raised. Be bold – but be wise. History and Future of Israel Mat 21:33-46 NASB "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. (34) "When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. (35) "The vinegrowers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. (36) "Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. (37) "But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' (38) "But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' (39) "They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (40) "Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinegrowers?" (41) They *said to Him, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons." (42) Jesus *said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures, 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'? (43) "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. (44) "And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it

falls, it will scatter him like dust." (45) When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. (46) When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet. The Past The parable is capable of being elaborated on at great length, with many different interpretations. 162 But here are three points I would have you see. • • •

The Land – ancient Israel – belongs not to the people but to God. He allots the land to the tribes, but the land remains His; thus he can speak of the land being utterly defiled 163, for that land is holy to God. He is the Landlord. The walled city so favored by God is the city of Jerusalem. Christ wept over that city, so one can see how precious it is to Him. The Law and the Prophets are sent to that land to bring back what is rightfully the Landlord’s. The Law is ignored, the prophets abused or killed. Thus the history of Israel in a nutshell. The parable would have been easy to interpret by those

around. The Future (Note, please, this is prior to the Resurrection). The figure of the Son enters; the Jews are about to choose what to do with Him. There are only two options: • •

Accept Him as the “stone of stumbling” – the one who brings sin to light so that repentance might accept atonement. Reject Him – and be utterly crushed. This is the option they chose. Free will is still with us. The Jews would be familiar with the image of the Stone:

Dan 2:27-45 NASB Daniel answered before the king and said, "As for the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither wise men, conjurers, magicians nor diviners are able to declare it to the king. (28) "However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed. (29) "As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place. (30) "But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man, but for the purpose of making the interpretation known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind. (31) "You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome. (32) "The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, (33) its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. (34) "You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. (35) "Then the iron, the 162 163

See http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/catena1.ii.xxi.html#ii.xxi-p0.1 for just such elaboration. Leviticus 18:25, speaking of the prior inhabitants of the land.

clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (36) "This was the dream; now we will tell its interpretation before the king. (37) "You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; (38) and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold. (39) "After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth. (40) "Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. (41) "In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. (42) "As the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. (43) "And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery. (44) "In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. (45) "Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy." Did the stone fall on the Jews – were they scattered like dust? From the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70 through 1948 the Jews, retaining their identity, wandered the earth. Dispersed – like dust. The Return We may be brief about this, for too much on this subject risks being mired in competing interpretations. The return of the Jews seemed for a long time to be completely impossible. But it was not so; it just waited for the proper time. • • •

It is specifically prophesied that the Jews would return to the Land. 164 It is clear that the return will be centered on the city of Jerusalem, which God will bless. 165 And – when Israel finally acknowledges and worships Christ, the end of time will come, and the dead will rise. 166 We live in exciting times.

164

For example, Zechariah 1:14-17 Joel 3:20-21 166 Romans 11:5 165

An Old Parable - Matthew 22:1-14 The Parable of the Wedding Feast is a familiar one, but the classic interpretation of it might be a bit strange to modern ears. So, please hear an old parable in a “new” way. The Parable of the Wedding Feast Mat 22:1-14 NASB Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, (2) "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. (3) "And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. (4) "Again he sent out other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."' (5) "But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, (6) and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. (7) "But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. (8) "Then he *said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. (9) 'Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.' (10) "Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. (11) "But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, (12) and he *said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was speechless. (13) "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (14) "For many are called, but few are chosen." Customs of the time In our world lives are run by the clock – right down to the second. In the small town of old the bus driver might have waited for you; no more. We use the phrase, “ran like clockwork,” to mean something which performed flawlessly. But it was not always so. In those days there were only three fixed times; sunrise, noon and sunset. These were the only three that everyone could determine. So it was not uncommon to receive an invitation to a feast for a particular day, but no particular time. Those invited lived in the same town; it was a simple matter to send the slaves out to say that all was ready. Refrigeration has altered much. The concept of “wedding clothes” hasn’t changed that much, though. We still hold to the idea that wearing a particular type of clothing is a token of respect. But they would also have been attuned to the idea that such a phrase had a double meaning – not just physical clothing, but a metaphor. We still speak of someone “wrapping himself in the flag,” for example. Paul uses the whole armor of God; the Old Testament speaks of a man clothing himself with violence. 167 We shall see later that Christ picks up this metaphor and gives it in prophecy, where white linen represents the righteous acts of the saints. 168 167 168

Malachi 2:16 Revelation 19:8

The transition from small town to big city has changed something else: the sense of social obligation. Social obligations were much stronger – especially when they involved a king. Christ’s hearers would have recognized the refusal to come to the supper as being intentionally offensive. Interpretation The parable is not hard to interpret: •

The original invited guests are the Jews. The servants sent to them are the prophets; their destruction would occur in AD 70. • The “go therefore” represents the church and her evangelism – the Good News taken to every place on earth. • The feast is yet to come. It is the “marriage supper of the Lamb” spoken of in Revelation. 169 This will happen at the return of our Lord. Despite recent musings, this has been the simple interpretation of this parable from the earliest days of the church. As we shall see, things have changed. The wrong clothes The most sensitive part of the parable concerns the wedding guest who was not wearing wedding clothes. Taken at face value (wrong clothes) the reaction of the king seems harsh. But if we understand this to be the return of our Lord for His church, the matter makes sense. A little. •

• • •

It throws some light on the question of predestination, for example. Was this man predestined to be cast into hell – or is he himself at fault? The classic interpretation is simply this: many are called – all we can reach. Of them, some respond. 170 Of these, a fair portion go through the motions but ultimately do not become solid Christians. Only those who wear the fine linen of righteousness will be at the wedding supper of the Lamb. So how would I know? Easy. Look in the mirror – do you see the righteous acts, or someone going through the motions doing just enough to feel self-satisfied? We may note, therefore, the surprise of this guest. He thought all was well. Didn’t he go to church often? How stunning to find that God wanted devotion, not lip service and habit. Finally, we may note his destination: hell. As we shall see, this is not a popular destination these days. Reaction in our Teaching

This parable may serve as a landmark for us. By looking to it, we may determine where our teaching has gone astray. Teaching about prophecy Our teaching about prophecy has changed greatly since the early days of the church; it is instructive to ask if all such change is for the good. 169 170

Revelation 19:9 See Matthew 13

• •

The ancients saw a mystery of God. We see a certainty. (Recall, a mystery in Scripture might be better translated “top secret.”) Our teaching includes much more detail that we read into matters – and much less reverence for the mysteries of God. 171 The old interpretation of prophecy held so much unknown – but this is compatible with the soft and tender invitation of Jesus Christ. “You never know” might have been the motto of the early interpreters; “Draw a line in the sand” is ours. The ancients saw in the mystery a form of God’s compassion. In older times prophecy was viewed as difficult, and therefore less likely to be a topic for sermons. In our time it is the most socially acceptable kind of sermon; it exudes confidence. Teaching on predestination, election and grace

If our views on prophecy seem to have varied, our views on predestination, election and grace have also changed. •

• •

In the older views, there were those who saw this as consistent with predestination (the man was fated to wear the wrong clothes). Others saw it as part of the election of God (the man was invited despite his failings). The most common view was that time, being the creation of God, was at his command, and therefore there is no contradiction between free will and prophecy. These views were much argued. Today, the ill dressed man is seen as a Christian – but a hypocrite. But even this is fading, as no one wants to admit that there might be a hypocrite in our congregation. Hypocrisy is strictly reserved for other denominations. The most common view taught today is that all that are in the church are saved; the line in the sand is at the sanctuary door. “We” are the favored; “they” are not. Crossing the line is all that is really required. Teaching on hell All this, of course, leads to the alternate destinations of heaven and hell.

• • •

“Hell” is an almost unused word (outside of angry obscenities). The preferred term is “Christless eternity.” It is preferred, I think, because we really don’t believe in hell. We acknowledge it, but it’s not a major player in our thoughts. Hellfire and brimstone? We don’t even like to mention the words, let alone preach in that style. All is sweetness and light in the kingdom. But one must ask: are we really doing the sinner any favors in this? If there is no hell, or hell is reserved only for Satan and his angels, then our modern method is fine. But it is good to note that almost all the references to hell come from our Lord himself. Attitudes and Actions

171

satellite.

A feature of pre-millennialism. One good example is J. Vernon McGee’s angel broadcasting from a

Our attitudes and actions have changed as well. Attitude towards the Jews In no area has Christian teaching undergone a more profound sea change than in our thoughts concerning the Jews. • • •

Throughout most of Christian history, it has been a common believe that the Jews were responsible for the Crucifixion – and that their failure to repent and become Christians means that they embrace what their ancestors did. 172 Remember Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? It was branded as “anti-Semitic” for the simple cause that it told the truth. Jews are now heroic. A goodly portion of the attitude change is due to our shift in method of prophetic interpretation. A very positive development has been the arrival of Messianic Jews as a part of the church. This has been a blessing to the church if for no other reason that to separate the history of the Jews from the people around us. Attitudes towards evangelism

• • •

Evangelism is viewed as someone else’s responsibility. That person is usually in a foreign country. Even in our own country, it’s a problem for other people to solve. This is changing, however, as cheap travel makes the short term mission trip more feasible. “Hearing the call” to evangelism – a commonplace concept to the ancient church – is now rare. The call is now introspective, not a public thing. Most curious enough is the demise of the sense of urgency in evangelism. The ancient church thought of it this way: the Gospel must be preached, for everyday men die without Christ. We now view it that the return of Christ is very near; hence we must reach to our unsaved loved ones now. Wedding clothes

The acts of righteousness – detailed in Scripture 173 - are still with us. But there are some changes here, too. •

In the days when there was only one church, that church made such things as hospitals, giving to the poor, feeding and clothing the poverty stricken, functions of the church as a whole. That is, the church officials organized these things and ran them. (This is still a major virtue of the Catholic church, for example.) We see these as things that arise from the pew, not the pulpit. 174 This perhaps reflects the change in doctrine concerning “social Gospel.” Our teaching tends more and more to “faith, not works.” The early church saw “faith and works”; later came “works, not faith” followed by the Reformation giving rise to “faith, not works.” 172

Which, by the way, is not grounds for their persecution. Matthew 25:31-46 174 Celebrate Recover, the prison ministry, Men on a Mission 173

May I point out one particular difficulty? Did you notice what the king said to the man without wedding clothes? His first word is “friend.” This is not talking about those who do not know the Gospel. It’s talking about those who are friends, but do not produce the fruit of righteousness. It is a warning to us all.

Caesar’s Silver - Matthew 22:15-22 The increasing polarization of the American body politic has obliged Christians to look more carefully at their responsibilities and rights as citizens. In this lesson we shall see that the problem is by no means new – nor is the solution. Mat 22:15-22 NASB Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. (16) And they *sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. (17) "Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?" (18) But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? (19) "Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax." And they brought Him a denarius. (20) And He *said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" (21) They *said to Him, "Caesar's." Then He *said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." (22) And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away. Background May we begin with a personal touch? The teacher would point out to you that the Pharisees, in their slyness, have actually (in verse 16) produced a good list of the characteristics of a good teacher: • • •

He must be personally truthful – what he says, he means. He must teach the way of God, not his own way. He must show no partiality. It is pretentious flattery in their mouths; it shows us that the lie will wrap itself in truth to gain acceptance. The problem behind the problem The Pharisees of this time had a theory. It held that if you made all the ritual sacrifices, followed the law of God (and their traditions, of course) closely, you were exempt from the law of man. It is an old argument. Diogenes remarked that he was not a citizen of Athens, but a citizen of the world. The remark is usually made just before some act of disobedience. The concept is a recurrent one. A citizen of the world usually considers himself saintly – a saintly rebel.175 Under the Roman system such things were nicely tolerated – by Rome. The Roman system used local royalty (in this case, Herod) to rule the landscape – but doing so at the pleasure of Rome and full payment of taxes. It was not Rome’s problems to deal with such a rebel; it was the local king. The dealings were usually harsh. So you can see the threat that is made to Jesus. Either give in to Caesar, and pay the poll tax (and endangering His credibility with the people) or defy Caesar – in which case the Herodian soldiers would take appropriate action. On the one hand disobedience; on the other, treason.

175

An example would be Gandhi.

Tempters Jesus calls them “tempters 176”. So indeed they are. More than that they are very odd bedfellows. The Herodians are the left wing party of the day, the liberals who believe that the king should be out there watching out for those who did not appreciate his program. The Pharisees are WERFs – Wild Eyed Right wing Fundamentalists – of their day. If you can imagine the National Organization for Women and Focus on the Family marching together 177, you have an idea what this little band looked like to the people of the time. You could tell at sight these two were up to no good. Christ’s Answer We must see the obvious: Christ’s answer is a harsh one. Sometimes tough love is appropriate: • • •

He shows them that He understands their motives; He is not fooled. (A point which is important to keep in mind when in prayer). He does so in the hope of their salvation. It is His purpose to seek and save the lost. Even when there is so little hope of it, there is not “no hope.” So He must try. His answer is a challenge to them. He uses their coin to make His point, and makes them look foolish in change. Render unto Caesar One might ask the Pharisees’ question: why should we “render unto Caesar?”

God has ordained such governments – even those governments which were to exile the Israelites to a foreign land were ordained by God to do so. • It is a noticeable fact that the Gospel spreads best not when men’s hearts are hardened in war, but in time of peace. The greatest expansion of missionary efforts yet made came during the Pax Britannica, the peace on earth of the later 19th century. 178 • We are specifically commanded to pray for those in authority over us. 179 Finally, there is this: you may say you are a citizen of the world, but you ride American roads, use American currency to buy your meals and pay your rent, and are protected from gang rule by American policemen. If you lean on Caesar’s arm for such support, you should expect to support Caesar as well. Render unto God And what is due God? That you love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. The coin was the symbol of Caesar’s rule over his kingdom; the greenback is the symbol of rule over our own country. So you might ask, what’s the equivalent in the kingdom of God? Caesar’s coinage had his

176

The same word is translated “test” in modern translations They do, on the issue of p*rnography. But not for the same reasons. 178 Which may have something to do with the terrorist tactics of Islam. 179 1 Timothy 2:1-3 177

picture stamped on it. So does God’s coinage. His image is stamped on each of us. like it or not. And like any other coinage, it is frequently the subject of counterfeiting. What to do? Dichotomy It is a fact: in first reading the New Testament seems contradictory on the subject of government. Is it the kingdom of Satan, or is it the legitimate authority, sanctioned by God? • • •

In Romans Paul argues 180 that the government is indeed a legitimate authority in this world. But in Ephesians he argues 181 that our struggle is against the powers of this world – a spiritual struggle. Peter then mandates a submission to all authority. 182 So, then, the question is: is it right that a Christian submits to authority? The nature of submission and authority

The first fact: submission, in and of itself, means nothing. It needs a formula to be defined. One may submit to a teacher’s instruction, a policeman’s command to pull over, or a court’s order, Whether or not this is in accord with God’s will depends entirely upon the nature of the authority. You cannot buy a pound of submission. You cannot be in submission, you can only be in submission to. Authority, on the other hand, is by its nature very specific. Please distinguish this from power; power says what you can do, authority says what you have the right to do. How did you acquire this right? If your authority descends from God 183, it is righteous authority – because He never gives authority without responsibility. By your responsibilities you will know your true authority, for in the kingdom of God authority is given so that the responsibilities of power might be carried out. The tyrant has no true place in the church; only the servant leader. Tyranny comes when authority taken does not match responsibility given. When King John 184 exalts himself his barons force upon him the Magna Charta – and the king is not above the law. The character of the ruler is supremely important, even in our republican form of government. In these days when the rule of law is fading into history while the power of the government grows ever stronger, it is well to remember King John. A Christian’s duty in democracy There are certain Christian duties which have arisen with the concept of parliamentary democracy. We may take it as an obligation of good citizenship that we will vote, and that intelligently.

180

Romans 13:1-8 Ephesians 6:12 182 1 Peter 2:13-17 183 Matthew 28:18 184 This is the Prince John of the Robin Hood stories 181

This may cause eyestrain while reading the propositions on a California election ballot, but it must be done. It is a way we support the government, whether Republican or Democrat. But I submit there are two things that a Christian in particular must do in these dark days. Both are commanded, and I fear neglected. We are to pray for them, indeed so much so that their tasks become a joy to them. 185 We are to overcome evil with good 186. The early church sent many martyrs to the grave without a hint of rebellion. The same weapons are ours. The birth of America was accompanied by predictions of doom. It would not be long, some said, that the colonists would come back to the king begging to be taken home. Their system would soon turn into tyranny, they thought. • •

But our founding fathers knew one thing: they led a land of Christians. They knew that, as De Tocqueville once said, America is great because she is good. When she ceases to be good, she will cease to be great. Democracy depends utterly upon the character of the men and women who lead, and the citizenry which supports them. When authority oversteps its responsibilities, tyranny results. Citizens beware, the times, they are a’changin’. The church has many martyrs; I fear their numbers will soon increase.

185 186

Hebrews 13:17 Romans 12:21

The Core - Matthew 22:23-46 Each of the three discourses in this lesson is capable of being amplified into a lesson itself. I have chosen, however, to present the three together, as together they cover the core of the faith – the Resurrection, the love of God and man and the Lordship of Christ. The Resurrection Mat 22:23-33 NASB On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Jesus and questioned Him, (24) asking, "Teacher, Moses said, 'IF A MAN DIES HAVING NO CHILDREN, HIS BROTHER AS NEXT OF KIN SHALL MARRY HIS WIFE, AND RAISE UP CHILDREN FOR HIS BROTHER.' (25) "Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; (26) so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. (27) "Last of all, the woman died. (28) "In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her." (29) But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. (30) "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (31) "But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: (32) 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." (33) When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. The Sadducees We need a little background first. If the Pharisees could be called right wing, the Sadducees are left wing. They accept only the first five books of the Bible; they do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, nor angels. They are the “modern thinkers” of their day. Like the left wing of the American church, they decide what the right religion is, and go out to invent it. As you would expect, they go about with a certain air of superiority. They see no need to challenge this Jesus – until He gets the better of the Pharisees. This seems to them to be a golden opportunity to put the hick from Galilee in his place and at the same time triumph over the Pharisees (“We shut him up, you couldn’t.”) Christ also points out their two main failings: •

They do not know the Scriptures. The word in the Greek is not the usual one for knowledge; it is often translated “to see.” They don’t see the Scriptures; in essence, they have not done their homework. • They do not know the power of God. The pattern remains the same today; those who once had the fire of Christ in the power of God have denied its power – and lost the fire. The argument used by Jesus seems a bit strange to modern ears, but it would have easily persuaded the people of that time. They understood what God meant when He introduced Himself as, “I Am.” He is the one upon whom all existence of any kind is based. He is God of all that exists, of all that “is.” Things which do not exist in any way are not connected to Him; things which do exist have Him as God. If He says He is the God of Abraham, then Abraham must exist. Thus dead is not the same as non-existent. Abraham lives yet in the care of God. At His return He will bring the patriarch with Him.

Central to the faith This matter is central to the faith. If there is no resurrection, then there is no resurrection of Christ – and our faith is utter foolishness. 187 It is the central fact of Christianity. If it is not true, we are a collection of fluent liars. Worse, it means that we are off on the wrong religion – and therefore are missing whatever the right one might be. Thus we are fools, liars and condemned – if Christ is not raised from the dead. The church that denies the Resurrection, dies. But how? If this is so important, then surely we would have a great deal of detail on the coming resurrection of the dead, right? Wrong. We have very little information, and much of what we do have (based upon the appearances of Christ after the Resurrection) is puzzlesome. But there are a few things we do know: •

• •

We know that we will be “like the angels” – at least as concerns the matter of sex. Interestingly, some of the ancient scholars felt that this meant that women would not be in the resurrection! The view never received much support, as Christ’s words here (marry and given in marriage) seem to apply to both sexes. We have a new body, in which there is no need for reproduction. That new body comes at Christ’s return, and it will be His perfect work. So it is that those of us who are terminal klutzes can ask to be able to dance like Fred Astaire. It will be a spiritual body – like Christ’s body after the Resurrection. He walked through doors – and also ate breakfast with them. More than this is not given to us to know – yet.

Because of this, the multitudes were astonished. The Sadducees simply went away. This seems to have encouraged the Pharisees to return. The Commandments Mat 22:34-40 NASB But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. (35) One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, (36) "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" (37) And He said to him, " 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' (38) "This is the great and foremost commandment. (39) "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' (40) "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." You’d think these people would learn. Having just watch the Sadducees leave with their tails between their legs, you’d think they’d be a little more cautious. There is some debate about what’s actually happening here; Mark records a more pleasant ending. 188 Perhaps they were hoping for some

187 188

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 Mark 12:28ff

strange answer; perhaps they just wanted to show off their learning. But the man asking the question refers to Him as “master,” so perhaps there is something more going on here. Love the Lord your God It is the entire man who must love the all-filling God. Christ breaks this down (following the Septuagint) into three categories: •

The heart. In contemporary terms this would be our will – not our emotions. 189 In other words, loving God is a decision which we must stick to. That’s one reason why there is a ceremony of baptism – it announces your decision to love God, and calls on the church around you to help keep that vow. The soul. One ancient scholar defined it this way: “To believe that all good is God, and without Him there is no good thing.” It is to commit your spirit into the care of the Holy Spirit, so that the essence of who you are is bound up inseparably with who He is. Whatever it is that makes you, you, should be defined by being His. The mind. The intellectual faculties must be committed to God as well. It is surprising how many Christians think that faith is a suspension of reality – an intellectual form of pretending. It is not; it is to bring every faculty of mind to understand who He is. Sometimes we see this as wisdom studied; sometimes it is prayer without ceasing. The neighbor

The parable of the Good Samaritan190 is the great example of this statement. But may I suggest some additional thoughts? •

One reason to love our neighbor is that he, too, is intended to be a child of God. If you love the Father, love His children as well. • Indeed, man is made in God’s image. If you cannot love the image you can see, how can you love the God you cannot? Indeed, the Scripture sometimes uses the love of others as the whole of the matter191, and the love of God at other times. 192 It is clear, then, that these two commandments are inseparable. The Lordship of Christ Mat 22:41-46 NASB Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: (42) "What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?" They *said to Him, "The son of David." (43) He *said to them, "Then how does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying, (44) 'THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET"'? (45) "If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his son?" (46) No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question. 189

The emotions were held to be in the liver. Luke 10:29-37 191 Galatians 5:15 for example 192 Romans 8:28 for example. 190

One thing must be stated as background first. The ancients would have taken it as a matter of course that ones ancestors were (at least by position) greater than self. David, by this logic, is the greatest king of Israel. Therefore anyone descended from him would be lesser than David. It seems strange to our time when we worship youth, but perhaps that is our difficulty, not theirs. A question in return Christ never gives up; He is still willing to break pride’s hold on the Pharisees if they will but listen. See what He does here: • • •

He shows them that they are ignorant of the meaning of the prophecies of the Messiah. They knew the text; they did not draw the proper conclusions from it. In so doing, He tries to humble them – for the enemy is pride, and pride has a fearful grip. It is not sufficient to point out their errors – he also points them to the truth. Implications – human The passage has some wonderful implications in it:

• • •

It implies that the Messiah, as a descendant of David, is entirely human. Thus we know that He can sympathize with our weaknesses and temptations – He’s “been there.” It also implies that the Messiah is greater than any other human – for the king, David, acknowledges Him as Lord. And as David is king over Israel – all twelve tribes – it implies that the Messiah will be King over all Israel as well. Implications – divine There are implications of the divine nature of Christ as well:

• • •

It implies that the Messiah is equal with God – for to sit in the presence of royalty implies that you are of equal rank. It implies that no one else is of higher rank – for He sits at the right hand of God. (We still speak of a “right hand man.”) It clearly implies that God the Father will subdue the Messiah’s enemies until the whole world will be at His feet. We see here the second coming. Summary Please leave this lesson with these three truths:

• •

The Christ is both fully human, of the highest rank, and fully divine, equal to God. This same Christ commands you to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind – and your neighbor as yourself.

This same Christ is coming again, bringing with Him resurrection from the grave – whether to reward or eternal punishment.

Seven Woes - Matthew 23 There are said to be seven deadly sins; three of the flesh, three of the world and the most deadly one of all: pride. It is this pious fraud of hypocrisy which is the worst of pride. To look down on someone because you are a better athlete has its antidote in one still better; to look down on someone because you are richer has its antidote in one richer still; but pride in matters spiritual brooks no superior. So it is that our Lord reserved His harshest words and gravest warnings for those who saw themselves above the rest, spiritually. Spiritual Tyranny Mat 23:1-12 NASB Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, (2) saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; (3) therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. (4) "They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. (5) "But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. (6) "They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, (7) and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. (8) "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. (9) "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. (10) "Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. (11) "But the greatest among you shall be your servant. (12) "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. Do as they say, not as they do You will please note that Jesus does not encourage rebellion against the Law of Moses just because it has fallen into the hands of pious hypocrites. You do not pull down the “chair of Moses” just because there’s a pious hypocrite sitting in it. Doctrines, like spirits, are to be tested. You may have encountered such people, particularly in the pulpit.193 I certainly have. I once listened to a preacher so gifted that it was a shame that he ever left the pulpit; his hearers always wanted more. Unfortunately, his life was such that it was a shame he ever entered the pulpit in the first place. You might well ask why Christ would tell us to follow the words of such a man. Consider the opposite, however. Would you allow an evil man to say, “My teacher is evil – so I am excused from righteousness?” Of course not; you would give him no such exemption. Do we have such today? I submit that we do. Here are some of the places you might want to look:

193

Kindly let me make it clear: I have no such suspicions (whatever) as relating to our pastor, whose life seems to match his words.

• • •

Those whose favorite (and sometimes only) topic is prophecy, particularly the aspects which promise favor to righteous when our Lord returns. Those who preach “prosperity Gospel” – God wants you to be rich, and the way to get there is by giving money to us. Those who preach the Gospel of Politeness – never offending anyone, and certainly not pointing out their sins. As they like it

The comment about phylacteries and tassels seems obscure to us. But it is simple to understand: if you are a hypocrite in the great things of God, you will have the self-consistency to be a hypocrite in the small things as well. When imposed on the rest of the world, such little things seem all the more onerous. Well they should. They are a form of tyranny. Is it not true that tyranny is the misuse of power and authority for one’s own personal profit or pleasure? These people were the spiritual equivalent of fashion cops. They used their position for their greed and pleasure, thinking nothing of the consequences on others. The call to humility True humility, it appears, is profitable for the Christian; at least our Lord made Himself an example of it. But what is it? Is it simply a low opinion of oneself? Permit me to describe its symptoms: •

It is a form of mutual respect. If we are humble, it is easy to look to each other seeking virtue to emulate, not points of pride. • It is a form of mutual service. We are all members of the same body; the “same team” as we might say. As we serve each other, pride has no place. • It is a form of mutual submission. Each of us is responsible for the instruction and correction of the others. None of us should listen with ears closed. Even the veneer of humility can be used by the hypocrite. All it takes is a literalist mind. I remember in my youth being taught how superior we were to those poor benighted Roman Catholics – for they call their priests “father.” Taken literally, this passage prohibits this. How then does Paul refer to himself as a father to the Corinthians? 194 Seven Woes Blocking the entrance Mat 23:13 NASB "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

194

1 Corinthians 4:14

Permit me to ask you: is there anything more likely to deter a visitor from coming back than the sight of a hypocrite at the door? Converts worse than the teacher Mat 23:15 NASB "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Please note how difficult (but not impossible) it is for a hypocrite to make a convert. It takes a long time and much effort. But once the convert is made, he immediately strives to become worse than his teacher. Pride is essentially competitive, even in dealing with “holier than thou.” There is a grave difference between seeking the position for what it is and seeking it for what it gives you. To which doctor do you wish to take your problems: the one who is in medicine to heal, or the one who wants to get rich? I know a doctor who made his fortune, then quit his job with an HMO to move back to Philadelphia, to the Puerto Rican ghetto there, to work in a free clinic. I can also testify that he is a very good doctor; I went to him for years. Blind Guides Mat 23:16-22 NASB "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.' (17) "You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? (18) "And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.' (19) "You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? (20) "Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. (21) "And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. (22) "And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it. The picture is rather funny, the blind leading the blind. But understand that these were men who found it very important to split hairs. Today, they split verses instead. They wander off into areas which may be of great appeal, but of little profit. For example: • • •

Prophecy – and just whose theory is right. Poetics – not as common these days, but we still hear the Bible praised rather than used. Politics – Satan is not the evil, the Democrats are. Tiny legalism

Mat 23:23-24 NASB "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (24) "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

(Mint, dill and cumin are garden herbs; it was considered devout to tithe them). Sweating the small stuff so you can ignore the big stuff! Deck chairs on the Titanic, anyone? Clean on the outside Mat 23:25-26 NASB "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. (26) "You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. It has become a problem of late for the Republican Party. Depending upon evangelical Christians for votes, they find it much more damaging when scandal strikes. (No one expects a Kennedy or a Clinton to be faithful). But despite all scandal, they still believe that only the outside appearance matters. God tells us here that character still counts. Is this only a political problem? What about plastic smiles on Sunday morning? Whited Sepulcher Mat 23:27-28 NASB "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. (28) "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

One thing about hypocrisy: on the outside it is law-abiding. On the inside? “The rules don’t apply to me.” (The word lawlessness actually means a state without laws at all.) Decorating the graves Mat 23:29-31 NASB "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, (30) and say, 'If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' (31) "So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. This is more common than you think. Have you ever heard something like, “If Lincoln were alive today, he would…” The praise of dead enemies is not only hypocritical, but cruel to those still with us. As one ancient writer put it, “The martyrs joy should not be honored at the expense of alms for the poor.” Some of us would rather buy a chapel window with our names on it than see that money used to feed the hungry. Prophecy of Doom Christ has warned us about the hypocrites; He has warned them of their own sinfulness; he now pronounces their doom.

Mat 23:32-39 NASB "Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. (33) "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? (34) "Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, (35) so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. (36) "Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (37) "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. (38) "Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! (39) "For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, 'BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'" Sending the prophets Vipers beget vipers, it seems. From the sneering heathen who worshiped other gods descend the hypocrites of Christ’s time. From of old the wicked are with us, and Christ tells us that we will continue to have them. I know it is not fashionable to speak of this, but consider: Character – essential character – counts. When I was a boy we had opportunities to hunt rattlesnakes (a surplus of snakes, a shortage of real estate). Amazingly enough, just because man was building houses nearby (civilization) the rattlers did not become civilized. They continued being rattlesnakes. So it is with human rattlers, too. If they continue, by what possible trick will they fool God and escape hell? The desire of Christ’s heart Despite all this, He loves them (and us). The matter is not one of His choice, but of theirs (“you were unwilling”). See, however, the sadness and kindness with which Christ pleads! Consider that example. If the Lord of Lords is kind and merciful, should His teachers be harsh? Doom Throughout prophecy there is a consistent message: the punishment of the proud and the reward of the humble. It happened to the Jews in AD 70. The entire system of Pharisees was dispersed around the world, not re-entering Jerusalem until AD 1967. The punishment of the Jews was great indeed. As long as it was going on, Christ would not return. Things are different; perhaps we will see Him return in our own lifetimes. The King is Coming – to reward and gather his saints, and bring destruction to the wicked. Sinner, beware.

The Mount of Olives – Prophecy - Matthew 24:1-44 Perhaps no selection of prophecy in the Scriptures seems so plain and yet causes such discord as this. We shall attempt to tiptoe through the minefield, allowing the student the choice of interpretations – but ending, as always, with the warnings of the sure and certain return of our Lord. Signs of the Times Mat 24:1-14 NASB Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. (2) And He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down." (3) As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (4) And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you. (5) "For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many. (6) "You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. (7) "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. (8) "But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. (9) "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. (10) "At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. (11) "Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. (12) "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. (13) "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. (14) "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. Questions to ask If you want the right answers, you must first ask the right questions. How so? •

Consider the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple. There is a short view – the Temple was destroyed in AD 70 when the Romans sacked Jerusalem. They set up their banners where the Temple stood. Is that what He’s talking about, or is it some future Temple (perhaps as described in Ezekiel)? Or is He talking about both (called dual fulfillment)? In verse 3, are the disciples asking one question, or two? If (like Hal Lindsay) you say one question, you implicitly assume that this destruction immediately precedes Christ’s return. If you say two, these events could be separated by millennia. The use of quotation marks may be deceptive here. 195 Note too the phrase “all the nations.” In our minds this must mean all 200 plus nations on the earth. Christ’s hearer’s would have thought differently. They would put “the nations” as the civilized part of the earth (i.e., the Roman Empire); the others would be “tribes.” So is it all, or all the Roman Empire? Historicists say the latter; futurists the former.

195

Recall that ancient writers did not have a sense of words in quotation marks being an exact, word for word copy. We often read into the Scriptures a meaning which is not there in the original by assuming that all quotations must be word for word, literal.

Parallel to Revelation This is not to accuse prophecy of casual inconsistency. We are the inconsistent ones in our understanding. By way of example, compare the first five seals of Revelation with this passage: Matthew False Christs

Wars and rumors of wars Famine

Revelation The first seal shows a crown and conquest, the rider on a white horse. But as Christ comes later in Revelation, this is assumed to be a false Christ. The second seal shows a sword and a red horse, the color of blood. Lindsay sees this as a communist invasion of Israel; historicists see a time of civil war. The third seal shows a rider with scales on a black horse, usually interpreted as weighing bread (not a giver of justice). The fourth seal shows a rider on a pale horse, carrying

Earthquakes (?) death. Persecution

The fifth seal is a long passage about persecution, which could be the Diocletian persecution of AD 303-313 (note the ten years). But it’s also the time during which the Gospel conquers the Roman Empire.

Signs of the end So how are we supposed to know? He tells here that wars, famine and earthquake are not the signs to look for; they are just ordinary. But the real signs are easy to read: • • •

There will be a time of Christians turning away from the church and betraying their Christian brothers and sisters. Faith will grow cold. False prophets will arise to deceive the church. It is not by accident that many televangelists advertise themselves as prophets. On the positive side, the Gospel will be preached to all the nations, whatever that means. And there will be other signs as well. Abomination of Desolation

Mat 24:15-31 NASB "Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), (16) then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. (17) "Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. (18) "Whoever is in

the field must not turn back to get his cloak. (19) "But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! (20) "But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. (21) "For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. (22) "Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (23) "Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him. (24) "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (25) "Behold, I have told you in advance. (26) "So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them. (27) "For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (28) "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. (29) "But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (30) "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. (31) "And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. Phrases May I draw your attention to two phrases? Both of these are examples of making the prophecy fit the interpretation. First is “abomination of desolation.” The phrase comes from Daniel 9:27, and virtually all scholars agree that its first fulfillment, or at least foreshadowing, was done by Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century BC. He erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on it. But Christ speaks of it here as being in the future, so we must look for another such sacrilege. We find a similar event in AD 70; historicists say that this is the event. Futurists say it is yet to come, but will be in the “Millennial Temple,” as described by Ezekiel. Both say that this passage conclusively proves their point. You pick. Next is the use of astronomical bodies (sun, moon and stars) in this picture. Until the 19th century, no one interpreted this as literal stellar objects. Rather, following Joseph’s dream (and others) they saw this as a complete shakeup of the powers and authorities of this world. But if you make the assumption that this is the end of the physical universe as we know it, you can take it literally. And some do. Persecution But one thing is clear in all this. We should expect a time of persecution – and we should pray for relief from that persecution in advance. The American church is seeing the beginnings of this now, but we see no one praying that the persecution be shortened. It is surprising that the most literal of interpreters omit this point. Perhaps no one wants to believe that America, a nation founded upon God, would do such a thing. But consider the signs of the times – again. False prophets? You can find them

every day on religious broadcasting stations. But do not worry; the real coming of Christ will be unmistakable. In the meantime, prepare for the persecution, pray that it be shortened – and prepare for His return. Preparing for His Return Mat 24:32-44 NASB "Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; (33) so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. (34) "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (35) "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. (36) "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (37) "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. (38) "For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, (39) and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (40) "Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. (41) "Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. (42) "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. (43) "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. (44) "For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. Signs of the times May I share with you some of the signs of the times, as our Lord describes them here? • • •

We have the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, which many consider a portent of His return. We will touch on this later. The Gospel is being preached around the world, like never before. And perhaps most telling of all: the church is in “business as usual” mode. He tells us we will not know the hour, and we will not be able to predict it. Therefore most of us simply ignore the possibility. Business as usual. This generation

The return of the Jews is considered a sign by many. It is based on the phrase, “this generation will not pass away.” It is a correct translation; however, it would have been equally correct to replace “generation” with “race” or “people.” The Greek word carries all those meanings, depending upon the context. So this could mean the generation who were hearing Christ say this, and the fulfillment in AD 70; it could mean the race of the Jews. If the latter, the seventy years is then (rather confusingly) applied to mean 70 years since the Jews returned to Israel, or since the capture of Jerusalem. Confused yet? Me too. Seven Last Things

Here, however, is a measure of agreement among all theories. All views agree on the Seven Last Things:

The Tribulation. One theory holds that this has already happened, but all agree that there will come a time when the persecution of Christians will become very intense. Some hold this to be a seven year period of trial. Armageddon. The “last battle” to be fought is viewed as being a battle between good and evil. The location for this battle is known; it is in Palestine. The result of this battle will be an immense slaughter. Resurrection of the Dead, or Rapture. All views agree that at the end the dead will rise from their graves. Those Christians still alive at the time will rise into the air with the resurrected ones. This is usually (but not always) associated with the next event. There is vigorous debate as to how many separate resurrections there will be, and for what purpose (e.g., judgment). Second Coming. All interpretations agree that Jesus is returning in bodily form. He ascended into heaven after his resurrection; he is returning the same way. Judgment. Often referred to as the Great White Throne Judgment, this is a time when all will be judged. Those who are true Christians will be rewarded for their deeds; non-Christians will be judged for their sins. Millennium. Literally “thousand years,” it is the time when Satan is restrained. This is often connected with passages which suggest that a golden era for mankind is coming. At the end of this period, Satan is released for a little while. New Heaven, New Earth. At the very end God recreates all things; there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Contact with God will be very close; death will no longer happen. And in the meanwhile? Be ready!

Three Parables of the Resurrection - Matthew 24:45-25:30 I do not know why, but the resurrection of the dead seems to have faded from the list of popular sermon topics. This is all the more strange considering our fascination with end time prophecy. Perhaps it is because we like to hear stories with happy endings, but perhaps not so anxious to be warned concerning what we need to do about it. On Your Watch Mat 24:45-51 NASB "Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? (46) "Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. (47) "Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. (48) ''But if that evil slave says in his heart, 'My master is not coming for a long time,' (49) and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; (50) the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, (51) and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is an old precept: the man in charge is responsible. As they say in the service, “it happened on your watch.” How then is a steward of the things of God to behave – since he will be held accountable? The difference, I submit, is the difference between authority and tyranny. Authority in the faith comes from responsibility, and is to be exercised in servant leadership. Tyranny is the abuse of that authority, for the purpose of one’s own pleasures. All of us are sinners, and the warning against being a tyrant is a necessary one. The warning is a very simple one: the day of reckoning is coming. It may not be in your lifetime, but it will come. For the good steward, reward. For the evil steward, fate. The good steward It is to be noted that the good steward is to be both wise and faithful. The ancient church quickly noted that the union of the two is relatively rare; it seems that if you acquire wisdom there is a tendency to exempt yourself from it. Perhaps it is better to encourage the faithful to such tasks, knowing that wisdom is readily available. 196 What, then, is demanded of the good steward? He is the one who provides food at the proper time. This may be taken in two ways: • •

It can be taken literally. The church is to provide for the poor, to feed the hungry. But note the phrase: “at the proper time.” I submit that the proper time is when the poor are hungry – not just at Thanksgiving. The food pantry should run year-round. It can be taken figuratively, as our Lord often did. It carries a warning to the leader in the church: you are to provide spiritual nourishment at a time that wisdom commands. It is of no 196

James 1:5

use providing a sermon of pious platitudes which fill no one. We feed the Christian so that he might grow. Junk food is easy. The evil steward It is quite true: a price must be paid for evil. Unfortunately, the price paid in this life is usually paid by the flock assigned to the evil steward. But there is a day of reckoning; the price will be paid – and bitterly. See, if you will, the two fold sin: The evil steward fails to feed the flock of Christ. He starves them of spiritual nourishment, and they suffer for it. • The evil steward also abuses his authority, and turns his responsibilities into a platform for his own vices. The greater the crime, the greater the punishment justice demands. The phrase translated “cut in pieces” actually should be translated “cut in half” or bisect. The ancient church held that this meant the sinner’s life and soul would be cut away from all spiritual gifts, which would return to God who gave them – and thus the sinner would face eternity without a single gift from God. Self-reliance, at last. •

Wise and Foolish Mat 25:1-13 NASB "Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. (2) "Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. (3) "For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, (4) but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. (5) "Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. (6) "But at midnight there was a shout, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' (7) "Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. (8) "The foolish said to the prudent, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' (9) "But the prudent answered, 'No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' (10) "And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. (11) "Later the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, lord, open up for us.' (12) "But he answered, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.' (13) "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. One of the reasons, I suspect, that we preach so little on the perils of the coming of Christ is that our practice of the doctrine of marriage has greatly declined. The early church would have instantly understood this to be the wedding of the Christ and his bride, the church. As such, they would have seen that this would apply to all of us. It was, to them, a homey picture of wedding customs of the time. Weddings were celebrated over a week to two week period. The real beginning of the festivities came when the bridegroom banged on the young lady’s door and “kidnapped” her. It was considered good luck if the bridegroom did so at a time when the household was asleep – usually in the middle of the night. The bride and her

wedding party would then go to the bridegroom’s home (usually his parents’ home) and the party would begin. Oil The oil referenced here would be well understood by Christ’s hearers. They would see it as a reference to many good things, in particular the “oil of gladness.” 197 The church would later see it in a different way: Oil is burned to bring light – and Christ told us that we are the light of the world. 198 But in that same sermon, Christ tells us to let our works shine before men. 199 Kindly note: the difference between these two groups is not holiness, in the other sense used for oil, the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is God’s gift to us. Preparation for His return is our gift to Him. • •

Awake! The wedding guests awake from natural sleep; the guests at the wedding of the Lamb awake from the sleep of death. Their lamps are trimmed – and we discover that some have nothing left to burn. They have prepared the catalog of their good works on earth, and found that all the benefit was received in their own lifetimes – there is nothing left for the wedding. Do you not see it? Both groups were virtuous, righteous people. But only the wise coupled them with the good works which should flow so naturally from the Christian’s hand. The foolish did the minimum necessary; the wise overflowed. Do not just prepare for His coming; prepare abundantly. Too late! Do you notice that the foolish ones still call Him, “Lord, Lord?” Such He is. But it’s too late to claim Him; He sees no fruit in the life, and therefore such a branch must have been cut off from the True Vine. The resurrection is His, and we shall participate – for which we need to anticipate! Talents Mat 25:14-30 NASB "For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. (15) "To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. (16) "Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. (17) "In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. (18) "But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. (19) "Now after a long time the master of those slaves *came and *settled accounts with them. (20) "The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained 197

Psalm 45:7 Matthew 5:14 199 Matthew 5:16 198

five more talents.' (21) "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' (22) "Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, 'Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.' (23) "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' (24) "And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. (25) 'And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.' (26) "But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. (27) 'Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. (28) 'Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.' (29) "For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. (30) "Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This might be called the parable of the fearful servant, or the parable of the selfish servant. Whatever the cause, this is one who takes God’s gift – and does nothing with it. Have you ever had a white elephant gift? One that you must keep to avoid giving offense to the giver? The orange and lavender scarf, hand knit by Aunt So-and-So? You fear to give it away and offend her; you fear to wear it and offend the rest of the planet. Fear So what is this man afraid of? I suggest to you that he is afraid of the comparison with the other two. They obviously started with much more, and he knows his Master is one who demands results. How can he possibly compete? Better not to play at all than lose for certain, right? This neglects the starting point. I suspect the Master gave him less because he knew he wasn’t capable of handling it. We often forget that we cannot compare ourselves to others; our gifts are different. My pastor is famous; I am not. He travels the world for Christ; I’m stuck where I am. But the question is not about him; it’s about me – what am I doing for Christ’s sake? There is a secret in this: “perfect love casts out fear.” 200 If I work for the sake of comparison, if I work for fame, then fear enters. But if I work for the love of Christ, what should I fear? Wicked, lazy and worthless Let’s suppose that God has given you the gift of being able to get rich – and nothing else. God’s command is simple: be generous. You may not be able to teach or preach, sing or otherwise serve, but you have a checkbook. If you use it wisely for His kingdom, even if that means simply giving to Christian charitable organizations, you will be rewarded for that. But if you say, “I can’t keep up with all those 200

1 John 4:18

other people; I have nothing of real value, I will do nothing,” you yourself can see that this is wickedness. At least buy some church building fund bonds! This is obvious. What’s not so obvious is that if you are a “one talent” Christian with some other gift, you are equally wicked if you refuse to use that. With money it’s obvious; maybe your gift of calming small children it’s not so obvious. But the reasoning is still the same. The reckoning is not immediate – to allow you time to repent. Well done, good and faithful servant That’s what I’m trying to achieve: that He will pronounce me both good and faithful. Whatever my abilities might be, it is my intent to use them for Him – so that I might deliver results, not excuses. I know how He rewards the faithful – for little, He gives much. Keep your eye on the prize, folks.

Sweet and Terrifying - Matthew 25:31-46 C. S. Lewis called it “the most terrifying section of the New Testament.” John Chrysostom called it “that most sweet section of Scripture.” As you will; but no mind awake yawns through this passage. Son of Man Mat 25:31-33 NASB "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. (32) "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; (33) and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Judgment Itself Talk to most Christians about the return of our Lord and you will meet with a curious reaction: they will certainly agree with you about the facts, but will have an indifference to them. It is “academic” to them, a thing for scholars to puzzle over. Our Lord certainly did not treat it that way. •

First, He tells us that it will come. Winston Churchill once wrote that the British people have the habit of assuming that since the danger had not yet arrived, it was already past. This habit, he tells us, “has led them into some very narrow escapes.” This time, there will be no escape. • The judgment is accorded to the Son of Man – the perfect man. The judgment is delivered by one who knows our weaknesses, and thus it is that we are not all condemned. • That judgment will come in glory, the glory Christ had with the Father in the beginning of all things. 201 It is also clear that all will appear before the Judge. The word “nations” here is ethnos in the Greek, from which we get our word “ethnic.” There are some who hold that Christians will never face judgment; the plain sense of the Scripture here seems to be to the contrary. Separation Please note that the separation is not made on the basis of something found out at this judgment; the sheep and the goats were sheep and goats when they were gathered. So while this will be a surprise to many, it shouldn’t be. The Judge is simply separating one from another on the basis of what already is, not on the basis of some new criterion. In short, we choose which we want to be: •

Sheep are noted in the Scripture for being mild and obedient – and following a shepherd. This is the obedient Christian. • Goats have a particular use in Scripture: they bear the sins of the people. 202 Symbolically, these are the unforgiven sinners, bearing their sins. The Christian is admonished to be in the world but not of the world. We are to be separated and thus holy. The judgment does not create this fact, in confirms it. Why a judgment at all?

201 202

See also Revelation 20:11-15 Leviticus 16:7-10

The idea of a judgment at the end of time seems to many to be a cruel and vindictive thing. Why would a merciful God do such a thing? •

God is his attributes, Aquinas tells us – so just as we can say “God is love” we can say “God is righteousness.” 203 It is His very nature. • Revelation assures us that He will bring about a new heaven and a new earth, in which He will dwell with his people. In His presence no evil can stand; He must therefore send it away from Himself. Some will argue that God cannot be both powerful and righteous, otherwise He would have made grease spots of us all. So either He is not powerful, or not righteous – or not finished yet. The Righteous Mat 25:34-40 NASB "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (35) 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; (36) naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' (37) "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? (38) 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? (39) 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' (40) "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' Come It is of some importance that the righteous are addressed first. It was promised that the Apostles would sit on twelve thrones and judge the tribes of Israel; so it would seem that the righteous must be declared first to take their part. Some hold that the righteous will be given judgment. 204 Whatever else, we see that the righteous are not simply permitted to go their own way after the judgment, but rather are greatly blessed. • • •

They are said to be blessed of the Father. The ruler of all things confers upon the righteous His blessing; there is no greater. They are to inherit the kingdom – an expression of great richness. How often have your daydreams been of winning the lottery or inheriting riches? Add to this authority, all beyond your imagination, and still you are not close to the blessing. That blessing is not an afterthought but the original plan of God. The kingdom of God was planned from the foundation of the world. For…

203 204

Compare, for example, Psalm 71:19 See Revelation 20:4

So what are the criteria that Christ uses in this separation? We may see how generous He is: • • •

He rewards obedience itself, not the grandeur of any gift we bring Him. Obedience is a “lowest common denominator,” something which any of us can choose. It is also clear that He recognizes faith by our works, not our words. Though our works might necessarily be small, He knows what they signify. Even the smallest of acts are greatly rewarded; faithful in little means faithful in much. The obstacles of today do not compare with the rewards He will bring. 205 Character shown in reaction

Look, if you please, at the reaction of the righteous. It shows their humility, for they were not out to impress others with their charity. They were simply being charitable, which is to say loving. God is love, and His children show it. In their humility they disclaim any pretension. But it does raise a question: do we see Christ in the poor? How often I have heard that the man by the road with the cardboard sign is a fraud! No doubt some are. But many are not. Sometimes we do not see the image of God in the poor, though they are created in His image as we are. Perhaps it is a new thought to you, but recall this: the only material thing Christ included in the Lord’s Prayer is “our daily bread.” If it is so important that it belongs there, perhaps then we should be willing to share it with others. The Wicked Mat 25:41-46 NASB "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; (42) for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; (43) I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' (44) "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' (45) "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' (46) "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Depart The blessed are “blessed of my Father”; the cursed are simply accursed. God condemns no one to hell; they are all volunteers. Note, please, that those who are the wicked are not simply sinners; they are the ones who have failed at all acts of mercy. We should not be legalistic about this. I have visited those in prison, both those I knew beforehand and those I did not. But this does not impose an obligation to do so upon all Christians. The point here is that the wicked have failed in all aspects of mercifulness. 205

Romans 8:18

The comparison with the merciful continues. The righteous are rewarded for their acts “to one of my brothers”; the wicked are condemned because they did not do so to one of the least of these. The righteous need not seek out only the poorest and worthiest; need alone will suffice for them. The wicked do not even look for the poorest and worthiest. Seven accusations (I am indebted to John Chrysostom for this list). This passage is seldom mentioned in our time, perhaps because hell has given way to “Christless eternity.” The original still maintains its force; please permit me these seven accusations against the wicked: • • • • • • •

Consider the slightness of the poor man’s requests: a cup of water, some bread; shelter for the night. Are these so heavy a burden to you? Consider the destitution of those who ask: are you being asked to aid the rich, or the poorest of the poor? Consider, too, what happens to your sense of compassion if you continually ignore the pleas of the poor. What do you become? Compassion, like conscience, can be seared with a hot iron – and the effects are equally deadly. If that does not suffice, what about the expectation of God’s promise? Would you not lend to the Lord for His repayment? 206 Just who is the recipient of your gift? Is it not the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Is He not worthy of your love? Consider too the honor bestowed. If you had the power to present a gift to the President you would be a “shaker and mover.” But here you have the power to present a gift to the King of Kings; which is the greater honor? Finally, consider the matter as one of righteousness. All that we have is His; we are but stewards. Would not the righteous steward use His things as He commands? “Surely a loving God…”

To some, it seems impossible that the God who is love would ever allow anyone into hell. To this there is a simple answer: are you accusing God of fraud? Christ is clear on the subject, and mentions it frequently. There is a more subtle objection. The existence of evil means the possibility of repentance. Surely God would allow the wicked one more chance? This argument eventually comes down to the idea that as long as there is wickedness in the world, God will wait. Hell has veto power over heaven, in short. Should God delay in bringing His true children to paradise? When is it more loving to bring the righteous to their new home than it is to delay, hoping for repentance? God alone knows, which is why He alone knows the day and hour of Christ’s return.

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Proverbs 19:17

Finally, there is a positive reason why the wicked will suffer forever. You will note from the story of Lazarus that the righteous can see the wicked in torment. Perhaps the eternal punishment of the wicked is given so that the righteous will be eternally grateful.

Devotion and Betrayal - Matthew 26:1-16 One of the virtues of going directly through the Scriptures is that you find passages which somehow never find themselves the subject of a sermon. This is such a passage; as we shall see, it is not devoid of its lessons. Introduction Mat 26:1-5 NASB When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, (2) "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion." (3) Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; (4) and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. (5) But they were saying, "Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people." Background It is helpful to remember that this passage follows after Christ’s discourses on the subject of His return. You will recall them: • • •

The parable of the wise and foolish virgins – teaching us that when the Son of Man returns, it’s too late to start doing good deeds. The parable of the talents, which teaches us that we are to use what we have and not compare ourselves with others. The parable of the sheep and the goats, which teaches us that Christ will separate us based upon a faith which is shown by its good works. The Passover connection

It seems strange, then, that the conversation would then turn to the suffering and death of the Christ. It is a “string of pearls” moment, and Christ leaves it to us to fill in the connection. Can we? Certainly, for it was by obedience in suffering that Christ was made perfect for the task of being the Lamb of God. The road to His glorious return runs right through the middle of Calvary. Christ knew this. He knew exactly what would happen – and He went to Calvary all the same. • • • • •

He knew when it would happen, for He is our Passover lamb. He knew what would happen – He speaks of it as His Crucifixion, not death. He knew where He would die – Jerusalem, Jerusalem. He knew who would do the deed – both the betrayer and those who would crucify Him. He knew why – for this was the plan from the beginning, and He was there for the beginning. As He clearly shows us here, He expects the disciples should by this time know it also. They know it; they just don’t want to believe it. The Chief Priests

Somewhere in time the office of High Priest changed from being a lifetime job to one which was rotated annually. This is distinctly not Scriptural; the single High Priest foreshadows the single sacrifice of Christ. To these men, however, its use is much simpler: they need the blessing of recognized authority to seize this man and do away with Him. How God arranges His providences! These men have the authority, but they fear the crowd – whom they look down on, but also fear – which drives them to perform the deed in precisely God’s timing. Some, especially those who believe in predestination, feel that this cannot be held against them. But hear the words of our Lord: Mat 18:7 NASB "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! An Act of Devotion Mat 26:6-13 NASB Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, (7) a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. (8) But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, "Why this waste? (9) "For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor." (10) But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. (11) "For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. (12) "For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. (13) "Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her." (As a side note, there is considerable dispute as to when this happened; whether Mary (the name is found in John’s Gospel) is a prostitute and just whose house this is. I take the incident as described. The dispute is irrelevant to the points being made). Sacrificial Worship A few weeks ago our High School youth minister was privileged to preach to the entire congregation. His sermon disturbed many of the older members, who felt they were accused of lacking the desire to change for the sake of the kingdom. They felt he went too far. I told him he didn’t go far enough; he asked us to change, but not to sacrifice. Something of the same reaction occurs here as well. Mary is worshiping Christ – sacrificially. Of this we may note: • •

First and foremost, that He is worthy of this sacrifice. We love Him who first loved us – so much that He died for us. The others about were shocked by Mary’s behavior. John tells us that she let her hair down – a sign of complete abandonment of dignity and decorum.

But here we see pure faith in action: nothing matters but her love for Him. 207 Devotional Giving

This is an act of devotion on Mary’s part. See that it has a certain style that tells us of her complete, abandoned love for Christ: • • •

From the world’s point of view, it is a waste. Look at all the money that cost! And for what? Worship! Worship is much too important to be done extravagantly, right? From the giver’s point of view, it’s extremely expensive. It hurts; it is not giving out of the excess but out of the heart. The widow could have kept one of those mites. This hurt. It has a certain style. It is elegant; it is timely. It is the best she had. Her insight into Christ told her “all of it, as if anointing the body for burial – now.” She was listening when He told of His crucifixion. Reactions

One of the surest signs of devotional giving is the reaction it provokes. Consider the “Taj Mahoney,” the new cathedral in downtown Los Angeles. It is, by all accounts, a magnificent one. It is also heavily criticized. But listen to that criticism: • • •

You’ll find that most of the criticism is judging others. It’s personal; Mahoney is building himself a palace with the money of the faithful; he should have spent it on the poor; he should have – and he’s obviously a callous, unconcerned person since he didn’t. Consider, too, that the motive for attacking this devotion is often a defense of a lack of devotion in the attacker. We want to let sleeping worms lie – not to stir our consciences to make sacrifices for God. Often, such thoughts are expressed in anger – the anger that comes when my way isn’t The Way. Act of Betrayal

Mat 26:14-16 NASB Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests (15) and said, "What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?" And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. (16) From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. One of the difficulties of teaching the Scripture is that there are so many who believe that man is intrinsically good – all you need to do is treat people well and all will be happy. They come to something like this and the question comes up: how could so black a heart be so near to Jesus, the Christ?

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Indeed, the word used for “pure” here is also the root word in the Greek for “faith.”

Let me introduce you to Satan, the enemy of the human race. How could one who was so near to God turn out to be so evil? Isa 14:12-14 NASB "How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! (13) "But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. (14) 'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' (“star of the morning” is often translated “Lucifer.”) His sin is pride; this despite his high standing: Eze 28:13-17 NASB "You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz and the diamond; The beryl, the onyx and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, Was in you. On the day that you were created They were prepared. (14) "You were the anointed cherub who covers, And I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked in the midst of the stones of fire. (15) "You were blameless in your ways From the day you were created Until unrighteousness was found in you. (16) "By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence, And you sinned; Therefore I have cast you as profane From the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire. (17) "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, That they may see you. At a later point the Scripture says that Satan entered into Judas; perhaps this seemed the only way he could have betrayed his Lord. Pride is Satan’s own sin; Judas might have seen it as a virtue: • •

How often we have the fact that we, in our pride, tell God what to do! Is it possible that Judas had an idea of what the Messiah should be doing? Or is it just that he could not bear the shame of being discovered a thief? Why didn’t Jesus stop him?

• • •

First, remember Christ’s mission – to die for our sins. It’s what He came for; Judas is simply a necessary part. He is the one who is merciful, not vengeful. He offered, at the very last, the chance to repent. Even in the garden He calls Judas, “friend.” Ultimate Differences May I give you three ultimate differences between Mary and Judas?

• •

Mary had a pure love for Jesus; Judas had first a love for himself. Mary gave a full commitment; Judas was content with partial measures.

Judas showed us measured, reasonable devotion – and Mary showed us complete abandon to God. Perhaps these three things might serve as a point of examination for each of us today.

Last Passover - Matthew 26:17-29 Matthew’s account of the Last Supper is very short. Perhaps it is that he wants to put our attention not on the supper but on the Lamb. Preparation Mat 26:17-19 NASB Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?" (18) And He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."'" (19) The disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover. History The Passover, as most know, celebrates the deliverance of Israel from the power of Egypt. On that night God gave instructions to the Israelites so that they might be spared the death of their first born. In so doing, He also gave them a picture of the sacrifice to come at Calvary. Consider some very quick elements: • •

A lamb, unblemished and pure, was to be sacrificed. This is the picture of the Sinless Sacrifice. They were to be saved through the blood – just as we speak of being saved by the blood of the lamb. • It was to be eaten with unleavened bread – leaven (yeast) being the symbol of sin. The picture is much more complex and rich than this, but we may sum up the matter simply: Passover is the picture of that which was to come. When it was fulfilled, the Law no longer bound those who were willing to accept that blood. By the first Passover God established His covenant with Israel. It seems a bit arbitrary, for a covenant allows no room for negotiation. The new covenant established that night allows no room either. But consider: God does not have to deal with us at all. There is no bargaining with the Almighty. But there is an offer of mercy. “Where,” not “do you?” Please note that the disciples do not ask if Jesus wants to celebrate the Passover; they ask where. There is no question in their minds that Jesus, being Jewish and a pious man, would want to do this. There are lessons in that for us. • •

It is another example of the true character of Christ. He is eternal; He is faithful. You can count on His character every time. It also carries, yet unknown to the Apostles, another example of the eternal nature of Christ: He will fulfill what the prophecies say about Him. Count on Christ; He never changes. A certain man

Luke tells us that they will recognize the man by the fact that he will be the first one they meet who happens to be carrying a 60 pound water jug. In a city crowded with pilgrims, this is an act of providence. Christ needed the upper room; by God’s providence the disciples found it. But there is another lesson here. The man carrying that jug is a slave, one of the lowest members of society. It is a lesson to us: even the least can serve. The Betrayer Mat 26:20-25 NASB Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. (21) As they were eating, He said, "Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me." (22) Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, "Surely not I, Lord?" (23) And He answered, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. (24) "The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." (25) And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" Jesus *said to him, "You have said it yourself." Comfort This passage is, in its way, a great comfort to the Christian: • • •

It is a comfort in that Christ had the power to escape the Cross – and refused to use it. Rather, He chose to be the Lamb of God. It is a comfort that He knew His betrayer – and did not openly condemn him. Why? Perhaps He sought repentance. It is a comfort that in the most trying time of His life, He consistently acted in mercy, with no thought of vengeance. Truly, we have the God of all comfort. Christ’s actions What does Christ do for a sinner such as Judas?

He begins by identifying him – so that the sinner knows He knows. There is no escape from the eye of the Almighty. Jesus makes this clear. • He then warns the sinner of the consequences – better that he had not been born. • But He does not expose and publicly humiliate the man; He works in mercy. This has given rise to a wonderful game of “what if?” What if Judas had repented, would one of the other disciples have done it? What if Judas had never been born, would the Christ have avoided the Cross? A chance for repentance Christ’s intent is clear, at least – He offers repentance a chance. But this passage does bring us up against the problem of predestination. Was Judas somehow predestined to do this? If so, how could we argue that it’s his own sinful fault? Christ knew he was going to do it – and therefore there was no chance he wouldn’t. Doesn’t that relieve him of fault?

But if it does, how can we say that anyone has free will? I can but give you a parallel from the world of science. It concerns the nature of light. If you examine it with instruments designed to detect light waves, you will find the nature of light to be a wave phenomenon. But if you want to count photons, it’s a particle phenomenon. It depends on how you examine it. Perhaps the same is true for human behavior as well. The act, however, does bring us two other insights: • •

Christ offers mercy even though there is no hope it will be accepted. Mercy does not depend on the worthiness of the recipient but on the love of the giver. Thus we should offer mercy even if we’re sure it will be spurned. When it is spurned, we should not rage at the ingrate, but remember that the patient endurance of suffering and evil is a virtue. In it, we imitate Christ Himself. The Lord’s Supper

Mat 26:26-29 NASB While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." (27) And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; (28) for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (29) "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." Body The passage is at once well known and obscure. Matthew has chosen to recount the Lord’s Supper only briefly. It is a much discussed item, so permit me to offer some uncommon observations: • • •

Bread is made up of ground wheat. No single stalk of grain is important, but rather bread is made from the wheat of many stalks. This bread is the food of the church; the church is what she eats. Therefore we are to be many, none essential, but all necessary. It is unleavened bread. The usual reference is to equate leaven with sin. But may I also point out that it is “hasty bread?” Bread baked in haste has no time for yeast. Thus we should be prepared at any time for our departure (“sandals on your feet.”) With bread we feed the hungry; with the Bread of Life we feed those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Blood Perhaps we can see some different insights for the wine as well:

Wine, too, comes from many – grapes, in this. But do you not see that if grapes are to be suitable for wine they must be crushed? We become what we eat; the proud heart must be crushed, broken hearted, to be of service to the Savior.

In its time wine had two properties we do not normally think of. First, it was an anesthetic, relieving pain. It is not sufficient to be forgiven; the pain of the sin must be dealt with as well. It is also an antiseptic, used for cleansing a wound. So it is Christ relieves the pain of sin, and cleanses us from it, by His blood. In our own time there is another example. Some of you have given blood at a blood drive. You know that such blood saves the lives of those in surgery or injury. Fellowship

(There is some debate as to whether or not Judas was at the Lord’s Supper. In what follows we will use the traditional interpretation that he was there.) Solo Christianity is an oxymoron. Without the church, we cannot long stand as Christians. Nowhere is this more plain than in Communion. It is the public marker of the faith; if you take Communion with me, you are brother to me. The world looks at this as the defining act. Given that, we must deal with inclusions and exclusions. We are taught that we are to exclude from our midst those who are open, unrepentant sinners. We are to be as charitable as possible in these matters, giving every opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. But, ultimately, we must keep from fellowship with someone such as this. 208

More important, I suspect, is that we must welcome all who claim the name of Christ. Do we bar the door by dress codes? The problem is not a new one. The communion meditation quoted below tells the story: The year was 1866; the place was Richmond, Virginia. The citizens of the capital of the defeated Confederacy were still trying to recover from the devastation of war. Among many other problems, they were struggling with the question of the role and relationship of the newly freed slaves -- a struggle which is not yet done. In a fashionable church in Richmond the minister was offering Communion. In this particular house of worship Communion was offered somewhat differently than we serve it. When the time came, the minister would stand at the front of the church, behind an altar rail. Those wishing Communion would rise from their seats, a few at a time, come forward and kneel at the altar. The minister would hand them Communion. Usually those in the front came forward first, but it was not uncommon for some to remain longer than others, deep in meditation. One rule was observed: Communion could not be given to a solitary person -- at least two must be at the rail. This was to preserve the spirit of Matthew 18:20. In the middle of this procession, from the back of the sanctuary, a former slave stood up and strode forward. The minister was taken aback. This was a "white" church; racial separation was the firm belief of virtually all the members. This was also the Lord's Supper. The minister hesitated. The man was at the rail alone; he was not obliged to serve Communion to a solitary worshiper. What was he to do? All eyes in the congregation were on him. At this moment another worshiper rose from his seat. He was an elderly man, with gray hair, but tall and erect in his bearing -- military, we would say. He walked down the aisle and without a word knelt by the 208

1st Corinthians 5:1-13

"man of color" (as the phrase is today) to take Communion. His example decided the minister's action; Communion was served to both men together. We often forget that Communion is also proclamation. (1 Cor 11:26 NIV) For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. We forget that by this act we proclaim Christ, and all that he taught, to all who observe. It is easy to do so here in the Lord's house. Do we proclaim it in the world as well? Indeed, do we even proclaim it in the Lord's house? Examine yourself; does it feel uncomfortable to you when you see people of other races and color worshipping with you? Is it OK for the missionary to reach other races -- as long as the other races don't reach you? Or do you rejoice that Christ died for all, and that in His church we at last can put aside the feelings that have divided his people? Do not think for a moment that your thoughts and actions are of no account in this. This is not the affair of the minister alone. The guiding example came not from the pulpit but from the pew. One man (or woman) can make a difference in God's economy. The minister in our story was probably a man of faith, but he was unprepared for action. The man in the pew was not. Not surprising, that -- his name was Robert E. Lee. I wrote this eleven years ago, and I don’t mind the look of it now.

Garden Scene - Matthew 26:30-56 The last hours of Christ’s life on earth are well documented in the Gospels; for good reason – He is the Lamb of God, by whom we have salvation. From these scenes we may learn. Mat 26:30-56 NASB After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (31) Then Jesus *said to them, "You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, 'I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.' (32) "But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." (33) But Peter said to Him, "Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away." (34) Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." (35) Peter *said to Him, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You." All the disciples said the same thing too. (36) Then Jesus *came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." (37) And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. (38) Then He *said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." (39) And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (40) And He *came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? (41) "Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (42) He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." (43) Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. (44) And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. (45) Then He *came to the disciples and *said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. (46) "Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!" (47) While He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a large crowd with swords and clubs, who came from the chief priests and elders of the people. (48) Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him." (49) Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, "Hail, Rabbi!" and kissed Him. (50) And Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you have come for." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. (51) And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. (52) Then Jesus *said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. (53) "Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (54) "How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?" (55) At that time Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me. (56) "But all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets." Then all the disciples left Him and fled. Intentions and Actions

How often has it happened to you? You said you would do something, and when the time came to do it, for whatever reason, you failed to deliver. If someone asks you why, you’re likely to say, “Nobody’s perfect.” Let’s examine this in more detail. It is normal to promise Young lovers promise each other a lifetime together; athletes promise victory – it is entirely normal for human beings to make promises. Peter is our example here. He said it, he meant it (that was Peter). Once he said it, all the other disciples chimed in. Why do we do things like this? • •

One reason is that we want to shape our future in accordance with our visions. The night is young, the wine flows freely, the girl is beautiful – it seems like just what we’ve been looking for. We capture the moment and promise to make it just like this for the rest of our lives. Another reason is simply to express how we feel. When things begin to get serious, and we really don’t know what to do, we can always join with the rest of the team and say, “Me too. That’s how I feel.” It is normal to fail. Often, miserably

Why does it happen so frequently? One very good reason is in the nature of human beings: we are both animal and spirit. The spiritual within us recognizes the good we should do; the body denies it, longing for its pleasures instead. And what do we fail in? Isn’t it usually something really trivial? Sometimes it rises to the level of real importance, but most of the time it’s ordinary stuff. Why? Because we’re sinners, that’s why. It is the nature of sinners that they know what they should do and don’t do it. All of us are sinners; all of us have failed at one time or another. For this Christ offers us repentance, forgiveness and salvation. Bodily discipline Isn’t there something we can do to prevent it? There is. It is called bodily discipline – training your earthly nature to follow after your heavenly nature. A man is a slave to whatever controls him. This means that we cannot use our emotions as an excuse for our behavior. “I just got mad and hit him” means that you hit him. Discipline yourself so that you don’t get mad. None of us are perfect. There will be failures along the way. But because you are imitating Christ in His control, the Holy Spirit will be there to help. You can’t make yourself perfect – but you can try to do better. The Agony in the Garden Christ is fully human

Perhaps it never really impressed itself on you, but our Lord is fully human. He knows our pains and agonies, and nowhere is it better shown than in this garden. Observe: • • •

“If it be possible” – Can you not sense the fear in Christ’s heart? It is no disgrace to be afraid; it’s your actions when afraid that count. He knows your fears. He brings along a few close friends. Nothing is so human – we need a little company and moral support in trying times. If you need the physical evidence – look at the sweat. Christ is fully divine In this most human of nights we still see the divine nature of Christ:

• • •

“Yet not my will” – do you see the complete obedience to the Father? He asks in His humanity; He accepts in His divinity. Consider that incident with the sword. He has the power to (as we say today) cut and run. Overwhelming force is His; and here is an example of the loyalty of His disciples. He rejects the sword to embrace the Cross. “How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled?” He is completely conscious that His final days have been prophesied. God will not go back on the word of His prophets. Christ, the Lamb of God It is remarkable: Christ shows us the Lamb of God. Consider:

• • •

He goes without a fight – indeed, He stops a fight before He goes. He tells His disciples, “After I have been raised…” He is well aware of the power of the Resurrection. He bids His disciples to wait, so that He may indeed fulfill His mission. “Get up, let’s go.” Even when the betrayer approaches, there is no thought of running away. In fact, He heads toward His betrayal. Christ’s Care Throughout this most important night, Christ continually exhibits his care for mankind. Here’s

how: Setting the example Christians sometimes miss this, but Christ is our example for life. “What would Jesus do?” is the modern way of putting it; the ancients would have called it the “Imitation of Christ.” Look at the example He sets: •

As He has for the past three years, He sets the example for His disciples that they must go to God in prayer. When most of us would be looking for a way to “get out of Dodge,” He is in prayer asking strength to accept things as they are.

• •

He is also our model for dealing with fear. Bravado would say, “I’m not afraid.” Insanity would deny any reason for fear. Courage looks fear in the face, then does what God commands. He is also our model of gentleness. When the disciples sleep, His rebuke is gentle. He is modest in dealing with the mob arresting Him. Such gentleness comes only from great strength. Quoting prophecy

It may not appear to be an example of His care, but see how Christ reassures His disciples by quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament (the matter is greatly expounded in the other Gospels.) •

“Smite the shepherd” is taken from Zechariah 13:7. It is long known as a Messianic prophecy. That’s probably not much comfort – but it is assurance that the matter is in the hands of God. • We can see similar assurances of this in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, to name just a couple of the more prominent Scriptures. All these were available to Christ so that He might comfort and reassure His disciples. The lesson is plain: the Scriptures are there for us to use, in peace or in crisis. Yet another reason we should be familiar with them. Reaching out Jesus never forgets His mission: to seek and save the lost. He therefore reaches out to those who are now His oppressors. Consider: • • •

He could simply have let Malchus 209 bleed from the wound where his ear was sliced off. But no; He heals him, even knowing that this man will be involved with His arrest. See how gently He chides the mob – He was in the Temple courts all day; why not then? Then, as if to excuse them, He tells them this too was prophesied. Indeed, the supreme example of his willingness to reach out to save the lost is this: He called His betrayer “friend.”

Exult, Christian, you have gained by this bargain of your enemies; what Judas sold, and what the Jews bought, belongs to you.

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The name is given in John’s account.

Trials - Matthew 26:57-27:26 The trials of Christ make for an interesting study across the four Gospels. But it is also possible to see three trials: those of Peter, Judas and Christ. The Trial of Peter Mat 26:57-75 NASB Those who had seized Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together. (58) But Peter was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and entered in, and sat down with the officers to see the outcome. (59) Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. (60) They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, (61) and said, "This man stated, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.'" (62) The high priest stood up and said to Him, "Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?" (63) But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, "I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God." (64) Jesus *said to him, "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN." (65) Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; (66) what do you think?" They answered, "He deserves death!" (67) Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him, (68) and said, "Prophesy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?" (69) Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, "You too were with Jesus the Galilean." (70) But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about." (71) When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." (72) And again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man." (73) A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away." (74) Then he began to curse and swear, "I do not know the man!" And immediately a rooster crowed. (75) And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, "Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly. Progression Without thinking, most of us would say that sin comes upon us suddenly. But when challenged, we usually will admit that sin started small and continued to progress for us. Such a progression is seen in Peter: • •

He begins by denying Christ in a casual conversation. It is something low key; just to avoid any misunderstandings, you know. When challenged again, however, he makes his denial stronger. He takes an oath in God’s name, saying that he does not know the Man.

Finally, when pressed, he resorts to the parade of obscenities approach. Thus does one sinner convince others of just how serious he is. 210

Sin seems to go from bad to worse. Here we have the classic example of this; it should be a warning to all of us that even the best of us are not immune from sin. Why? Peter, having so recently announced his loyalty to the death (as did the rest of the disciples), would be viewed today as being mentally defective. There is, in fact, nothing wrong with Peter’s brain. It’s just that we don’t like to answer the question, “Why?”, because it hits so close to home for us. So let’s take a look at the answers: •

Fear. Most of us are afraid of public speaking, which is related to our fear of being an outcast. We like to be with birds of a feather. It might seem this is of little account to Peter; his accuser has low social status. He’s just reaffirmed his loyalty. He’s afraid to be on his own, alone. So are most of us. • Lack of preparation. Most of us manage to keep from panicking until we are actually in the dentist’s chair – when it’s too late. The dentist probably wishes you came prepared to suffer. Peter was not prepared to stand up for his Lord. • Disconnection – specifically, disconnection from Christ. Peter is impetuous and bold when Christ is around. He spent three years showing that. Now Christ is not around; what then? Some of us omit prayer, and are surprised at our own actions. Peter later will ask to be crucified upside down – as not being worthy of the same death as his Lord. This night is the root of his opinion of his own unworthiness. It’s a lesson for us all. “Wept bitterly” The subject of repentance is never a popular one, as we wish to have no reason to study it. But we can see some of its features in Peter: • • •

Godly sorrow – a genuine regret for one’s actions 211 - is the root emotion of repentance. Sorrow for getting caught is not. Christ encourages us to separate the sin from the sinner – which certainly applies to ourselves, as well. He would have us be merciful to us – and then extend the same treatment to others. The path of repentance is not a wandering one; it leads straight back to Christ.

210

It is a curious thing, and a topic of interest: why is it that the worst of sinners won’t be convinced until they hear a string of obscenities, even from the honest man? 211 See 2 Corinthians 7:8-11

Trial of Judas Mat 27:1-10 NASB Now when morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death; (2) and they bound Him, and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate the governor. (3) Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, (4) saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to that yourself!" (5) And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. (6) The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood." (7) And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter's Field as a burial place for strangers. (8) For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. (9) Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel; (10) AND THEY GAVE THEM FOR THE POTTER'S FIELD, AS THE LORD DIRECTED ME." The test of the sinner – repentance There is no question about it: Judas felt sorry about Jesus being condemned. Real sorry. Exceedingly sorry. But the emotion itself is not the same thing as repentance. • • • •

Sorrow – in this instance, bordering on horror – is a natural reaction to the sin involved. Judas has suddenly realized just what he has done. He thus draws a conclusion about what kind of man he is. This, we shall see, is his undoing. Repentance has a path, leading back to God. Judas does not follow that path. Instead, he creates his own path of repentance. This, of course, means that there is some virtue left in the man: he has the capacity to be horrified at what he has done. But he repents only after the sin is complete; the devil’s own way of repentance. Instead of taking God’s path of repentance he creates his own. He renounces his actions – and then commits suicide. Man’s way of repentance usually makes things worse. The “wages of a harlot”

The Pharisees have had plenty of time over the years to detail a law making the use of such money for the Temple to be sinful. They don’t seem to have done so; the closest we have is this: Deu 23:17-18 NASB "None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute. (18) "You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God. It might not appear to you to fit the case. The Pharisees were sure it did, however. Perhaps an example might assist:

At this writing, we have recently had the news story of a publisher who attempted to secure and publish a book by O. J. Simpson on “how he would have done it (if he had done it, which of course he didn’t.)” The news had but to reach the public to create a great, moral outcry (even in our times, there are shreds of decency left.) The public, generally holding the man to be a cold-blooded murderer, was outraged that he would now be allowed to profit from his crime. It would be blood money; and that’s just how the Pharisees would have seen these thirty pieces of silver. Interestingly, in so doing, the Pharisees have convicted themselves. They were the ones who produced the thirty shekels in the first place. It is a terrible hypocrisy which can condemn itself like this – without knowing it. Why? Why did Judas throw the money back? Some have argued that he hoped to have the Pharisees change their minds. Others have suggested “buyer’s remorse” – Judas got exactly what he asked for, and has now discovered that it’s not at all what he wants. The matter is perhaps not so simple. One of Shakespeare’s characters put it much better than I could. Here is Lady Macbeth, after Duncan’s murder, sleepwalking: Out, damned spot! out, I say!-- One; two; why, then 'tis time to do't ;--Hell is murky!--Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?--Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? (Macbeth, Act V, Scene 1) There were none to “call our power to account” for the Pharisees. But who can doubt the effects of the blood of their Victim? The Trials of Christ Mat 27:11-26 NASB Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?" And Jesus said to him, "It is as you say." (12) And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer. (13) Then Pilate *said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?" (14) And He did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so the governor was quite amazed. (15) Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted. (16) At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. (17) So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" (18) For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over. (19) While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, "Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him." (20) But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. (21) But the governor said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." (22) Pilate *said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all *said, "Crucify Him!" (23) And he

said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they kept shouting all the more, saying, "Crucify Him!" (24) When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this Man's blood; see to that yourselves." (25) And all the people said, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!" (26) Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. Before the priests We may be brief in this. I would have you note the one answer Christ gives – not even answering the challenge of tearing down the Temple and restoring it in three days (clearly referring to the resurrection). His only reply comes to the question of the High Priest: are you the Christ, the Son of God? There is no other question. It is fitting from the High Priest, for he stands before the permanent high priest, the Christ. Upon the answer to that question rests western civilization. If Christ is who He says He is, then God’s righteousness is an integral part of our civilization. If He is not, we need not the rudder of God to float about in moral uncertainty. It is the only question; it is the only one the priests need to condemn him. But they need to kill Him openly, for thus only can they kill Him and His reputation. Before Pilate Pilate has only one real concern: “Are you the king of the Jews?” The question is a reasonable one; if He says yes, we have a rebel against Rome on our hands. But (as is seen in other accounts) Pilate quickly discovers that Jesus is no threat to the empire. Pilate is a sharp mind; he knows what’s going on here. The quislings are worried that this man might supplant them in the eyes of the people. He knows envy when he sees it (see verse 18). Being an astute administrator for an empire known for its love of justice, Pilate thinks he can handle the situation. He’s a merciful man – until it gets risky. The poison pill is offered (Barabbas). But eventually it’s clear this Man must die. But not on Pilate’s account. He washes his hands of the matter, leaving Shakespeare with the indelible metaphor for guilt. Christ’s conduct Christ is, by and large, silent through all this. By His silence He achieves much: • •

He fulfills the voices of the prophets concerning the suffering servant Messiah. His silence puts the attention on the men (and the system) condemning Him. It forces those who see it to consider that Roman justice is more on trial than is Jesus. He confirms the truth, when asked. He is silent in all else; He is the Lamb of God going to the slaughter without a word. McGuffey’s Reader had it right: Socrates died like a philosopher; Jesus Christ like a God.

The Crucifixion - Matthew 27:27-56 There are many, many ways to examine the Crucifixion. In what follows, we will be guided by a few simple precepts: The suffering of Christ is a model for us. As we try to be like Him, we will undoubtedly need to know how to suffer as He did. It is inevitable; as the world treated Him this way we certainly cannot claim any exemption from it. We may take heart, however, in knowing that in weakness God’s strength is perfected. The sufferings of Christ are emblematic of our salvation. By His stripes we are healed; we may look at His suffering and see in it the symbols of the faith. The sufferings of Christ are a fulfillment of prophecy. The Crucifixion is God’s “Plan A.” The Soldiers Mat 27:27-36 NASB Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. (28) They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. (29) And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" (30) They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. (31) After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. (32) As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. (33) And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, (34) they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. (35) And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. (36) And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. Symbols It takes a blind man not to see the symbolism in the solders’ mock coronation. The soldiers take off the things of Christ and clothe Him in the things of this world. • • •

There is the scarlet robe, the sins of this world. 212 There is the crown of thorns, by which bears the curse of this world to the Cross, there to lift it from His people. 213 There is the reed, the staff – by which Christ will conquer the old Serpent by swallowing up death in victory. 214

212

Mark says it’s purple; the various commentators at this point bubble over into the Greek. I suppose it depends on how many crayons you have in your box. 213 See Genesis 3:17-18 214 See Exodus 7:9-13 (Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh’s magicians.)

The soldiers – doing their jobs You cannot help but notice: the soldiers simply have no concept of what might be happening. To them, this was just one more criminal (or political prisoner); I suppose it provides something to do in the midst of a soldier’s boredom. They thought little of mocking Him; the world likewise will think little of mocking us. 215 There is one curious incident here: it is the mixture of wine and gall. Such a mixture would be very bitter. Can you see the symbolism in this? Christ tastes the bitterness of death – and rejects it. He also puts a practical point to it. We would see such a death as greatly improved by eliminating the suffering. We believe not only that anesthetics work; we believe they should be used. It is the temptation to false suffering; “How much have you suffered for Jesus’ sake” is usually answered with, “Not much – but I moaned and groaned it into something really big.” If you’re going to suffer, use the proper style. The soldiers then do what soldiers do best: they sat down and waited. It’s a picture of many in this world; they are waiting to see what happens. They think they’re sitting on the fence practicing “wait and see.” Actually, they’re sitting on a rail road track. And there’s a light approaching. Simon of Cyrene If it weren’t for symbolism, we’d be pressed to understand why Matthew told us about Simon. But see it through the eyes opened to understanding: • • •

It tells us that man – indeed, one of the Gentiles – can carry the Cross. It was no accident that Christ told us to take up the Cross. We need to bear it on his Via Dolorosa, sharing his sufferings. Not just man; the early church held that this meant that the nations would take up the Cross. It is rejected by the Jews; it is therefore offered to the world. Note, too – he was picked at random by the soldiers. Any one of us may be called to take up the Cross; all of us should be willing to do so. The Insults

Mat 27:37-44 NASB And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS." (38) At that time two robbers *were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. (39) And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads (40) and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." (41) In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, (42) "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. (43) "HE TRUSTS 215

The people who complain about the “right wing bias” of the press are also dismayed when these Christians don’t understand how trivial Christ is.

IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" (44) The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. “If you are the Son of God” People want to believe in magic, but not in God. Magic is a tame lion; it jumps through the hoops when you want it to. This explains our love of science; it is the twin of magic. We want a God who will do what we say to prove He exists. But do you not see that such a God cannot exist – and still be God? How is it that God the omnipotent, the ruler of all, now becomes your personal servant? We forget that God works miracles – for His purposes, not ours. And His purpose here is to pay the price for our sins. It is also the case that Christ is the Son of Man. He is sharing our pain, that we might some day share His glory. Consider it from a perspective of style: He certainly died like God. He died with forgiveness for those who did it; He died in that maddening refusal to gratify our curiosity. He died with no thought of anger or revenge. The King of the Jews In one of those ironic twists of history, Pilate puts this title on the plaque over Jesus’ head. It is satire; Pilate’s last zing into the Jewish leadership over this matter. The plaque normally contained the accusation; the irony is that in this instance the sinless man is rightly accused. Have you ever considered Jesus as Lord and King? Kings are entitled to obedience from their subjects. One form of disobedience is to pass judgment on the king. If someone today were to refuse to pay taxes because they didn’t like the war in Iraq, we’d still prosecute them for it. And all we have is a president. King of the Jews: if this is the honor the world gave Him, why do we expect to be treated so much differently? “And we will believe” “If only I could see a miracle – just one – then I would truly believe.” • • •

“He saved others” – by these words the Jews acknowledge His power, and convict themselves of hypocrisy. If you knew He did that by the power of God, why are you crucifying Him? “Let God rescue Him.” Do you really know the purposes and plans of God Almighty that well? Viewed from the past, the Crucifixion looks like a horrible end to a promising beginning. Viewed from ages past, the plan of God is indeed an awesome completion. If you need the history, remember that the ancestors of these Jews wandered the desert and did not believe, despite the miracles. As Abraham told Dives, even if someone were to come back from the dead, they would not believe.

Death Mat 27:46-56 NASB About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" (47) And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, "This man is calling for Elijah." (48) Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. (49) But the rest of them said, "Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him." (50) And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (51) And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. (52) The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; (53) and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. (54) Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (55) Many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while ministering to Him. (56) Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. My God, my God Christ’s cry has been a problem to many. How could the God who is Love reject His own Son? The answer is simple: God is holy; no sin can come near Him. So it is when the Savior took upon Himself the sins of the world, He separated Himself from the Father. But do you not also see that the very wrenching nature of this cry tells you that Jesus was so closely bonded to the Father? We might ask, “Why me?” But that view depends on our own goodness. To be truly alone from God brings another question: why did God do what seems to be a contradiction in His character. A man with a sponge This poor, anonymous man: the last man to be of service to Jesus on earth, and we don’t know his name. But we can see the character of the last servant of Christ: • • •

He ran. The servant of the Lord is not a leisurely person. Nor should we be slack in doing what Christ has commanded. He gave him sour wine – the best he had, even if it was none too appetizing. We should not excuse ourselves from service by complaining that our portion is far too small to be of use. He gave it to him on a reed. This day it is the reed of weakness; but God will turn it into the staff of His strength. Our means may be feeble; we should use them none the less. Reaction The physics of the thing comes from the reaction.

• • •

Creation itself – the handiwork of Christ, for whom the stones would cry out – reacts in darkness and quaking. 216 Many of the saints of old rise from the dead; the spiritual world marks the passing of its Creator as well. And one tough old army sergeant – the centurion – is convinced. The man died like a God. In hindsight we see the plan and power of God.

We see one other thing: that Jesus, the Christ, shared in the experience of death with us. I can find no better words for this than these I wrote several years ago for a devotional: Have you ever been down to the point where the government had to get someone else to carry your load? A welfare case? Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Him. He knows how you feel. Have you ever been down to the point where those around you can think of nothing more to say than, “Buddy, I’ll buy you a drink?” They offered Jesus drugged wine. He knows how you feel. Have you ever been to the point where the world takes away even your clothes? Have you had to watch total strangers pick through what used to be your clothes? Bankruptcy and the last garage sale, perhaps? They gambled for His clothes. He knows how you feel. Have you ever been in trouble with the law? To the point where the criminals around you gave you a hard time about it? They crucified him between two thieves, and even they insulted Him. He knows how you feel. Have you ever been the victim of the insults of the mob? Just those looking on, laughing at you and calling you names? “Come down from the cross,” they called to Him. He knows how you feel. Have you ever had the “righteous” people insult you, calling you names and letting the world know just how rotten they think you are? Even the religious leaders insulted Him on the cross. He knows how you feel. He knows how you feel, for it all happened to Him. Even though He had lived the sinless life, deserving none of this, that’s how they treated Him. So when you feel the world coming down on top of you, whether you deserve it or not, remember: He knows how you feel. Take your troubles to Him. Go to Him in prayer and tell Him how it is within the depths of your soul. There is nothing you can say that He does not understand, for He is human just like us. There is nothing He cannot comprehend, for He is God. There is nothing He cannot forgive, for He went to the cross for you, that you might be forgiven. There is no hurt too deep for the Christ, by whose wounds you are healed. Love, in its purest form, awaits you. He knows how you feel.

216

Some hold this to be a solar eclipse. This seems unlikely, as Passover was at full moon.

The Resurrection - Matthew 27:57-28:20 We take our last look at Matthew for that most important of events, the Resurrection. The Scripture is long, but it tells the drama clearly. Mat 27:57-66 NASB When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. (58) This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. (59) And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, (60) and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away. (61) And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave. (62) Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, (63) and said, "Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I am to rise again.' (64) "Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last deception will be worse than the first." (65) Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how." (66) And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. Mat 28:1-20 NASB Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. (2) And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. (3) And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. (4) The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. (5) The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. (6) "He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. (7) "Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you." (8) And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. (9) And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. (10) Then Jesus *said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me." (11) Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. (12) And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, (13) and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' (14) "And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." (15) And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day. (16) But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. (17) When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. (18) And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (19) "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Christian View and World’s View One thing our ancestors – heathen or Christian – understood much more clearly that we do today is the importance of the Resurrection. Here’s Paul’s explanation of it: 1Co 15:14-19 NASB and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. (15) Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. (16) For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; (17) and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (18) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (19) If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. That pretty much tells the logic of it. The church today faces an interesting dichotomy unknown to the early church: •

The common place phrase in the early church was “He is risen.” It implies a present-tense Christ, One who is with us always. • Today, the phrase would be “Christ rose.” It is a subtle difference, but important. Today much of the church sees the Resurrection as of historical interest only. You see the distinction, or course. We will speak a bit more later on “living in the Resurrection”; but to the orthodox Christian He is risen indeed. There is one other reason we consider the Resurrection of supreme importance. It means that the promise of our resurrection is made by the same Power which raised Christ from the dead. It ain’t bragging if you can do it. The world’s reply Three main reactions have arisen concerning the Resurrection. • •

Myth or legend. Usually delivered in respectful tones by liberal heretics, this says that Jesus was, well, who knows what He was? But certainly not what He claimed. The “Jesus Seminar” so beloved by the press is an example of this view. Easter faith. While denying that they really know, these heretics tell us that the Resurrection itself is not important (which means they can deny it and consider that trivial) as long as we have “Easter faith.” A form of godliness but denying the power thereof. It’s difficult to pin down except at Easter – when it’s a genuine feel-good sermon for those who show up once a year. Scientific explanation. These folks hold that there must be some scientific explanation for the accounts of the New Testament. Interestingly, they don’t usually quibble over the accuracy of the documents – just what can be read between the lines. Their theories will be considered in the next section. Five theories for the Resurrection There are five major theories to interpret the evidence of the Scripture.

Swoon theory In this theory, it is held that Christ did not die on the cross – he merely passed out, was taken for dead, and in the cool of the tomb came to. This seems to meet all the facts, and therefore is viewed as inoffensive to Christians. But there are certain objections to it: • • • •

Surviving a crucifixion. The Roman army was not in the habit of allowing victims of a crucifixion to survive it – for the simple reason that the soldier would be crucified if he did. It’s in their interest to make sure. Which they did. Blood and water 217. John tells us that he saw blood and water coming from Christ’s side. There is only one way to have this: the lungs have collapsed. That’s the usual way crucifixion ends – the victim is actually asphyxiated. No lungs, no air, no life. Moving the stone. If Christ swooned, how does a man in that condition roll away the stone? How did he get past the guards? Where did He go? It is the principle objection. There is absolutely no evidence whatever that He was in that body after the Crucifixion. So where did He go from there? Why didn’t He go back and put it to the Pharisees? The matter is so difficult that its backers often go to the second theory: a grand conspiracy. Conspiracy theory

It is very hard to have a conspiracy composed of so many witnesses. But it’s not very hard to propose one. The method is simple: steal the body and announce the Resurrection. It’s a little difficult to see why a mortal Jesus would want to participate, but wave that aside. The theory has other problems. •

• • •

No one confessed. Not one of the disciples or early followers ever recanted his testimony that He is risen. They had plenty of opportunity and motivation to do so. Their enemies had the power to find such a one, and every motivation to do so. No one ever recanted, even in the face of a horrible death. These guys? Come on people, what kind of people does it take to run a successful conspiracy? A bunch of hick fishermen? The Pharisees – they could run a conspiracy. But this bunch? 500 eyewitnesses. There were over 500 witnesses who saw the resurrected Christ. That’s a large number of conspirators – which usually means the conspiracy is a short one. Why didn’t the Jews produce the body? This is the most damaging argument of all. If there is no resurrection, how do the disciples gain possession of the body? If the Jews still had the body, why didn’t they produce it? Hallucination theory

The idea in this one is that we have some sort of hallucination – everybody went out and got high on some mushrooms, and this is the result (your theory here.) But this theory has a few holes, too: •

That many witnesses? All those people were hallucinating? 217

John 19:31-33

• • • •

That many appearances? For the next forty days? What about Thomas? Here’s a man, at least, whose first reaction is that this just can’t be. Was he the only one who got in on the hallucination last? Hallucinations don’t eat breakfast. Which Christ did. Where’s the body? Again, all the Jews had to do was produce the body of Jesus, and this theory would have vanished. The myth theory

This theory holds that none of this happened – or some little, but we’re not sure – and that later on the myth took hold. This has its little difficulty too. • • • • •

Style of the Gospels. We know how myths were written in that time period. Little time. We know that the undisputed date of Paul’s letters is before AD 65 (the year in which he was fed to the lions.). That doesn’t allow much time for such a myth to take hold. The two layer theory. The lower layer has a man named Jesus doing good things and speaking wisely. The upper layer has this man mythologized into the Savior. Problem? There is absolutely no physical evidence for the lower layer. The women. If you’re going to create a myth, you don’t have the first piece of evidence depend upon women. At that time, a woman’s word was very, very suspect. If you’re going to write a myth, you need a heroic disciple here – not a bunch of depressed women. Peter tells us that this is not so. See 2nd Peter 1:16. So we’re back to the conspiracy theory again. He is Risen The fifth theory is the logical one: He is Risen. Life in the Resurrection

I have often encouraged my students to live in the power of the Resurrection. What do we mean by that? Regeneration The Christian is regenerated – born again. We should act like it, then. • • •

Our first step is in baptism. We are buried with Christ – a symbolic sharing of the death, and then the Resurrection. We are “born again” – raised from the dead. This action puts His Spirit – the Holy Spirit – within us.218 With a different Spirit, we are changed – reborn. Therefore, with His Spirit, we walk in the light. 219 If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature. Our actions should speak loudly in this. Christ’s resurrection means our regeneration. 218 219

Romans 8:10-11 1 John 1:7

The point of the preaching We preach Christ crucified, risen and coming again. We preach that this is the fulfillment of prophecy, God’s plan from the beginning. 220 We preach that Christ is the way, the truth and the life – and that no one comes to God the Father except through Him. This alone makes our telling of the Gospel important to those who will hear it. • We preach that He is coming again to judge the living and the dead. And there are a fair number who ought to be apprised of that. Preaching the Gospel is not about us, though it strengthens the faith. It’s about those who haven’t heard the Word. • •

Death, where is your sting? One key characteristic of the Christian who walks in the power of the Resurrection is this: He no longer fears death – but sees it as homecoming. No fear? • • • •

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son to God – because he knew that God holds power over life and death, and could raise Isaac from the dead. 221 We know that we will be raised from the dead, too.222 Death is not permanent for us. At the resurrection, we will receive from our Father the generous rewards He has promised. 223 Most of all, we know this: to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. 224

O grave, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? We live in the power of the Resurrection, and you have no power over us.

220

Acts 2:22-37 Hebrews 11:17-19 222 John 6:39-40 223 Luke 14:12-14 224 nd 2 Corinthians 5:4-9 221

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