Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23)

“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.”” (Matthew 13:3–9, NASB95)

As looked at in the previous couple of posts this parable of Jesus’ gave cause to His disciples to ask why He had been speaking to the masses in this way. They inquired why it was that he wasn’t speaking more plainly so that they understood. To this Jesus replied that their hearts weren’t willing and as such it was not spoken for their benefit, but for those few that would believe and because of their belief be those who truly use their ears to hear and their eyes to see. Fittingly, this was a parable about those who maybe would give attention to what was said for a brief period of time, but who ultimately never really understood or believed and who were soon off to other things.

After His disciples questioned Him over this parable, and Jesus spoke to them His reasoning for using parables, He then proceeded to explain the parable to His disciples that they might more readily understand just what it was that He was speaking of. Jesus went on to say (see also Mark 4:3-20 and Luke 8:4-13),

“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.” (Matthew 13:18–23, NASB95)

Of the first group, the ones represented by the seeds that fell beside the road, where birds came and ate them up, these are the ones that hear the word of the kingdom but who clearly do not understand. And in their lack of understanding the evil one quickly snatches away the good news that had been shared. This seed never sits long enough to grow any form of root or have any lasting impact. It is as if the words fell on deaf ears. These are those ones who maybe listen but who do not hear as Jesus shared in verse 13. These are the ones whose minds are quickly filled with other things. They just don’t get it, and it doesn’t matter in their case just how clearly the message was presented but rather that their ears were unwilling to truly hear and their eyes closed to actually seeing. This is the hard ground where the seed is left as easy picking for the birds as if eating bread in an asphalt parking lot.

Of the second group, the ones represented by the seeds being sown in rocky places, these are the ones where no firm root exists in them such that he falls away when trials come. In the first the seeds were exposed and available for easy picking. In this second group the seeds are protected for a season until something comes along to break up the rocks and the seed is washed away. The rocks may be like fingers that quickly grab on to a pleasing promise with hope of change for the better but without any real understanding of why. They may like the friendliness or have felt the meeting of a need or appreciate the comfort in a difficult situation, but in reality never really understood what it is that our God truly has done for them nor grasped the salvation that He so freely gives. For them it is likely more of a feeling and not that of faith, and when the feelings fade so do they. As Jesus said, it was only a temporary keeping of them around until some trial or even persecution washes them away.

Enjoying the outdoors I had an opportunity recently to walk by myself and observe various wildflowers in a variety of soils. As I observed the hardest grounds I readily saw that they also had no growth of any form. And as I observed the rocky faces I saw that the flowers which grew there had a tenuous and temporary grasp on life, for when the waters would come the soil which held them would be washed away and when the sun beat down that same soil would not hold enough water to keep them alive. These flowers were never the rich leafy ones, but the ones that sprung up quickly and soon were gone. Being a flower in rocky ground is a rough way to live for there is joy for only a very brief season as they have no firm root of their own which survives the harsher times.

The third seed reminds me of an unattended garden. Jesus spoke of these as the ones who were sown among the thorns. This is a rough and unruly ground, where nothing of real value endures. As the seeds are cast among the thorns (or weeds which we might be more familiar with), the weeds quickly steal the nutrients necessary for the seed to establish roots and grow. While the weeds thrive, the seed is quickly choked out, not to bear any fruit. Jesus said that this type of person is the one who hears the word and who maybe even understands it a bit more than the others, but the concerns of his life prove more valuable and the message is quickly lost in the jungle of his priorities. Jesus spoke quite a bit about those whose priority was storing up treasures in this life. This last group can easily fit that picture. In Luke chapters 12 and 16 Jesus told a couple of parables of rich men whose treasures in this life proved more valuable than the truth of God’s word. In Luke 12 we read,

“And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. ‘And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”” (Luke 12:16–21, NASB95)

As Jesus concluded the parable of the sower, He said, “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.” And in wrapping up His explanation He adds, “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.” This is the one who both hears and sees. This is the one where the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ brings forth the great riches of new life and great growth as God works in them to bear great fruit. All of these people are saved and all of these people have a rich inheritance in eternity. But each of these people has to choose daily to worship and follow after God as well as returning themselves back to Him in service (Romans 12:1).

Scripture records that none of us are the same in the body of Christ, but that all of us are valuable. None of us have the same aptitudes, or talents, and none of us are gifted by His Spirit in the same way. But each of us is called to serve God with our whole hearts, and He promises to reward us for what we do in our bodies. God does not save us to sit on a branch and grow fat soaking in the nutrients of the vine. A plump juicy grape is a wonderful thing, but left unpicked it serves no benefit. God has called us and is equipping us to bear fruit, and this fruit evidences itself as we return ourselves to Him in obedient service. Even the seeds that were sown to begin this parable were sown by someone.

“Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.”” (John 4:34–36, NASB95) 

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Mystery of Parables Revealed (Matthew 13:13-17)

“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.” (Matthew 13:13–17, NASB95)

In 2 Chronicles 7 we read about the completion of Solomon’s temple—called the house of the Lord. Upon its completion Scripture tells us that the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night. Among the things said is a verse which has frequently been used to call people of even this nation to repentance,  “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV)

God had made a promise to Solomon that while He had accepted the temple as a place where He would accept sacrifices and to which He would pay special attention to the prayers made there, that the real healing of Israel would not happen apart from real change in the people. Building a temple would not cover their rebellion. As we know from Scripture and from history the people of Israel did not come to mass repentance and turn to God. In large part their hearts remained hard and they continued to seek after their own desires. Even in 2 Chronicles 27 when King Jotham took the throne and did right in the eyes of the Lord, Scripture records, “But the people continued acting corruptly.” (2 Chronicles 27:2, NASB95) This path of destruction eventually led to the land being taken away, the temple being destroyed, and many of the people being taken into Babylonian captivity as Chronicles ends. From then on we had the prophets who God raised to call the people to repentance.

Isaiah was one of those prophets, and it was Him who Jesus quoted in today’s passage. In response to his willingness to be sent by God, God gave Isaiah a very difficult message of coming destruction with a thread of hope woven into its core. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.’ “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate, the Lord has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. Yet there will be a tenth portion in it, and it will again be subject to burning, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.”” (Isaiah 6:8–13, NASB95) Just as God had told Isaiah, the hard hearts of the people persisted. And it will not be until mid-way through the Tribulation period when their eyes will begin to open culminating at the end of the Great Tribulation when finally all of Israel will be saved as Christ returns to rule for 1,000 years. Later in Isaiah we read, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.” (Isaiah 35:5, NASB95)

It was a people in this state of rebellion that Jesus spoke of whose ears were deaf to understanding that He was indeed their sent Messiah. They looked upon Him, listened to Him, and watched Him do miracles, but they still did not get the truth of His coming as the God-man who came to redeem the lost. God knew what it would ultimately take, and He was working His plan. But in the process, while the nation did not turn, many Jews did hear understand and see and perceive and were saved. And beyond that the gospel of salvation was to be brought to all the nations of the world. This is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that through him all of the nations would be blessed. While the Jews at large stood in stiff necked rebellion others were coming to Christ for salvation. This was a mystery that God revealed clearly in the New Testament, speaking specifically to Peter and calling Paul to this ministry to the Gentiles.

Paul shared of his calling in a hearing before King Agrippa testifying, “And I [Paul] said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. ‘But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’” (Acts 26:15–18, NASB95)

Just as Jesus spoke of the eyes and ears of His disciples with Him in these verses being able to see and hear, as we read of others who Jesus encountered who also came to understand, and as we read of Paul’s own calling and of thousands of others in Scripture responding, so we read that we who have had our eyes also opened and who have received God’s gift of forgiveness are truly the beneficiaries—knowing God in Christ and the riches of His kingdom.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Baffling Pictures to Blind Eyes (Matthew 13:1-3, 10-13, 34)

“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….” (Matthew 13:1–3a, NASB95)

“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.” (Matthew 13:10–13, NASB95)

“All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable.” (Matthew 13:34, NASB95)

A parable is placing one thing beside another. It is a comparison or analogy used to illustrate a point often told through story. In this way parables often begin with ‘x’ is like ‘y,’ and then the person sharing the parable goes on to talk about ‘y.’ And if the person is able to make the connection between ‘y’ and ‘x’ then the meaning of ‘x’ is more clearly understood.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7 Jesus spoke clearly and to the point. Following the sermon, we find Jesus performing many miracles and Him even empowering His disciples to go out only to the Jews to perform miracles and to declare that the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 10). He instructed them to go where they were welcomed and to speak to those who would listen, leaving all others behind. He warned them of great rejection and the likelihood of great persecution. As Jesus became more well-known, both He and His disciples grew as the object of attack. Some would hear and listen, but many would not. And it was to those who would listen that they went.

As we enter chapter 13 Jesus begins speaking to people using parables—stories and analogies—such that many did not understand their point. In Verses 3 through 9 of Matthew 13 we find the first of this series of these parables—the parable of the sower. After he had shared the parable with the crowd His disciples came to Him and asked why He had not spoken more clearly to the crowd. To this Jesus responded that those who were given to understand they would be given much, but those whose eyes were calloused and whose hearts were hardened would not understand. In a sense the parables were a way of speaking such that His followers understood and His enemies shook their heads in bewilderment.

Over the next several blogs we will look at these parables and the rich instruction which Jesus gave in them. As we do this it is my prayer that our hearts might indeed be softened to His instruction and that our eyes might clearly see and understand. But having said this, there are many even today whose eyes remain as the listeners then who reject both Christ and His message. To them much of what they hear sounds like foolishness. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:1–6, NASB95)

Jesus was not being deceptive, nor was He attempting to keep people from growing in the knowledge and understanding of God. In speaking in parables He knew that there were those whose hardness of heart would continue and that they would reject both the message and the messenger. He also knew that in speaking this way that others would have their hearts pricked; their eyes opened, and would either understand or like His disciples stop and ask more questions.

We see this clearly in the chapters before these parables when many came to Jesus believing that He had the power to heal. These are the ones who understood His power and His authority and who trusted that He was able to do the most incredible of things. In Matthew 5:5-13 we read of the centurion (officer in the Roman army) who came to Jesus seeking healing for his servant. Jesus told the centurion that He would go to his home to heal his servant, but the centurion responded to Jesus that He had no need to do so. The Roman officer understood the power of authority, and He knew that Jesus had the authority to heal whether He went or commanded such from where He stood. Verse 10-13 record what happened next, “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.” (Matthew 8:10–13, NASB95)

And just as the Centurion believed and his servant was healed, many others saw those same miracles and continued in their unbelief. Having seen the power of God they still chose to reject His salvation. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 we read, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NASB95)

Paul was one of those whose eyes were blinded to these words of Jesus. But when Jesus later confronted him we read, “And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. ‘But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’” (Acts 26:15–18, NASB95)

So, while others might be shaking their heads at us, we need to be mindful that while there are still many mysteries that we do not understand and that we still have much to learn about our God, God has and will continue to reveal Himself more and more to us as we look to Him and worship Him. As He revealed to the prophets of His coming salvation and His restoration of the rebellion of Israel, He also reveals Himself to us and to those who seek Him. To the prophet Jeremiah He said, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3, NASB95)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Christ the Solid Rock (Matthew 7:24-27,28-29)

“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.” (Matthew 7:24–27, NASB95)

For those in His audience who had been listening intently, the words of verses 21-23 must have been astounding. In these verses Jesus declares Himself not only as Lord, but also as the gatekeeper to heaven.  In verses 24-27 Jesus concludes His message with a powerful illustration. This illustration is possibly one of the better known ones in the Bible, especially by children as He compares the outcome of the lives of those who listen and believe what He had just said with those who choose to ignore His words in favor of their own desires.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Ann Omley’s song (1948, public domain) sung inspired by these verses with all of its motions, ranging from simple hand movements to some renditions which have been even more extreme. I must admit that I even went to YouTube in order to watch the song being sung with what I have known as the more traditional accompanying hand motions. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched.

The wise man built his house upon the Rock,
The wise man built his house upon the Rock,
The wise man built his house upon the Rock,
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
But the house on the Rock stood firm.

The foolish man built his house upon the sand,
The foolish man built his house upon the sand,
The foolish man built his house upon the sand,
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
And the house on the sand fell flat.

So build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ,
So build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ,
So build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ,
And the blessings will come down.
The blessings come down as your prayers go up,
The blessings come down as your prayers go up,
The blessings come down as your prayers go up,
So build your life on the Lord.

Jesus said anyone who hears and acts upon His words is like the wise man who builds his house upon the rock—the solid ground. This association between the rock as solid ground and Jesus Christ as the firm foundation for our faith is not only used comparatively by Jesus himself, but is affirmed elsewhere in Scripture. Paul used it to speak of the Jews coming out of captivity when some followed by faith and others didn’t and were purged. “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. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.” (1 Corinthians 10:1–5, NASB95) In these verses we are told of the obvious presence of God and His expectation of them to walk by faith. God had made Himself known is so many ways, and still large numbers did not believe and perished—lost in the sands of the desert. Twice Paul stated that this lesson of the Jews disobedience was given as an example so that we would not desire evil as they did (verses 6 and 11). He also said it was given as an instruction so that we might not do the same.

Having lived through a major earthquake and observing great destruction, we appreciated that the house we were renting was built upon solid ground with a good foundation.  Everything in the home was literally thrown from where it was, but the house stood sound. There were many other homes which did not do so well, especially some that were built in areas where dirt had been brought in to fill the land before construction. These homes suffered from what is known as liquefaction, which is basically the ground turning to mush bringing greater and even total destruction in some cases. There have been other earthquakes where this destruction was even more dramatic. When this happens it doesn’t matter how well the developer and/or contractor had thought he had done his work, the movement of the earth proves otherwise.

Another picture that comes to my mind is the sand castles that we have so much fun building on the beach. Here I don’t believe there is anyone who seriously thinks that the castle will be there the next day. Once the tides change and the ocean waves come in the castle is destroyed. It was built knowing that it would not last. To Jesus’ audience He was saying that if you build your life on anything other than the truths that He had just shared that you would be building your life like a house that will not stand.

Jesus had repeatedly told His listeners to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), and to work knowing that our reward is in heaven and not in the present as with the hypocrites. In Him we are instructed that we have an eternal inheritance which cannot be taken away. In Matthew 6:19-20 He said, “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;” (Matthew 6:19–20, NASB95) And in 2 Corinthians we find these bodies that we live in pictured as a tent which will pass away, but then for those whose trust is in Christ we read, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians 5:1, NASB95) In Revelation 21 we read of our eternal dwelling place—a new heaven and a new earth in which the eternal dwelling place of God is with man and there will be no walls or gates keeping us from His presence. There are so many other verses of Scripture we can look to which speak of Christ being our certain and firm foundation that will never fail or fall.

In Christ, we not only have an eternal assurance which cannot be shaken, but we also have the firm hand of our ever-present God keeping us such that we will not be swept away in the meantime. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1–2, NASB95) And in 2 Timothy we read, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His….” (2 Timothy 2:19a, NASB95)

His listeners had to make a choice which is the same choice all mankind has had to make. Would they hear His words and place their trust in Him being saved inheriting eternal life in His presence, or would they reject Him and His salvation and subject themselves to eternal judgment in the presence of the Destroyer? What kind of foundation are we going to rest in? Christ is the certain and sure foundation, the rock of our salvation, and our eternal hope. Everything else is like shifting sand and will never withstand the judgment of our perfect God and His gatekeeper—His Son, Jesus Christ.

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:23, NASB95) … “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.” (Matthew 7:28–29, NASB95)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”  … “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1–3, 14 NASB95)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Written in the Right Book? (Matthew 7:21-23)

“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.’” (Matthew 7:21–23, NASB95)

A recurring theme in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was hypocrisy. He spoke multiples times in a variety of ways about those who do things for their immediate reward, and repeatedly He said that the only reward they would receive is what they were to get then and there. These verses for today speak to how drastically short these kinds of efforts leave the people who base their lives upon them.

Scripture clearly says that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. In Isaiah we read, “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. “I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” (Isaiah 45:22–23, NASB95) This is true for all. There are no exceptions. Some will bow in adoration as they receive their inheritance of eternal life and have their works judged for eternal reward. “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10b–12, NASB95) And it is true for those who bow in deep sorrow to be sentenced to eternal separation and judgment.

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11–15, NASB95)

There will only be one book that counts, and that is the book of life. The next chapter of Revelation immediately speaks of the new heaven and the new earth created perfect for eternity for those whose names were found in THE BOOK. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”” (Revelation 21:3–4, NASB95) Later in chapter 21 we read, “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:22–27, NASB95) What an incredible time this will be as we inherit eternity in the presence of our God with His glory as our light and Him as our temple. There no longer is a representation, but a full and eternal realization for those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

But Scripture also tells us there are other books which contain the futile works of all whose names are not in the one book that matters. These are the ones who rejected God and sought their own paths as Jesus had just referred to. These are the ones who chose the wide way that leads to destruction, and all of their works of whatever form will not make up for the sins which they committed. “as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one;” (Romans 3:10, NASB95) The Bible says that the only way to be saved is by faith, and then those who are saved will evidence God’s work in their lives as they walk and serve by faith. Those who never trust are never saved. Those who are big in themselves and their works and the strength of their bootstraps are the ones whose bowing will come with great regret. The Bible tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NASB95)

Today’s passage is indeed sobering. Let’s say you were to ask someone the question, “Suppose you were to die tonight and God were to ask you why should I let you into My heaven, what would you say?” To this the person then responds with anything other than trusting God by faith. Think of the opportunity to share with them the great eternal Difference Maker. God’s gift of salvation is found in His Son who is declared to us throughout the entirety of Scripture, and is found in the simplest of truths, such that they don’t have to wonder how good is good enough. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Knowing the Voice of the Shepherd (Matthew 7:15-19)

“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 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.” (Matthew 7:15–19, NASB95)

A large portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was distinguishing between those who are encouraged to follow after God with their whole hearts and doing what they do with that same sincerity of heart by faith, and those who do so for their own gain. There have been numerous illustrations to this point of those who are hypocrites or people with false motives and hopes of immediate recognition and gain. In this portion of His message Jesus tells His hearers to be on the alert, and be on the alert specifically for those who are false prophets coming in disguise as the real deal.

Twisting God’s truth for personal benefit was not a new practice. It stems back to man first sinning, and it has been practiced ever since. Genesis chapter 3 starts off with, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1, NASB95) Satan asked about a broad web of restriction, I’m sure, knowing that the woman would respond with her understanding of the actual instruction to which she said, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:2–3, NASB95)

What God actually told Adam is recorded for us in Genesis 2:16-17, where we read, “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”” (Genesis 2:16–17, NASB95) It sounded like Eve had the instruction of God correct, but going back to the actual instruction we find that she had added something that God did not say and missed something that He did say. Satan, being crafty as he is, responded to the core of the punishment which Eve had stated, telling her that she surely would not die, but that God was trying to keep her from eating so that she would not gain something more enticing—“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5, NASB95)

Assured in the deception, Eve looked at the tree and found it very appealing, so she took of the fruit and ate it herself and then gave it to Adam who was with her at the time and he ate it also. Then things immediately changed and the fruit of the deception of Eve and the knowing disobedience of Adam were becoming more evident and leading to swift judgment. When God asked her what she had done, Eve responded, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

This is the danger of wolves who teach distortions of the truth. In speaking to the elders in the Ephesian churches Paul wrote, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.” (Acts 20:28–31, NASB95) The apostle Paul had spent a great deal of time teaching truth to these men of God, and he was exhorting them to hold onto with great tenacity the truths that they had learned and to be careful to protect the church from those who would even rise up among them to twist it in some way. He said what they all knew that good fruit comes from good trees and bad fruit from bad ones.

It is pretty easy to distinguish glaring error once you have a basic understanding of truth, but the subtle things can slip in so easily and before you know it there might be a situation like the frog in the pot of cold water unaware that the temperature was slowing rising and the frog was slowly being cooked. A wolf does not come in appearing as a wolf, but as one who is like the rest and welcomed, but over time his wolf-ness begins to show and one of the obvious ways is through the destruction that comes along. His deceptive work will lead to destructive results and rotten fruit.

Jesus gives several illustrations to make the point clear. In an agrarian society it was a well-known fact that you don’t go pick grapes among thorns or figs from thistles. The simple truth is that good fruit does not come from a bad source. If you are seeing bad fruit—stop, look, and consider the source. And if you find that it is coming from wrong teaching—seek to instruct and correct the source. And if that source won’t be corrected get rid of it.

Jesus did not here speak of the part of correction, but He did elsewhere in passages such as Matthew “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.” (Matthew 18:15–17, NASB95) We see here this process of trying to correct, but in the event that correction is not received, and especially when it is known by more than just the one, then something more drastic has to happen leading to the individual even being cut out of the fellowship. The apostle Paul had to do this from a distance with one of the men in the Corinthian church who was arrogant in his sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). But then in 2 Corinthians 2 we read Paul writing to these same believers of a man who had repented and was to be received back into their fellowship (2 Corinthians 2:5-11).

While the situation of Corinthians might have been over something that we see as kind of obvious, the spiritual maturity of the Corinthian believers was so stinted that they did not respond to his open and blatantly flaunted sin as well as a number of other issues. Paul said to them that he would rather he had not to deal with them as he did in this first letter, but there was an even deeper issue which they had not dealt with that opened the door for all of the other issues. We read, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1–3, NASB95) This group of believers not only did not spot the wolves, they were not looking to their own maturity and seeking to follow after God and His truths. We can rejoice in having the letter of 2 Corinthians where we read that progress had happened and while they still had a ways to go, his content of this letter was more instructive of a church in need of growth and not of a group of people in need of rebuke and correction.

But in this Paul was still very concerned of the lack of maturity among the Corinthian believers and their lack of discernment concerning the potential for deceptive teaching. Paul wrote in chapter 11, “I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.” (2 Corinthians 11:1–4, NASB95) Paul even pointed in verses 7-9 that during his ministry to them he did so without depending on them for financial gain. In fact, his support came from other means. Clearly he was not there to pad his pockets, but ministered to them because of His love for them and His love for God. “Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” (2 Corinthians 11:11, NASB95) Paul demonstrated to them the difference between a wolf and a sheep by his life and conduct, and he encouraged them to be on the watch for those who come with others motives knowing that they will indeed come.

Today things are not much different. There are a number of churches which have set aside the firm belief in the Word of God. They have turned from a statement of faith on the Scriptures such as, “The Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are the inspired Word of God without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for the salvation of mankind, and the divine and final authority for all Christian faith and life.” and have adopted ones such as, XXX Church “takes the Bible seriously, but not literally.” What kind of a stand is this second one? Who is man to determine what part of God’s Word is to be adhered to and what part isn’t? The simple reality of a statement such as this is to say (1) that either God’s Word is not really His Word or (2) that He does not have the desire or ability to defend it. This kind of view of Scripture denies the integrity of Scripture and opens the door for any form of belief which man might wish to adopt. In doing this there is no difference between those Jews who took the Scriptures and redrew their own lines.

The Word of God is either His Word which He is able to protect, or it isn’t. The apostle Peter took a very strong stand on this issue, writing, “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:21, NASB95) And the apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Timothy 3:16, NASB95). This word “inspired” is the Greek word ‘theopneustos’ which means ‘God-breathed,’ and that is to be the firm conviction of all who trust in the reliability of God's Word.

In Acts 17 we read of a group of Jews who knew and understood God’s Scriptures in this way. They were marked by taking what they heard back to the Scriptures (our Old Testament), and judging things according to their accuracy. Having established this practice we find that when many of them heard the news of the Messiah, finding it to match what God had said would happen, they then believed and were saved. “The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.” (Acts 17:10–12, NASB95) In searching for the truth they knew it when it was presented, and trusting they believed and were saved.

In Psalm 119 we read, “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways. You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently. Oh that my ways may be established To keep Your statutes!” (Psalm 119:1–5, NASB95) To this the psalmist added, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11, NASB95) His protection against the wolves was to learn and know the voice of the Shepherd.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The One and Only Way (Matthew 7:13-14)

“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.” (Matthew 7:13–14, NASB95)

There are many philosophies in the world and many ways that people pursue toward their expected end or reward. Some pursue a path of works and hoping to please or satisfy their Maker, while others might pursue a path of pleasure now because they don’t believe in anything after. Some believe in a good grandfather God who will look the other way, while others believe in a harsh and judgmental God whom they strive to please while avoiding His harsh wrath. Some believe that while there might be a God, He lost interest in us a long time ago and we are pretty much on our own. Some pursue a path of balancing their good and their bad according to their own scale with the expectation that their good will outweigh the bad and they will wind up okay in the end. Some pursue a path of do it now and fix it later. Some believe in a single God as do Jews, Christians, and even Muslims, while others believe that there is a plurality of gods or even no god at all. And for all of these there are probably an abundance of books and systems of belief that serve to explain and propagate them even further.

And when it comes to the Bible itself, some believe it as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and others think of it as a good book which maybe God endorses but does not solidly stand behind all that it contains, and that maybe it has even been supplemented or altered by a later source. As we look around us we clearly can see that there is an abundance of ways from which to choose, even to the point of picking from here and there in order to make your own smorgasbord path.

Entering into a discussion of faith with others can truly be an enlightening experience as their hearts are revealed in what they choose to believe. Jesus said that there is plenty of room for deception which ultimately leads to destruction, but that there is only one small narrow path that leads to life. And He adds the most sobering words that there are only a few, as compared to the multitudes on mankind who have lived, are living, or will live, who will find this way.

The crazy thing is that it is not that God has hidden it from man, but that man because of the hardness of his own heart has suppressed that which God has readily revealed in His creation. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:18–21, NASB95)

God has made Himself known in His creation and He makes Himself known through the lives of His people as they world observes the work that He accomplishes in those who seek after Him by faith and follow His ordinances. “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11–12, NASB95) God changes lives and this change is a testimony of Him which brings Him glory.

God also, and most importantly, has revealed Himself through His Word. “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:19–21, NASB95) The life of the Christian is not one of blindness and guessing, but one of hiding the living and active Word of God in our hearts as we grow in our knowledge of Him and walk in trust submitting ourselves to His will and His ways.

Today those who trust in God through Christ are known as Christians. But it was not this way in the beginning. “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1–2, NASB95) As we see here in Acts 9:2 and also later several times in Paul’s testimony these early believers were referred to as “the Way.” It was “the Way” that Paul was opposed to and which He sought to destroy. And it was only a few verses later that we read of Saul being confronted by Jesus and being converted from a persecutor of “the Way” to becoming one who came to know the true and narrow way.

Shortly after Saul was saved on the road to Damascus, Ananias came to him after receiving a vision from God (Acts 9:10-19) and told Saul of God’s plan for him to reach the Gentiles (non-Jews). So, after having his sight restored Saul went out to proclaim this change of heart that God had made in him. People were amazed at the message of this one who had been persecuting followers of Christ and was now proclaiming Him true. It wasn’t long before they sought to kill him. So Saul left, and went to Jerusalem, but even there the disciples were afraid of him because they knew of his previous work of seeking their death. It was then that Barnabas stepped in and interceded for Saul. Saul and Barnabas then went our again with the message of salvation to all. Acts 9:31 records, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” (Acts 9:31, NASB95)

A lot happens in the verses that follow, both in God revealing more clearly His plan of salvation for all men and in others persecuting those who had come to faith in Christ. As the message was being spread the persecution was getting more intense. In Acts 11:19 we read that this persecution and the martyrdom of Stephen was causing believers to disperse. And it is in Acts 11 that we first read of these followers of Christ being referred to as Christians. It was not a matter of them adopting this term and self-identifying themselves in this way, but it was a term given them by the people who observed them and pointed them out even in this derogatory way. “And he [Barnabas] left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:25–26, NASB95)

Jesus spoke of a narrow way, and we find this way clearly declared in the truths of God’s inerrant and infallible Word. It is a way that is not subject to the whims of man, nor the pressures of any outside source. It is a way that has withstood the most intense of persecution and ridicule, and it is the only way that leads from destruction to life. And that way is by believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and who rose from the dead on the third day just as the Scriptures had declared in advance would happen and testify for us actually did happen.

Before Jesus was arrested and crucified He was speaking to His disciples about His soon leaving, and Thomas said to Him, “Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”” (John 14:5, NASB95) Scripture records for us Jesus’ response. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”” (John 14:6–7, NASB95)

Jesus Himself declared that He is the only way to the Father, there is no other path which leads to salvation. In Acts we read, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, NASB95)

Eternity is not a buffet line where man is allowed to pick and choose his favorite aspects. The Bible says that there is only one Way and that way is Jesus Christ. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life.” As a Christian I am proud to boast in my God and in having being given salvation by His Son—Jesus Christ, and as a person who was wandering lost I am thankful that God has indeed shown me and called me to His correct and only Way.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12)

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NASB95)

It’s been a few days since I’ve looked at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in order to write down some thoughts. But it’s not been a few days since I thought about today’s single verse. Last week I went through orientation at a local retailer, followed by a buddy shift, and then actually putting things into practice through work. This particular retailer’s strategy for success is “Customer 1st.” Not only is putting customers first a priority, so is the way they treat their employees and expect their employees to treat one another. These principles stem from the business practices of the founders of two separate companies that have merged over the years, and as you can see it is a principle that is founded in Scripture. Imagine if every person we met we were focused on their best, what a radical change that would make not only in our places of work, but also in our homes, churches, communities, and more.

As a part of my orientation I was encouraged to come up with a phrase or something to go under my name on my name badge. After thinking on it for the rest of that day, I came back the next day and asked if I could put “E67” on my name badge. My trainer, knowing my background, immediately asked me if it stood for Ephesians 6:7, to which I said that it did. What I told her I would tell any customers who asked what it meant was, “This is a reminder that I am here to serve you with joy.” Ephesians 6:7 reads, “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men,” (Ephesians 6:7, NASB95) And in The Message paraphrase I found it to say, “And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God.” (Ephesians 6:7, The Message)

This past week I have kept both Matthew 7:12 and Ephesians 6:7 on my mind as I went through my work, and while my body might have ached from some muscles I have not used to that extent in a while, I have found the service quite rewarding. Jesus said that we are to treat others in the same way that we would want them to treat us. Paul said that we are to serve others as if we were serving our Lord. Jesus said a similar thing in Matthew 25 when He spoke of the righteous ones who will come through the Tribulation period (Matthew 25:31-46). He said in verse 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.’” (Matthew 25:40, NASB95)

Matthew 7:12 has been called the Golden Rule. When we look at the recognition that God places on our service to others and the reward that Scripture says awaits us in His presence for treating others in this way, we truly can see that our rewards are not only of gold, but also silver and precious stones. “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.” (1 Corinthians 3:12–14, NASB95)

Treating others as we would want them to treat us regardless of how they really do treat us is a great picture of our Lord. The Bible points to just how helpless we were in our lost-ness, but because God loved us He sent His Son to provide for our salvation through His shed blood and death on a cross. This is how He treated us and treats us. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NASB95)

So, what is this so called Law of the Prophets that is fulfilled when we treat others this way? Later in Matthew Jesus was asked by a lawyer among a group of Pharisees who were trying to trap Him in a Scriptural error what the greatest commandment was. We read, “But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 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.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”” (Matthew 22:34–40, NASB95)

Jesus summed it up in Matthew 22 with the truth that we are to love God with every bit of ourselves—heart, soul, and mind. There is nothing that we are to hold back from our love of God. He then went on to say that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our love for God is not only directed to Him, but it is evidenced in our relationships with others. So, we really find that the Golden Rule is the evidence of the rule of God in our lives—affecting everything we are and do.

In John we read Jesus words, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NASB95) Clearly, God has set forth a critical life principle for us, and that is to love others as God loves us, and in doing this people will see and know that He is real. And doing it with a smile lifts a great load off of our feet.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ask, Seek, and Knock (Matthew 7:7-11)

“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!” (Matthew 7:7–11, NASB95)

Jesus ended Matthew chapter 6 (which was all part of an ongoing instruction without chapters and verses) by talking about anxiety and how God tends to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, ending with an instruction to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. In these verses today He instructed His listeners and all who read His words (like us) to ask, seek, and knock.

Ask, seek, and knock. As I was sitting here considering this passage, my wife, Robin, received a text update and prayer request from her sister in the San Diego area. Many of her relatives, including Robin’s sister, are currently evacuated due to fires raging out of control. In addition, she let us know that one of their cousins, who had undergone treatments and surgery for cancer, was again finding that the cancer had reared its head and they are desiring prayer for a number of things. Last week Robin even received a prayer request from someone close to her who has held out a stiff arm toward God. But because someone close to them is in dire physical health, this person asked her to pray. Ask, seek, and knock—it is an amazing thing how much trials remind us of how powerless we are and how powerful God is.

Some people pray hoping that something magic will happen without any real concept of who God is. They cling to a hope that there is a power out there that will hear their cry and respond with help. But God is not one who hides Himself to those whose hearts are bent toward Him. The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking had been taught that there indeed is a God who had shown His favor on them, and they had been taught that they were to come to Him with their pleas. But, there was also room to question how many really understood that their God loved them and desired them to seek Him with all of their lives.

Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” In asking we recognize our need and we humbly go to God who not only knows that need but also has told us that He will meet our needs. In seeking our hearts are turned toward Him in dependence as we seek after His will. And in knocking we wait, knowing that He will answer for He is indeed at home and He is not peeking out between the curtains to see if He wants to answer the door.

Jesus follows His instruction to ask, seek, and knock with assurances that they will indeed find their Father in heaven attentive to them. He said that when we ask, God answers and we will receive from Him. He said that when we seek that we truly will find Him and what He has for us, and when we knock He will indeed open doors. The greatest of these doors is His inviting us in to a relationship with Him.

James (who is Jesus’ half-brother) wrote about this asking, seeking, and knocking as something that we do believing. He wrote, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5–8, NASB95) Believing means trusting, and this means that we need to be dependent on God. This type of person is one who asks, seeks, and knocks with his (or her) heart is turned toward God in dependence, and Scripture loudly declares and demonstrates that our loving, powerful, and faithful God will answer.

Jesus went on to give very practical illustrations that His hearers would easily understand. Imagine a child asking his father for some bread to eat and he hands him a rock, or who asks for some meat to eat and his father gives him a snake who bites his outstretched hand. Clearly this is not the normal nature of our human fathers, and it definitely is not the character of our perfect Heavenly Father. Later in chapter 1 of his letter, James wrote, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:16–17, NASB95)

We have an enemy out there who is about disappointment, destruction, and death. He showed himself as a serpent in the garden and will appear as a great red dragon in the tribulation period. He is known by several names, but primarily as Satan and the devil. His nature is that of a snake and what he gives is consistent with his character. And his influence is strong in our world which is subjected to all sorts of trials for a season. But God has not let loose the reins of this world to Satan. The devil and his cohorts have limited power. Diseases even are limited in their power, and all of the forces of nature also are limited. But God’s power is limitless and His Word declares that He will take care of those who give themselves to and seek after Him. He will give when we ask, He will show Himself and His ways when we seek, and He will open both the doors for our lives here and most importantly the door to eternity where He has promised to bring to Himself all who believe Him for salvation.

So, when we get requests like we did tonight or when we have other requests of our own we can confidently go to God with our prayers knowing that this is exactly what He wants us to do, and He will answer.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Honest Talk from Changed Lives (Matthew 7:1-6)

“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.” (Matthew 7:1–6, NASB95)

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Matthew 7:1 quoted, sometimes in context and other times as a seeming way to write off or excuse speaking up in one way or another for biblical truth. Strongly present in the crowds when Jesus spoke to large groups of Jews, such as here, were Pharisees and other legalists. Jesus addressed them earlier in this Sermon on the Mount. The apostle Paul also dealt with judgmental attitudes even among believers in the last chapters of Romans, particularly in chapter 14. In each of these we find at the heart of the issue a haughty better-than-thou attitude, where the person standing wagging his finger is both guilty of not looking honestly at his own life and not regarding that all ultimate judgment belongs to God. These people are consistently referred to as hypocrites, or those who hold others to a standard they do not adhere to themselves.

There is a big difference between holding to biblical values and encouraging others to do likewise and looking down your nose at those who don’t and judging them for their actions. One side of this picture is based in love and what is best and the other is founded in harshness and condemnation. Sure, people do make choices and some choose to listen to God and obey Him and others don’t. There are many who become saved and have their lives shaped by God working in them as they submit to His truths, and there are those who aren’t saved and continue in their own ways—believing as they think right. In between these there are those who claim to be saved, whether they really are or not, and who live with a pick and choose or advisory attitude toward God’s Word. Among these are many who are influenced by a growing number of churches who have strayed from God’s inerrant and authoritative Word.

In this passage Jesus warns against being the judge. In fact, He said that those who stand in judgment in this way will also find themselves judged by that same standard, and that the consequences for those judgments will be appropriately measured out. We even find for believers that there will be a time when each of us stands before God and what we do here in these bodies will be tested by fire, and that there would even be those, who while eternally saved, will indeed suffer some form of loss (Romans 14;10; 2 Corinthians 5:10;

“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:12–15, NASB95)

In addition to not being a harsh judge, Jesus instructs His listeners, and us, that there are some appropriate things in which we should engage. First and foremost among them is that we are to be people who deal honestly before God with our own actions. Putting the issue in stark perspective, Jesus says to take the log out of our own eyes before we even consider pointing to the speck in another person’s eye. James gave us a picture of the type of person we become when we know God’s Word and yet we don’t live by it ourselves. He said, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” (James 1:22-24, NASB95). James continued to describe the person who takes the way he lives his life seriously before God this way, “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:25, NASB95)

Clearly we have a contrast between the hypocrite who will be judged for his harsh criticisms and the one who is blessed because He takes the entire instruction of God and shapes his life accordingly. This second person is the one who honestly and lovingly can follow the next part of Jesus instruction in today’s passage—going to others and helping them to see the issues in their own lives. This is a picture of someone who humbly submits themselves to God and who lovingly approaches others to give them aid.

But Jesus does not end here. He adds, “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.” Simply put, there are those who will not listen and who have no desire to follow after God’s will according to His Word. In fact, they may even be quite hostile to God, His message, and you the messenger. In relation to these Jesus seems to be saying, “Don’t waste your breath. They are just going to trample what you give them under their feet.” This doesn’t mean that we don’t try, but when we are rebuffed we are to move on and minister to those who will listen.

In Mark and Luke we read of Jesus sending His disciples out by two’s to speak to the people and He gave them the accompanying power to perform miracles. Among His instructions was what they were to do when they were rejected. He said, “Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.” And in the next verse it says, “They went out and preached that men should repent.” (Mark 6:11, 12, NASB95)

The apostle Paul also experienced a great deal of resistance to the gospel, and he referred to those times when He was forced to move on as closed doors for ministry. The simple truth is that when we engage with others there will be those who respond and those who don’t. We cannot control their response, but what we can do is to continue to share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ and make disciples of those who respond, teaching them to obey all that He commanded even as we do likewise (Matthew 28:19-20). This is both the Great Commission and our reasonable spiritual response (Romans 12:1).

Monday, May 12, 2014

First Things First (Matthew 6:31-34)

“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.” (Matthew 6:31–34, NASB95)

Matthew 6:33 is one of those verses that is a favorite to many, especially to those who struggle with making ends meet or questions about tomorrow. These verses today and the ones that come immediately before it all have to do with worry and anxiety. They have to do with carrying burdens that seem unbearable or approaching deadlines that seem unable to be met. They have to do with people who live under the burden of waiting for the next shoe to drop. The Bible has a lot to say about worry and what we are to do about those worries.

Jesus wraps up this portion of His message with the instruction not to worry about things down the road or beyond today such as tomorrow’s food, drink, and clothing, and He set these worries in the context of the Gentiles who eagerly seek after these things. Looking to the setting of His message we need to be mindful that He was speaking to the Jews as His audience. And to them the Gentiles were those who did not know their God nor did they seek after Him. Their hope was in their own ability to provide. Beyond themselves there was no expectation of deliverance of any form short of possibly pleasing and gaining the favor of some god which Jesus has already declared does not exist. Their hope outside of themselves was an empty hope and their worries were very real.

Jesus reminds His believers and even us today as people who know our hope in God, that our Heavenly Father does truly know our needs and He is powerful to act to take care of them. He created us to need food. He created us to need water. He knows our need of clothing having Himself clothed Adam and Eve after they sinned and they found themselves naked in the garden. None of these needs are surprises to our God, and we know with an absolute certainty that He loves us more than we could ever imagine. We were reminded earlier how He provides for the birds of the air and how He adorns the flowers of the field. He does this for all of His creation, and we are told that He will do much more for us.

It is in this context that we read, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Jesus reminds His hearers that their real priority is to seek after God and His plan for them with their whole hearts and to understand and walk in His righteousness. For us who have trusted Jesus for our salvation we know that our righteous God has put on us the righteousness of His own Son and has called us as His beloved children to follow after and serve Him. This is to be our real priority before God, and in this process of seeking Him we are to lay our anxieties for the other stuff at His feet and trust Him to tend to them as well. In 1 Peter we read, “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NASB95)

We are told by Jesus later in this same message to consider just how much our earthly fathers who sin do for us and then imagine how much more our heavenly Father will do for us. “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!” (Matthew 7:11, NASB95) His power is unlimited, His love is boundless, and He is able to do so much more than we can ever ask or imagine.

In the last verse of today’s passage we read that we are not to worry about tomorrow, but to lay the trials of today before our God and to trust His to strengthen us to deal with the trials of tomorrow when tomorrow comes. We can be reminded of the people of Israel for whom God provided their daily bread (manna) in a very literal sense day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. God was immensely faithful to them and He will be the same to us. This is how He tells us to trust Him—laying each burden before Him as those burdens come, trusting Him to strengthen and to provide.

When we get up to work we can be thankful for the work that will meet those needs. When we are able to set something aside for a later date we can thank Him for His abundant provision. And when things run short we can even give Him praise for enabling us that we might come out standing on the other side. One of my favorite reminder verses in this area is 1 Corinthians 10:13 where we read, “No temptation [test or trial] has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted [tested or tried] beyond what you are able, but with the temptation [test or trial] will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB95)

This may not make a whole lot of sense in our culture where we are hammered over things such as retirement and having the funds to survive. And it is not even to say that we are not to lay away things for the future so that we might be able to live during that day. But in a very real sense for those who don’t know where the immediate things are coming from and how those pressing needs will be met, Jesus tells us to look to Him, to lay our needs at His feet, and to worship Him with all of our hearts. This can be a very difficult thing for us as humans to do, but it is what God assures us we can do as we wait on Him.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5–8, NASB95)