Tag Archives: Jesus

Behold Your God — Week Ten, Day Three

2 Aug

Today’s study focused on formal efforts to alter the Jesus of truth presented in Scripture to a more acceptable Jesus. Thomas Jefferson did this with his Jefferson Bible which removed elements of the supernatural. Nineteenth century scholars did this with their “quest for the historical Jesus.” Twentieth century scholars like Rudolph Bultmann did this with their program of “demythologization.” In the late twentieth century scholars of the Jesus Seminar tried to discern in the gospels which were the core teachings of Jesus and which were later additions from His followers. Finally, in the twenty first century we have the immensely popular Dan Brown novels The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. Brown’s novels revolve around the idea that the truth about Jesus has been obscured by a conspiracy of Church powers.

All of these formal efforts to alter our understanding of Jesus have affected our culture profoundly. But the more profound change has taken place in the hearts of countless people who have altered their concept of Jesus without telling anyone. A little shift here, a little change there, and suddenly I have made a god in my own image. This is a real danger. The only antidote is prayerful attention to Scripture and a willingness to believe what God says even if it is difficult to accept or understand. Sometimes, things are difficult for us because of our background. For example, we might be tempted to overemphasize or underestimate Jesus’ teachings on poverty and wealth based on what kind of political background we were raised in as children. We have to honestly face the words and works of Jesus and come to terms with who He really is and this is part of worship. Getting to know Him more accurately is a means of drawing near to Him. Any other approach leaves us in the end worshiping a god of our own making.

Behold Your God — Week Ten Introduction

30 Jul

We are now heading on to the homestretch of our Behold Your God study this summer.

This week, we explore two particular dangers on the road to beholding God: idolatry and pragmatism. We will get into these two dangers as the week.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I like to think of God as . . .” or “my God would never . . .?” If you’ve heard these kinds of phrases or used them yourself, you are in a danger zone. When it comes to who God really is, it is absolutely irrelevant what I think. Now for my own life, it is essential what I think of God. But my thoughts of God do not change who He is at all. He is who He is whether I believe in Him or not, whether I twist His reality to fit my conceptions of who He ought to be or not.

So the question really isn’t “what do I think about God?” the real question is, “what, if anything, does God say about Himself?” If God tells us who He is, then we really have a basis on which to believe in Him. If He doesn’t tell us who He is, we are left with the best thoughts of the highest minds, but they are all human just the same. So our understanding of God comes down to whether He has authentically revealed Himself and whether we can learn from that revelation.

God has revealed Himself to all people through the book of nature. The universe displays an order and design, a symmetry and a power that points to a great God. But understanding this is insufficient to save us. We cannot be saved just by believing God exists. But God has revealed Himself also through the Word of Scripture. God has revealed who He is by giving us His inspired Word. So we must strive to understand what He has revealed and walk in those truths. In Scripture, we can find the way to salvation and life with God. That way is Jesus, the living Word, who is the God-Man, who came to live and die and rise for the glory of God and the good of His people. God has spoken to us through His Son, but the truth about His Son is given to us in the Bible. Therefore, if we are to know Jesus well, we must know the Bible. Otherwise, we are in danger of creating a Jesus of our own conception rather than the One God has revealed. In so doing, we will be sitting ducks for the kind of idolatry and pragmatism explained in this week’s study.

The Key to Joy

1 Jul

Yesterday I acknowledged in a post that I do not always have a sense of the joy I should have at such a great salvation as that which I’ve received in Christ. I confessed several reasons for that and promised that I would write further about joy in a later post.

How do we live a life of sustained joy and the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit God describes in Galatians 5? I believe the key is to realize that joy must be found in Jesus and not in myself or my circumstances. All other joys, all other sources of hope, all other things I value will ultimately wither and fade. Every other thing I look to, including myself, is a house built on sand. So God must show me how eternal and precious and valuable Jesus is, or I will constantly be trying to find life elsewhere and coming up short.

That said, is there anything for me to do in this, or do I just wait for God to open my eyes? The Bible answers strongly that yes, we do have a calling on our lives. It is not to try harder or be better. The calling is not even primarily to ministry to others. The calling God has given us is to look to Jesus. We are called to behold His beauty, to see His glory. We are called to delight our hearts in Him. We are called to seek and draw near and hold fast and encourage one another in this journey. We are called to renew our minds in view of God’s mercy to us in Christ. When God opens our eyes to Jesus’ saving work and we trust Him, we are justified, made right in God’s sight on the basis of what Jesus has done. But the life begun by faith is also continued in faith. We keep living that life of looking to Jesus and we find as a by-product the fruit of His Spirit growing in our lives. Now to be sure, God uses other things to shape us and grow us as well. Circumstance, other people, the Church and many other things are tools in God’s hands He uses to move us forward with Him. But if I had to put forward the one key to a life of joy and holiness, it would be this: Understand that Jesus is the fountain of living waters and keep coming to Him to drink every day of your life. Give up on all the broken cisterns of good works and approval by the culture and traditionalism and trendiness. Resolve to know Jesus Christ. Fix your eyes on Him. Press toward that goal. Live in His Word. Walk with Him. Other things will begin to align when we do that. If you are really looking to Jesus, you’ll have a life that begins to look more and more like His, a life characterized by joyful sacrifice.


Behold Your God — Week Four, Day Three

21 Jun

Whereas the Old Testament speaks of Christ in types and shadows, the gospels reveal Jesus in the fullness of His majesty. Jesus’ story leaps off the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We must never allow these accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry to grow cold to us. Read and meditate over the gospels often.

But beyond this danger, there is another danger when we come to the gospels. We may come looking for what the gospels say to us rather than looking to what Jesus’ life says about God. When John says of Jesus in John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side (Jesus), He has made Him known” we see there the truth that if we want to know what God is like, we should look to Jesus.

Jesus came to manifest the glory of God and to display the holiness and mercy of God. If we go to the gospels beginning with what they say to us, we might miss who Jesus really is and not know God as we should. Many people who do not believe in God at all find some value in the teachings of Jesus. How tragic would it be to find moral values or direction for living but not find Jesus? After all, Jesus teaches us many good things: to love the unlovable, to sacrifice for the greater good, to care for human need, to live simply, to live for others, to not be attached to money, to not be caught up in religiosity, to reject hypocrisy, to be truthful. On and on we could go with the excellent moral values of Jesus. But it would be a tragedy to know and practice all these things without bowing to Jesus as Lord. Unless you focus on His person, and what He reveals of God, it is possible that you might like His values without ever coming to know Him at all.

So when you come to the Gospels, ask this question: what does this passage teach me about God? If you start with this question, you will begin to re-orient your life around God and relationship with Him and as a wonderful by-product of this relationship you will find many personal blessings. There are great blessings to be found in the Christian life, but they are tied up in the Person of Jesus. Many people are defeated in their lives because they are trying to live Christian values without a close and growing relationship with Christ. Beholding God in the face of Jesus Christ will reshape your whole life.

Behold Your God — Week Four, Day Two

20 Jun

One of the most significant verses in the New Testament is shared in today’s study. Luke 24 recounts the story of Jesus’ meeting with the two men on the road to Emmaus. Jesus walks with them after His resurrection, His true identity hidden from them. Jesus asks the men what has been going on and the men tell Him of the death of Jesus and reports of His resurrection. The men seem bewildered about what has happened, but Jesus stops them cold — “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” And then the great verse from Luke . . . “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

Luke 24:27 is so important to me because it establishes the fact that the story of the Old Testament is the story not only of God and Israel. It is also the story of Jesus. When Jesus wanted to explain the cross and the empty tomb, He went to the Old Testament. The story of the New Testament is inextricably linked with the story of the Old Testament. And notice not only Jesus’ commitment to Scripture, notice also His view of the importance of the order of things. He began with Moses. Here the text doesn’t mean that Jesus began with the story of Moses, but with the first five books of the Bible, whose authorship is attributed to Moses. So what Luke 24:47 is saying is that Jesus began with Genesis and then traced the story of God throughout the Old Testament.

I love the fact that every time I go to the Old Testament, more than likely I will see some promise, some shadow, some connection to Jesus.

In taking all of this back to the attributes of God, we can trace the continuity of the Scriptures to God’s sovereignty (through inspiration) and immutability. The Old Testament and the New Testament are not two totally different stories because God is unchanging. He hasn’t changed His plan in the New Testament. His plan has been building throughout the Old Testament to reach its fulfillment in Jesus but the plan itself to bring sons and daughters to glory has not changed.

Behold Your God — Week Four, Day One

19 Jun

Today’s study contains two of my favorite Scriptures — John 1:14 and Hebrews 1:1-3. These passages, along with Colossians 1 and other passages, establish the fact that Jesus is God. Let’s look for just a minute at Hebrews 1:1-3 . . .

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

This passage speaks first of TWO ERAS . . .

Long ago — When God spoke through His prophets to the people of Israel.

These last days — When God has spoken to His people by His Son. Note the last days are marked by the coming of Jesus. We have been living in the last days for 2000 years.

There is continuity in God’s speech, because God never changes. But with Jesus, the promises to the prophets have found their fulfillment.

The passage then speaks of the PERSON OF CHRIST in a very interesting way . . .

He is heir of all things (Emphasis on Jesus’ Lordship)

He is the one through whom the world was made (Emphasis on Jesus’ Power)

  He is the radiance of the glory of God (Emphasis on Jesus’ Divinity)

 and the exact imprint of His nature (Emphasis on Jesus’ Divinity)

He upholds the universe by the word of His power (Emphasis on Jesus’ Power)

He sat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, after finishing His work of   redemption (Emphasis on Jesus’ Lordship).

So in the center of the passage is this message — Jesus is God!

Radiating from this center is the truth that He is the Almighty Lord, the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of the world.

It is a beautifully-written passage and a beautiful truth. But the question we must face this week is, do we believe it? And will we live on the basis of this truth?

Sermon — Isaiah 53:5

7 Apr

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53:5

With His Wounds We Are Healed

           In the big picture, in the grand scheme of things, God has a plan for you and for me. His plan was set from the foundation of the world. His plan is good. His plan is to redeem, to save, to bring us from darkness to light. His plan is to take all that has gone wrong and make it right. His plan is a plan of love. As the old hymn goes, Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down; fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown! Jesus thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art; visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart. God loves us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. He is making all things new. This is life and victory and peace. But there is a price to be paid for life and victory and peace.  The fallen world does not bend in the direction of the good, it fights tooth and nail against the good. So where there is any good to be obtained in this world in any area of endeavor, it is going to come with a price. The sweat of the brow, the spending of our treasure, even the shedding of blood. Nothing good comes without a price. Good marriages don’t just happen. They are the result of persistence in self-giving love between husband and wife. Weight loss and health don’t just happen. These things come through the sweat of exercise and a thousand small sacrifices that lead to big results. The greatest athletes don’t just come off the bench and excel. They give countless hours to practicing their skills. The virtuoso violinist only looks effortless in his playing because he gave himself to years of perfecting his craft. Nothing in life that is truly worthwhile comes without a price. The fall of humanity into sin has made the world a difficult place. Nothing ever quite works easily. We must sacrifice if good would come to us.

But there is one area where all our effort will never be enough. It is the matter of our own standing before God. Sin entered the race through Adam and we have all followed in his stead. This sin has corrupted us thoroughly. Sin has brought about this disconnect between God and people which puts us under His wrath. We deserve death and hell because we have all followed Adam’s pattern. We will face the sure and eternal judgment of God if left to ourselves. Because God is perfectly holy, our present standing of being sinners means we are already corrupt, already tainted in His sight. There is no way we in ourselves can escape the wrath of God, because we can’t go back and undo what we have done, and we cannot change our nature. So if we are going to escape God’s wrath, God is going to have to do something for us that we can’t do for ourselves. This frustrates many people and confuses others. We would like to be able to say if we just sacrificed enough, if we just prayed enough or repented enough, that all would be well. But it is impossible. We are condemned already because of Adam’s sin and our own actions. So we are left in the matter of our eternal soul as people who are wholly dependent on the mercy of God. The one area where self-help won’t help us is the most important area of all, the one aspect of our life that will go on forever. We simply can’t have what we need to have by just committing to do better. We are lost and on our way to hell unless God intervenes. But the good news of the gospel is that God has intervened. And that is what Isaiah 53:5 is all about . . .


But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.

What words of life we have before us this morning. The word “But” right at the start of verse 5, is pivotal. When we trace our finger over the verses we have already covered, we find that the One who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities was One who was not believed by those to whom He came. He was not attractive or majestic in His humanity. He was despised and rejected by men. He was one from whom we turned away. We considered Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. So the point here is not only are we unable to save ourselves, but the One God sent to save us is One we have actively resisted and rejected. BUT. In spite of our rejection, in spite of our resistance, Jesus was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. This is love. It’s no big deal to love people who love you but to love those who reject you? To love those who don’t respect you? To love those who turn away from you? That’s love. And the love of Jesus here was not a love of mere sentiment. It was not a decision of His will wherein He said, “Well, these people hate me, but I have determined to have a feeling of good will toward them.” No, this is love in action. “For God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul. What wondrous love is this, O my soul. What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul. The essence of the gospel is the sacrificial love of Christ. What a shame that in recent days some in the Christian world have diminished the sin-bearing, wrath-bearing death of Christ upon the cross. Some have preferred to focus on the cross as God’s victory over death or on Christ as an example of love. While both these realities are true, there has been among a segment of the Christian world, almost a sense of being ashamed of the old rugged cross. The worst writings have called it divine child abuse. Most others don’t go that far, but in their attempts to make Christianity palatable, they minimize the cross, they gloss over it with broader terms about God’s love and mercy and grace. The same people that minimize the cross tend to minimize the reality of hell and the holiness of God. There is a segment of the Christian world that in reality hold to that view so well expressed by Richard Niehbur a couple of generations ago, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” This is not Christianity, no matter what its proponents may claim.

Isaiah 53:5 is one of the great biblical antidotes to this kind of false glossing over of the realities of our salvation. Nothing of value comes in this life apart from sacrifice. We deserve death and judgment. And there is no way we can deliver ourselves from death and God’s judgment. No sacrifice we can make could ever be enough. So God sends His Son Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, to the world to sacrifice Himself for us. God had drilled this concept of sacrifice into His people from the beginning. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were called sacrifices because they involved giving up something of value, an animal, to bring one out from under God’s judgement. Over and over thousands of times these sacrifices were offered. The people of Isaiah’s day knew it and had seen it. Nothing of value in this life comes apart from sacrifice. The 53rd chapter of Isaiah would have immediately brought to the mind of any Jewish person who read it the idea that God was going to send One who would be like one of the animals sacrificed at the temple. The message of Christianity is that Isaiah 53 has been fulfilled. Jewish friends, your Messiah has come. And He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Those Old Testament sacrifices were ultimately insufficient. They only delayed the judgment of God, they didn’t take the judgment of God away. An animal sacrifice could never take away the sin of a human being made in God’s image. The sacrifice had to be at least equal in value to the one being sacrificed for and God, in the case of Jesus, provided for us one who was more than our equal. God sent His own Son for our sake.

And He was pierced. That this is said here, 800 years before the cross, 800 years before long nails were driven into Jesus’ hands and feet, said before crucifixion was a prominent way to put people to death, is amazing. He was pierced for our transgressions. The death of Christ was a payment for sin. All of the things we have ever done against God are covered by the once for all sacrifice of Christ. He was crushed. Now this is not literal in the sense that His body was crushed. We know that none of His bones were broken. But we know this is true in a deeper sense. He was crushed. He sweat as great drops of blood in the Garden as He contemplated the agonies of the cross. He who had no sin was made sin for us. He who had enjoyed the sweet fellowship of the Father from all eternity willingly bore the wrath of God and in His agony cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” How much more crushed could One be than that? He was crushed. There was with Jesus both an outward piercing and an inward crushing. And this piercing and crushing was for our transgressions and our iniquities, our outward violations of God’s law and our inward corruptions. Jesus was wounded inside and out in order to transform us through and through.

The most essential, most important transformation we need is transformation in our relationship with God. Some people approach God with fear and trembling, afraid of falling under His wrath, afraid of going to hell. Others look at God with indifference, putting all their eggs in the basket of this life, putting all their stock in what they can do and what they can get in this life. So most people are either fearful or foolish when it comes to God. And this is all-important, because the consequences of staying the same are eternal consequences. The apathetic person and the guilty person and the person trying to earn their salvation are all in the same place . . . they are lost. They are separated from God. They are not in a loving relationship with God. Their sins have produced a great gap between them and God and it is a gap they cannot span. But God has spanned it for them, with the bridge of the cross of Calvary. Jesus was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities and the result of this sacrifice is peace for God’s people. God chastised Jesus with our sins, and this chastisement brought us peace. The Prince of peace, the innocent One, was called to bear our sins so that we could be brought to peace with God. And with His wounds we are healed. There is not just a legal sense of peace with God that gives us a kind of legal approval in God’s sight. We are healed. We are healed in our relationship with God. We are no longer His enemies, we are His friends, even His sons and daughters. We are healed in our relationship with others. We don’t regard people any longer for what we can get from them but for how we can serve them. Because we are resting in our identity as God’s children dearly love, we can live a life of self-giving love. Isn’t it interesting that when the fall happened in Genesis 3 the first things Adam and Eve did? They hid from God in the trees of the Garden and they hid from each other by covering their bodies with fig leaves. And now in Christ God brings about the undoing of this. Jesus restores us to fellowship with God and with others.

But how? How is this peace given, how does this healing happen? Through sacrifice. Nothing of value in this fallen world comes without effort and toil. You may say, “wait, I love my children and it just comes naturally. I love my little baby.” But what sacrifice was involved in bringing that child into the world? Pregnancy, labor, sleepless nights, caring for every need. What sacrifices are involved in parenting? Your heart goes up and down like the waves with their every move because you love them so much and you want them to do well. Nothing good comes without a price. The debt we could not pay was paid by the only One who could effectively pay it. But it was a debt. There was a cost.

The 53rd chapter of Isaiah is focused on the payment of that debt by the Suffering Servant Messiah. Isaiah 53 is focusing on what Jesus has done for us. The rest of Scripture gives us our response. Our response is not to work to try to earn what Jesus has done. Our response is to receive what Jesus has done by faith. What God calls you to and what God calls me to today is to trust not in what we can do but in what Jesus has done. The banner over true biblical Christianity contains three words, “It is Finished!”

So this morning, what must you do to experience the peace and healing that comes through the saving, sin-bearing work of Jesus? You must turn away from any effort of your own to provide your own eternal peace and healing and you must turn to Jesus and trust His work on your behalf. He is God’s gift to you. You don’t pay for a gift, you receive it with thanksgiving. To try to pay for a gift is an offense to the giver. Deep gratitude is the right response to a great gift. So recognize this morning the preciousness of the sacrifice of Christ. Recognize that Jesus willingly sacrificed Himself for the greater good of bringing many sons and daughters to glory. Recognize that this is good and right and in accord with the way the fallen world works and has always worked. Recognize that in our day you will be called cruel and unloving for believing in most of the things we have talked about today. You will be charged with believing in a hateful God. You will be charged with having a mean streak. You will be called bigoted by believing Jesus is the One true Savior. You will be jeered for telling people they are helpless to help themselves. “Of course I can save myself, look at my iPhone! Look at my technology, look at my smart car. I can save myself.” Wrong! But just know this is the way of thinking out there. Understand that if you stand strongly on the biblical truth we have talked about this morning, you will not be applauded. You will more likely be despised and rejected and crushed. But remember, IT IS TRUE and IT IS FINISHED. Nothing can be added to Christ’s finished work and His finished work is the only way to eternal life. His work is the only way to peace with God and to wholeness of life inwardly and in our relationships with others. I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes.

Have you understood the price Jesus paid for you? Have you received the gift of eternal life? Don’t leave this place today until you are sure. And don’t leave this place today until you are determined to live not on the basis of what you can do but on the basis of what He has done for you. Determine to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Make it your aim today to please Him; not to be liked or approved.

I close this morning with this charge from 2 Timothy 1:8-10, Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,



Unequaled Greatness

12 Oct

If you haven’t been in our Hebrews study on Sunday nights, this is what our study is all about. This clip from Art Azurdia is what its all about.

Sermon Notes, Matthew 5:17-20

9 May

Here is a manuscript which reflects my study of Matthew 5:17-20 in preparation for a recent sermon.

Matthew 5:17-20

A Greater Righteousness

 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Two men were walking down a road. They were on a seven mile trip. Along the way they were joined by another man who walked up to them and asked them what they were talking about. I know in our culture this all seems strange (walking seven miles, having a stranger come up alongside and start talking) but 2000 years ago this was all very ordinary. The latest news didn’t come from CNN but by word of mouth. So this stranger asked the men what was new. Cleopas was astounded that anyone wouldn’t know the events of the last few days, where Jesus had been crucified and now how His body was no longer in the tomb. The men on the road to Emmaus were uncertain about what had happened to Jesus’ body. So the risen Jesus, who was the stranger on the road to Emmaus, His identity hidden from the men at this point, said these words, “How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken! Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things to enter into His glory?” Pretty strong words from a stranger, but not from the Lord. But what is even more powerful is what Luke says Jesus did next . . . “Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”

How many of you would have liked to have listened to that!?! Jesus recounting the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. And of course when Jesus said this the New Testament had not yet been written, so the Scriptures He is talking about is the Old Testament, the law and the Prophets. So as we come to Matthew chapter 5:17 this morning, we need to remember this conversation on the road to Emmaus, because it helps us understand what Jesus meant when He talked about fulfilling the law and the prophets.

In the Sermon on the Mount so far, we have seen the description of a Christian in the Beatitudes: one who is poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, ready to endure persecution for the sake of Jesus. And this kind of person, having a heart transformed by the grace of Jesus, is salt of the earth and light of the world. People like this bring wisdom and blessing to the world. There is a familiar and I think true, cliché out there that goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” The flip side of this slogan is also true though, “People touched by the grace of Jesus spread that grace.”

          There was a group of people in the gospels who never understood grace: the religious leaders. They were people who valued the Scriptures, they were people who wanted to please God, they were the moral and cultural leaders of their society, they were highly respected. But they lived for self-glory rather than God’s glory and they tended to focus on external appearances rather than a heart of faith.

The words Jesus will share in the passage we’re going to look at today must be read in light of the religious leaders. The religious leaders were certainly in the minds of those who heard the Sermon, because they contrast at the end of the Sermon the powerful authoritative message of Jesus with the teachings of the religious leaders.

When Jesus mentioned good works in verse 16, his audience may have begun to think about how these good works were connected to the law of Moses. As Jesus laid out the Beatitudes, there was not a word about morality or obedience or the law of God. Was Jesus introducing a new word here? Was He doing away with the law of God? Was Jesus trying to do away with Moses?

The Pharisees thought Jesus was doing this. They didn’t like the fact that He did not have the religious training of sitting under a rabbi. They looked down on His humble and somewhat questionable beginnings. The religious leaders questioned by what authority Jesus said and did what He did. And in Jesus’ actual ministry, He seemed to treat the law differently than the Pharisees wanted. He healed on the Sabbath and ignored the traditions of the religious leaders. Finally, Jesus’ associations were questioned by the Pharisees. They didn’t like that Jesus spent time with tax collectors and sinners.

Warren Wiersbe says, “Pharisees were convinced they were the guardians of God’s law and the people were convinced too, yet it was the Pharisees who were destroying the Law. By their traditions, they robbed the people of the Word of God; and by their hypocritical lives, they disobeyed the very Law that they claimed to protect. The Pharisees thought they were conserving God’s Word, when in reality they were preserving God’s Word: embalming it so that it no longer had life! Their rejection of Christ when He came to earth proved that the inner truth of the Law had not penetrated their hearts.

Jesus made it clear that He had come to honor the Law and help God’s people love it, learn it, and live it. He would not accept the artificial righteousness of the religious leaders. Their righteousness was only an external masquerade. Their religion was a dead ritual, not a living relationship. It was artificial; it did not reproduce itself in others in a living way. It made them proud, not humble; it led to bondage, not liberty.”

So we need to keep this contrast between the way of Jesus and the way of the Pharisee in mind, not only in this week’s message but in most of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is not contrasting His message with the Old Testament, He is contrasting His message with the false message of the religious leaders of His day. And we will learn that the false message of the Pharisees was not limited to Jesus’ day. We can very easily fall into the same traps. The Sermon on the Mount helps us avoid these traps.

So let’s look at verses 17-20 . . .

 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Jesus is making it clear in verse 17 that He was not defying the law through His teaching. Jesus is not contradicting the law but at the same time He is not merely preserving it, keeping the status quo. He is instead fulfilling it, bringing it to its intended goal.

All of the Old Testament applies to us, but it is all interpreted through the person and work and teaching of Jesus Christ. Any righteousness of our own rests on Him and Him alone. He fulfills the law and the prophets through His perfectly obedient life and through the advancing of God’s plan His life and ministry brings. All the blessings of the Sermon on the Mount, from the Beatitudes to the heart of love for God that emerges in the rest of the Sermon flows from Christ and what He has done for us. Any other way of looking at the Sermon on the Mount just makes it a moral code and turns it into a system of works-righteousness, in which we will fail every time. Without understanding that Jesus has fulfilled the Scriptures, the Sermon on the Mount just makes us better Pharisees.

With this said, though, it is clear that some aspects of Jesus’ fulfilling of the Old Testament means that for us some aspects of the Old Testament are illustrative for us but no longer binding. The sacrificial system is a good example of this. We don’t offer sacrifices as atonement for sin anymore not because Jesus abolishes sacrifice. We don’t offer sacrifices because Jesus fulfilled the goal of the sacrifices by the once and for all totally effective sacrifice of Himself.

Some people think Jesus came to set aside the law, to obliterate it, to make it useless. This is not true. Think about it like an acorn. I can destroy an acorn by smashing it with a hammer. But I could instead put it in the ground and see its purpose fulfilled as it grows into a great oak tree. I want to propose to you that THIS is the way Jesus has fulfilled the law. He hasn’t smashed it to bits, His kingdom has emerged from the seed of the Old Testament which in the fullness of time has brought forth the fulfillment of God’s plan for the ages.

Nothing of that seed of the Old Testament Scriptures is wasted. Look at verse 18 . . .

 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

I could preach on just this verse for a long time, because it is one of the greatest verses affirming the full verbal inerrancy of Scripture. The absolute authority of Scripture is in view here. The smallest stroke of a letter will not pass away from the law. This word of God will endure. Aren’t you glad this morning? We have a trustworthy word. This is a great gift of God’s love. I have had a sense at times in my life of God’s internal leading. But I am always tempted to question these leadings. Was it really God? Was He leading me or was I just doing what I wanted? But when I come to the Word, I realize, yes, God has spoken and I can trust what He says absolutely. What a gift. It will not pass away until the end of time, until everything is accomplished. Again, we have here the language of fulfillment. The Old Testament will have enduring value until the end of time and it is to be interpreted on the basis of the one who fulfilled it: Jesus Christ. Since the Old Testament will not pass away until the end of time, we should take it very seriously. Look at verse 19 . . .

19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus couldn’t have made it much more clear how seriously He expects us to take the Old Testament. He tied our eternal rewards to how seriously we take the Scriptures. This is His answer to any of the religious leaders who might question His loyalty to the Word of God, any leaders who might charge Him with giving His followers freedom to sin. At the same time He is telling those sinners who are hearing Him and are attracted to His message that their obedience to God matters. Whoever relaxes these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. I think He is thinking here not of the Pharisees but of those who are His followers, because both those who relax the least of the commandments and those who do and teach the commandments are in the kingdom of heaven. The difference seems to be an issue of rewards. This is a very important truth for us to hear. God intends you to live according to His commands. Now this causes us who have been taught the grace of God to bristle. And on one level, this is right, because we know that we can’t obey God’s commands in our own strength. We must trust in God’s power for strength to obey. And we bristle too because some of things Paul teaches seem to tell us that we are not under the law any more. But Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And what are Jesus’ two great commandments? “Love God and love your neighbor.” And James says following these two commandments is the fulfillment of the law. So how does this all fit together? We are called to obey the commands of God. But, God has given us the provision of His Son who fulfilled the law and the prophets. And Jesus does two things for us. First, because He obeyed the law perfectly and died for our lawbreaking in His crucifixion, God counts all who trust in Jesus as being righteous in the sight of God on the basis of Jesus Christ. But that is not all that Jesus has done for us. Through His dying and rising and present reign fulfilling the Word of God Jesus intends to make us righteous in actual day-to-day living. And He does this as we trust in His power by leading us to a life of faithful obedience to His Word. This means, in light of the ways He has fulfilled the Old Testament, Jesus intends us to walk in conformity to the commands of the Old Testament and the New Testament, while keeping in mind the ways that Jesus Himself has fulfilled the Old Testament. So the Ten Commandments and the principles of God still apply to us but they are all interpreted through the lens of Christ and His work. We are free from the law on the level of depending on our own strength to keep it, but we are not free from the law in the sense that we can now go off and do whatever we want and just put our Jesus stamp on it. This is worth talking through because in our day there is a huge tendency in our culture toward doing our own thing, even among Christians. So I make a life of ignoring the clear commands of God and doing my own thing and then I wonder why I don’t feel close to God or why I am not growing spiritually. There is a temptation among some to say, “well, I trusted Jesus years ago and now I just kind of do what I want to do. I just kind of live based on what I want and I’m not under the law any more so I just kind of do what feels right.” This is how people who profess to be Christians end up in all kinds of horrible sin. We take grace as a license to ignore obedience to God. I even saw one preacher in Britain who was preaching that it was OK to shoplift if you took from a big store because it is just a big greedy corporation but it was wrong to steal from a small business, because they had very little margin. And I know that sounds crazy, but we are incredibly adept at shaping the commands of God to work around to what we really want to do. Jesus is going to make it abundantly clear that we can’t just have an outward obedience to the law. There must be a heart change. But when there is a heart change it will result in conformity to the Word of God, not a relaxing of God’s standards but a desire out of love to God to move into a deeper obedience, an obedience on the level of motivation and action. This life of deeper obedience, obedience flowing from a heart of love and faith, is the fundamental difference between the righteousness of the Pharisees and the righteousness of the citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. Look at verse 20 . . .

 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Pharisees had a certain kind of righteousness but the disciples have an entirely different kind of righteousness. It is a righteousness that exceeds the Pharasaic righteousness. And I think the exceeding here is not a matter of quantity but of quality. The kingdom person has a quality of righteousness that is altogether different and better than the Pharisees. This verse would have been a shocker to Jesus’ Jewish hearers, who considered the religious leaders the epitome of righteousness. Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. The Pharisees were the height of human righteousness, highly respected moral men. But their righteousness was insufficient because it was external. Jesus says they are like cups which are clean on the outside and filthy within. Jesus says they are like painted tombs full of dead men’s bones. There is in Jesus’ view of righteousness a necessary inward transformation which must come. And you might say exactly what the disciples would say at one point, “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus’ reply? “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” True righteousness comes through the work of Christ. As Romans 3 says, “But now the righteousness of God has appeared apart from the law, although the law and prophets testified to it, even the righteousness of God through faith in Christ to all who believe.” The rest of the Sermon on the Mount is going to show, as the Beatitudes have, the reality of the heart transformed through faith in Christ. And the order is essential. Christ transforms the heart and then the heart lives in obedience a fruitful spiritual life. Obedience is the result of transformation not the way to transformation.

We have a Savior who is the fulfillment of the Scriptures. We have Scriptures which are entirely trustworthy. We are called to a life which does not minimize the Scriptures but seeks to live and teach them in light of the work of Christ. And through faith in Him we chart a course away from both man-made efforts at self-righteousness and the God-ignoring license to sin which so characterizes our culture. As I close today let me just ask you a question from Ligon Duncan. “Where is your heart? Is your heart with the Pharisees, grudgingly obeying God or is your heart, or with the followers of Christ, delighting in His law and wanting more than anything else to be conformed to His image and to be exalted not in ourselves but in His righteousness and in His sanctifying work in us that we might become like him. May God cause us to be the followers of Christ and not the Pharisees. Let us pray.”

Bible Reading Blog — May 1, 2016

1 May

TODAY’S READINGS — Job 1-3 & Luke 7:1-10

In Luke 7:1-10, there is a huge focus on the word “worthy.” The centurion’s servant is sick and near dying so the centurion sends some friends to Jesus to urge him to heal the servant. The friends make a big deal of what a great guy the centurion is, how worthy he is to receive Jesus’ work. But the centurion himself says, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But say the word and my servant will be healed.” Jesus commends the centurion for his faith. I believe the centurion’s faith is seen both in his recognition of his own unworthiness and of Jesus’ power. He was truly “poor in spirit.” Though he was an important man in the eyes of men, he knew he was not worthy in the eyes of God. Acknowledging his own unworthiness, he also affirmed the worthiness of Jesus to heal his servant just by saying the word. He, a man familiar with authority, knew true authority when he saw it. He placed all His trust in Jesus as the only one who could heal his servant. With empty hands of faith, the centurion in effect said, “I am unworthy, but you are worthy, and that is all I need.” One of the signs we have entered into a real life of faith is when we stop trying to commend ourselves to God. When we stop leaning on our track record and look to all that Jesus has done a doorway to dependence is set up which can never be broken.

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