Wednesday, February 21, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: Matters of the Truth

How many promises have you broken in your lifetime? More than you care to admit, and likely far too many to remember. But a few probably stick out in your memory and may even cause you grief. Why? Because a promise is meant to be important.

Very early in life, we learn the value of a promise. When you were young, maybe you remember making a promise with the following oath attached: “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” Others make promises with oaths swearing on their parents or children’s lives, and in court a witness is directed to add “so help me God.” And, of course, most people have made some sort of promise to God about changing their lives if God will just get them out of a mess.

So, how many promises have you broken in your lifetime? How many oaths on top of the promise have you broken as well? It is one thing to break a promise, but the oath makes it worse because breaking the oath how insincere we really are. For instance, a person who swears on their child’s life is really saying that if they mess up, the child is the one who should be punished. What kind of sense does that make?

This week we will be talking about promises made. We do so as we continue to review Jesus’ commentary on certain commands. Last week’s message was entitled “Matters of the Heart.” The title was chosen because in God’s Kingdom, our life is not just about what we do, but what we think as well. This week’s could be the same, but because we are dealing with meaning what we say, I have chosen the title, “Matters of the Truth.” The reality is that we have all lied before, even George Washington, but Jesus spoke of our need to be faithful, to be truthful. He did so in a specific way regarding marriage, and then more generally regarding oaths. The people then, as well as those of us today should take heed to Jesus’ words because as He said at a later time, “I am the truth.”

I encourage you to read Matthew 5.31-37.

What Did the People Think?

Divorce – Jesus continued to challenge the thinking of the day, although a debate upon divorce was already ongoing. The debate about divorce during that time centered around the teachings of two prominent rabbis who lived just prior to Jesus. (I taught on this during our series through Mark, from Chapter 10). The essence was the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24.1-4. Moses gave a ruling which allowed for divorce, but a certificate was required. The certificate was required because the woman had very few legal rights and would not be able to prove she was no longer married without the certificate. Thus, if someone wanted to marry her, she needed the certificate to prove she was no longer married.

Over the years, the problem became one of what constitutes a “legitimate” cause for divorce. As I have shared in the past, a certificate could be given if the wife had a facial blemish or if she spoiled his dinner (literally, this was a written rule – Mishnah Giáš­. 9.10). So one of the prominent rabbis, Hillel, allowed for divorce in virtually any instance. The other rabbi, Shammai, taught that only when adultery is involved should a divorce be granted. Furthermore, some evidence shows that adultery was not only grounds for a divorce, but required it. Thus, Jesus words here turned their understanding upside-down.

Oaths – As for oaths, the people had developed an elaborate system to make their pledge more honorable. It was considered blasphemous for a Jew to incorporate God’s name into an oath so they would not “swear to God” as this is the true meaning of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Originally, it had nothing to do with our phraseology of invoking God’s damnation on someone or something. So, in order to avoid using God’s (Yahweh’s, Yeshua’s) name to make an oath binding, the people would swear by locations or items of varying degrees. Thus, swearing by heaven was considered to mean more than swearing by earth, which was above Jerusalem, which was more important than the hair on one’s head.

These oaths were a normal part of life and everyone who heard Jesus would have understood this fact well.

What Did Jesus Say?

Divorce – While Jesus’ spoke of adultery being a reason might divorce (like Shammai), His emphasis was different than the others. Jesus was not looking to provide escape clauses so people could justify their divorce; rather He was promoting the institution of marriage His Father created in the Garden. Although Jesus allowed for divorce in the instance of adultery, He did not say it was mandatory (like their customary law seems to have said). A divorce in 1st Century Palestine might seem beneficial for the man, but a woman did not have much hope to  sustain herself if she did not remarry, which means she had now committed adultery, and was forced to by her former husband. (I should note here that a woman could not divorce a man – although she could ask the man for a divorce, or petition the court to force the man to divorce her, and if he didn’t comply, she might make his life miserable until it was granted).

Jesus point is this: A certificate of divorce given from a man to a woman may make matters legal in the eyes of man, but not in the eyes of God.

Oaths – Jesus then moves to the idea of swearing an oath. In order for us to better understand the elaborate Jewish system of swearing oaths, we must not overlook the beginning of Jesus statement. In verse 33, Jesus quotes those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” Again, the Jews had developed an elaborate system so as to convey their intent without defrauding God – or so they thought. In fact, by swearing on other items, they did not have to perform anything, because their oaths were not sworn to, or by, the Lord (thus not having to perform anything to anyone, let alone the Lord). Imagine how difficult this concept made their business dealings. You would never know if you could trust the person or not. And this is Jesus point exactly. Jesus wants His disciples to be known as honest and trustworthy. Their word should be true – whatever and whenever spoken.

Therefore, Jesus says not to swear by heaven (where God lives), or by earth (His footstool, Isaiah 66.1), or by Jerusalem (God’s holy city) or by the hair on one’s head (which God created). Jesus is making the point that nothing by which the people might swear was really theirs at all. Thus, they may attempt to avoid misusing God’s name, but their attempt to avoid God was futile. We might even consider these people should know better because of the reference to white hair. White hair typically denotes some aging, which means these individuals should have had enough maturity to see the foolishness of their ways. But hair color and age mean little when discussing the fallen nature of man. True wisdom comes from God, not from growing older.

What Does Our World Say?

Divorce – We could spend the rest of today here. First, many today suggest just not getting married. What is interesting about Jesus word choice here is that Matthew records the word as porneia, instead of moicheia. Moicheia is the word used for adultery. Porneia is a broader term meaning fornication (and from which the word pornography is derived). Thus, Jesus words here refute any option of living together outside of marriage as well as being in an extra-marital relationship.

It is very common today for wedding couples to express their own vows. Some change their vows, and/or location (such as being married at the courthouse) so as not to be married before God or be bound by certain terms. Please don’t misunderstand me. Neither a change of vows or of venue is reason to suspect that a couple does not intend to honor the Lord with their marriage, but some couples have certainly use the changes as a “loophole.”

Of course, no-fault divorce and same-sex marriage are prevalent throughout the western world today. As of the end of 2017, many cultures (including those who are not Christian nations) still reject these ideas such as it being illegal to get divorced in the Philippines and only 26 countries allowing couples of the same gender to be wed.

The world may make its claims, but only the words of Jesus will stand in the end.

Oaths – From pinky-swears to clever sayings about sticking needles in our eyes, children quickly learn the value of a promise. Of course, I don’t know of anyone who has stuck a needle in their eye for breaking a promise, nor is it likely that anyone has cut off their pinky recently for breaking a promise (unless you were involved with the Japanese mafia).

But just as making oaths is learned early, so are ways around keeping them. Again, the Jews may have had elaborate schemes, but even children know that if you “cross your fingers” whatever you vow to do does not really count. Contracts have “fine print” that is rarely read. The truth is that it is hard to know what is true. A person’s word used to be their bond, but people do not care about bonds anymore, they only care about themselves or their companies.

How Would Having a Knowledge of the Glory of the Lord Affect This Teaching?

Divorce – Being married is like being a marine. I recently introduced a friend of mine who had served in the marines. I introduced him as a former marine, until I was reminded that “once a marine, always a marine.” Thankfully, he did not hurt me for my mistake. But the same is true for marriage. Once married, always married – that’s what it means to say “till death do us part.” And even if we do not say it, then God says what He brings together, no one should tear apart.

That does not mean that someone who is divorced and remarries should get divorced again. Two wrongs do not make a right. This is a situation where the new couple should go before God, ask for forgiveness and pledge faithfulness to one another from that point forward.

As a church, we must love, not condemn people for their past. We should help people to make the most of their current marriage, not beat them down because of a prior relationship. But we must also help to preserve any marriage that we can. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 7, and we must recognize that God used the idea of Himself as a spouse to an unfaithful bride in the OT (see Hosea 1-3 and the story of Hosea and Gomer). Likewise, we are not always faithful as the Bride of Christ, but the love of our Bridegroom was enough to die for us to make us perfect for Him.

Oaths – This is simple in concept, yet for some it may be quite challenging to do. Simply tell the truth and mean what you say. Let your yes and no mean yes and no. Jesus wants His people to be known for their word. We should not need to swear by, or on, anything. So let our words honor Jesus, and in so doing, let others begin to know our word is our honor as well.

CONCLUSION

I began by asking you to consider how many promises you may have broken in this life. Now, consider how many promises God has broken. The reason Jesus can be so bold in His demands for our allegiance is He is seeking for us to be like Him – that is, to be like God. Jesus is not teaching us how to live by earthly standards, but to live on earth as it is in heaven.

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus unpacks what Kingdom living truly is. Jesus clearly states what God’s expectations for His people living in His Kingdom are. His teachings were counter-cultural then, and they certainly are now as well. If we want to live in our kingdom, we can do what we want. But if we desire to be a part of God’s Kingdom, then we must think, and act, radically different.

What we cannot miss is the tie between these topics. Thinking back to last week, Jesus began with anger and said we should seek reconciliation with others presumably because some expectation (an oath?) has not been met. The idea of lust and marriage are perfectly intertwined because another of the reasons for a “legitimate” divorce, according to the Hillel, was finding someone fairer than your current wife. Thus, the lust for another led to adultery (in the mind, if not in the heart), which means the marriage vow (oath) has been violated. As we will see next week, the idea continues, and circles back to anger as Jesus next covered the idea of retaliation versus that of love. Jesus is concerned with one thing here – righteousness according to God. And as He said earlier in His sermon, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, will be satisfied, even though it is impossible to achieve on our own.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: JJESUS

It is the righteousness of Jesus that makes Kingdom-living possible. His teachings may seem impossible at first, but that is because our worldview has been tainted. Jesus lived His life in perfect accord with these teachings and, thus, we can too. But only if we seek to do so through Him and not on our own.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE.

Choose one of these two issues to focus on this week.

Marriage: If you are married or are a widow/widower, thank God for the partner you had. Life may not have been perfect, but God provided someone for you to share your life. Perhaps you can find a couple to give guidance to their marriage.

If you are not married, ask God to begin preparing you and your future spouse (if He desires you to be married) for your future relationship. Pray for purity of heart and body for both of you until He has joined you together in marriage.

Oaths/Vows: Ask God to make you known for the integrity of your word. Then, begin to simply let your “Yes” mean yes, and your “No” mean no.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

“Divorce and Oaths”, A Closer Look by Roger Martin

This week’s passage (Matthew 5.31-37) covers oaths and divorce which fit together because a divorce signifies a broken oath. Our passage begins,

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of marital unfaithfulness, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:31-32

Jesus speaks again about divorce in Mark 10:1-12:
“And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.” What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’”

When Jesus was questioned about the idea of divorce, He referred back to the writings in Genesis. It is evident from the Scriptures that God’s design for marriage was one man and one woman for a lifetime. As with most of God’s commands, people fail and deviate from God’s ideal. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin but the failure of a marriage relationship seldom affects only the couple involved. Children, family, and friends feel the tension from such situations.

In Jesus’ day, exercising divorce proceedings was normally done by the man, possibly for very petty reasons. Jesus was addressing a Jewish audience which contained at least two schools of thought about divorce. The School of Shammai held that “something indecent” meant “marital unfaithfulness or sexual immorality” – the only allowable cause for divorce. The Hillel interpretation refers to an account beginning in Deuteronomy 24:1: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house,....” Hillel emphasized the preceding clause, “who becomes displeasing to him” or “finds no favor in his eyes.” He would allow a man to divorce his wife if she did anything he disliked – even if she burned his food while cooking it. Jesus clearly took the side of Shammai but only after first pointing back to God’s original ideal for marriage in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24.

Physical and/or mental abuse in a marriage is unacceptable and there may come a time when the only remedy is a divorce. It takes two to make a marriage, but only one to dissolve it. The causes of divorce may be hidden or obvious but once the step is taken, the sin is treated like all sins – forgivable by a loving Lord to a penitent child.

The phrase, “‘Have you ever considered divorce?’ ‘Divorce never, murder frequently.’” has been attributed to Jack Benny, Jessica Tandy, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and the wife of evangelist Billy Graham, Ruth Bell Graham. The statement was probably made a bit “tongue in cheek” but it does point to the fact that some “ideal” marriages may have a bit of discord. After nearly 50 years, Ann and I have enjoyed a mostly harmonious relationship. We do not espouse to be experts on marriage but as the years march on, perhaps we have more credibility. When our team introduced ourselves in Kenya, we told them we were a husband to one wife. That statement said much in a country where polygamy is common place. When I announced at one village that we had been married nearly fifty years, an older man said that was not possible and that I was lying. I was more cautious about it when I made the statement after that.

Two secrets to longevity in marriage are principles Jesus lived by – put the feelings and desires of others first and be forgiving or your mate when you think they are not. There have been ups and downs but it is amazing how when we stick to God’s ideal, we reflect on the good times and enjoy the companionship of each other.

As with divorce, there are numerous references to oaths in the Bible. For example, our passage:
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” – Matthew 5:33-37

The Wycliffe commentary suggests that Jesus was addressing the Jewish abuse of oath taking, whereby they swore by everything under the sun, literally. In these verses, Jesus indicated that we should not swear an oath at all but if we do swear an oath to the Lord we should keep it. Jesus taught in these verses that we should not be swearing by things that are not ours or over things of which we have no control. As far as Jesus was concerned, all we should have to say is “yes” or “no”.

An additional idea suggests that swearing an oath would indicate someone is not in the habit of telling the truth so the swearing of an oath was necessary to assure the legitimacy of one’s statements. I hardly think that most couples enter into marriage and require an oath of allegiance because they doubt the truthfulness of one another. We do, however, enter into marriages with promises to love, honor, and cherish each other and keep ourselves pure. The fulfillment of those vows may be very difficult.

Looking at the rest of Scripture, in Genesis 14:22-23, Abram swore to the king of Sodom about his honesty “he wouldn’t take a thread or a thong of a sandal from the king.” In Genesis 25:33, Esau swore to Jacob that he would give up his birthright for a bit of stew. In Judges 11:10, the elders of Gilead swore to Jephthah, an outcast of questionable birth, to elevate him to the head of those in Gilead. In Matthew 26:71-74, Peter denied with an oath three times that he had any knowledge of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 1:23, Paul testified, “I call God as my witness” that he was not dealing unjustly, unfairly, or untruthfully about his change of plans to visit the believers again at Corinth. In Galatians 1:20, Paul assured believers before God that his account of his calling by God to preach to the Gentiles was indeed accurate. The account in Hebrews 6:13-18 recalls God’s promise to Abraham to “bless you and give you many descendants.” God swore by Himself, making His Word in itself absolutely trustworthy and doubly dependable.

It would seem from these accounts that the oaths given were for man’s benefit, not God’s. Men often find it necessary to add extra emphasis to statements or proclamations to be more assured of their authenticity. In our country, “lying under oath” results in a greater penalty then just lying. Curious don’t you think?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: Matters of the Heart

When we began this series, I shared how our worldview impacts the manner in which we interpret what we see and hear. A worldview is simply our way of interpreting our life and the existence of the universe. A difference in worldviews can lead to interesting discussions over seemingly inconsequential matters, and heated exchanges when the matters are of some importance.

As we move into the heart of Jesus’ sermon, the ideas are anything but inconsequential. Jesus challenged His hearers then, and challenges us now with thoughts that go well beyond what is face-value. Jesus elevates the understanding of relatively straightforward commands by explicitly stating it isn’t just a physical violation of the commandments that matters, it is even the consideration of breaking them that counts.

It is important to remember that Jesus has just stated that to be considered righteous in the Kingdom of Heaven is to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees (verse 20). The Pharisees were intent on keeping the letter of the law, but Jesus goes beyond the letter to say it is an issue of the heart. This week we will review Jesus commentary on two of the Ten Commandments, although a third is implied. The three commandments we review this week are numbers 6 (murder), 7 (adultery), and 10 (coveting).

I encourage you to take a moment to read Matthew 5.21-30.

What did the people think?

Anger – Jesus begins with a challenge to the 6th Commandment – Thou shalt not murder. The Pharisees were intent on keeping the letter of the Law and would have initially scoffed at Jesus’ words because they were in no means guilty of taking human life. However, when Jesus began to offer the principle of a person’s thoughts or words being murderous, their countenance must have fallen. While few, if any, who were listening to Jesus would have committed physical murder, Jesus’ words make everyone guilty at some level.

Being taken before the council would mean standing on trial before the Sanhedrin (the word means “council”). But how could someone be judged for merely being angry? Thus, Jesus declares that a greater judgment awaits.

Jesus mentions leaving an offering behind to go make restitution. The offering being given would be handed to the priest and then the worshipper would watch. To leave the offering to seek reconciliation would be to make yourself completely vulnerable to all who were watching. Furthermore, some would have to travel great distances in order to make amends (no phones or modern means of communication existed), so the delay in worship might be days or even weeks, not just a few minutes or hours.

Adultery (Coveting) – It is most likely that some of the men listening may have taken great offense. Only the original hearers can know if Jesus words were meant for men only or for mankind in general, but the Greek/Roman culture, especially, allowed for men to engage in sexual relations with any unmarried woman whether they themselves were married or not.

Jewish women were required to wear headpieces and veils to cover themselves so the men would not be tempted by their beauty.

The reference to the right hand and right eye were specifically chosen by Jesus because most people are righthanded and the right side of the body was considered especially important to a warrior. Thus, to gouge out the right eye or cut off the right hand would be unthinkable to the 1st Century Jew.

What did Jesus say?

Anger – Jesus begins with a challenge to the 6th Commandment – Thou shalt not murder. But remember, Jesus is speaking on earth about the coming Kingdom of Heaven. Can you conceive of murder happening in heaven? Of course not. So, Jesus elevates the thought process to cover anger. Look at the progression of Jesus examples to see how important this issue is.
  • Murderers will be liable to judgement. (v 21)
  • Those who are angry with their brother will be liable to judgement. (v 22)
  • Those who insults a brother will be tried before the council. (v 22)
  • Those who call others a fool will burn in hell. (v 22)

Specifically, insults and naming of others is meant in an unjustified manner. This must be understood because Jesus used the word foolish regarding the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.17 and 19. But what Jesus is truly concerned about is the reaction of the one in anger. It is about the heart. In verse 23-24, Jesus shares that our human relationships need to be right before God will accept our worship. Notice the word reconciled in verse 24. God reconciled us to Himself through the blood of Jesus, so He expects us to reconcile with others as well.

Notice the story is in consideration of you remembering another has something against you. Jesus says go while the opportunity to reconcile is still possible. At some point, it will be too late, and you will be required to make full restitution.

Adultery (Coveting) – Jesus then moves to the next commandment – the one that covers adultery. Jesus explicitly states that looking lustfully at a woman is the same as being physically intimate. Moreover, Jesus ties the 7th and 10th Commandments together by using the same word for lust that was translated as covet in Jesus’ time-period.

We must be careful not to put words into Jesus’ mouth. Jesus did not say that we might not be attracted to another person outside of marriage. If that were the case, in the western world, where marriages are not arranged, we might never get married. If someone is attractive and we happen to notice that is ok. It is fixating on that person and their attractiveness (physical or otherwise) that leads to this sin. As Martin Luther once said regarding the difference between seeing someone attractive and being lustful, “You can’t keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

Jesus also does not endorse bodily mutilation. His statements in verses 29 and 30 are metaphors. One need not literally cut out an eye or chop off a hand because of sin. Besides a blind person or someone without any limbs can lust just as much as someone else. Jesus words are intended to show that it would be better to lose part of our body than to miss out on living in the Kingdom for eternity.

The reality of each of these statements is that Jesus has made it nearly impossible not to sin. By clarifying the true intent of these two (and actually three) commandments, Jesus shows that living with a holy God is far from ordinary living. It requires a much greater righteousness than anyone could have fathomed (v 20).

What does our world say?

Anger – Jesus begins with a challenge to the 6th Commandment – Thou shalt not murder. Many quote the commandment as Do Not Kill, but the King James is incorrect otherwise God would be breaking His own commands when He told the people to stone others for various offenses or ordering the Israelites to wage war with the Canaanites and others. Fortunately, the New King James corrects the issue, as does most every modern version.

But to equate anger with murder seems preposterous. After all, we have a right to be angry if we are offended, right? People can manage anger, right? Wrong! But we are led to believe that murder is something that guns commit, not the people who use them. Each time we have another mass shooting, the attention is placed on the weapon used even though each perpetrator has a background of hostility and/or mental illness.

Adultery (Coveting) – As for adultery, we don’t even call it by that term anymore. We use the term “affair.” The French word from which we get adultery meant to violate one’s conjugal faith, that is, to betray the trust of our partner. An affair on the other hand comes from the idea of an event or happening. Thus, affair sounds better and less harmful. It isn’t about a falsehood or breach of trust, it is just something that happens. In other words, an affair is no big deal, it is just something that happened, and thus it has become the favored term throughout society.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this idea?

Anger – In acknowledging the holiness of God, Jesus enhances the understanding for both the 6th and 7th Commandments. To have a knowledge of the glory of the Lord is to understand that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts as Isaiah recorded (Isaiah 55.9).

The example that Jesus shared of leaving the alter to make restitution was meant for reconciliation with other people, but the example can plainly be understood as seeking reconciliation with God. If we do so reconcile with God while living, that is, before our final trial, we may realize the grace of God and the forgiveness He offers. However, if we do not seek to be reconciled, every last ounce of payment will be demanded. The only problem is that the only payment that counts is the blood of Jesus and once we die, we cannot claim His payment as our own. Some may think this unfair, but the reality is that God has already made the terms abundantly clear, but we must choose which terms we will follow – His or ours. We must choose for whose glory we will live – His or ours.

Adultery (Coveting) – Again, Jesus’ teaching here is difficult, but it is not hidden from us. It may not be easy to follow, but that is the point. In our power, we have no means of considering ourselves righteous. If we want to truly be righteous we might consider removing the parts of our body that cause us to sin, or we can become perfectly righteous by remembering that Jesus sacrificed all of His body on our behalf.

CONCLUSION

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins to unpack what Kingdom living truly is. Jesus clearly states what God’s expectations for His people living in His Kingdom are. His teachings were counter-cultural then, and they certainly are now as well. If we want to live in our kingdom, we can do what we want. But if we desire to be a part of God’s Kingdom, then we must think, and act, radically different.

Ultimately, anger and adultery are not what we do, they are matters of the heart. If we recall the sixth beatitude, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Those who are murderous and adulterers are not pure in heart, and thus a strong judgment awaits. But those who seek and thirst after God’s righteousness have been made pure in heart.   Therefore, they have the opportunity to be with God forever, even when we slip up and make mistakes on the earth.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter this week is: JJESUS

It is the righteousness of Jesus that makes Kingdom-living possible. His teachings may seem impossible at first, but that is because our worldview has been tainted. Jesus lived His life in perfect accord with these teachings and, thus, we can too. But only if we seek to do so through Him and not on our own.

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE. How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord impact this teaching?

Choose one of these two sins to focus on this week.

If you typically struggle with anger, focus on letting God manage those moments when you feel yourself getting angry. Seek to forgive the person knowing God has forgiven you (Matthew 6.14-15).

If lustful thoughts have a strong influence on you, learn to avert your thoughts (as well as your eyes). We may appreciate the beauty that God has created, but the difference between lust and love is really about a focus on whose pleasure we seek – ours or others, respectively. Begin to consider the interest of others, not just your own (Philippians 2.3-4).

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

“Anger and Lust”, A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

There is a saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” The devil often tempts us to do, watch, or think about something we shouldn’t. We might apply this thought to King David.

King David was walking around on top of his palace. He should have been out with his men fighting a battle but was at home with idle time. While walking around, he saw a beautiful woman bathing. At that point he committed a sin, coveting and lusting after her. She belonged to someone else and he should have looked away.

The sins snowballed from there. Next King David committed adultery. Bathsheba was not his wife and she had David’s child. To cover it up, David had her husband killed (another sin) and then he took her as his wife.

In 2 Samuel 12, God sends Nathan to confront David about his sins. Nathan begins to tell a story which David thinks is true. We know this because verse 5 says that David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man and he said the man deserves to die. David’s anger was not necessarily sin but if he had acted on it it would have been.

God sent Nathan to confront King David because he committed these sins, thinking no one knew. We can be the same way, thinking no one knows about or sees our sin. But God does.

In the Bible, David is described as a man after God’s own heart. David consulted with God on what he was to do before making decisions. A key response of David was repentance and worship. God mercifully forgave David when he acknowledged his sin. His transgression was not without consequences but David still worshipped the Lord through those consequences.

Just like David, we must repent of our sin when God pierces our hearts. We must worship God when we are disciplined.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: Can You Hear Me Now?

In 2002, a new advertising campaign swept the nation with the phrase, “Can you hear me now?” Paul Marcarelli played the Verizon “test man” who went from location to location to ask if the person on the phone with him could hear him. The point of the campaign was to show that Verizon’s phone network reached places where other signals might drop. The campaign was such a success that Verizon continued using it in some form until the year 2011. Of course, many people were shocked to see Verizon’s test man jump to a new network, but in 2016, Marcarelli began to appear on Sprint’s commercials instead.

The question for us is do we have a clear connection to allow us to hear from God? And, if so, does it make a difference in our lives? Today, we are going to take a broad overview of the meaning behind Jesus’ words sprinkled throughout the rest of Matthew 5. Six times in these last 28 verses Jesus says, or implies, the following statement: “You have heard it was said...but I say to you.” Over the next several weeks, we will break down each of these statements in turn, but for today, we need to understand two ideas. First, when God speaks, obedience is expected. Second, Jesus is revealing Himself as God (along with God’s authority) to the people – even if they do not recognize it.

So, to understand these ideas, let us first look back at a few instances where God’s words showed His authority.

When God Speaks, Nothing Listens and Obeys

My words here are intentional, but the meaning may not be what you are thinking. I do not mean that there is not one thing that obeys God; rather, I mean that when there was nothing, God commanded something and it happened. The term used for this concept is ex nihilo – out of nothing. When God said, let there be light, the first light began. When God said, let there be land, and animals, birds, etc., they began. Before God spoke, there was nothing. Then there was something. So, in that sense, even the idea of nothingness listens to, and obeys, God.

When God Speaks, Nature Listens and Obeys

Consider the majesty of God that even nature obeys Him. People may speak of Mother Nature, but the reality is that the mother is only able to do what the Father allows. I cannot begin to understand, let alone explain, why God allows so many terrible storms. Consider all of the tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. that we see on the news each year. That is Mother Nature screaming out – but she screams because of our sin. God originally made the earth peaceful, but after the original sin, nature fell as well.

But when God speaks, nature responds. Consider Mark 4.39. In the midst of a raging storm which threatened to sink the boat, Jesus simply said, “Peace, be still.” The Bible says that immediately there was a great calm. The disciples reaction was to ask, who can command the winds and water and have them obey (Luke 8.25).

Later, Jesus walks on the water and permits Peter to do so as well (Matt 14.25, 29). We have no record of Jesus saying anything to the water, yet it recognized His authority and He simply walked on it like you and I walk across the ground.

The Bible is filled with other statements about God’s control of nature. He controls the lightning, the thunder, and He once stopped the sun in its place during a battle. You and I have to succumb to the laws of nature, but not God. Those laws are for us. God doesn’t break the laws of nature, He suspends them because He made them and when He does so, it is for His glory. Remember, Jesus said, that even the rocks are capable of crying out to share the glory of God, if we do not do so.

TRANSITION

Before I get to point three, let me clarify the background for this passage. We must remember that the Pharisees put rules in place to help people keep the law. Their intentions were good. Let me present a completely hypothetical example. Suppose the Pharisees had been with the man and woman in the Garden of Eden. When God said not to eat from the Tree, the Pharisees likely would have put up a fence ten feet from the tree to make it a real challenge to get to it.

The problem for the Pharisees was that they began to emphasize keeping man’s law to the exclusion of God’s intent for the true Law. The Pharisees were so focused on the actions of the law, that they forget the heart of the matter. So when Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom of God, a part of the first teachings was to give commentary on what God meant, not the traditions that had been passed down. These traditions were not just from the Pharisees, but as Jesus said, they had been passed down from “those of old” (Matt. 5.21). This oral tradition was finally written down some 200 years after Jesus death and is known as the Mishnah.

So, Jesus is not just restating several of the commandments God gave. Instead, He is taking the people back to the actual commandment and what God intended for it rather than the way the matter has been interpreted for centuries (perhaps as many as 1400 years at that point). Jesus’ words that “you have heard it was said...but I say to you” is taking the people back to the time when God first spoke to the Israelites from the mountain when He gave them the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). And just as God expected the ancient Israelites to keep His laws, Jesus expects those living with a kingdom mindset – on earth as it is in heaven – to keep this understanding of the law. Also, as I have mentioned several times before, these were not just a set of laws to be imposed on a people like Rome imposed its will. Rather, Jesus has already established the relationship God desired to have with His people (the Beatitudes, verses 3-12), and stated that living as such required a higher righteousness than that of the Pharisees and scribes (verses 17-20).

So, with that background, we are ready for the last major point.

When Man Speaks, Listen. When God Speaks, Obey

This past week has been filled with people providing their “expert” analysis on the two biggest events of the week – the State of the Union address and the upcoming Super Bowl. The challenge with politics today is that most people are not willing to listen to the thoughts of those who might be in opposition. Without being challenged in our thinking, we cannot grow. Sport fans, on the other hand, are equally as passionate, but the true fan wants to hear about the other team to better understand their strengths and weaknesses to consider how his/her favorite team might do against the opponent.

Jesus does not say do not listen to others, but He does demand that people listen to Him. We can learn a great deal from others if we take the time to discern what is being said. But we must always make our final reference the Word of God. Mankind has learned to justify any action and to blame others when caught (both of those traits started in the Garden), but we have forgotten that God’s Word will direct us if we will just listen and obey.

When we listen to other people, we can learn about life from the perspective of experience and dreams. But when we listen to God, we can learn about ourselves and the way He designed our life to be. So, we listen to others and gain insight. But when we listen to God, we must respond. Otherwise, the way we were are meant to be will never become reality.

This is not an option for those who claim to love Jesus. In John 14.15, Jesus declares, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This statement is made on the last night Jesus spends with His disciples, and it is why He took time to explain the commandments to His disciples and all who would listen even from the very beginning of His public ministry (like His teachings from the Sermon on the Mount).

So, do you love Jesus? Are you obedient to His commands? Maybe you don’t hear from Him anymore. Well, if that’s the case, let me propose a couple of thoughts.

If you can’t hear God, maybe it is because you are not listening. Or maybe it is because you have not obeyed. Perhaps you have been so busy listening to man that you haven’t taken the time to be obedient to God. Certainly, it is more difficult to live by God’s standards, but truly what is the cost? We must remember the blessings promised in the Beatitudes for those who seek righteousness and to live according to a higher calling. All mankind does is berate us for falling short (that is especially what the Pharisees did). So, if you are not hearing from God, slow down, take time to listen. And, if need be, repent for not being obedient in the past.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this idea?

Before anything existed, there was nothingness, yet that nothingness recognized the glory of the Lord. Nature recognizes the glory of the Lord and responds accordingly. If we recognize the glory of the Lord, we must do the same.

CONCLUSION

God is asking us the same question the Verizon commercial asked for years: Can you hear me now? If we cannot hear Him, maybe it is time for us to check our signal and switch networks from listening to man in order to listen to God. Remember, when God spoke, nothingness responded. When God speaks, nature responds. The question is, when God speaks, do you respond? If you are a follower of Christ, then God has called you to action in the past. Perhaps you have ignored that call so many times that He has stopped asking. But that doesn’t mean He is done with you. It just means He is waiting for you to make a step in His direction. James 4.8 promises that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.

JOURNEY:
So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: OOBSERVE

God has an assignment for you. It might be great or it might be small, but He has an assignment. We must learn to hear when God speaks. We must learn to discern His voice from all the voices that clutter up our days. And when we know He is calling us to action, we must take action.

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE. How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord impact this teaching?

Listen for Jesus to speak to you. Then respond to what He says.

Let me leave you with two quotes to inspire you.

“If we are not doing the things God wants us to do, then we do not have the faith God wants us to have.”
– Andy Braams

“It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
– Abraham Lincoln

Make your life count because you listened to the words of God!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

“But God Said”, A Closer Look by Rick Sons

When you think about this statement many things come to mind. As we read the Scriptures we find many different things that God has said. Each of us has encountered situations where we just felt like throwing in the towel. We felt like the whole world was against us. We felt like no matter what we did things would turn out bad. We’ve often said to ourselves, “No matter what I do things still won’t change.” Or we feel that we have gotten so far down that there is nothing that can bring us back up.

God’s Word is filled with promises to provide and deliver. The Bible is the ultimate source for truth and God is faithful to fulfill all His promises. At the very beginning of Scripture, God is speaking: “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)

God speaks to us throughout the Scriptures:

  • To the sad, God said: “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
  • To the troubled, God said: “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” (Psalm 34:19)
  • To the sick, God said: “The LORD sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness.” (Psalm 41:3)
  • To the sinner, God said: “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)


The book of Isaiah shares many encouraging things God said. One example: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

The Scripture has authority because God has all authority. Because God is the author of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), Scripture is authoritative. It is said that God Himself breathed out Scripture (using human instruments, 2 Peter 1:21) so it can be trusted to be His Word. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

Many times Satan whispers in our ear and tells us we are not worthy to be loved by God.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Satan says, such were some of you.
But God said, you are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God!

Satan says, you can’t make it on your own.
But God said, if I am for you I am more than the world against you!

Satan says, hold on to all your problems for no one can help you.
But God said, cast all your cares on me for I care for you!

Satan says, take the easy way out.
But God said, the race is not given to the swift of to the strong but to the one that endures until the end!

Satan says that your enemies have you surrounded so come out with your hands up.
But God said, I’ll make your enemies your footstool!

Satan says, sickness will follow you.
But God said, by His stripes we are healed!

Satan says, I will make you a slave to sin.
But God said, for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son!

Satan says, I’ll take your Son and hold Him in the grave.
But God said, after three days I will rise again!

Satan says, I’ve got Him now.
But God said, death where is your sting, grave where is your victory?

Do not listen to the lying words of our enemy Satan! We need to see that God has the final word! We need to see things from the Father’s perspective and turn our ear and hear, “But God said.”

Satan says defeat.
But God said victory!

Satan says disease.
But God said healing!

Satan says hate.
But God said love!

Satan says destruction.
But God said restoration!

Satan says division.
But God said unity!

Satan says abandonment.
But God said redemption!

We might think that we have it all figured out! We might think that we know what is best!
But God said, He has a plan for every life and all we have to do is seek after His will!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Your Righteousness by Reggie Koop

Key Scriptures:

  • Habakkuk 2:14: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
  • Matthew 5:17-20: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”


Here Jesus proceeds to show the superiority of His message to that of the law of Moses. God’s moral and ceremonial laws were given to help people love God with all their hearts and minds. But throughout Israel’s history, these laws had often been misquoted and misapplied. By this time, the religious leaders had turned the laws into a confusing mass of Rules.

What did the Jewish people know of the law? They knew of two great laws:

  1. The Law of God (Ten Commandments, moral law)
  2. The Law of Moses (ceremonial law and sacrificial law)


What’s the relationship between the two? If an Israelite sinned, he broke the moral law of the Ten Commandments, the Law of God. Then he had to follow the Law of Moses and make an offering to receive forgiveness. When an Israelite sinned, he broke the first law. To make atonement for sin, he had to obey the second law. Thus, the moral law defines sin and the Mosaic law defines the remedy for sin.

What did the Jewish people know of the Pharisees?

The Pharisees were a group of very zealous Jewish leaders who took their faith seriously. They believed that they way to please God and make it to heaven was to meticulously follow a long list of religious rules and regulations.

The foundation of the Pharisaical rules was the Mosaic law just mentioned. This law, given to the people of the Old Testament, includes 613 commandments. Over time, the Jewish leaders began to slowly add to these laws. Their original intent was to clarify the law but they ended up adding layers of complicated regulations.

For example, the 4th commandment – keep the Sabbath holy – was meant to keep Jews from working on the Sabbath (Saturday). The Jewish leaders created 39 separate categories of “work” and within those categories are many subcategories. Thus, there are thousands of sub-rules to follow.

The Pharisees prided themselves on following the letter of the Mosaic law but they clarified it and followed the letter of their man-made rules. They were only concerned with the external appearance of keeping the law rather than the inward spirit of the law.

Matthew 23:27-28: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

What was Jesus saying?

Verse 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.”

When Jesus talked about a new way to understand God’s law, He was trying to bring people back to its original purpose. Jesus did not speak against the law itself but against the abuses and excuses to which the people had been subjected. Jesus makes it clear, “I have not come to abolish them.” He takes the law beyond mere outward observance to the inner spiritual intention of what God intended. He came to “fulfill” the law and its fullest implications.

Jesus not only bore our sins but established a perfect righteousness which is given to us as a gift of God. Our sins were ascribed to Him and His righteousness was ascribed to us. Jesus Christ, our true passover lamb, permanently took the place of the Mosaic law when He cried out “It is finished” and bowed His head and died that Friday afternoon. When that unseen hand tore the temple curtain from the top down, the ceremonial law that pointed the people to Christ’s sacrificial death was once and for all nailed to the cross.

Hebrews 10:8-10: “First he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them’ – though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, Here I am, I have come to do your will. He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

The first covenant had the ordinances of this ceremonial system but they are gone in the new covenant, leaving only the Ten Commandments, which God writes on our hearts and minds (see verse 10).

Question: If Jesus did not come to destroy the law, does that mean all the Old Testament laws still apply today?

In the Old Testament, there are three categories of law: ceremonial, civil, and moral.

  • Ceremonial law related to Israel’s worship. The primary purpose was to point forward to Jesus Christ. But after Jesus’ death and resurrection, those laws are no longer necessary. We are free to worship and love God without rules.
  • Civil laws applied to daily living in Israel. Because of our modern society and culture are so radically different from over 2000 years ago, most of those guidelines cannot be followed. However, the principles behind them are timeless and they should guide us today.
  • Moral laws such as the Ten Commandments are a direct command from God and require strict obedience. The moral law reveals the nature and will of God and still applies today. Jesus obeyed the moral law completely.


Verse 18: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished.”

This verse reaffirms the absolute authority of all the Scriptures down to the smallest components of individual words. They will endure for all time, “until everything is accomplished.”

With the coming of Jesus, many aspects of the law have been brought to completion, e.g., the need for sacrifices. Other requirements of the law, like loving God and our neighbor, endure until Jesus comes again.

In the KJV, the text says, “till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

What is a jot and what is a tittle?

A jot is the tenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the smallest. It was written above the line and looks like an apostrophe.



Jot is related to our modern English word iota, meaning “a very small amount.” The Hebrew spelling is yod or yodh. Many Bibles have a picture of a yod in Psalm 119. Check out the section title coming just before verse 73.

A tittle is even smaller than a jot. A tittle is a letter extension, a pen stroke that can differentiate one Hebrew letter from another. An example can be seen in the comparison between the Hebrew letters resh and daleth (or dalet).


                 

The resh (on the left) is made with one smooth stroke. The daleth (on the right) is made with two strokes of the pen. The letters are very similar to each other, but the distinguishing mark of the daleth is the small extension of the roof of the letter.



That extension is a tittle.

Because of the seriousness of the law, Jesus was emphasizing the importance of keeping even the smallest detail.

Verse 19: “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

In God’s overall plan, the law was not to become an extra burden on the souls of men. Rather, to point the way of salvation, the law convinced men of their need of a Savior. Jesus was challenging some of the Pharisees and scribes on their view of ranking God’s priorities and misconstruing God’s will and, even worse, of leading others astray.
Verse 20: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Because righteousness is a requirement to enter heaven, Jesus declared to the people that their righteousness should, “surpass that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.” The significance here is that the people of that time considered the scribes and Pharisees to be the most religious in all of Israel. They were looked upon as having arrived at the highest level of religion. The scribes were the most noted teachers of the law and the Pharisees were the most celebrated professors of the law. The people did not think themselves to be as good as them. So it greatly surprised them to hear that they must be better than them or they would not go to heaven.

The scribes and Pharisees’ religion was merely an outward show of righteousness, not from the heart. They did not allow God to change their hearts or attitudes. Jesus demands a kind of righteousness that is so godly that it cannot be a product of human effort, but a gift of God. Christ would establish this righteousness in his life and death and it would be made available as God’s free gift. This righteousness would exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.

God judges our hearts as well as our works, for it is in the heart that our real allegiance lies. Jesus was saying that his listeners and all Christians need a different kind of righteousness altogether (love and obedience), not just a more intense version of the Pharisees’ righteousness.

Romans 2:12-13: “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.”

How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect these ideas? How should we apply what Jesus said?

Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Our righteousness must:

  1. Come from what God does in us, not what we can do by ourselves
  2. Be God-centered, not self-centered
  3. Be based on reverence for God, not approval from people
  4. Go beyond keeping the law to living by the principles behind the law


JOURNEY: Y – YOU

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LOVE. Examine your righteousness. Where does it come from?