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


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

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Showing Jesus (Salt and Light) 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 5:13-16: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

There are 14,000 catalogued uses of salt. It is used as a preservative for meats, in the manufacturing of soap, in the production of glass, to soften water, as ice melt, to heal wounds, in the smelting and refining of metals, in farming to preserve wet hay, and as a salt-lick for cattle. In cooking it is used as a nutrient, for flavoring, to enhance color, and as texture.

Here are four ways salt was significant in Jewish culture. Salt was:

1. Enduring: Salt was used in burnt offerings as a symbol of God’s lasting covenant with His people. Salt is the opposite of leaven – the type of sin. In Ezra 7:22, Artaxerxes gave salt to Ezra the priest and set no limit to the quantity. Similarly, we can be sure that when the King of Kings distributes grace among His royal priesthood the supply is not cut short.

2. Pure: Germs can’t live in salt so it is rubbed into wounds as a disinfectant.

3. Precious/valuable: As stated before, salt was indispensable in sacrifices and for flavoring food. Large quantities were used in the temple service and it was very symbolic in the ceremony of the covenant.   

4. A Preservative: The only way that the Jewish people could preserve fresh meat was to cover it with salt to keep it from spoiling. Salt was also used in the tanning of hides.

Matthew 5:13 says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

The “you are” refers only to genuine, born-again people. Believers are like salt and can help meet the needs of the world. Jesus’ teaching parallels the previously-mentioned Jewish significance of salt:

1. Enduring: Jesus told His disciples (and all Christians) to stop corruption and prevent moral decay in the world. Jesus admonished His disciples and all believers to remain steadfast and true – to endure in the way of life He had given them and has given us. He promises a great reward for those who endure: “To the one who is victorious and does My will to the end, I will give authority over the nations.” – Revelation 2:26

2. Pure: Jesus wanted His disciples to be a spiritual disinfectant for the world. Sin is like a culture of spiritual germs. We are to fight against sin to prevent it from multiplying.

3. Precious/Valuable: Jesus revealed that God’s children are precious. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants.” – Psalm 116:15. We are just as precious. There is a small, precious group of people called to do God’s work and fulfill the commission given by Jesus in Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

4. A Preservative: Just like the disciples, we are commissioned to preach the gospel of truth to the entire world.
“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:17.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

A more literal meaning of “loses its saltiness” would be “is defiled.” During Jesus’ time it was possible that salt could become mixed with other impure substances or minerals, causing a weakness in flavor or a bland taste. If this happened, the salt became worthless as a preservative. “Losing saltiness” could symbolize abandoning or deviating from the gospel. It could also mean that in a world filled with sin and deceit, it is possible for a believer to become contaminated and an ineffective disciple.

“How can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

If salt loses its saltiness, it is worthless. Likewise, if Christians make no effort to affect the world around them, they are of little value to God. If we are too much like the world, we are worthless. Christians should not blend in with everyone else. Instead, we should affect others positively, just as seasoning brings out the flavor in food. If a Christian loses his effectiveness, his testimony will be trampled under the feet of man.

We have been called to do a very important job. We are to help preserve the entire world, saving it from utter destruction. It is an awesome responsibility. We must be willing to sacrifice, change, and repent of our old ways. We must be willing to truly become “the salt of the earth.”

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” – Matthew 5:14

Moving on to the concept of light in the Matthew passage, how do we get light?
1. electricity
2. batteries
3. sun by day, moon by night
4. candles
5. fueled containers

How did the Jewish people get light?
1. sun by day, moon by night
2. fire
3. lamps or candles

“You are the light of the world” describes the essential mission of the Christian to the world.  He is the condition (salt) to meet the needs of the world and he has a mission (light) to the world. His light must clearly shine forth into the darkness of human depravity. 

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ – John 8:12

Just as Jesus is the light of the world, we as Christians are to reflect that light. Like light from a city illuminates the dark countryside or a lamp inside a house provides light for all inside, Christians must let their works shine before the rest of the world so that others may praise God, bringing glory to God.

If we live for Christ, we will glow like lights, showing others what Christ is like. How are we to be light? We must do good works. First, we must do good works that others may see and approve of, giving them cause to think well of Christianity.  Second, the good works must be done for others’ edification so they are built up spiritually.

“Put it under a bowl.” How do we hide our light?
1. By being quiet when we should speak
2. By going along with the crowd
3. By denying the light
4. By letting sin dim our light
5. By not explaining our light to others
6. By ignoring the needs of others

Darkness is the absence of light and darkness alone cannot dispel the light. But the smallest light can dispel the greatest darkness.

Verse 16 is our vision statement, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Be a beacon of truth. Don’t shut your light off from the rest of the world. Let your light shine through a clean life before the Lord and before the world in which we live.

In order to be salt and light to this world, we must remain active preservative agents in calling the world to heed God’s standards. We cannot isolate ourselves from the world, but stand out.

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

1. You are the salt of the world.

a. Be enduring. Remain steadfast and true. Speak the truth.
b. Be purifying. Prevent sin from multiplying.
c. Be valuable. Fulfill the commission. 
d. Be preserving. Be all over the world. Be in it, but not of it.

2. Let your light shine. Show what Jesus Christ is like to others.


NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE. How can you show others what Christ is like this week?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: Don’t Worry, Be Happy (Part 2)

Last week I began the post talking about worldviews. We all have one – some way of interpreting our life and the existence of the universe. A difference in worldviews can lead to intense arguments because the individuals involved do not properly comprehend what is being said by the other person. Of course, hearing what others are saying can be challenging, but knowing what they mean can be quite difficult due to language barriers, accents, vocabulary, etc.

The principle of hearing and saying is made evident early in our lives when we first play the telephone game. One person says something and then the statement makes its way around the room to determine if everyone passes along the same message. We must hear correctly, then process the words correctly, then say it correctly to the next person, and hope each person does the same. (BTW, if you play it with me, it will not work, because I always will say something like “Don’t eat pickles!”)

When people speak, you may hear them, but do you understand them? Do they speak clearly enough? Too fast or too slow? And, what about the use of vocabulary? For instance, if I mention the word “team” what comes to mind? Team can cover many different sports at many different levels. Some might think of a professional baseball team. Others might think of a junior high basketball team. I have in mind our mission team to Kenya. So, even when we hear correctly, and understand correctly, our interpretation can lead to far different conclusions. This reason makes good communication difficult. And when the people communicating have different worldviews, their arguments can be intense because they may use similar words, but their understanding suggests they may as well speak different languages.

Jesus faced a similar problem in the first century. The people He healed had certain expectations. The people He taught had other expectations. Some in the crowd appreciated what He said. Some did not understand. And some wanted to kill Him for everything He represented. Therefore, my intention in this series is not only to help us understand what Jesus is saying to us, but to know what the original hearers would have heard. Until we know what they thought, we cannot fully appreciate what we ought do – after all, Jesus said the words to them, not us (at least to them first; the Bible says them to us on His behalf).

So, each week, I will use the same format to look at these verses in light of what the people in the first century were thinking, what Jesus said, how our world may mis-apply the teachings of Jesus and how having a true knowledge of God will affect our thinking. We will consider the true knowledge to be built upon God’s promise, as recorded in Habakkuk 2.14, which says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

With that as our foundation, let us look at the next set of verses in this great sermon of Jesus.

Remember, Jesus has just begun His public ministry. In Matthew 4, He calls people to repent because the Kingdom of heaven is near. Beginning in this chapter, Jesus begins to teach people what that means – that is, what does living in heaven look like, or more directly what it means to live “on earth as it is in heaven.”

What did the people think?

I am keeping this question first because what people say and what is heard are often two different matters. When Jesus said what He said, the people had to wrestle with this new way of thinking because some of it was quite contrary to what they thought they knew to be true.

Blessed are the merciful – The word mercy would have invoked one thought for the first century Jew – God (YHWH). Exodus 34.6 is a great statement about God’s mercy. This verse is a critical verse to Jews and is read at each of the festivals and is particularly important in the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which we reviewed in October 2016. Some believed that mercy is God’s greatest attribute.

Blessed are the pure in heart – Again, most any Jew who heard Jesus would have quickly thought of an Old Testament passage – particularly Psalm 24.3-4: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart...” That was a challenge for the Jew then, but as we will soon see, is quite possible for us.

Blessed are the peacemakers – Again, one word – Rome. The people wanted peace, but they wanted to govern themselves. Rome’s presence in the region meant people often tried to keep to themselves in hopes that they would be left alone (be at peace).

Blessed are those who are persecuted – Again, one word – Prophets. The people knew the plight of the prophets. On the Mount of Olives are tombs of the prophets (labeled as such now, would have been well-known then). (pic – from trip) Many people revered the prophets for their faithfulness to God, so Jesus words likely had great impact here.

Having considered what the people may have actually heard, let us know see if we can discern what Jesus said.

What did Jesus say?

Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy. God is a merciful God and will provide mercy, but He does so to those who show mercy. By His very nature, God is merciful, so those who want to be a part of the Kingdom He rules, and those who are to be considered His children, must be merciful as well.

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. The 1st Century Jews were taught how to live with clean hands, but not with pure hearts. The rules that the Pharisees put in place were to protect the people from doing wrong such as “Don’t heal on the Sabbath.” But a pure heart would worry first about the person and then the rule. It is the ones with clean hands AND clean hearts that see God (can ascend the hill to the high place).

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God. God is a God of peace. Here is where definitions make a big difference. Does God desire peace between nations? Maybe. But He does want us to be at peace with each other as individuals. Furthermore, He wants us to be at peace with Him. Those that are at peace with Him will help others to be at peace with God too, and thus are truly His children. I will mention this further below, but the key here is peace makers not peace keepers.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. First, we must realize that the promise from this blessing is the same as the first one which was being poor in spirit. If we are poor in spirit, then we defer our spirit to someone else. Jesus is explicit here that the someone else is the one who is righteous (remember we must also hunger and thirst for righteousness, v. 6). Being persecuted does not mean you are blessed; being persecuted for chasing after God and doing His will means you will be highly rewarded. Second, the promise is in the present tense. “Is” means now, just like verse 3. The other six beatitudes are future oriented (“shall”). Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand, those who are poor in spirit and are persecuted for the sake of righteousness have already made the “at hand” part a reality for themselves.

What does our world say?

Merciful – The world typically likes a good story about mercy. The news media sometimes refer to these stories as “feel good stories.” The fact that many people gravitate to this type of story truly reveals that we are made in the image of God. Of course, there are a number of people who are merciless, but more than not, I think the world does better with this idea than with most. One difference is that Jesus means God will show eternal mercy, while many people will use the word karma for someone getting something in return for helping another.

Pure in heart – This idea fits well with the idea of persecution. People who do not follow Christ cannot be pure in heart and make fun of others who wish to be. But the words are usually about what a person does (“goody two shoes”), not their heart. The word “hypocrite” gets at this idea perfectly. We are called hypocrites when what we do does not seem to match with what we believe. And we do this all the time, so we are hypocrites. But, as we will see in a few minutes, that does not disqualify us from seeing God because it is our heart that matters.

Peacemakers – Most people will agree with this for the sake of the good, but not for the sake of God. Some people are just agitators, but most people tend to avoid conflict so the world is not opposed to this idea – at least not in the way the word is usually interpreted. Again, two distinctions make the world’s understanding false. First, Jesus said peace makers not peace keepers and second the peace here is primarily concerned with God.

Persecution – Again, if we consider the idea of mercy, most people are appalled at outright persecution. By that, I mean killing, mutilation, and torture. But many people accept soft-persecution which is generally more verbal in nature or indirect harm (such as burning a cross in a yard like the KKK used to do). The reason people accept this is because they are not willing to be peacemakers, but would rather keep the peace with others by not getting involved.

These ideas might describe how the world views Jesus’ statements now, but what about when the knowledge of the glory of the Lord fills the earth as the water covers the sea?

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

Being merciful – The knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cause people to be merciful, not just to receive mercy, but because showing mercy is the right choice. If the knowledge of God’s glory is pervasive, then His character will reach through His followers to impact the world greatly. And His character, in His own words includes mercy. (Read Exodus 34.6-7.)

Blessed are the pure in heart – We can only be pure in heart because of Jesus. We must return to Psalm 24.3-4. It takes clean hands AND a pure heart to see God. Most people focus on the externals (what we do), but God is concerned with the heart (who we are). As I mentioned above, people will call us hypocrites because the who we are (or want to be) does not always match up with what we do. So, we are hypocrites. But, the truth is that only one has been truly pure in heart, and that is Jesus. Thus, He can see God. And the invitation is extended to all who believe. Thus, I can see God despite not being perfect, because Jesus is perfect.

Blessed are the peacemakers – As I have said a couple of times already, making peace is the call here. Most people are willing to keep the peace, but making peace requires effort. It requires seeking to understand all sides. It requires being willing to see a greater goal. The perfect example of a peacemaker is God, who did so through His Son Jesus. He initiated the process. He made the effort. We just need to believe and receive. Paul begins many of his letters greeting the churches with the grace and peace from God. For those who have received that peace, a requirement exists to be at peace with one another, and to bring others into an eternal peace with God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted – To this point, I have not mentioned verses 11 and 12, so let me do so here. Notice in verse 11 Jesus says that our persecution comes from false accusations about us because of Jesus. What Jesus means is that if others persecute us because of what we are doing for Jesus, then great is our reward. But if others lash out at us with good cause, then we should consider their efforts a part of our punishment, not persecution.

In these eight statements of blessing, Jesus truly challenged the thinking of the 1st Century Jew. He is still challenging the thinking of people today. Some of these thoughts are truly threatening to our usual mindset. Does Jesus actually say we are to “rejoice” when we are being persecuted? Yes. But He does so because His mindset is not bogged down by the cares of the world; Jesus mindset was fully integrated with the Kingdom. And a part of his goal with this sermon was to teach people to understand how to think differently and to live differently because of their faith in God.

We tend to concern ourselves with a lot of worries that often end up meaningless. In these eight statements of blessing, Jesus effectively says, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Of course, His words are far valuable than a 1980s song, but if we truly adopt an attitude of hakuna matata because of our faith, we will begin to realize a different type of life – one that is “on earth as it is in heaven.”

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


Jesus makes the Kingdom possible. He is teaching the people then, and teaching us today what kingdom-living looks like, but without His sacrifice we could only look from the outside-in. Unfortunately, too many people believe that they are satisfied by taking that approach. But if we are truly merciful, then we will be peacemakers between others and God, even when we encounter persecution, proving our hearts are pure, and then, we can know we will see God!

How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord impact this teaching?

Reading the words of Jesus should encourage us to take action. We do not have an excuse that we don’t know what God wants us to do when the words of Scripture are from His very mouth. This week, in addition to learning more about what Jesus is asking of you, begin to do what you already know He wants you to do – beginning with this eight-item list in Matthew 5.3-10.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: Don’t Worry, Be Happy (Part 1)

Many people struggle to believe the Bible for a number of reasons. One such reason is their worldview. Worldview pic – in your folder A worldview is essentially how someone views the events and purpose of humanity and the universe. Many different types of worldviews exist. Even the number of true worldviews is debated, but what is certain is that one’s worldview drastically impacts how one views life and existence. (For a brief comparison of five prominent worldviews and the religions that embrace them, see the following chart:

Most worldviews have a long heritage although certain particulars may change. Additionally, some may have a similar worldview, but be at complete odds with one another. For instance, the worldview that is based upon a single God who is sovereign over the universe is often called Theism. Authentic Christianity certainly has this worldview, but so does Islam (and Judaism). Some call Christianity its own worldview, and that is fine. My point is not to get into the details of various worldviews, but to simply state that multiple worldviews exist and they affect our thoughts and beliefs.

The Sermon on the Mount was meant to change the peoples’ worldview. Specifically, Jesus wanted to take their thoughts away from the world and invite them to consider the Kingdom. Remember, Jesus has just declared that the “kingdom of God is at hand.” That is, the kingdom is near, so you need to adapt your mindset (i.e. worldview) to consider God and His Kingdom, not just yourself or your place in your world.

As we go through this series, my intention is to help make that distinction as often as I can. Each week, I intend to use the same format to look at these verses in light of what the people in the first century were thinking, what Jesus said, how our world may misapply the teachings of Jesus and how having a true knowledge of God will affect our thinking. We will do so with the mindset that God truly means what He says when God spoke to Habakkuk saying, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2.14) Whatever mindset you may have, or whatever worldview you may claim, God is saying knowledge of Me and My glory will one day be known everywhere and when that happens your understanding of life will be changed forever. The Sermon on the Mount is a part of God’s glory being made known to man.

Take a moment to read Matthew 5.3-6.

What did the people think?

It is critical that we remember Jesus has just launched His ministry. People were gathering around Him because of what He was doing (see Matt 4.23-25). Now this man who has been healing others and teaching in the synagogues is now taking his teaching to the masses. What would Jesus say? And what did He mean that the kingdom of heaven was near? Before we can understand what Jesus meant, we have to understand the way they thought. Granted, this isn’t their complete worldview, but compared to the verses we will cover today, we can get a glimpse.

The 1st Century Jews believed:
  • that God showed favor to those who had material wealth. The poor (in spirit, in wealth, etc) were always on the outside looking in.
  • mourning was important. When someone died, the family often paid others to mourn with them (professional mourners).
  • Rome and some Jewish authorities had full control. A few groups fought against this notion, but they were put in their place, so it was best to avoid the attention of the authorities.
  • that food and drink were natural, but being filled would have been rare. Having a day’s supply of food was reasonable for most families, but little more.

What did Jesus say?

Jesus uses a traditional Jewish structure as He speaks. The idea of “Blessed are the...” are called the Beatitudes from the Latin word for blessings. But the idea can be better understood as “It is well with those who...” or “Happy are those who...” (It means far more than our understanding of happy, but the word does translate that way.) Essentially, Jesus is saying that current circumstances are not the end. Whatever you face now pales in comparison to what is available in the Kingdom of God. In other words, don’t let your earthly experiences define you, focus on what God can, and is, doing.

Happy are those who are poor in spirit...the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Think about this statement. First, it is in the present tense – this one and the last one are the only beatitudes in the present tense (the next six are future oriented). Second, Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of Heaven does not just belong to God, it belongs to the people – “theirs” is a possessive word! What a promise! You may be poor here, but if you are poor in spirit, then you are truly wealthy – all that God has is yours.

Happy are those who mourn...they will be comforted.
Having people cry and mourn with you may bring some solace in the moment, but comfort goes to the core. True mourning brings true comfort in time – especially when the comforter is God.

Happy are those who are meek, they will inherit the earth.
You are more than you imagine, but you may not be able to express it as you wish. That’s ok, you may not have much in this life, but what awaits you is far more than you can fathom.

Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be satisfied.
You may eat today, but you will be hungry again tomorrow. The same is true with thirst. But if you truly seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (6.33), you will be satisfied eternally.

I have paraphrased Jesus intent, but before we look at them through a biblical worldview, let us take a look at what the world says. In doing so, we must remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2.12,14 that the world cannot truly understand the things of God because those without the Spirit truly cannot understand (1 Cor. 2.12,14).

What does our world say?

Being poor in spirit will get you nowhere. You have to look out for number 1, otherwise the world will just walk all over you. There is truth in that one cares about you more than you, but being poor in spirit is about our place before God as we will see in a moment.

Mourning is for wimps. Sure, you are sad, but get up and get busy. The world waits for no one, so if you aren’t tough enough to suck it up and keep going, someone else will take your place. (Thankfully, this notion is changing in many cases, but much progress remains.)

We trample the meek because the meek are weak. We will just do what we want because it is not like they (the meek) will stop us. If they don’t want to play our way, we will simply run them over and force our will upon them.

If you want to be righteous, don’t put that on me. I am going to do things my way. Besides you are a hypocrite anyway.

Granted, I may be overdramatizing these statements slightly, but not much. The world is opposed to the Kingdom – the mindset (worldview) is entirely different. The world says “I/Me” whereas the Kingdom says “Us/We.” And the biggest part of that community is God. So, we now move to our central question:

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect these ideas? In other words, how should we apply what Jesus said?

Before we cover the four statements of blessing, we must realize that Jesus is about to give a set of rules for living within the Kingdom. But before He does He gives us these blessing statements to show that God is about relationship; the rules only stem from that relationship. This is the same format God used before giving the commandments to the Israelites on another mountain (Sinai) in the Old Testament (beginning with Exodus 20).

Poor in Spirit – Having a knowledge of the glory of God helps us know that God’s glory far surpasses ours. Thus, being poor in spirit is about our realizing our place as inferior to God. Being poor in spirit is not about having a weak faith, it is about having a faith that relies on God because we, ourselves, are weak. It is God that makes heaven available to us, not the other way around, so we must remain humble before Him. In fact, the next three beatitudes stem from this idea.

Mourn – Having a knowledge of the glory of God helps us care about life as God does. Bereavement is a natural part of loss, but this mourning goes deeper. Do our concerns match the cares of God? Do we see the injustices of the world as He sees them? God will comfort us, in part, now, but our true comfort will come when we are with Him.

Meek – Having a knowledge of the glory of God helps us realize that meekness is not weakness, but is controlled strength. Jesus was powerful (Matt. 26.53), but controlled His strength to accomplish the will of the Father. The reality is that many who exert their power do so to control very little. The promise of Jesus is that those who are meek now will not have a little, but will inherit the earth! Thus, we can pursue a little of the world, or we can have it all in God’s timing!

Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness – Having a knowledge of the glory of God helps us to know what righteousness is. Having this knowledge helps us to understand that we are imperfect beings who must seek out one who is far better than us. It helps us understand what “seek first the Kingdom of heaven” might mean, even if we do not fully fathom it.

These first four beatitudes are an introduction to the Kingdom of heaven of which Jesus spoke as He began His ministry. It is the first part of His making these fishermen (and others) fishers of men. And although our cultures may be very different, Jesus’ teaching then still applies to us today. I will remind you that a sign-up sheet for RightNow Media is in the back. We will show the preview clip again in a couple of weeks, but this resource can help keep you focused on being a disciple.


At the beginning of this message, I mentioned the idea of worldviews. The idea that Jesus wanted to convey was that the normal course of events may cause us to be concerned, but in God’s Kingdom the concepts are quite different. In fact, later in this sermon, Jesus says we have no reason to be anxious if we are focused on God. In the verses we reviewed today, He says we are blessed (or should be happy) if we focus on God. In other words, “Don’t worry; be happy.” (Yes, I am an 80’s music junkie).

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is once again the full word:


All of us need to shift our mindset to become more like Jesus, and some need to change their worldview entirely. But wherever we are on our JOURNEY, we must remember that we do not walk this path alone. We have others nearby who will encourage us, and some who will battle with us. Ultimately the war has been won, which should cause our desires to be to live for the Victor. And it should cause us to take our living to another level – in discipleship, fellowship, worship, service, and sharing the gospel.

How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord impact this teaching?

Take time this week to consider your worldview. Do some research and be honest with yourself to see if you fit one (or more) of the worldviews mentioned in this sight or others.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"Isaiah 6", A Closer Look by Rick Sons

Isaiah’s Vision of the Lord

1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 
3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 
5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.
7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

God is always looking for faithful men and women that He can support and empower to accomplish His will and purposes on this earth. For some, the call may be to foreign missions or to the ministry but most of us will be called to be ministers of the gospel even though our career paths might look much different. As Andy can tell you, several years ago becoming a deacon or minister was not high on my list of priorities. Nor would the thought of me going Kenya to speak to possibly 100 pastors be an option. God is looking for people whom He can support to build His kingdom. Sometimes we must let ourselves be found.

If you take time to think about it, there is nothing particularly extraordinary about faithful men like Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, at least in and of themselves. In the book of James, James makes it clear when he says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” He was human just like we are with faults, weaknesses, and temptations. Yet he, like many other men and women, was faithful to do what God asked him to do.

In the above scripture we have seen Isaiah’s vision of what God and heaven is like. Notice in the beginning, God has not spoken to Isaiah. He has only showed him. Then God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” The Us clearly refers to all: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

See God upon his throne and that throne high and lifted up, not only above other thrones as it transcends them, but over other thrones as it rules and commands them. Isaiah saw not Jehovah (the essence of God which no man has or can see), but Adonai, His dominion. He saw the Lord Jesus. This vision is explained in John 12:41. John says that Isaiah saw Christ’s glory and spoke of Him, which is an incontestable proof of the divinity of our Savior. It appears evident from this passage that the glory which the prophet saw was the glory of Jehovah. By saying that it was the glory of Jesus, John shows that he considered Jesus to be Jehovah.

Isaiah saw holy angels called seraphim; for He makes his ministers a flaming fire (Psalm 104:4). They burn in love to God and zeal for His glory. Hearing them sing praise to God. Hear the anthem, or song of praise, which the angels sing to the honor of him that sits on the throne, how this song was sung. With zeal and fervency they cried aloud.  In Isaiah 6 we see the vision of the awesome majesty and holiness of God presented. Isaiah had to have been moved by the wonders he was seeing just as we will be when we see God and heaven for the first time and bask in the glory. With this knowledge of the glories of God, Isaiah had to have been filled with wonders maybe just as Moses was on the mountain.

With this question asked by God, Isaiah’s only reasonable answer was to volunteer himself. After all, there was no one else standing there at the time. In Isaiah 6:8 he says, “Here I am. Send me.” Interestingly, God didn’t force Isaiah to volunteer. He merely asked if there was any who would go and Isaiah said, “I’m available. I’ll go.” God doesn’t force us to serve but He works in our hearts so that we desire to volunteer for Him. Deep down I think it is safe to say that every one of us want to do as God asks us to do.

In Sunday School last week, we discussed the change in our church over the past few years. Our church has always supported missions and we have had several go and work with others in different states and countries. But the mission to spread the Word locally has fallen short. Too often, we wait for someone else to share the gospel with a loved one because we don’t want to stir the waters. Sometimes we expect our pastor or our deacon to do all of the ministry things while we just show up and support him.

God wants us to have willing hearts and not pass off our responsibilities to someone else. God has created good works for us to do, and it is our responsibility to do them. We will not be judged one day by what our pastor has done or by what other people do but by what we do. We will give an account for ourselves.

Isaiah, an ordinary man, was willing to obey God and step out in faith to let God do extraordinary things through him. Let us pray that we would come to see the value of God’s mission (as Isaiah did) and say with Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me.”

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: Series Introduction

Have you ever said words similar to the following? “If only Jesus were here to tell me what to do?”

The reality is that He has told us plenty, but sometimes we don’t listen or perhaps we don’t like what He has said. Of course, at other times, we make the excuse that what He has said is too hard and must not be meant for us. Perhaps, Jesus was only talking to super-Christians or someone who is smarter, or better, or whatever. Well, we can make excuses, but when we stand before God, those excuses will be about as helpful as an air conditioner in the wintertime (the current temp as I post this is below 0).

We are beginning a new series this week on the Sermon on the Mount. It is a passage many will know well. But regardless of how well we know it or not, the key is for us to live out the principles within it. Today, my intent is simply to provide some background for how the series came to be, briefly cover the opening verses of the text for this series, and introduce a new church-wide initiative to help with our discipleship efforts. That sounds like a lot to cover, but this week’s message is vitally important. Why is it important? Well, the passage we will be covering over the next five months is one of the five great discourses of Jesus as chronicled by Matthew, and likely the most impactful sermon ever preached.

What is the passage? Matthew 5-7 – a passage known simply as the Sermon on the Mount. Our series title is taken from near the middle of the passage where, in the midst of Jesus teaching His disciples to pray, says, “on earth as it is in heaven.” For the series title, I have dropped the “on earth” portion, but the point of these three chapters is Jesus introducing the concept of kingdom-living to His followers. A few weeks ago, during our previous series on adoption, we applied these same verses to our role as children and our interactions with the Father and with each other. As I mentioned at the time, the primary understanding of this sermon regards living as a part of the Kingdom of God; however, if God is also our Father, then we can apply the concepts as children as well.

As we begin to review this sermon in detail, we will do so from the context of being a follower of God. If you are a follower of God, or desire to do so, this series will be both a blessing and a challenge to you. I know it will be for me as well. So, with that, let’s get started.

The Background

Over the past few years, I have had in my mind to do a series on Paul’s letter to the Romans. Each year, I sense that the time is not right and God provides another path of study. This past Spring, I thought we would begin Romans today, but with an interesting twist, I would teach on Romans and show some parallels between Paul’s letter and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Then, our book club read a book on holiness, and we talked about how well that idea fit my series concept. But then, I started to get the same sense that Romans wasn’t right even as the thought of teaching from this great sermon of Jesus gained strength in my mind. One of the problems, at least for me, was that we just concluded a year looking at the life of Jesus. But the reality is that Mark focuses very little on the teachings of Jesus, so…

Last September, I was reading a book that mentioned Habakkuk 2.14. The verse says, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of YHWH, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2.14). In the book, the following two questions were posed after quoting the verse:
  • Suppose that isn’t just an extravagant way of speaking?
  • Suppose it means what it says?

Said another way, what if the earth was filled with the knowledge of God’s glory? What if we lived according to the glory of God and then shared that glory with others? Well, those questions led me directly to Matthew 5.16 (the verse that captures the vision for our church), and that helped me conclude that a series on Matthew 5-7 was the right approach for the new year for Fairfax Baptist Church. As we will see in the coming weeks, that question about God’s glory will be the driving force for how we approach our application of Jesus’ teaching in these verses.

The Setting

Take a moment to read Matthew 5.1-2.

Who? The crowds, Jesus, and His disciples. It is difficult to discern from Matthew’s account how many disciples are present or exactly who is a disciple. In Matthew 5.1, he mentions crowds (plural) and disciples, yet at the end of the sermon (7.28-29), only crowds are mentioned. This may seem like a minimal issue, but we truly must question who is being taught. In verse 2, Matthew uses the pronoun “them” which could refer to the disciples and/or crowds. I believe Jesus was teaching His disciples and the crowd was a secondary beneficiary of the teaching. It wasn’t that they were eavesdropping, merely that they were interested in what Jesus was saying so they crowded in around the disciples to hear better. The text does not provide any number regarding the crowds, so we might guess several dozen, several hundred, or even potentially several thousand.

What? Jesus sat down. In Jesus day, the rabbis, scribes, or other teachers sat down when they taught. However, whomever read Scripture would do so standing (the people often did as well – a tradition that goes back, at least, to Ezra reading Scriptures in Nehemiah 8). Thus, Matthew records that Jesus is seated which indicates that important teaching is about to take place.

When? This teaching takes place early in Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew’s account, this happens just after Jesus calls His first disciples and ministers to large crowds through Galilee. This fits well with Luke’s account as well although Luke’s version is often called the Sermon on the Plain (I will cover this apparent difference in just a moment). Luke’s version of the gospel should be considered the most accurate as far as the sequence of events, but again Matthew and Luke have this teaching near the very beginning of His ministry, so we do not have a conflict in timing.

Where? Matthew says that Jesus went up a mountain. Luke says that this teaching happened “on a level place” (Luke 6.17). But Luke 6.12 said that Jesus had been out to the mountain and then came down with them (the disciples, v. 17) to the level place. Luke also says Jesus stood. So, is the Bible in error? No. Let me explain.

First, Matthew and Luke are talking about the same place. Galilee is a very hilly region. (SermononMount pic – SB folder under Sermons) The picture here is a possible place where the sermon occurred. A few different locations have been considered possibilities and a church has been erected on top of one site. But the point that this picture shows is that Jesus could have walked up the mountain (to pray, Luke 6), come back down to a level place (Luke 6) and still be considered up on the mountain (Matthew 5). Furthermore, the acoustics in situations like this have been scientifically proven to allow a person to speak to several thousands of people by simply using the natural amplification that comes from the backdrop. Thus, being in a lower place and speaking to those above you (Luke 6 says He looked up at His disciples), would create an optimal teaching setting.

But what about Jesus standing versus sitting? This is where the writer’s intended audience is important. Matthew is writing to the Jews whose tradition said that the teacher (rabbi) would sit to teach. The Jews present that day would have recognized this and, indeed, recognized a superior authority from Jesus according the verses at the end of this sermon (Matt. 7.28-29).

Why? Jesus had just begun His ministry. He began by calling for people to, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4.17). Now, He is explaining what living within the Kingdom of heaven includes. Later, in Matthew 13, Jesus will explain what the Kingdom of heaven is like. As I have mentioned in the past, the Jews consider God’s name so holy, Matthew did not write the Kingdom of God; rather he called it the kingdom of heaven. But because heaven is the domain of God, the Jews would fully understand the implications of the words of Jesus and Matthew.

How? Jesus opened up his mouth and taught. This is a profound statement which we will cover later in our series. But consider the words Jesus uses several times in Chapter 5, “You have heard it said…, but I say…” These words have tremendous significance as we will see in early February. For now, we simply need to understand that Jesus was using the traditional means of teaching, but His intentions were to elevate the people’s understanding and perception of the situation.

The Initiative

If Jesus intended to raise the people’s awareness to what God’s expectations were, what was His reason? Simply to help people rise above the lives they were living and focus on living according to God’s standards, not man’s. In other words, having them live at another level. That level of living – as it is in heaven – is quite different than their normal one – and these were people who had a great respect for God.

So, Jesus comes to share the idea of what having a true knowledge of the glory of the Lord would do for them. Furthermore, He came to share what having a true knowledge of the glory of the Lord would require of them. And what was true for them is certainly true for us.

Such a knowledge and understanding means we must choose to live at another level – next level living, we will call it. That requires next-level discipleship, next-level fellowship, next-level worship, next-level service, next-level sharing.

The words of Scripture can teach us a great deal about God and about ourselves. Thankfully, God has provided tremendous teachers who make the words of Jesus, Paul, Moses, and others not only understandable, but applicable. Thanks to technology, we have access to some of these teachers right from our televisions, computers, and even our telephones. One such resource is called Right Now. Many of you are familiar with Netflix. Well, RightNow Media is basically the Biblical version of Netflix. We have been using this resource for a couple of years for our Community Groups, but now I want to make it available to any member of the church that would like to access it. It is free to all members. Thousands of Bible studies for all ages (young children to senior adult), access to speeches from various conferences, etc.

(In the service a promo video was played at this time.)

Jesus said to Follow Me. He came to make disciples. The Sermon on the Mount is His first extended teaching to turn His followers into disciples who would change the world. RightNow is a tool we can use to be better disciples and make more disciples. And, oh yes, it is free to you.

In this series introduction, we have covered the background for how this series came to be, the setting for Jesus teaching, and the initiative, or purpose, for His teaching and how we can capitalize on resources to make us better disciples as well.

As we move forward in this series, the prevailing thought will be about how a knowledge of the glory of the Lord impacts our understanding of the principles in the Sermon on the Mount. Each week my plan is to show what the world’s typical response is regarding the various topics, and what Jesus expects from those who choose to follow Him. That is, we will compare the worldly kingdom against the heavenly one.

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


The reality is that for each one of us, some of the principles we will learn in this series will be very challenging while others may be reasonably within our grasp. But Jesus wants us to live at another level, and, thus, our journey is not complete. This series will not complete that process, but it should prepare us to take a few steps closer to becoming the individuals and the church that God wants us to be.


1. Consider your response to the following question each day this week.
  • How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord impact my current situation?

2. Consider signing up for an Right Now Media. Again it is free for all members of Fairfax Baptist Church. All you need is an email address. You may email the church if you are interested in having an account.