Sunday, August 27, 2017
It's interesting to consider the way that the very first and last lessons Jesus taught during His earthly ministry bookend each other...
Recall that Jesus began his earthly ministry with "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 5. In particular, the "Beatitudes" were a message of hope to the hopeless, directed toward the poor in spirit, the heartbroken; this was a series of blessings for those that hungered and thirsted for righteousness. Certainly it is a great comfort to read through this chapter even today! As one not at home in this world, Jesus promises a bright future of hope!
Unfortunately, there are some who have attempted to soften Jesus’ image. They may say that the Son of God only preached compassion and that His words were always uplifting and encouraging. They try to paint Jesus as a preacher who avoided topics such as condemnation and Hell.
What a shock and discomfort Matthew 23 must be for these individuals! In His last public address Jesus concentrated solely on the religious class of the day. Here He doesn’t hold back his disdain for the conduct and character of the Scribes and Pharisees. Therefore, this chapter is sometimes accompanied with the subtitle “the Seven Woes”.
To those who believe that the Bible describes two different Gods – that the God of the Old Testament was cruel and judgmental, while the God of New Testament is gracious and kind – Matthew 23 stands as a reminder that God is the same throughout the Bible. Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees is just as fierce of a rebuke as anything we can read coming from any of the Old Testament prophets. We must remember that God is consistent and the same through all of time, and this includes the Old and New Testaments.
More importantly, we need to pay close attention to why Jesus was so stern in His rebuke of the Scribes and Pharisees. After all, these were religious men who were “confident of their own righteousness” (Luke 18:9).
As a people aspiring toward righteousness today, we must be careful to avoid the pitfalls of these clearly un-righteous men! Do these woes apply to us today?
Woe to You for Shutting the Kingdom
Matthew 23:13-15 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
The scribes and Pharisees were diligent in their observation of the Law. They regularly attended synagogue, tithed, prayed, and even preached. They were held in high regard within the Jewish community. They even acted as evangelists, seeking to convert those around them.
However, the Pharisees weren’t usually looking for those who didn’t know God at all.
Instead, they looked for people to convert to their own particular “brand” of religion. Many of them had their own ideas on traditions and theories for their respective sect and sought to exclude all others. Even worse, the corrupt teachings of the Pharisees bred a legion of "converted" false teachers who would perpetuate lies, thereby spreading condemnation.
Matthew 15:3, 7-9 And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
Are we guilty of the same? Have we set up a system of rules where the message is “do everything our way or else”? Are we some kind of denomination of the church described in the Bible? Have we created our own traditions that we’ve tried make necessary to in order enter Heaven? Do we attempt to impose a dress code for attending worship? Do we put a heavy emphasis on church attendance? Do we attempt to make a sin out of things the Bible doesn't list as such, like smoking, tattoos, etc?
I certainly hope that we are seeking to be a part of the one church that Jesus came to establish. I hope that we only preach God’s Word, nothing more and nothing less.
Acts 20:27 …For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
Woe to You for Being Deceitful
Matthew 23:16-22 Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
Here Jesus criticized a religious ritual that the Pharisees had created around making oaths.
The Pharisees were seeking loopholes when it came to oaths taking a “collateral” approach. The whole system went something like this: If you swore by the Temple, that wasn’t a binding oath because you don’t own the Temple. But, if you swore by the “gold in the Temple” that was a binding oath, because some of that gold might have been yours. However, if you swore by the altar, you could lie all you wanted. BUT… If you swore by the sacrifice on the altar, you’d better be telling the truth!!! What a crooked and convoluted scheme! Basically, the Pharisees were looking for ways to be underhandedly dishonest!
Concerning oaths, we know that Jesus had elsewhere strictly warned against the practice. He said that a simple “yes” or “no” should be enough and that any oath beyond that was of “the evil one”. God certainly wouldn’t approve of His children being untruthful or looking for loopholes.
Zechariah 8:17 …Do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.
Woe to You for Neglecting the Heart of the Law
Matthew 23:23-24 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
Next, Jesus attacked the Pharisees’ methods of tithing. During their time, tithing was the form of contribution by which the Temple was kept, how religious feasts and festivals were funded, and funded the needs of the poor. The Pharisees were incredibly meticulous in their tithing, to the point of ridiculousness. Everything had to be exact… Everything.
Recall that the tithe was a contribution by which you gave 10% of what you earned or prospered. The Pharisees took this to a scrupulous extreme in which even their spices measured to exactly ten percent! Elsewhere, we read that the Pharisees criticized Jesus for not washing His hands (Luke 11:37) and His disciples for “working on the Sabbath” by simple collecting grains to eat as they walked through a field (Luke 6:1-5). The Pharisees were the epitome of legalism. According to their inflexible brand of religion, every law, even the most minute had to be followed exactly!
Jesus pointed out that the Pharisees worried so much about these minor issues that they missed the whole point of the law completely! As Jesus said, they “strained out a gnat to swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24)! The Pharisees focused so much on minor matters such as how to tithe that they overlooked the major matters that God truly cares about.
What truly concerns God is the attitudes within our hearts. Are we merciful? Are we forgiving? A legalistic attitude doesn’t leave much room for these traits. A heart with a true passion for Christ can’t help but show compassion for people.
The Pharisees were shown time and again to be very petty. We probably know our fair share of petty individuals... Petty people are constantly on the lookout for something to be angry or offended about. They get their feelings hurt constantly over imagined slights like something as minor as receiving a wrong look or someone failing to say “hi”. These folks are often so unhappy because they're looking for someone or something to complain about!
Are we as legalistic as the Pharisees? Do we focus more on “churchy” rules and procedures than we do the people of God’s Kingdom themselves? Do we practice pettiness over true piety?
Hopefully this is not the case. While we should be concerned with following God’s Word, I hope that we don’t lose focus on purpose behind His laws. I hope that we love people over procedures and that our time and effort are focused on the weightier matters of Scripture such as justice and mercy. I hope that we seek opportunities to serve others.
“Love is the identifying mark of Christianity. I a world of hate, envy, and anger, love sticks out like a healthy thumb. When anyone walks away from an encounter with us, that person should remember our love, not our convictions.” – Rodney Pickett
John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Woe to You for Hypocrisy
Matthew 23:25-28 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Jesus used the term “hypocrites!” throughout this passage, but here really drives the point home.
The word “hypocrite” is actually a Greek term that refers to actors in the theater. As we know, actors are only playing a role when they are onstage. Offstage, they are completely different in speech and conduct!
Jesus further made his point with two illustrations. He first compared the Pharisees to dirty dishes. Can you imagine drinking and eating from dinnerware that was clean on the outside, but dirty on the inside? What a disgusting prospect! Jesus said that the Pharisees were full of greed and self-indulgence. We know from other scriptures that the Pharisees certainly were greedy as we are told that they “devoured widows’ houses” (Luke 20:47), perhaps appealing to the generosity of the lonely and swindling them of their savings. Likewise we know that the Pharisees were self-indulgent, as they enjoyed a position of respect and privilege (Luke 20:46) all while they pretended to be pious.
Along the same lines, Jesus compared the Pharisees to whitewashed tombs. No matter how beautiful or tidy a mausoleum appears on the outside, these structures are monuments to the death and decay they hold within. The Pharisees merely made a show of being righteous and therefore Jesus essentially says that they were dead and unclean on the inside.
We know that God is concerned not with outward appearances, but rather the content of our hearts. He looks at us from the inside out. He knows us through and through. He knows our motives and intentions whether they be good or ill.
1 Samuel 16:7 … For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
Are we – like the Pharisees – concerned with appearances only? Are we righteous on the outside only? Are we seeking the approval of men or God?
Matthew 6:1, 5 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven… And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
I hope that we are not focused on shallow, short-term rewards like impressing those around us, but that we are sincere in our works and worship. I hope that we are focused on truly serving the Lord, in word in thought and in deed, outward and inward. I hope that we are focused on the ultimate reward…
Proverbs 11:8 The wicked man does deceptive work, But he who sows righteousness will have a sure reward.
Conclusion: “How will You Escape?”
Jesus concluded his sermon with a very pointed statement: “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” Matthew 23:33
Notice that Jesus spoke with compassion to the worst of sinners, but he ripped right into the religious hypocrites! This calls for us all to examine ourselves!
Are we shutting the Kingdom? Do we seek to impose additional rules to enter Heaven? Or do we preach only from God’s Word?
Are we deceitful? Do we look for loopholes? Or do we seek to obey God with sincerity?
Do we neglect the heart of the Gospel? Are we focused on minor rule-keeping? Or are we more concerned with the mercy, compassion and justice that God truly cares about?
Are we guilty of hypocrisy? Do we make a show of being righteous? Or do we truly desire to please God?
Looking back at Jesus’ first public lesson, Jesus warned against becoming like the Pharisees…
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
So how do we attain a righteousness beyond that of the Pharisees?
The Bible tells us that the righteousness of God comes through Christ alone!
Romans 3:21-22 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
We allow Christ to become our righteousness through living by faith and allowing Him to reign over our heart!
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Sunday, August 20, 2017
My wife and I will have been married 6 years in October. In that time we’ve had two houses, one dog, a little girl, and countless adventures.
Like any couple, we’ve had our own challenges that we’ve faced together. But if I could do it all over again, I would gladly say those vows once more!
When I first presented this lesson Brandie and I had just gotten married. I wrote in the introduction to that original draft that the responsibilities of the big commitment hadn’t fully sunk in yet, but that I was praying I would be able to do my best to uphold the weight of those vows I swore to uphold to both Brandie and our God.
Of course, to many people marriage is a commitment that is just too big to take on and they’ll actively flee it or – if they even got married to begin with – they may dismiss their spouse at the first sign of trouble… As students of the Bible we of course know that marriage is meant to be a life-long commitment.
Mark 10:6-9 But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
However, unfortunately, people don’t seem to care much about commitment in today’s world. Whether it’s in business deals, marriages or simply promises made to friends, “commitment” is a word that’s sadly become empty and devoid of its meaning.
Earthly Commitments and Spiritual Commitments
But whether we take them seriously or not, we make commitments on almost a daily basis. We pledge to repay loans, make payments with credit cards, and make promises without even thinking about it at times.
However, Jesus urges us to not make promises or pledges to others.
Matthew 5:33-37 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
If we make a promise that we can’t keep, we have made ourselves into liars! As Jesus said, we should let our “Yes” be “Yes” and our “No” be “No.” But if we do make pledges, oaths, or other Earthly commitments we are obligated to uphold them! Likewise, if we make a spiritual commitment, we are obliged to uphold it!
Becoming a Christian is a spiritual commitment. When we became Christians, we committed our lives to Christ! In doing so, we committed ourselves to a life in service to God. Surely, this is a commitment we can't afford to take lightly!
Ephesians 4:1-3 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…
Like most commitments, there are a lot of duties that go accompany the original pledge. I would like to discuss just a few of the obligations that accompany a Christian’s commitment to Christ.
• Obligations to the Church and Fellow Christians
As Christians we should be encouraging and uplifting to our brothers and sisters in the faith.
Colossians 3:15-16 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
One of the most discouraging things to a Christian is for them to see other Christians not coming to church on a regular basis. Therefore regular church attendance is not only for worshipping God, but also for edification of our fellow saints.
Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
• Obligations to the Poor
We have an obligation to be charitable, in particular to needy saints, but also to any we may encounter who need help.
1 Timothy 6:18-19 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
• Obligations to Unbelievers
We should be a good example and share the Gospel with others.
Matthew 5:13-16 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
• Obligations to Family
The Bible teaches that everyone in the family unit has special role to fulfill.
Colossians 3:18-20 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.
Mutual love and respect are the foundation of a family’s commitment to each other.
Ephesians 5:25-29 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.
• Above All: Obligations to God!!!
Of course, above all, Christians have the biggest obligation to God. The great thing about our commitment to Christ is that all of those other obligations just seem to fall in place if we have an enduring love for God and a fervent desire to obey His will.
Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Just as Paul pointed out in Romans, as followers of Christ we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices.
Think about what that means. We should be dead to the world and living for God, giving Him our all.
However, when we commit, we give everything! Christians are committed to God Himself and He, above all other, above everything else, deserves all that we have! We need to remember that and keep our priorities straight in this life if we want to be true servants of God.
Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Are we Lukewarm?
In the book of Revelation we can read of seven different churches, representing nearly every type of congregation one could expect to encounter. One church in particular we would not want to emulate…
Revelation 3:15-16 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
Are we serving Christ with all of our effort? Or are we only partially committed. A true Christian should be “on fire” for Christ.
Convenient is not an adjective one would use to describe commitment. Of course, keeping any kind of earthly commitment is no easy task. Spirtual commitments are no different. Think of all the faithful followers of God in the Bible. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus Himself! Their commitment to God led them down some rocky paths!
It’s easy to recognize that true commitment requires sacrifice. Christ, of course, is the ultimate example of this truth.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
“Vows Made in Storms”
While Brandie and I were on our honeymoon, I remember reading a sign at one of the restaurants we visited which read:
“Vows made in storms are forgotten in calm waters.”
Let’s examine the truth in this saying for a while.
We’ve all heard stories of unbelievers who encountered some kind of hardship in life. Whether it be a serious illness or financial ruin, the desperate unbeliever may pray to God, “God, if you’ll just get me through this, I swear that I will change my life and live for you.”
Sometimes it works out that they end out coming out of the dire situation just fine and maybe, for a while, it seems the unbeliever really did turn their life around for God. But eventually, once the tribulation is forgotten, they go right back to the life they were living before. The vow they made in the storm was forgotten in the calm waters.
I think the opposite can be true also: Vows made in calm waters can be forgotten in storms.
It’s really easy to be a Christian when everything is right with the world. But the moment that things get hard whether it be poor health or persecution of some form or whatever, when things get hard, people will unfortunately forfeit their commitment to God.
Let’s strive to remember God always, whether it is in calm or stormy waters.
After all, God is committed to us; shouldn’t we be committed to Him?
Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.