Friday, May 30, 2014

Jesus Returns To Capernaum

Matthew 8:1-15

“When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.  And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.  And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

People had flocked to hear Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount from all over Israel and the surrounding areas.   Because they all traveled afoot, they could travel together and thousands went with Jesus.  It wasn’t like today, with everybody in separate vehicles.

On the way they met a man with leprosy, a medically incurable disease at the time.  The leper knew that Jesus had healed others and as he stated, Jesus was able to heal him if he chose to do so.  He recognized that while Jesus had the power, he was under no obligation to heal his leprosy.  He demonstrated bot faith and humility in his approach, making no demands. 

Jesus responded that he would do so and commanded that the man be clean.  The leprosy immediately disappeared, and Jesus instructed the man follow go to the priest and follow guidelines for being declared free, as described in Leviticus 14:1-33 as a testimony to the priests of God’s healing.

“And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.
And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.

The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.  For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” (Matthew 8:5-9)

When they arrived at Capernaum, a Roman centurion met him and asked him to heal his servant who was suffering from palsy, a loss of voluntary control of muscles, often accompanied with uncontrollable jerking or twitching. 

The centurion knew how opposed the Jews were to associating with gentiles and how upset they would be if Jesus came to his house, so when Jesus offered to go heal the man, the centurion told him it would not be necessary.  As a centurion, he had the power to order his men to do a job and they obeyed him.  He recognized Jesus had far more power than he did and could simply give the order without going to his house, thus avoiding the complications going would involve. 
“ When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.  And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.  But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:10-12)

Jesus was amazed that a Roman, with little or no history of seeing god work could so readily accept his power while the Jews, who had been taught about it for their entire lives found it hard to accept.  He prophesied that the gentiles would come to God for salvation in far greater numbers than the Jews.  Many of the Jews would be cast into hell weeping because of the unbelief.  The prophecy has proven true over the centuries.

“And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.” (Matthew 8:13)

Jesus honored the man’s faith, promising that what he had believed would happen.  The servant was healed at that time.

“And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever.  And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them.” (Matthew 8:14-15)

When they got to Peter’s house, Peter’s mother in law had a serious fever.  Jesus touched her hand and the fever was healed instantly.  As a result, she was able to get up and feed them.  For centuries the Catholic Church has taught that priests cannot marry.  They have also taught that Peter was the first Pope and that he was never married. This passage clearly contradicts that last tradition, that he was not married, and Paul backs it up in I Corinthians 9:5. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Don’t Gamble On What Is Right

Matthew 7:15-29

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)

Throughout their history Israel had had false prophets, men who claimed to be speaking what God had told them, and Jesus’ day was no exception.  Many of them gained large followings because they preached an exciting and attractive message, often assuring that following their advice would result in tremendous blessings. 

Jesus warned that deceit was part of their stock in trade.  Their message was and is designed to get people to do what they want.   While they appear to really care about the people, their only real concern is getting power over the people or their money.  In order to convince people they are telling the truth they do the same things legitimate men of God do.  They run charities to help the poor, drug rehab programs, women’s shelters, and soup kitchens.  They campaign for equality and justice, and tell exciting stories about the good they have done for others.  As a result people are convinced they are good people. 

Leaves of various types of trees appear similar at certain stages of development, and may result in misidentification of the trees.  By waiting until the fruit is ripe, even an inexperienced observer can easily tell whether it is an apple tree or a cherry tree.  More experienced observers may even identify a specific variety of that fruit.

In the same way, by looking at what the results of the persons claims are before committing, one can know whether the prophet is from God or not.  The time spent checking things out can save one’s freedoms, his belongings, or even his life.  Just as it is impossible for an apple tree to produce persimmons, it is impossible for a godly teacher to produce wicked followers who believe it is okay to lie, cheat, steal, and commit murder.  Likewise, those with a wicked attitude will produce a similar attitude in their followers.  The attitudes and intentions of the leader can be identified from those of their followers.

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

Like many people today, the Jews were inclined to accept anyone who attended church and prqyed as being Christians.  Unfortunately, even non-Christians can go to church and pray.  The ones who really are will do what God wants.  In John 14:23-24, “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.”  If they don’t consider God’s commands important, clearly they are not his people.

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:23)

Unfortunately, many feel that performing religious activities make them Christians.  They preach and go soul winning, and help the poor or homeless and get involved in the church, doing whatever they are told they need to do to get into heaven, whether praying the sinners prayer or being baptized or completing a confirmation or discipleship course.

When they bring up these things in the day of Judgment, Jesus said he would have to tell them he had never known them.  They didn’t somehow lose their salvation, they had never been his.  All they have to look forward too is eternal damnation because, as John 3:36 says, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

To hear and act on what Jesus had said would guarantee a solid footing when God’s judgment comes.   Their salvation will be sure because it is founded on truth rather than the teachings of some false prophet or some personal or cultural moral standard or interpretation of God’s law.

“And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:26-27)

To ignore what Jesus said was in effect to base one’s eternity on mere human ideas and standards that would not hold up in the day of judgment though they seemed quite acceptable in ordinary times.  Their collapse will be even more shocking because they appeared so solidly based.  Failure to check out and be sure about one’s position is taking unnecessary risk.

“And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matthew 7:28-29)

The scribes were closely involved in the various interpretations of the scriptures and hesitated to take a firm position because they were not sure which school was right.  Jesus taught as one who knew was not depending on some interpreter’s ideas, but knew what the scriptures actually said.  Unlike the scribes, he was clear in his stance on what God expected.   It was up to them to decide what they were going to do.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Living a Life Acceptable to God

Matthew 7:1-14

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?  Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

Jesus warned against judging others because they would be held to the same standard as that by which they judged others.  The Jews had developed various schools of interpretation of the law after being conquered by the Greeks.  Over the years, they had collected the various interpretations into what is known today as the Talmud, using them much like lawyers today use legal precedence today.  What one group regarded as right might well be totally unacceptable to another group. 

Before judging others, they needed to be very sure of their own position.  People tend to judge others on the basis of what they know about themselves, assuming the same attitudes and motivations.  A thief usually assumes other people would steal if they thought they could get by with it, and an adulterer usually assumes others would commit adultery if the chance presented itself, because they know what they would do. 

Jesus warned that we need to eliminate wrong doing from our own lives before we judge others, so that we can judge fairly, based solely on the facts, rather than our assumptions.  Our own guilt otherwise may cause us to totally misconstrue what really happened.  Frequently, the assumed wrong never even happened.
“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:5)

Just because something is important to you does not mean it will matter to everyone.  Some people consider what you share unimportant, and they may even use it as an excuse to turn on you, even using the things you shared against you.  Our decisions need to be based on the facts, not our own attitudes and emotions.   We need to use discretion in dealing with other people, whether sharing the gospel or just facts about our own lives.  

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?  Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:7-11)

The Jews claimed God as their father, just as Christians today do.  If a father cares about his children, he will do his best to provide the things they ask for.  He will not deliberately give them something that will hurt them instead.  If a person truly believes God is a loving father, there should be no fear that God will be angered by asking for something if asked in a respectful manner.   They should not be afraid of being punished for asking.

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.  Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:12-14)

Just as a child ought to try to please a loving father, people who believe God is a loving father should act accordingly.  Most of God’s commands related to how people treate those around them.  Jesus said all Gods commandments could be summed up in just two in Matthew 22:37-40.  “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

If a person treated others the way he wanted to be treated, je would be loving others the way he loved himself.  He would also be demonstrating his love for god by obeying him.   As Jesus points out, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for different ways of behaving to others, and not many are willing to limit themselves.  Most are more like children today, determined to go their own way with no concern for the effect on others.  Just as refusing to follow the standards set by their parents and the society may get one into a lot of trouble. Refusing to obey God’s law will result in destruction.  Obedience, on the other hand, will lead to God’s blessing and life.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Staying Focused on God

Matthew 6:16-34

“Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

Even as early as Isaiah’s day the Jews had begun to adopt the attitude of the heathen around them about fasting as a way to get God to respond to their prayers.  After centuries of chafing against foreign domination, fasting for freedom had become almost a patriotic duty.   Both Sadducees and Pharisees made a point of ritual observance of the law as proof of their Jewishness.  By Jesus’ day, many of the feasts God had specified had become ritual fasts instead. 

 In Isaiah 58:4-7, God had forbidden such fasting.  “Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.  Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?  Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?”

Fasting that pleases God is not just giving up food or some personal pleasure to get God’s attention, but giving it up in order to help others, for example by giving the food you were going to eat to someone who was hungry.   It was not to be used as leverage to get God to do something for you, almost like a hunger strike.   While it got the approval of the people around them, jesus said that would be all the reward they would get.  People who were sincerely seeking to please God would not be worrying about what others thought.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

The Sadducees had chosen to abandon Jewish law and adopt Greek beliefs and practices in order to be more successful in dealing with them.  The Pharisees, led by lawyers from Hillel’s school of interpretation, modified the meanings of God’s commands in an effort to allow them to better compete in the Roman and Greek marketplace.  It was very similar to what we see in Washington today, with the Democratic Party wanting to do away with certain parts of the constitution because it interferes with their agenda.  The Republican Party wants to proclaim their constitutional stance while redefining those provisions to permit their agenda.  While they are violently opposed to each other, they are both working to accomplish the same thing.

Jesus pointed out that they would be better engaged in serving  God and accumulating treasures in heaven as the things they were working for were only temporary and would eventually rot away if they were not stolen by thieves first.  In the same way, it doesn’t really matter which policy is followed in Washington if it causes the country to collapse. 

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.  But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!  No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. ” (Matthew 6:22-24)

The evil eye referred to a condition in which the eyes do not work together, such as being cross-eyed, resulting in double vision.  Jesus’ point was that if a person could not focus on a single object he was little better off than a person who couldn’t see at all because he couldn’t decide which was right.  As a result, people with such a problem usually end up ignoring what one eye sees in order to function. 

Trying to serve God and get rich at the same time creates a similar problem.  Sooner or later one is forced to choose which gets the most attention, and eventually coming to resent the demands of the other.  Both Sadducees and Pharisees were dealing with that conflict.

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?  Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)

They needed to stop worrying about what they would have to eat or what kind of clothes they would wear.  After all. There is more to life than wearing the latest fashion or eating the best gourmet food.  People who have never had either one survive and even have good happy lives.  God provides for the birds, even though they don’t drive themselves crazy planning for the bad days.  He values his people much more highly than the birds, and can be expected to provide for them.

“Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?  And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? ” (Matthew 6:27-30)

Worrying serves no useful purpose.  No amount of planning or thinking can cause a person to get a foot taller than God intended him to be and no amount of effort can take us beyond where God intends us to go.  We’d be far better off to simply trust God to give us what is best for us, and many times, like the flowers in the field, his provision is much better than what we would have spent so much effort trying to get.  Our efforts to get these things for ourselves only demonstrates our lack of faith in God.

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:31-34)

God created us and knows what we need to survive and be happy and that they are the sme things everyone needs.  If we will concentrate on doing what God wants, he will take care of supplying the things we need.   We ought not waste our time worrying about getting the things we think we need, because we have enough to do, just pleasing God each day.  Trying for all those other things is just a distraction.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Serving Without Hypocrisy

Matthew 6:1-15

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.  Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

The Sadducees and Pharisees had been fighting for control of Israel since shortly after Alexander the Greats death in 324 BC.  In their efforts, both groups mad a real effort to portray themselves as the party most in tune with the people, much like our Democratic and Republican parties.  Like politicians today, they competed in various areas to attract a following.  Just as today, large donors got a lot of attention, so many people tried to maximize their exposure by having a fanfare of trumpets precede the announcement of their donations, similar to what we see in fundraising dinners or telethons.

Jesus sad that people who gave that way were hypocrites who only gave to get the publicity.  A person who was giving out of a desire to please God wouldn’t be worried about getting the publicity and would give anonymously, knowing God knew who had done it and would reward them accordingly.  Even their own mate didn’t need to know what they were giving.   His teaching goes directly against the practices of many modern religious movements.

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.  But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.  Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)

Thanks largely to Greek influence and attitudes toward killing animals, by about 160 BC, most of the sacrifices were discontinued and prayer became the primary form of worship, with even the pagan groups adopting it.  Just as many politicians today make a special effort to visit religious organizations and participate in services to gain a following, Jewish leaders made a special point of getting noticed for their prayers.  As Jesus pointed out, their only interest was in the publicity, with many of them not even believing in God.  Others were like the heathen, who thought God answered prayer because they spent so much time praying, kind of like a parent who gives his child what he asks for to get him to shut up. 

Jesus condemned both attitudes.  Prayer is simply talking to God and is not to be used to impress people with our eloquence or spiritual understanding.   Reading or quoting a prayer or “praying the scriptures” does not really qualify as sharing your heart with God, though it may give you a very powerful religious sensation. 

To spend days and hours praying for the same thing, as recommended by many books on prayer amounts to little more than nagging god to fulfill our desires, and it is almost impossible to spend four hours praying for a single thing for several hours without repeating ourselves. 

What he was teaching was completely different than what they had been taught.  Luke 11:1 tells us, “…one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”  Jesus responded with the following prayer as an example or model.

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

While this is often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer, he never actually prayed it as a prayer, but used it as an example for what prayer should be like.  The first and most obvious thing about his example is how very short and direct it is.  Interestingly, even the longest prayers recorded in scripture can be read aloud in less than five minutes, challenging the idea that prayers need to be long and involved.  In a conference in England, a certain man was asked to pray.  After several minutes, D.L. Moody stood and said “Let’s continue with the service while our brother catches up on his prayer life.”   Jesus probably would have approved the decision.

The second thing we notice is the emphasis on God as the final authority.  Everything is focused on satisfying him, from the establishment of his kingdom to the doing his will.  Far too often today people misuse  John 16:23,  “…Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you,” to imply that God is obligated to give us anything we ask for if we say “in Jesus’ name”.  They don’t understand that asking in Jesus name is similar to buying something in the name of your employer.   You are only authorized to ask for certain things. 

I John 5:14-15 makes this clearer.  “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”  It is exactly what Jesus demonstrated in his model prayer.

The model prayer then asks that the individual’s needs be met in accordance with God’s will, not that the individual be given the things he desires.  Along that same line it asks for forgiveness, based on the person’s willingness to forgive others.  Next he asks for divine guidance to avoid temptation and the consequences of sin.    It finishes by acknowledging that everything is centered around God and thanking him for it. 

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

In Ephesians 4:32 we are commanded, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.”  An unwillingness to forgive implies we think we are better than the other person and don’t need his forgiveness.   While he willingly forgives when we admit our sin, he doesn’t forgive unless we acknowledge it. 

One reason prayers are not answered is an unwillingness to forgive.   Psalms 66:18 warns, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”  Iniquity is to deliberately disobey God.  Refusing to forgive others for their sin may prevent God’s answering our prayers just like some more obvious sin.    On the other hand, John 15:10 states, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.”  John 15:7 promises, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Standard Is Unchanged
Matthew 5:38-48

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: Mt 5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.   Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

The Old Testament law specified that harm to another person required the guilty to suffer the same hurt they had caused the other.  If they had stolen something, they were to replace it with interest to make up for the loss of use of the item.   If they had caused bodily harm such as the loss of an eye or limb, the injured party had the right to demand they experienced the same thing, or to demand some redress for their actions.  If they had killed someone deliberately they were to have their life taken in return.  If they had accidentally killed a person they could give up their life voluntarily by going to a city of refuge. If they chose not to go to the city of refuge, the victim’s family had the right to demand their execution.

Jesus was not saying such a standard was wrong nor did he change it.  In Matthew 5:17, he said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”  The standard is still the same. But a righteous man ought not be so concerned with himself.  He ought to be willing to go beyond just what benefitted himself. 

Unfortunately some have twisted this statement to imply that we are never to defend ourselves or punish wrong doing.  Jesus himself taught that if a person was doing wrong and refused to stop he was to be punished, in Matthew Mt 18:15. “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.  But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.”

A righteous attitude would go the second mile to give a person a chance to make things right and be sure they were doing him unfairly.  That did not mean they condoned wrong doing.  If he persisted they were to deliver fitting punishment.  In much the same way. If a person needed food they were to make it available, but they were not obligated to keep supplying if the lack was because of his choices.  In II Thessalonians 3:10-12, we are reminded, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.  For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.  Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.” 

Every person is to take responsibility for himself, and others should only help with what they are unable to do.  If they refuse to do for themselves others ought not intervene.  Frequently when this standard is not followed, so many resources are expended on those who refuse to help themselves that nothing is left to help those who can’t help themselves and may not be able to let others know about their need.  The effect is the same as if you simply refused to help, in that the helpless person still wasn’t helped.

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;  That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? ” (Matthew 5:43-48)

The law provided that every person had the right to defend himself.  Even those who made no claim of serving God got were nice to those who made it clear they liked and agreed with them.  Jesus was not setting aside that right to defend themselves, but pointing out that God was willing to forgive those who hated him and love them in spite of their hatred.  If people are to emulate him, they would need to have a similar attitude, being nice to their enemies.    

Even God’s forgiveness is contingent on repentance.  I John 1:8-9 states, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  While we should not be holding grudges and avenging ourselves and should try to develop a better relationship, we are not obligated to just ignore their wrong doing either.

Under the teachings of Hillel and his followers, the Pharisees and Lawyers were focusing on very limited interpretations of the law to excuse an unforgiving and vengeful attitude to justify their rebellion against the Roman government.  Jesus is making it clear the intention of the law was not to define what a person could get by with, but to indicate what is right.

The Jewish attitude was much like the person today who says it is okay to drive five miles over the speed limit because they don’t give tickets if you are not going faster than that.  While they may not get s ticket, they are still breaking the law.  What Jesus was advocating was like deliberately driving five miles under the limit so there would be no question of breaking the law.  He was not lowering the speed limit, he was not changing the law.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

God’s Standard Of Righteousness

Matthew 5:27-37

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.  And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. ” (Matthew 5:27-30)

Laws can only deal with actual physical actions, but true righteousness comes from the heart.  While the law forbid committing adultery, Jesus said that just daydreaming about it was in fact adultery in the heart and God looks on the heart.   Since we can’t see what is in aperson’s heart until he acts on it, we cant judge whether a person is righteous or not.  In I Corinthians 4:5, Paul commanded, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”

If a person cannot control his eye, it would be better to put it out so his sin did not cause him to go to hell than to wind up in hell because of lust.  In the same way, it would be better to have a hand cut off and go through life without it than to go to hell because one couldn’t or wouldn’t control his hands.  The earthly mutilation would be only temporary, but hell is for eternity.

“It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)

Because the law was limited to actions and could not produce true righteousness, it allowed people to divorce and remarry, but Jesus said if they divorced, they place their mate in position of potential lust and mental adultery.  If the mate remarried, both she and the new mate were guilty of adultery.  He addressed the issue again when the Pharisees asked his opinion on the subject in Matthew 19:4-9.

“And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (Matthew 19:4-9)

Divorce was never part of God’s plan, and was not to be considered unless the mate had committed adultery.  To divorce for any other reason and remarry was to commit adultery oneself, and whoever married the divorced person was guilty of adultery because God has never given mankind authority over marriage, either to marry them or to divorce them.  He has kept that power for himself.

“Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

The law forbade their perjuring themselves by breaking their oath.  Jesus said they were not to take the oath in the first place, because God, and not they had the final say in what happened.  They were to limit their commitments to yes and no with no qualifying factors.  To do more was sin.

James 4:13-16 addresses the same point.  “Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.  For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.  But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.  It is quite arrogant to believe we can make such commitments without considering God.  We can’t even control the things we use as a basis for our oath.  How can we even consider taking such an oath?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Law Remains In Effect

Matthew 5:17-26

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

Over the years the Jews had developed different schools of interpreting and administering the Old Testament law.  During Herod’s reign. Hillel and his followers had proposed that some of the laws be modified to fit modern conditions so they would be more palatable to the Sadducees and Romans without offending traditional Jews.  Many Jews were hoping Jesus would approve further changes to make the law more compatible with the current conditions. 

Jesus was very specific in his statement.  His coming did not change the importance of the law at all.  As long as the present world and universe exist, the laws would not change at all.  This is in direct contradiction of the popular belief today that the Old Testament Law no longer applies.

“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19-20)

Because they believe the law is no longer applicable, many today believe it is okay to ignore the laws commands.  They accept homosexuality or other prohibited behavior and condemn those who oppose it as unchristian.   Jesus said anyone who broke even the least important of those laws and encouraged others to do so was to be considered unqualified to teach or lead and as not deserving respect.  On the other hand. Those who live in accordance with them were to receive great respect.  Even following the modified interpretations of the Law the Pharisees and scribes used would not be good enough to get one into heaven.

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

While the law could only deal with overt actions such as killing a person, entrance into heaven required a far higher standard.  Just disrespecting a person enough to call him dumb deserves punishment by the court and to call him an idiot implied one was so far from right as to be in danger of going to hell.   It focused on the attitude, not just the actions.

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.   Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” (Matthew 5:23-26)

Instead of allowing resentments to simmer and lead to the wrong attitude Jesus said we should go work thing out before we even came to the Lord about them.  I Peter 3:7 warns that conflict between husband and wife interferes with our relationship to God.  “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”  I Corinthians 3:3 makes it clear conflict with other Christians indicates an improper relationship with God.  “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”

Jesus said it is better to work things out even at a loss to one’s self, than to hold out for what you want, because ultimately you will have to make it good anyway.  In I Corinthians 6:7-8 Paul says, Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Wwhy do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.”

Jesus then proceeds to give other examples where just meeting the law does not measure up to God’s standard, but clearly if you are breaking the law, you are outside the boundaries.  Romans 3:20 declares, Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”  All the Law can do is show us when we’ve gone too far, it cannot save us.  Never the less, it is still valuable for showing what the boundaries are.  It can never control our thoughts and attitudes. 

You can’t legislate righteousness because it isn’t possible to control people’s attitudes and thoughts by passing laws.  That is essentially what Paul said in Galatians 3:20, that the reason why christ had to come was because it wasn't possible to give a law that would make people right. You can, however, set limits on what will be accepted, and that is what moral codes and laws are about.  Attempts to legislate righteousness focus attention on keeping laws, rather than on having a right attitude toward people.   

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-16

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:1-4)

The Jews had been struggling for independence for over three hundred years, since being conquered by Alexander the Great.   Under Herod they had reached a peak when he had several of the remaining descendants of the Maccabees, the Hasmonean priests, including his wife Marianne killed, and had the Roman Eagle installed in the Temple to remind the Jews who was in charge.  Things didn’t get much better when the kingdom was divided and split among his three sons.

 Finally, in 25 AD, about the time Jesus began his ministry, Pilate was appointed to rule Jerusalem itself in an effort to quell the strife.  Pilate was unaware of Jewish customs and introduced the various Roman gods, creating a surge of opposition.  Realizing he’d made a serious blunder, Pilate removed those idols, but the resentment continued with many Jews feeling God had forsaken them.   The Jews were desperately looking for someone to end Roman domination.   The message of the Kingdom of God being at hand had a powerful appeal.

It was in this setting that Jesus began his ministry.  People were glad to travel long distances to hear messages that promised and end to their problems, and especially when he healed many of their diseases.  The message that those who were feeling put down would inherit the Kingdom and those who were grieving would have their sorrows comforted was exciting, even though it went against the current philosophy.   After all, those who experienced these things would see God’s blessing, and they all thought of themselves as having those problems.

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.   Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.  ” (Matthew 5:5-9)

Jesus then focused on the attitude which they had.  The meek, those who didn’t insist on having their way would be blessed by God, one day having the control of the earth.  Those who craved a close relationship with God would experience such a relationship.  Those who were willing to forgive would be forgiven, and those who had a pure heart would see God’s power in their lives.  Those who tried to make and maintain peace would be known as God’s children. 

Their religious and political leaders had been encouraging open rebellion and the use of force to defeat Roman aggression.  Many felt he was recommending a peaceful form of resistance, which forms the basis for Mahatma Ghandi or Martin Luther King’s movements almost two thousand years later.  Almost two hundred years of following the leader’s ideas had produced little results, so they were willing to consider another approach.  Perhaps shaming the Romans was the way to go.

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.   Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

Jesus then made it clear he was not talking about peaceful resistance.  The ones who were blessed would be those who actively did what was right in spite of active abuse and mistreatment for doing so.  They were more concerned about pleasing God than what people thought or said or did.  They would be rewarded by God just as the prophets of the past had been, even though many of them had been executed or imprisoned for their refusal to go along with their own religious and political leaders in fighting some perceived injustice.

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” (Matthew 5:13)

Salt is a very important item for human life.  Because excess sodium can cause high blood pressure, there has been a lot of stress on reducing the amount of salt in the diet.  Unfortunately most of the excess sodium comes from other additives to our food, with the result that many people have excess sodium but are deficient in salt, which is vital for proper beating of the heart, as well as proper digestion of food.  In addition salt serves as a potent antibacterial agent and preservative.

Since most of the salt in Israel was produced as a result of evaporation from the dead Sea or of water from the Mediterranean, salt was scarce and expensive.  As a result people frequently used a cheap artificial salt for flavoring their food.  Lacking the beneficial properties of real salt, if the artificial salt lost its flavor, it was no longer of value and was disposed of.   

In changing their focus on gaining their freedom, the Jews had lost the thing that made them pleasing to God.  They were just like the artificial salt that had lost its flavor.  There was no reason for God to care for them.  To reinforce his point, he gave another illustration.

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Light makes everything visible and a city on top of hill has nothing to block the light from revealing it.  Placing a light under a large bucket prevents the light from revealing what is there.  Instead men set it up high so it illuminates everything possible.  God had placed the Jews to show the benefits of obeying God.  Their failure to openly serve him was much like putting a bucket over their light.  By openly obeying God, other people would benefit, and would see the benefits to them and desire what they had, turning to God themselves. 

Instead of being embarrassed by how they had treated the Jews, the Romans and others would want to emulate them and experience God’s blessings.  Instead of passive resistance, Jesus was advocating positive obedience.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Jesus Begins His Ministry

Matthew 4:12-25

“Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” (Matthew 4:12-16)

After John’s arrest, as described in Luke 3:19-21, which focused attention on John’s message because of Herod Antipas’ unpopularity, Jesus began his public ministry in Capernaum , on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee in Herod’s dominion.   The Assyrians had removed the people of Galilee and replaced them with other groups, but after Judah returned from Babylon in 535 BC, many of them had returned as well. But they were largely isolated from Jerusalem by Samaria. 

In beginning his ministry there, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2.  “Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.  The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” 

Matthew and others who were familiar with the passage would recognize that it clearly identified Jesus as the Messiah. Isaiah 9:6-7 declares, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.   Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”  

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

This was the same message John had preached according to Matthew 3:1-2.  “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…”  Herod’s arrest and subsequent execution of John, making him a martyr created greater interest in Jesus’ message.

And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.  And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.  And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.

And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.  And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-22)

Capernaum is right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and Andrew was one of those who had been present when John announced that Jesus was the Messiah in John 1:40.  Andrew had then introduced Jesus to Peter.  When Jesus asked peter and Andrew to let him use their ship as a platform in Luke 5, they didn’t hesitate.   After finishing his message, he told them to get into deeper water and deploy their nets and they caught so many fish they had to call James and John to help them.   When Jesus asked them to follow him, all four readily agreed.   
“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.   And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.  And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.” (Matthew 4:23-25)

Jesus went through Galilee Teaching and preaching and healing the sick.  His fame quickly spread From Syria to the north to the ancient Edomite land the Romans called Idumea to the south, as well as eastward into the old lands of Gad, Reuben and the half tribe of Manasseh known to the Romans as Decapolis.  Many of these people were of mixed blood as a result of the occupation by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Greeks and Romans. 

Because the regulations relating to health were no longer followed various diseases were rampant, and because they had adopted many of the gods of the people around them, creating moral and psychological confusion, demon possession was common.  Desperate for relief, the people flocked to Jesus for healing and instruction in how to cure the problems. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Satan Tempts Jesus

Matthew 3:13-4:7

“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.  But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.” (Matthew 3:13-15)

Every year the Jordan overflowed its banks, covering a wide area.  As a result the area was largely uninhabited and that was where John lived and did most of his preaching and baptizing.  Jesus sought John out to be baptized by him.  John had been preaching baptism as a sign of repentance from sin, and while he knew himself to be a sinner, he also knew Christ had no sin to repent of.

When he expressed his concerns to Jesus, Jesus said that it was still fitting that he express his commitment to avoiding sin the same way the other people were.  John acknowledged the truth of the statement and baptized Jesus.

“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

All of the people present, including some of those who would become Jesus’ disciples heard God speak from heaven and saw the Spirit descend on him like a dove.  They, as well as John could testify of what they had seen and heard.

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.  And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.  And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:1-4)

Jesus spent forty days alone in the wilderness fasting and praying.  That long a period without eating or having personal contact with other people would leave one drained mentally, physically, and emotionally, and Satan chose that moment to make his attack. 

The attack sounds relatively harmless.  Just prove you are the Son of God and get yourself something to eat.  After all, there is nothing wrong with eating.  Jesus had come to experience exactly what it was like to human so he could most effectively serve as our advocate.  Since other people could not just speak food into existence, he would have defeated part of his purpose, as well as yielding to human pride to prove he was God’s son.  Jesus pointed out that there is more to life than just food, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.

“Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” (Matthew 4:5-7)

The second attack is an overt attack on his pride.  Prove you really are the Son of God.  After all he said he wouldn’t allow you to be hurt.  He even quoted part of Psalm 91 to make it appear the right thing to do.   Unfortunately, pride encourages us to act in our own power rather than yielding to God.   Proverbs 8:13  says, “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way…”, clearly defining pride and arrogance as evil.    

To have done as Satan suggested would have placed God in the position of having to choose whether to condone his pride or let him die.  He quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 in response.  “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God…”    We don’t have the right to put God in that position.

“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.

Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. ” (Matthew 4:8-10)

Satan’s final attack was to offer him political power.  If he would just worship Satan, he would give him all the political power in the world.  He could make people do whatever he wanted.   Jesus referred to Exodus 34:14 in his response.  “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” 

I John 2:15-16 warns, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” Satan tempted Jesus in each of these three areas, the lust of the flesh with his desire for food. his pride of life in daring him to prove he was the Son of God, and the lust of the eyes or pride of possession and power with his offer of political power. 

Satan still uses these same things to get people involved in sin.  How many are seduced to neglect god or even to overt sin by an opportunity to satisfy physical needs or desires like the man who cheats on his taxes or participates in illegal activity to earn a better living for his family.  Others are like the preacher in Arkansas, who died recently after being bitten by a rattlesnake he was handling to prove he had God’s power, tempting the Lord.  Some sacrifice moral or ethical standards to attain financial or political power, believing they can make the world better if they can just get the power.  In doing so they end up worshipping Satan.

“Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.”(Matthew 4:11)

James 4:7 instructs, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  By submitting ourselves to god, we gain his power to successfully resist the Devil.  When he realizes there is no possibility of winning he will flee to escape defeat, just as he did from Jesus.   

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

John The Baptist’s Ministry

Matthew 3:1-12

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, Mt 3:2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Matthew 3:1-2)

 In an effort to prevent further revolts, Ceasar Augustus divided the region Herod had ruled between Herod’s three sons in 4 BC.  Archelaus was over the southern part including Judea, Samaria, and the area along the edge of the Dead Sea known as Idumea, formerly called Edom.  Herod Antipas was given the northern area known as Galilee, and Philip received Lebanon. 

In 25 AD, Judea was separated from Idumea and Samaria in a further effort to bring stability and Pontius Pilate was named as governor.  Pilate insulted the Jews by initially bring in pagan idols and worshipping them in Jerusalem.  When he realized how offended the Jews were he withdrew them.

At the same time, Hillel’s school of interpretation of scripture led to greater power by the Pharisees, with their emphasis on Jewish tradition causing conflict with the wealthy Sadducees, who had largely adopted the Greek philosophy and lifestyle.  John the Baptist began his ministry in the midst of this political and religious turmoil.  His brief ministry and subsequent execution would serve to focus attention on the religious hypocrisy in much the same way that Rosa Parks focused attention on racial discrimination.

In focusing attention, John fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God,” as well as the Malachi 3:1.  “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.”

“And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:4)

The Pharisees wore the traditional robes with special borders to identify them as Jews and phylacteries to demonstrate their spiritual focus, much like the Mormon missionaries in their white shirts and dark trousers or many preachers with their suit and tie.    The Sadducees  usually dressed in Greek style robes of the latest fashion.  By contrast, John was dressed in the cheapest and plainest workman’s clothing, the equivalent of cheap pair of blue jeans and a tee shirt.

The Sadducees feasted on gourmet delicacies from around the world, while the Pharisees ate only the most healthful organic foods available.  John the Baptist ate whatever he could get cheapest, even though most people would consider it just garbage.  Honey produced in carefully cared for hives and removed at ti’s peak had a better flavor and was cleaner than wild honey, and while locusts were everywhere, only those who had nothing else would eat them.

“Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Matthew 3:5-6)

People tend to be attracted to those with whom they most closely identify, and most of the people were not the rich Sadducees or the devout Pharisees.  They could identify with John’s everyday dress and inexpensive food choices.  They listened to what he had to say, and recognized their sin.  Confessing their sin, they were baptized as a demonstration of their repentance and commitment to stop.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.   And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:  Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:7-12)

The Sadducees believed the entire Jewish religion was mythological like the Greek religion, and really didn’t matter.  The Pharisees believed that they were okay because they followed the traditions, not realizing that the traditions they learned were far different from the law God had originally given.   Seeing the crowds who flocked to hear John both groups wanted to be part of the movement, just as people who have no interest in country music will flock to a concert simply because it is exciting.

John warned them that going through the motions of confessing their sin and being baptized would accomplish nothing without an actual change in behavior.  Repentance involves more than just saying you are sorry.  Being baptized as a demonstration of repentance with no commitment to real repentance makes a mockery of the baptism.  John baptized with water as a sign of repentance but when Jesus came he would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

As he pointed out, God is not so desperate he has to settle for just saying the words.  He is going to examine the reality and cut off what doesn’t measure up.  It is just as true now as it was then.  Christ will separate out those who sincerely believe from those who do not, and destroy those who don’t. 

This is essentially what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23, when he said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.   Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”