Tag Archives: Matthew

A Simple “Yes” or “No” Will Do

“Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5.34-37).

It’s not uncommon to hear people say, “I swear by all that’s holy” or “I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus cuts right to the heart of why people swear oaths. He says they do it to impress others with their sincerity or intensity. The point is to get others to believe what they’re saying is credible by emphasizing it with “By God” or “God knows!” It’s simply a device to manipulate or intimidate, to control the conversation in one’s own favor.

But that’s an inherently wrong approach to take toward another person. The essence of swearing or making oaths is to try to use something – the name of God, for instance – in order to get others to believe you and let you have your own way. That’s wrong.

For those who are, as the beatitudes identify, poor in spirit, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peaceable, – a simple “yes” or “no” will do.

 – grace to you all, and peace … Bill

 

Salt & Light

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

 THE MESSAGE, Matthew 5.13-16

Jesus used the analogies of salt and light to illustrate the Christian’s role in the world.

There are two things required of salt and light:

  1.  They need to be different from their surrounding environment. Salt seasons bland food and light banishes darkness.
  2. Both salt and light must penetrate their environment in order to make a difference.

“Salt of the earth” has become colloquialized in our language to describe a person we believe to have exceptionally high moral and ethical standards. If that’s the case, then we’ve missed the point Jesus is driving home here.

Here’s what He’s really saying, “You are the red hot chili pepper for the whole world!” His description refers not to status, to a person’s high ethical standard, but to function, a person’s impact on the world around him or her.

Light is one of Scripture’s most common symbols. God is light (1 John 1.5), Christ is light (John 1.7-9), and God’s people are light (Ephesians 5.8).

Light makes things visible. You can’t hide a city built on top of a hill. By day it’s visible by the light of the sun, by night by the lights of the city itself. The visible light within each Christian is the working of God in each one’s life.

With salt the world will taste the goodness of God because of the influence Christians have on their immediate surroundings. With light the world will see the goodness of God radiating from within the lives of Christ’s called-out people.

 – Bill  

 

The Pure in Heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”

In the opening words of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus focused attention on the center of true religion. Outside appearances, looking and acting religious aren’t what make us acceptable to God; rather it is the condition of our heart (Matthew 5.2-12).

The heart has always been the source of our troubles.

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, envy, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; all these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7.21-23).

Some folks have the notion that the world is to blame. Change the world, improve our environment, and all our troubles will disappear. But that’s just not so. Where was man when the trouble started? He was in Eden – in “paradise” – no environmental problems there! Our troubles come from within, not without. That’s why purity of heart is so crucial. Neither education, health, power, wealth, nor fame make us good people – purity of heart does.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” How badly do we want to see God? Are we willing to open our innermost thoughts, our cleverly concealed desires, our secret ambitions for God’s inspection? Oh how happy are those who live without shame before the all-seeing eye of God.

Jesus is keenly interested in the quality of our innermost being – purity of mind so clean that lust cannot live; honesty so well-known that oaths are unnecessary; love, care, and concern so genuine that hate, anger, prejudice, and retaliation are never reasons for action; trust in God’s provisions so complete that worry, greed, and material indulgence don’t distract. Those are the characteristics of the pure in heart.

– Bill

 

 

The Universal Appeal of Jesus

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we saw His star in the east, and are come to worship Him” (Matthew 2.1-2).

The Magi (“Wise-men”) seem to have been astrologer-priests from the ancient Persian Empire. Their visit to Jesus complements that of
the shepherds. The two groups could not have been more different. Racially, the shepherds were Jews, the Magi were Gentiles. Intellectually, the shepherds were simple, the Magi were scholars. Socially, the shepherds belonged to the world’s have-nots, the Magi, in light of the expensive gifts they brought, appear to have been wealthy.

Yet despite these barriers which normally separate people from one another, both the Magi and shepherds were united in their desire to worship the Christ Child.

As pluralism spreads, it becomes increasingly evident that other religions are ethnic, limited to a particular people and culture. Only Christianity is not. Nearly 80 percent of the people claiming to be Christians today are non-white and non-Western.

This is the universal appeal of Jesus, irrespective of ethnicity, nationality, or culture. It brought the shepherds from the fields and the Magi from the East. It still acts like a magnet, attracting people from all regions of the world. It is one of the most convincing evidences that Jesus of Nazareth is the Savior of the world.

 – John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year

 

“Hear Him.”

“Hear Him,”

says the God who made the worlds, rules among the armies of heaven, hurled down angels to hell for disobedience, and whose voice shook the earth. The God who holds the destinies of all the nations in His hand, who “weighs the hills in a balance and handles the isles as a very little thing,” in connection with the revelation of His Son, with all the majesty of His authority, says,

“Hear Him.”

Give Him audience, regard Him, bow to Him, follow Him, be guided by Him, honor and obey Him forever.

“Hear Him.”

If a man receives the revelation God makes of His Son, or, rather, if he receives His Son from the revelation He has made of Him, and bows in submission to Him in accordance with the command to,

“Hear Him,”

Confesses with the mouth before men what he believes in his heart, that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” and submits to the divine test of loyalty, being buried with his Lord in baptism, gives the highest assurance in his power to give, that he is changed in heart. He shows that he loves God and will serve Him, and is bound by the strongest obligation that can ever bind a human being, to love and serve God.

The authority that requires this submission is the highest and most binding that can rest upon a human being; and, if it does not govern, control, and restrain the person, no authority can.

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; Hear Him.”
Matthew 17.5

Benjamin Franklin, Preacher of the Gospel
(February 1, 1812 – October 22, 1878)

Counter-culture: Sermon on the Mount

“Do not be like them…”

John Stott has observed, “Some people make the glib claim that they live by the Sermon on the Mount. One wonders if they have ever read it. More common is the opposite reaction, that the Sermon is a beautiful ideal but hopelessly unpractical, being unattainable. Tolstoy to some extent combined both responses, because on the one hand he longed to see the Sermon acted out, while on the other he acknowledged his personal failures.

The essence of the Sermon was Christ’s call to His followers to be different from everybody else. “Do not be like them,” He said (Matthew 6.8). The kingdom He proclaimed is to be a counter-culture, exhibiting a whole set of distinctive values and standards. So He speaks of righteousness, influence, piety, trust, and ambition and concludes with a radical challenge to choose His way.

Pagan Prayer

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6.7, NIV)

The Greek verb battalogeo is variously rendered “to use vain repetitions,” and “to keep on babbling.” It occurs nowhere else, and nobody knows for certain what it means. Some scholars think it was derived from a King Battus, who stuttered, or from another Battus who was the author of tedious and wordy poems. Most, however, regard it as an onomatopoeic expression, the sound of the word indicating its meaning. Just as battarizo meant “to stammer” and barbarous was a “barbarian,” whose language the Greeks could not understand, so battalogeo might simply mean “to babble.”

The reason why Christians are not to pray like pagans is that we believe in a living and true God. We are not to do as they do because we are not to think as they think. If the praying of the Pharisees was hypocritical and that of the pagans mechanical, then the praying of Christians must be real – sincere as opposed to hypocritical – thoughtful as opposed to mechanical.

In the “Lord’s Prayer” Jesus provides a model of what genuine Christianity is like. Matthew records that He gave it as a pattern to copy –

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6.7-9.)

Jesus taught us to address God as “Our Father in heaven.” This implies first that He is personal. He may be, in C. S. Lewis’s well-known expression “beyond personality,” but He is certainly not less. Second, He is loving. He is not the kind of father we sometimes hear about – an autocrat, playboy, drunkard – but one who fulfills the ideals of fatherhood in loving care for His children. Third, He is powerful. What His love directs His power is able to perform.

It is always wise, before we pray, to think first about Him to whom we are praying – our Father who is in heaven.

–Bill

(from Through the Bible, Through the Year
by John Stott
, pp 191-201)

 

“Persecuted for the Sake of Righteousness…”

The first seven beatitudes describe the kind of people we ought to be. The final beatitude is different; it is not a characteristic but a consequence! Discipleship involves suffering.

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).

“Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man” (Luke 6.22).

“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way” (Luke 6.26).

“You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10.22).

To seek persecution and to behave in such a way as to encourage it is not what Jesus meant. Some people believe the degree of their suffering is a measure of their devotion and spirituality. That is wrong. Persecution for “righteousness sake” is what is commended. Our suffering must mirror the suffering of Jesus, “who when He was reviled, reviled not again” (1 Peter 2.23). “If any man suffer as a Christian let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4.16).

“For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus reminds us of the faithful before us. Our reward is the same as theirs! Therefore, our attitude toward suffering must reflect the same as theirs, not to seek persecution as a badge of our holiness, but a willingness to endure it if it comes.

The Holy Spirit is clear on this subject, Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3.12). May God grant us grace in the hour of trial.

“Happy are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

 – Bill

 

What Does It Mean to be Poor in Spirit?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit….”

What a way to begin a sermon! It’s a good thing – a “happy” state to be poor!

The Poor, the Beggars

There are two words for poor in the Greek New Testament. Penēs refers to a person who provides for his own needs with his own hands. It describes a working man, a person who has nothing extra, but who is not destitute – the “working poor.”

The other word is ptōchos. It describes total, complete, abject poverty – one who has absolutely nothing, a beggar in rags. That’s the word Jesus used in this the first of the beatitudes!

Beggars are bothersome people. They’re disgusting and odious, offensive to the eye. Sooner ignored than helped, they’re dismissed, marginalized, regulated to the fringes of society, preferably out of sight.

There were a lot of people like that in Galilee when Jesus began His ministry. To be ptōchos was to be miserable and without hope. Yet that’s the word Jesus used to begin His sermon, and it relates to a Hebrew word familiar to all His hearers that day, anawim. Originally that word meant “bowed down” but came to refer to the needy, the destitute, the oppressed and downtrodden – to all those who had nowhere else to turn but to God.

The Audience on the Mountain

Picture that Galilean hillside that day, hundreds of people, many in rags, beggars starving for food and the lame hoping for some kind of relief. Matthew’s record of the day begins there. “Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

Jesus knew what it meant to be poor. On one occasion He said of Himself, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8.20). He knew the struggles of the beggars, the outcasts, the people society would just as soon discard, and He began with them!

In some places they’re called the “untouchables,” the refuse of human society. But there’s a special place in God’s heart for the anawim and the ptōchos, the destitute and downtrodden. In the Law given at Sinai He made special provision for such people: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23.22).

The Spiritually Poor

As He began speaking that day, Jesus assigned a spiritual application to the term “poor.” The crowd understood what it meant to be physically poor. Jesus told them they must experience the same kind of poverty spiritually – to be totally bereft and utterly dependent upon God. To that vast crowd of voiceless people with no influence or power to change their condition, He offered the Kingdom of Heaven. But it would require the hopeless and helpless to place their complete trust in God for the vindication of their rights.

Human pride and arrogance is a deadly weapon in Satan’s arsenal. He uses our ego to alienate us from God. Just listen to the lyrics of our age:

“For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows –
And did it my way!”

Who needs God when we’ve got ourselves? “Believe in yourself,” “pamper yourself,” “indulge yourself,” “assert yourself.” That’s the message of the world. In stark contrast, Jesus implores, “Deny yourself!”

“Poor in spirit” doesn’t imply we have no value. Jesus, the only begotten of God, died to redeem each one of us. That gives us exceeding value!

Rather, “poor in spirit” means the complete and humble surrender of one’s self to God, just as the old hymn states, “Have Thine own way, Lord…Thou are the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after Thy will….”

Such poverty of spirit is an essential characteristic of God’s covenant people and the key to true happiness. “Happy are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 – Bill

 

A Living Faith: A Study of the Sermon on the Mount

A New Year Begins at Westside

There’s always a sense of unbridled optimism at the beginning of a new year. We’re getting a fresh start; things are going to be different this year – at least that’s what I hope for the Westside church in 2015.

We’ll begin the year on Sundays sitting on a hillside in Galilee listening to a new teacher from the nearby village of Nazareth. Some say he’s a prophet or a new rabbi. Others are beginning to say he may be the long awaited “anointed one,” the Messiah, able to perform mighty signs and wonders. Whatever the case, his words, his teachings, are different from anything ever heard before.

sermon-on-the-mount compI want to begin the year by taking a fresh look at the ethical foundation of Christianity – the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). I’ve entitled the series “A Living Faith.” I want to be challenged and changed by what I read, and I want that for you, too – for all of us as a church.

As we work through Matthew 5, 6, and 7, there’ll be a discussion period each Sunday morning during the adult Bible class. Then during our worship service the sermon text will be a further development of the text we studied in class.

Here’s another challenge: I want you all to read the Sermon on the Mount – again and again and again. That’s right – again and again and again – over and over again! I just read the entire sermon (all three chapters without stopping). I read aloud, not too fast, pronouncing every word. It took me just under 13 minutes (12 minutes, 50 seconds to be exact).

Can you spare 13 minutes a day for the next 12 weeks to read the Sermon on the Mount each day? I’m going to read it every day while we’re in this study – will you read it with me? It only takes 13 minutes. There are 1,440 minutes in a day: Will you give me 13?

Let’s begin this year by doing something really radical. Let’s read the Sermon on the Mount together every day for the next 12 weeks. At the end of that time, I expect to be a different person. I expect you will be, too.

– here’s to A Living Faith, Bill

 

Baptism in the New Testament

Tree_logoThe controversy about baptism, one of the most debated and discussed issues in religious circles, is not so much over what the Bible says about baptism, but what people have been taught about it. For many people, baptism is a matter of personal choice, subject to one’s own particular ideas, beliefs, or traditions. Whatever one does in the name of Christ regarding baptism – be it immersion, sprinkling, pouring, or christening of infants – pleases God, because it’s the intention of the person that’s important.

The simple words of Jesus in Mark 16.15-16 are easy to understand: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

The Simple Progression of Mark 16:15-16

  1. “GO…” – a charge to act
  2. “Go PREACH…” – to proclaim, persuade
  3. “Preach the GOSPEL…” – the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.1-11).
  4. “He who BELIEVES…” – believes what? The Gospel, the message of salvation, the “good news” that Jesus redeemed sinful humanity on the cross with His blood.
  5. “And is BAPTIZED…” – the divinely ordered response for expressing belief in the Gospel of Christ. It is from the Greek word baptizo, meaning to dip, immerse, plunge. It is a “going down into and coming up out of” water (Acts 8.38-39). It is a burial, a covering up in water, an act compared with the Lord’s burial (Romans 6.1-11). It is a symbolic washing that cleanses one from sin (Acts 22.16). And it is the act of obedience, the visible demonstration of a person’s faith, that saves (1 Peter 3.21-22).
  6. “WILL BE SAVED…” – the direct and immediate consequence of one’s belief in Jesus as Savior and baptism into Jesus for remission of sins. One without the other renders either action invalid. Belief and baptism are inseparably linked and thus must be inseparably enjoined in order to obtain the desired and promised result of “saved.”

Matthew 28:19-20

Take a look at the parallel account in Matthew 28.19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…”

  1. “Go make DISCIPLES…” – a learner or a follower, one who has been taught.
  2. “Baptizing THEM…” – them who? Them disciples, the ones who have been taught. Taught what? Taught the Gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ (Mark 16.15).
  3. “TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS whatsoever I HAVE COMMANDED YOU….” After one has been taught the Gospel and baptized, he or she needs to continue to learn and do the things Christ has commanded – to live as Christians, renewed with the mind of Christ.
  4. Those two statements of Jesus in Mark and Matthew demonstrate an important point: The ones being baptized must be capable of 1) learning (Matthew 28.19); 2) believing (Mark 16.15); and 3) continuing to learn (Matthew 28.20). In other words, baptism, according to the Bible, is for those who are able to make intelligent, rational, moral decisions. That would exclude infants and small children. In every instance in the New Testament where people were baptized, it was in direct response to the teaching and learning of the Gospel. Read these passages and see for yourself: Acts 2.22-41; 8.12-13; 8.26-40; 9.1-19 (22.1-16); 10.3-11.4; 16.14-15; and 16.25-34.

—Bill