Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Law and the Prophets

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." 

                                           Matthew 5:17-20.

We know that we are saved by grace, and not by observing the law.  See Galatians 2:15-16.  And, because of this we may be perplexed by Jesus saying that He has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them.  We might even strain to figure out which part of the law we must still follow, and from which part have we been relieved.  Is it just the moral law that we must follow, or must we follow dietary or ceremonial laws as well?

To an extent, I think this kind of an examination misses the point.  In fact, I suspect that (like much of the Bible) when we examine the law in this way it is not so much to determine what we should do to be good followers of Jesus, but instead to figure out the minimum we must do in order to be accepted by God.  What we want to really figure out is what is the least we can do and still please Him.

The truth, though, is that we can never do enough to please God.  Or at least, there is never enough that we can do to be seen as righteous in His eyes.  Instead, our righteousness comes solely from Jesus and through Jesus.  We are made righteous in His eyes, but only because He Himself made the ultimate sacrifice to cover our sins.  We are made righteous by His blood; and by His blood alone.  See Hebrews 10:1-18.

At the same time, if we are truly made righteous by the blood of Jesus, what started as an internal transformation begins to be reflected externally as well.  If we really love Jesus, that love will be manifest in how we, in turn, love others.  Conversely, the absence of external obedience to Jesus tells us it is likely that nothing actually changed on the inside either.  We may profess Christ, and yet never actually have allowed Him to become the Lord of our lives.  

And so, Jesus continues His great sermon.  He warns us that we will not inherit the kingdom of heaven unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  What we do externally will never be enough.

How deflating those words must have been to the crowd around Him.  The Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law were the spiritual elite.  They were the ones who followed the law meticulously.  They were the ones who had cornered the market when it came to righteousness.  The question on the minds of those in the crowd must have been if not the Pharisees "who then can inherit eternal life?"

At this point we might hope that Jesus would preach the message of grace.  We might hope that He would say something -- anything -- to let the crowd off the hook.  But instead, he drives the point home.  “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment."  Matthew 5:21-22.  

Rather than bringing relief from the law, Jesus has brought to the surface its fullness.  Not only will murder bring judgment on you, but even just being angry with your brother.  Hearing this, much of the crowd must have walked away sad.  Indeed, by the end only about 120 believers would remain.  See Acts 1:15.

In the end though, mercifully, those who stayed the course would come to understand that it was never about our ability to live up to the letter of the law, but instead it was about our willingness to live by the Spirit of God.  Both our internal and our external righteousness, as it turned out, would depend entirely on Jesus.

As a point of departure we looked at the Commandment to observe the Sabbath.  The Pharisees had added their traditions to a simple commandment of God.  They had made it a matter of not exerting themselves on the Sabbath and in the process had "neglected the more important matters of the law -- like justice, mercy and faithfulness."

The Command, after all, was to keep the Sabbath holy.  And, I wonder -- what could be more holy than feeding someone who is hungry, visiting the sick or imprisoned, or telling someone who is lost about Jesus?

"At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent?  I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.  If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.  But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus."
                                                                                      Matthew 12:1-14.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Oh Taste And See That The Lord Is Good

Contributed by Heath Brown.

God's direction, message, and focus has been the same from the very beginning.  He is not a confusing God, and He is very clear in what His will is.  God's will is to seek and to save that which is lost.  It is not His will that any should perish and God wants all to come to repentance.  He is also very clear in what His will is for our lives.

As we approach the Sermon on the Mount that begins in Matthew Chapter 5, we see Jesus preaching the gospel of the kingdom in the synagogues and He is spreading the truth to all that will come.  He is also confirming all that is said through miracles of healing and deliverance.  The world is encountering truth and power.  Jesus continues gathering the attention of all surrounding areas by preaching the gospel and performing mighty works, and multitudes upon multitudes are now following Him.  When He sees the crowds, Jesus goes up into a mountain and begins to teach.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt 5:3-11).

These are not merely good attitudes we should strive for.  These are commands to all people in order to be have the "kingdom of heaven", to be "comforted", to "inherit the earth", to be "satisfied", to "have mercy", to "see God", to "be called the sons of God", and to have the "kingdom of heaven."  The reward of each command is more than what an attitude can accomplish, and together they are only possible through God...and it is through following God in these "commands" that we are blessed.

Jesus then continues preaching by saying, "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:13-16).

It was brought to us Sunday morning by Joel and Kim that salt cannot loose it's saltiness in it's original crystallized form.  The only way salt can lose it's saltiness is when it is added to water.  In this instance, the chemical is broken down and the saltiness is basically attached to the water molecules.  When water is then removed, the crystallized substance left is no longer salty and is worthless.  Jesus is reminding us that we have the flavor and taste of life, but we cannot water down the direction He has given us from the beginning ... and yet we did.  In addition, Jesus tells His people that we are the light of the world.

A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  The light's purpose is to be placed in a way that can be seen by all ... showing our good works so that all can glorify God.  We are the light of the world that cannot be hidden, and people will follow us.  Jesus also tells us that we must be "careful lest the light in you be darkness" (Luke 11:35).  So, He is telling us that we will shine a light ... it will either be "light" light or "darkness" light.  And so, Jesus is instructing us not to water His word down and not to shine darkness as if it were light ... because it will not give the right direction to this world.  Again, this has been the message of God from the beginning.

In Genesis, man fell.  God made us ALL to have communion and fellowship with Him, while always worshiping His glory and beauty.  But we allowed sin to come in between us and our Lord, and the wages of sin is death.  We separated ourselves from God, and yet God was redeeming us from the beginning ... and "us" means the "whole world".  It was God who made us in His image, the image of Him who was to come.  And it was God who made the first sacrifice to cover our sin with the coats and blood of animals.  God's redemptive plan continued, and His focus never wavered (and never will).  As stated before, God's will is very clear from the beginning - seek and to save that which is lost.

As we read Genesis 12:1-3, we begin to see the very clear will that God has for His Church when He calls Abram.  “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  

First, get out from among them, be ye separate, and go and do what I will show you.  Leave your father, mother, brethren, comforts, all ... hate it all ... by doing so you will really love them because there is no greater love than laying down your life for your friends.  Second, by becoming separate and doing what I ask in faith, you will be a great nation, your name will be great and I will bless you.  Third, I will make you a great blessed nation so that all of the families of the earth may be blessed.  How will the families of the earth be blessed?  "I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6).  God is using Israel and His people to be separate, to be a great and blessed nation SO THAT all of the families of the earth will be blessed ... giving direction of right and wrong, making straight His paths, and preparing the way for our Lord Jesus.  The will of God's Church is to proclaim ... "oh taste and see that the Lord is good."

Now back to the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus tells us His mission has never changed ... it's a mission of souls.  And, His will for us hasn't changed either.  Come out from among them and be ye separate ... be poor in spirit, mourn the separation from God and souls, be meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, be merciful, be pure in heart, be a peacemaker, and be persecuted.  In doing so, you will be blessed by God Almighty and be made great in His eyes.  We will be blessed SO THAT we will be a light and a blessing to all nations. Don't water down what I've told you from the beginning, and don't give the world the wrong direction from what I've shown you from the beginning.

And Jesus wasn't done with His "reminder" when He tells the people "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:17-20).  We cannot relax His word and we must "do and teach" all His commands.  And what are the greatest of His commandments?  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matt 22:37-40).  Love God will all our might, love all others more than ourselves ... how ... by being separate and showing the way, being the salt of the earth and light of the world, being blessed of God so we can show the world who our God really is.  And in doing so, our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and pharisees.

These individuals were self righteous religious leaders that were supposed to be guides to the people of God, who were supposed to be guides to the world ... guides to God.  God's focus was on souls of sinners, and His mission was to seek and save them.  And yet, this was the righteousness of the Pharisees. "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:1-2).  The same people that were sent to be guides to the sinners were rejecting the sinners.  And so Jesus began to show them how valuable a soul is in heaven and how much rejoicing there is over one sinner through one lost sheep and one lost coin.  And then He continues the parable about a father with two sons, both receive an inheritance, one becomes lost, and the other never searches for his brother.  In the return of the lost soul, the brother didn't even accept him as a brother and was angry with the father.

God's will from the beginning is to seek and to save all that are lost and He wants not one soul to be lost.  And His will for us has never changed.  We are to love Him with everything that is in us and laying down our lives for the souls of this world: coming out from among them to be separate and blessed.  To be the flavor of the life, and to shine our lights (His light) for all to see.  We are not to water down His gospel, nor are we to direct anyone to sin.  It must be our will that none should perish and all come to repentance.  Our hearts must yearn for souls not be separated from the presence of God.  And our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.  

"Souls of this world, oh taste and see that the Lord is good."