One thing that caught my attention recently in in reading the stories of the Old Testament was the phrase “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Nine of the 59 occurrences are found in 5 chapters of the Book of Judges. In 2:11 it is connected with serving Baals, in 3:7 with forgetting God, in 3:12 giving power to Eglon over Israel, in 4:1 happening after Ehud dies, in 6:1 of the shifting of power to the Midianites, and in 10:6 of Israel’s failure to remain true to Yahweh. Each time this happened this God allowed a foreign nation to take over. Then after a number of years God would raise up a judge and the people would repent and be restored. This sequence repeated itself over and over with no progress seeming made.
Upon reflection isn’t that a story that often is played out in the lives of the average Christian believer? First a time of obedience, then comes a cooling of one’s love which is matched by God’s displeasure and a sense of abandonment for some time and then a return to where we were and ought never to leave. While there are undoubtedly some who never fall away most of us can identify one such period (and for most, several) when after a period of separation we returned to living at the side of Jesus. Robert Robinson put it all in words in his widely loved hymn with it’s stanza that reads:
“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.”
While Robinson was expressing his own need, it is true that his longing for holiness is felt in the heart of all who desire for holiness in God’s sight. A hymn writer became our spiritual leader when to God he petitioned, ”Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.”
Sin is an evil reality, nothing that God included when he spoke and Adam came to be. It is the exact opposite of all that God is and all he has in mind for us. I believe it is important to see how absolutely opposed it is to that which is good and noble and soul satisfying. We do not live on a moral curve where in God’s sight some things are not quite as evil as other things. While our world has some things that are genuinely good that is because of God’s presence in his own creation. As evil in this world can appear as something far more positive, goodness has no evil in it. The lines have been drawn. I believe that Christian maturity has to maintain the same position on evil as God does, and that is that it is so bad the God gave himself in he person of his Son to pay is penalty and set us free.
Dear Lord, show us again the hideous nature of sin and guide us in our daily walk that we will stay as far as possible from it. Amen
Many years ago when I was teaching a college freshman class in New Testament Survey I had a student tell me that since Jesus was God there was nothing he didn’t know or couldn’t do. I pressed him a bit and learned that when Jesus was a baby he just pretended not to know since that would be hard to explain to others. The student didn’t know it but he was involved in what theologians call the “hypostatic union” – the doctrine of the two natures of the incarnate Jesus (divine and human). It stems from the time of Athanasius (a fourth century bishop of Alexandria) and was adopted as orthodox at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In simple terms, the student didn’t want his Jesus to be like the rest of us. It amounted to a denial of the humanity of Christ.
While informed believers accept the doctrine of two natures, there is at the same time a tendency to view Jesus as essentially divine and only acting like a man from time to time. In the account of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) I notice several very human reactions – things that you and I might do but not characteristic of how we might view a divine being. Jesus had heard that his dear friend Lazarus was ill so after two days he decided to go to Judea to see him. The fact that he waited two days has furrowed many a brow but one thing is sure, it’s more like man than God. The text says that Jesus “loved Martha, her sister Mary, and Lazarus” (vs. 5). The mention of each person emphasizes his love for each one individually; the imperfect tense in the Greek text suggests a continuing state. Since Jesus was both man and God, which one did the loving? Or was it both?
Later in the account when Jesus saw Mary and her friends weeping he was “deeply moved in spirit and visibly distressed” (vs. 33). A moment later when they invited him to come and see the body he “burst into tears” (vs. 35). Once again I ask, was it God himself incarnate that couldn’t control his tears or was it Jesus the man? I am not a theologian but I understand that even today there is a difference in opinion on this issue between the Reformed and the Lutheran traditions. The important point for us is that Jesus cared. His concern for a dear brother taken so quickly affected him deeply: He wept (vs. 35, the shortest verse in the New Testament.)
I do not believe in sentimentality but the way Jesus lived tells us not to fortress ourselves against an honest expression of emotion whenever appropriate. To care for the welfare of a friend facing death may move us to follow the lead of Jesus and give way to tears. While some have thought that Jesus’ tears were due to the gloomy sense of loss prevalent at the moment, I choose to understand them as the tears of “one has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
To show that ethical teaching changes the way people live, Jesus pictures two men, the two houses they build, and the two results when the final storm arrives. One man digs through the layer of sand and builds his foundation on solid rock. The other man doesn’t go to all that trouble and simply lays the foundation on sand. When the two houses were completed they looked very much the same. During the dry summers days the houses stood side by side and the second man had a bit more left over cash to enjoy. The autumn rains came and the pleasure-oriented man smiled as he had means to buy a new umbrella and boots (I admit I am enlarging the narrative just a bit). Then came the rain and a flood swept down through the dry wadi. The wind beat against the houses and for a time it looked as if both would stand. The rock foundation house made it through the storm but the sand foundation house gave away and the house came crashing down.
The lesson is clear: In good weather, the two houses appear to be fine, but when that final storm of life comes the house built on sand collapses. The implication is clear: build your life house on a solid foundation and that foundation means putting into action all that God has taught. If we don’t, then when the storm of life comes we will find ourselves unprepared for what will happen. Down will come all that we had hoped would stand.
Biblical truth was not intended to serve as the basis for a theological discussion. It was meant to be a guide for an active Christian life. Like all biblical teaching, this sermon in Mathew
5-7 presents a lofty goal that we often despair of reaching. But we are to keep heading toward the goal (i.e., be sure you’ve gotten through the sand down to bedrock) and accept the fact that only Jesus ever did or ever will reach perfection. I am sure God recognizes our limitations and can excuse our ”failure,” but what he can’t excuse is the flippant understanding that sand doesn’t matter. The one thing you can count is that there will be a final storm. It’s purpose is to evaluate the house (read “life”) that you have built. I trust that your faith has dug deep through the sand of life and found security in the solid rock – faith in Jesus Christ.
Now this is a scary passage, or should I say, could be? Jesus is talking to some people who address him as “Lord, Lord” (the repetition tells you something). They “prophesy” in his name so they must be like preachers, or TV evangelists. They perform “miracles” and you can’t do that by yourself. They even “drive out demons” while intoning the sacred name. Yet Jesus labels them “evildoers” and says he never knew them. I believe that he meant that in an eschatological sense (referring to the final judgment).
So lets think about these reprobates – what they were doing, what they should be doing, and what will happen if they don’t take this warning to heart. Well, we already listen to what they were doing: they sanctimoniously address Jesus as Master of all. He is their LORD. Hmmn – In spite of the fact that they claim to be his spokesmen, drive out demons, and work miracles, when the day of judgment comes Jesus will tell them in no uncertain terms that he never had any genuine personal contact with them (“knew”) and pronounce the verdict, “Away with them.” What would be the contemporary counterpart to this bunch of hypocrites? I’ll leave that with you.
What is it then that they should be doing? Looks like they are putting on a great show. Who could do more than that? Well, Jesus says the only people that will enter the kingdom of heaven are the ones who do the will of his Father in heaven (v. 21). The key to eternal life in heaven is doing here on earth those things that please God. It doesn’t say “meet his expectations” but “live a life that is pleasing in God’s sight.” Put another way, “Don’t do it unless in your imagination God is breaking out in a smile.” That’s what I do when I am pleased and I’m simply a born–again sinner.
And what will happen if they don’t? They will not enter God’s kingdom. That expression refers primarily to God’s eternal rule in heaven but it also has something to do with what we call the present. God’s kingdom can be understood in a qualitative sense as the experience of his reign and rule, his complete control, a situation where everything operates as exactly the way he has planned it. In that sense we can right now be “in his kingdom,” enjoying the rich perfection of his plan for each of us and looking forward to that time when all who “do the will of their Father” stand in awe before the King of kings.
Not only are there two ways (former blog), but there are two kinds of prophets as well. Jesus speaks directly of the one that is false and implies something about the other.
Christians in the primitive church were especially vulnerable to false prophets who taught another gospel. They did not have ready access to written documents nor did they have the benefit of hundreds of years of theological teaching regarding the truths to which they had committed themselves. Jesus described the false prophets as “ferocious wolves” that acted like sheep. They took the truths of scripture and twisted them for personal profit. False teaching is more than an accidental departure from truth; it is an intentional alteration of truth for personal gain. Jesus warns the church about these deceptive wolves by telling the believers how they can spot them. It isn’t difficult; simply look at their lives. Actions have always revealed whether a teaching is true or false – “You will know them by what they do” (v. 16). If the fruit is good the tree is healthy; if the fruit is bad the tree is worthless and ready to be cut down and burned up (v. 19).
Let’s think for a moment about the deceptive nature of error. To convince oneself that the desire for possessions is positive, one could say, “See how well such and such a Christian project is doing because of my financial help.” What is not said is how the money was gathered or how much was spent to get it. Token gifts have allowed considered significant personal benefit and have provided and excuse for cultivated greed. Charity Navigator is an excellent site to find out all you need in order to evaluate a given not-for-profit organization. All of us are deluged from time to time with “opportunities to be of help.” Opportunities to donate are so cleverly stated that many fall for them. A very wise minister in a large church once told me that God always finances what he initiates. Lest I be misunderstood as being against charitable organizations I need to add that concern to guard what you have earned is not necessarily wrong. I want my dollars to go where they can go to work for those who need help. My concern is the deceptive nature of so much advertizing.
So John says, “Watch out for false prophets,” whether one is dealing with basic truths of the church or the life style of their proponents. Remember, you can recognize them by what they do, or, in biblical language, “by their fruit you will recognize them” (v. 20).
At this point in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:12) Jesus gives his followers what is called The Golden Rule. However, it is not a saying unique to Jesus. In many other ethical systems it comes up but with one major difference – elsewhere it is always stated in its negative form, “Don’t do to others what you don‘t want them to do to you.” And that is fine as far as it goes but it evades one important consideration and that is seen in the way it was put by Jesus – “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” The Christian takes the lead in creating the condition that he desires by first treating others as he would like to be treated. Christian ethics are proactive – we demonstrate to others the proper relationship for the benefit of both.
Jesus goes on to point out that this rule of conduct “sums up the Law and the Prophets.” The NLT translates, ”This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” This Golden Rule covers everything that we now call the Old Testament.
The Golden Rule is a short but accurate designation for the totality of the ethical teaching revealed by God to his people. It is a brief and effective guide on how to live as God intends.
So why not try this out. Take pen and some paper (or computer) and write down specifically the ways you would like to be treated. Mine would run something like this:
I’d like to be respected
I’d like to be treated fairly in all exchanges
I’d like my friends to be faithful
I’d like to be told if I am causing others any stress
I’d like to be given a good laugh every day
I’d like others to trust my word –– Etc.
So, what should I now do? The answer is rather obvious if I want to fulfill the Gold Rule I will ––
Treat others fairly
Be faithful –– “But wait,” you say, “You wrote that list, not God.”
“Right, but as believers God has cleansed our conscience and what we know down deep in our heart is exactly what God desires.”
I challenge each of us to live according to our conscience, informed by scripture and enlightened by the Spirit of God. The Golden Rule tells us that a life like that fulfills all moral expectations for his children. In short, the life that is pleasing to God is one in which his children “Treat one another as each would like to be treated.”
One of the more challenging passages on the subject of prayer is Matt. 7:7-11. We are told that if we “ask . . seek . . or knock” we will “receive . . find” and have the “door opened” for us. This passage encourages us not only to action but to persistence as well. In the Greek text we are dealing with what are called “present imperatives.” Or the various translations, the NLT has caught that nuance in its “Keep on asking . . Keep on seeking . . . Keep on knocking.” That we don’t necessarily get a prayer answered the first time we make it does not mean that God is reluctant to answer. In the verses that follow Jesus pictures the willingness of parents to give children what they ask for. So if “sinful people” (v. 11) do that, how much more will the heavenly Father “give good gifts to those who ask him.”
The point being emphasized is persistence in prayer. It is broadly recognized that persistence is important in every area of life. In speaking on the subject, Winston Churchill said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” I’m not sure life is quite that bleak but time has emphasized the critical importance of persistence. The Roman poet Ovid (born a half century before Christ) wisely noted that stones are hollowed out by dripping water rather than by force. So if persistence is that important in other areas of life should we not consider it important in prayer? Prayer is intended both for the person praying and the one who will benefit from the prayer. God wants us to keep asking. It is a good exercise for strengthening the muscles of effective Christian living. Let’s not fix our sight so keenly on what comes next that we miss out on the learning process that prepares us for it.
One example (and you could add many): I knew a devout lady who spent a significant portion of her prayer time in the 10-20 final years of her life praying for the salvation of four grandchildren. When she went to heaven at 92 there was no indication that her prayers were being answer. Several years later one of the four came to be a strong believer and a bit later God reached into the life of another (a highly successful professional man) and, as he explained his salvation to me, “I kept trying to do it my way and it didn’t work; so I went God’s way.” The lady’s persistence allowed God to bring about such an important change in the way he had planned it. In prayer, persistence counts.
“Don’t feed the dogs what is holy or throw your pearls in front of pigs; if you do they may trample them and then turn and rip you to pieces.”
In New Testament days dogs and pigs were ceremonially unclean animals. As such they represented the gentile world viewed from the Judaic point of view. To throw before them the scriptural truths of Christianity would have been unwise because pagan unbelievers did not have the necessary spiritual ability to receive and benefit from what they were told. In fact, they would crush underfoot what the early church held to be sacred and then turn on believers and tear them to pieces.
To apply this injunction to us in the twenty-first century we must first understand it in its original setting. Certain foods were held to be ceremonially unclean and therefore forbidden for offerings and sacrifice. However, now in our day that is no longer the case. In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus says that we are defiled not by what goes into us but by what comes out. Our passage for today serves as an example of the necessity of understanding what is meant in contrast to what is said. By “what is meant” I mean the truth or practice that lies behind the statement as expressed in its cultural setting. In this case I believe Jesus is speaking of spiritual truths. So the point is that we should not discuss spiritual matters with those in the world who are not equipped to understand – the “dogs” of secularism that are unable to benefit from the spiritual truths that we find so edifying.
But how does this work out in a practical sense? Certainly it doesn’t mean we are to be careful not to let the world know what we believe. Jesus came with the message of the kingdom and shared it openly for the three years of his ministry. In fact it was because of his claim to be the Son of God that they put him to death. I think the answer to that is that the crowds to whom he spoke were not the ceremonial “dogs” of Judaism but ordinary people that were open to hear. They were not the ones who “tore him to pieces” on the cross. Apart from the boy Jesus sharing truth with the rabbis in the temple, I can think of no other instance of Jesus explaining spiritual truth to the religious hierarchy. He labeled that group as “hypocrites, brood of vipers,“ (cf. Matt. 23:25, 33 and other relevant passages). The injunction for us as we share biblical truth is not to waste time with those least likely to accept and react strongly against us. There is a strong independence in the gospel. It should be presented in love but proudly maintained as truth if the other person chooses not to accept it. In that case we are to “shake the dust off from our feet” (Luke 9:5) and move on. The gospel story is too precious to be trampled under foot by the “dogs” of secularism.