Sunday, January 15, 2017


Feelings come and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God--
Naught else is worth believing.

Though all my heart should feel condemned
For want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart
Whose Word cannot be broken.

I'll trust in God's unchanging Word
Till soul and body sever,
For, though all things shall pass away,

Martin Luther


Judging\Condemning Others

Part of being merciful and loving others is to recognize our own shortcomings before we condemn the shortcomings of others. The way we treat others will be turned back on us. (38)

Do not judge or condemn and you will not be judged and condemned (37) This verse is often abused as people claim we cannot say any actions are wrong. Yet, Jesus said we can discern right from wrong. But this verse is also often ignored, because we want to point out the failings of others and ignore our own. We are judgmental and critical of others.

Be careful about holding people to standards you cannot meet. Jesus confronted the Pharisees on this. He said they imposed burdens on people they could not bear themselves.

Also, be careful about ascribing bad motives to people who do something you do not like, but which is not necessarily bad. For example, once a dinner, a guest complained about something the pastor had announced during the service, saying he only wanted to get more money. I replied that the guest could not know that to be true. He said it was obvious. I said you cannot know that just from the announcement. The guest asked how I could be so sure? I told him it was my idea. I had persuaded the pastor to do what he did and not for money. Our presuppositions, especially the cynical ones, can lead us to violate the law of Christ.

In contrast, if you forgive others, you will be forgiven. Since we all mess up, this is a great idea. Your turn will come.

This is even in the Lord’s prayer: Matthew 6:12. Jesus said to pray for the Father to forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us. Offering forgiveness to others is a sign of your repentance and faith in Christ, of your membership in his kingdom.

If you give grace and forgiveness to someone who needs it, it will also be given to you. That is, if you are generous in giving grace to someone who asks you for it, you will receive generously when you are in need.

With the measure you use, it will be measured back to you (38) None of us want judgment - we all want mercy! So, extend mercy. When Jesus says it will be given to you in good measure, he is giving an example from the marketplace. It you went and bought grain, for example, the seller might put it in a cone or jar or some other container. If he gave good measure, he would shake it to let the grain settle, and pour some more on top. Then he would press it down and pour some more on top.

Jesus told some parables to illustrate his point. First, he said a blind person cannot lead another blind person (39) This may have provoked a laugh, because you can see what a disaster that would be.

That example of both leader and follower stumbling around has a spiritual application. If you cannot see your own faults, you cannot help another person with theirs. But, Jesus’ statement is also a caution to be careful whom you follow. A person who is harsh and condemning cannot lead you to act like Jesus in giving mercy.

Second, a student is not above his teacher (or else he would not be the student) but, after being taught, he becomes like his teacher. (40) Followers tend to be like their leaders. If you want confirmation of that assertion, pick a cult and study it. Then study a person who devoted himself to learning and obeying Jesus’ words in the Bible and became like Christ. When we follow Jesus, we become like him. If our leaders follow Jesus’ teaching, they will lead us to become like Jesus. If our leaders do not follow Jesus’ teaching, they will lead us into spiritual blindness.

Third, Jesus spoke of a speck verses a log. Human nature sees a small problem in another and ignores its own larger problem. That makes you a hypocrite. (42) First take out your log, then worry about the other person’s speck (42). In other words, know yourself & deal with yourself before you deal with someone else’s shortcomings.

Fourth, Jesus compared the human heart to a fruit tree. A good heart produces good deeds & good words. (43) A bad heart produces bad deeds & bad words. If you speak hatefully, act vengefully and hurt others, you do not have the heart of Christ, who loved his enemies, prayed for them and worked for their good. When your own heart if sanctified by Christ, it will produces goodness and mercy directed to others. Until you get to that point, it is better not to speak to others about their problems.

All of this sounds a bit crazy in our culture doesn’t it?

But Jesus said you must build your life on hearing his words and doing them, counter-cultural or not. That is a foundation of rock that cannot be shaken or broken (48) Think of Job as an example. He suffered horribly, but did not sin.

In contrast, the one (especially who claims to follow Christ) who does not obey Jesus’ words has a house that will crumble and fall when trouble comes. (49)

This is difficult teaching. It is not difficult to understand, but it is difficult to practice. But my prayer is that you will not ignore it because it is difficult. Rather, I pray you will meditate on this passage and grapple with your heart to produce the fruit of following Christ.  

Sunday, January 08, 2017


After the blessings and woes, Jesus continued to teach. And he continued to say things that run contrary to the way most men and women think.

First, Jesus said to love your enemies. (27) This is in contrast to loving those who speak well of you, who love you. (26)

For a people under the domination of a powerful foreign country, those were hard words. The Jews did not have to look far to find enemies. The Romans built garrisons in the country, including in Jerusalem. They built castles for the king appointed by the Romans. Roman soldiers could push you around. Plus, there were Jews who cooperated with the Romans and were considered enemies.

In his teaching of the blessings and woes, Jesus basically said there are you who suffer for my sake and there are those who make you suffer. How do the sufferers relate to those who make them suffer?

Jesus said to love your enemies and he gave four examples. Notice that none of these are about feeling. They are all about actions.

Example 1: do good to those who hate you. That is seriously a difficult command to follow. If you have ever had someone hate you, undermine you and try to bring harm to you, you know the last thing you want to do is to do good to them. I know this personally. You may struggle even to be neutral and not do harm to them, but going even further to do good to them is really difficult.

Example 2: bless those who curse you. When someone speaks to you rudely, or about you wrongfully, you should respond with blessing.

Example 3: pray for those who abuse you. Not only should you do good to your enemy and bless them verbally, you should ask God to bless them also.

Example 4: if someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other for them to strike. Yes, this is where the saying “turn the other cheek” comes from. Naturally, we want to fight back. You may have even been raised that way. The context here seems to be a slap as an insult as opposed to an assault or fist fight. Jesus was saying do not escalate an insult into a fight and do not return the insult. If anything, remain vulnerable to the insult, especially if it means suffering humiliation for following Christ.

Example 5: if someone takes away your cloak, let him have your tunic.  This would be like saying today, if someone takes your coat, give him your shirt also, or your sweater. I think this is more about borrowing than stealing. Jesus said give to everyone who asks and do not demand the items back. (29-30)

The summation of this teaching is what we know as the “golden rule”: as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. It helps us to judge what we should do. I want someone to let me merge into traffic, or pull out of the Starbucks parking lot onto a busy street. I want someone to let me have the parking space I am waiting on and not zoom around me and get it. I want people to say hello and smile at me when I walk by. I want people not to cut in front of me in line. I want people to be nice on the telephone, to not insult or demean me, or to talk bad about me behind my back. So, I should do all those things.

Why did Jesus demand this of us? I believe it is so that we will reflect his nature to men and women who do not know him.

Who were Jesus’ enemies? First of all, it was the Romans, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. How did Jesus treat them? He prayed for them. As his enemies drove nails into his hands and feet, he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. (Luke 23:34)

But, the fact is, all human beings who have not received Jesus as savior and lord are enemies of God. That is because a sinner is one who is in rebellion against the rule of God. You are either a subject of the king or an enemy of the king.

How did Jesus treat us, his enemies? He loved us and died to reconcile us to God. Romans 5:8 says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. And verse 10 says while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”

If we hate our enemies, we act like the world. If we love our enemies, we act like Jesus and testify about him as we reflect his character.

This is what Jesus means in verses 32-35. If we love our friends only, we just act like the world. If we do good to our friends, if we lend only to those who can repay us, we just act like the sinners, the unsaved. It is of no benefit to our sanctification and it does not glorify Jesus. But, it we do good to people, even lending to them, not expecting any return, we will be rewarded by God, the Most high. We will be seen as sons of God.

The final word on this topic is in verse 36. It is short but powerful. Jesus said to be merciful as your Father is merciful. The fact is that we received from God the ultimate mercy. He did not give us the death we deserved as sinners. (Romans 6:23) Instead, he gave his Son to die in our place and gave us eternal life.

Having received that mercy, how dare we be unmerciful? What a defamation of the name of the one who saved us. But, we often are not merciful. We look at hose who suffer and say they deserve it. Therefore, we will not help them. They are just experiencing the consequences of their sin. That is all true. But, Jesus tells us to love them and show mercy to them even though they do not deserve it.

When I first went to work after graduating, I had an experience of this that is very common. One Saturday, one of my bosses took me to breakfast. As we walked along, a man stepped up and asked if I would give him money to call a relative to come pick him up. I found two quarters in my pocket and held them out to him. But my boss stopped me and told me not to give him money because he would just “drink it up”.

I have found that to be the common attitude among people, including Christians. In effect, they say do not show him mercy, let him experience the full force of his sins”. All the while, they do not apply that principle to themselves. They do not want punishment for their sins, they want mercy. And in fact they have received mercy. Jesus said to testify to God’s mercy by showing mercy.

I do not think you can love your enemies except in the power of the Holy Spirit. The natural man or woman hates their enemies. It is what we do. Even teaching you this short lesson has likely created a war in your soul as you wrestle with the command versus your desire. You have thought of excuses and exceptions already. Just know those exceptions and excuses are yours not Jesus’.

The works of the flesh include enmity, strife, jealousy, & fits of anger
all those things you want to do to your enemies. (Galatians 5:19) The fruit of the Spirit includes love, peace, patience, kindness,  & gentleness.
These are the things necessary to love your  enemies as Jesus said to do, to be merciful.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The more we know of God, the more unreservedly we will trust him; the greater our progress in theology, the simpler and more child-like will be our faith.

J. Gresham Machen

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Jesus Teaching the Disciples

These verses lead to the first long discourse given by Jesus that Luke records. Luke wrote that a great multitude came from all over Judea, including Jerusalem. They even came from Tyre and Sidon. Those were probably Gentiles. Tyre and Sidon were north of Israel in what is now Lebanon. They were ancient cities Sidon was the son Canaan, grand son of Ham and great grand son of Noah. (Genesis 10:15)

Before preaching, Jesus ministered to the crowd. He healed all that were brought to him (19) He cast out demons. (18) Certainly Jesus proved his deity with these miracles, but he could have done that with one healing in front of the crowd. But Jesus had compassion on those who suffered illness and who were oppressed by demons.

Jesus also showed what his kingdom will ultimately be like. There will be no suffering from illness and no presence of demons. He will have cured all illness and cast all demons into hell. Life in the kingdom will one day be perfect. John wrote “no longer will there be anything accursed”. (Revelation 22:3) Here, as Luke recorded, Jesus gave them, and now us, a glimpse of it.

The Blessings (Beatitudes)

Jesus’ sermon in this chapter is sometimes called “the sermon on the plain” in comparison to the “sermon on the mount” recorded in Matthew 6. It gets its name from verse 17, where Luke wrote that Jesus came down from the mountain to a level place.

Because the sermons are similar, some critics conclude that Luke made a mistake in saying in happened on “a level place” rather than the side of the mountain. However, anyone who has been in the same church for a period of time knows it is not uncommon for a preacher to preach the same sermon, or parts of it, on different occasions. Certainly it is true if they audience is different. That is likely what happened here.

In this sermon, Jesus referred to four blessings and 4 woes. These blessings were historically called the “beatitudes”. The Latin word translated “beatitude” means “happiness”. But in this context it more than what we call happy, which is an emotion. “Blessed” means to experience the Lord’s favor.

The first blessing is “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”. (20) Luke recorded much concern for the poor on the part of Jesus. Many people in Israel were poor. But Jesus primarily addressed those who were poor because of their faith in him. The poor are less likely to feel self sufficient. They are more likely to know they have a need and are interested in the gospel. Anyone who is poor in the sense of knowing their need for Christ is blessed with the kingdom of God. Those who look to Jesus for salvation are brought into his kingdom. Those who look to themselves are excluded from the kingdom. This is the opposite of the health and wealth “gospel”.

The second blessing is to those who are hungry now. (21) They will be satisfied. All needs will be satisfied in eternity with Jesus. The new earth is pictured as having a “tree of life” with 12 kinds of fruit, one for each month of the year. There may be a particular spiritual meaning here, as in hungry for a deeper relationship with Jesus.

The third blessing is for those who weep. This is weeping as one suffers persecution because of their faith in Jesus. In the future they will laugh. In eternity there will be no tears, only laughter and joy. Revelation 21:4 says “God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes…”.

The fourth blessing is for those who are hated, reviled and spurned because of their faith in Christ. (22) They can rejoice because the will have great reward in heaven. Bonhoeffer said suffering is the badge of discipleship. (The Cost of Discipleship)

There is a particularly Jewish context here, for Jesus said those who persecute the disciples had fathers who persecuted the prophets. (23) Yet the blessing is for all who suffer persecution. For example, those who refused to recant their faith in Iraq and were beheaded by ISIS are blessed, they have the favor of the Lord.

The Woes

The woes are brief compared to the blessings. But each woe is a counterpart to one of the blessings. A woe is a great sorrow. Jesus thought it tragic that people would live only for this life. By giving the woes to counter balance the blessings, Jesus contrasted two ways of life, one of godliness and one of worldliness.

We see here that the sermon was preached primarily to believers. He began the sermon by lifting up his eyes on his disciples. (20)

The first woe is to the rich who seek their happiness primarily in material things.  (24) Those who do not realize their need for Jesus and rely on themselves will have distress in eternity, for their consolation occurred on earth.

The second woe  is to those who are full, for they shall be hungry. (25) Again, those who sought only comfort on earth will have sorrow in eternity. Those who had appetite only for food and drink and not God will find themselves eternally unsatisfied, for they will be without God in eternity.

The third woe is for those who laugh for they will mourn and weep. Those who have had it good on earth and as a result did not seek Christ will mourn in eternity. This is in contrast to those who are serious about spiritual things.

The fourth and final woe is for those of which all people speak well. Again Jesus pointed to the Old Testament to say those in rebellion against God spoke well of the false prophets. (26) False prophets today who change their message to the approval of the culture are popular and praised. Those who oppose cultural norms for the standards of the Bible are often reviled.

What is the sum of Jesus’ message to his disciples? It is that the disciple is to follow Christ and stay true to him despite the consequences. And there will be consequences. Often disciples are reviled, sometimes persecuted and even killed. But those who experience hardship and persecution for Christ will be rewarded in eternity. Those who reject Christ to follow the world will have the sorrow and suffering in eternity.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Choosing the Twelve

Jesus had a big decision to make. He would choose 12 men from among his disciples to be his close companions and to carry the gospel to the world after his death.

Before making this decision, Jesus spent the entire night in prayer to the Father. I am in awe of that. I do not know anyone who claims to have done that. But Jesus did, communing with the Father and seeking wisdom to make this critical decision.

Few people spend significant time in prayer, even when a critical decision looms. Most often they throw up quick prayers while doing something else or spend a few minutes during their devotional time. Many churches have only moments of prayer during their worship services. Every believer agrees prayer is important, but few practice it diligently. Yet, the Son of God felt the need to do so. It is a convicting example for us.

The next morning, Jesus chose the Twelve. He called them apostles. An apostle is one who goes in the name of another to accomplish something. It is similar to an ambassador or an agent that has the full authority of his principal. Jesus will later commission them to go and make more disciples on his behalf.

Although we are disciples today, we are not the same as the Twelve.  They were given to Jesus by the Father. (John 17:6) They knew Jesus personally, heard him teach, witnessed his death and resurrection, acted with his authority after his death and taught his word to others.

You cannot overstate the importance of the Twelve to the church. Ephesians 2:20 tells us the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Revelation 21:14 tells us the New Jerusalem will have a wall with 12 foundations, and on the foundations are the names of the 12 apostles.

The book of Acts will show us their role in developing the early church. In fact the name of that book is often called “The Acts of the Apostles”.

Notice that Judas Iscariot is named last and called a traitor. He was the one who betrayed Jesus. Jesus knew Judas would betray him and he called him to do that very thing. He did not choose him by mistake. We know this because, when Jesus prayed for his disciples before he was arrested, he prayed “I have guarded them and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12) This scripture that was fulfilled was Psalm 109.

Peter quoted Psalm 109 when he led the disciples to choose a replacement for Judas. (Acts 1:12-26)

These were ordinary men except they were chosen by Jesus and given by the Father to Jesus. Jesus told them “you did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide”. (John 15:16)

The Gospels show that these men did not have what it takes to shake up the world for God on their own. They repeatedly make mistakes and lacked understanding. But, when God calls a person to a task, he provides the gifts necessary to accomplish it. When the Holy Spirit came upon these men, they are changed into powerful witnesses.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas & The Light of the World

Each of the Gospel writers began the story of Jesus in a different fashion. Matthew began with the genealogy of Jesus to convince Jews that Jesus was the son of David so that he was qualified to be the Messiah. Mark did not write about the birth of Jesus at all. He started with John the Baptist and jumped right in to Jesus’ ministry. Luke, at the other extreme, gave detailed accounts of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus.
John, however, is unique in his approach. He began with a prologue that is theological and specifically Christological.
This is the first part of the prologue:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
John’s prologue is a commentary on Genesis 1. Genesis 1 first says “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. John tells us Jesus was there in the beginning and that the heavens and earth were created through him. Jesus is eternal and Jesus participated in creation.
It is interesting to me that God creates everything by speaking. Each act of creation after the initial act of creation is set forth with the words “and God said”. God created everything through his word. John tells us Jesus is the Word and God created everything through him.
The earth was originally dark. Genesis 1 says “darkness was over the face of the deep.” But God said “let there be light” and there was light. I used to puzzle over this, for the sun and moon were created later. So, how could there be light? Well, there was light because God said for there to be.
And John tells us that the Jesus had life in him and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness. So, Genesis 1 spoke primarily of physical light. But John 1 speaks to spiritual light. Spiritual light is the knowledge of God. Jesus came to bring the knowledge of God to us. He came to bring the light. He said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.
The Bible often uses light to indicate the revelation of God to us and our knowledge of him. Romans 1 describes those who do not honor God as those whose thinking became darkened. 
Jesus revealed himself to Paul in a blinding light of glory on the road to Damascus.
Jesus’ very birth was an event of light. Angels appeared to shepherd reflect the blinding light of the glory of God. The shepherds fell to their feet in fear at their appearance.
A bright star appeared in the heavens to lead the Magi to Jesus. In other words, a heavenly light led the Magi to the Light of the World.
John also tells us that this light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. That was a dramatic statement when John wrote it. The Roman Empire ruled the world that John knew. It was a pagan empire, having a collection of Gods that were to be worshipped. Eventually, it required worship of the emperor. The Empire was a force of darkness. The Star Wars movies captured this image, making the two leaders of the Empire clothed in darkness. 
In spite of the Empire, the church grew. The light spread across the empire, chasing away darkness. Many times since then it has appeared to us that darkness would prevail, yet John’s statement continued to be true: the darkness has not overcome it.
And that statement is true today. Things often look dark. The enemies of the church are everywhere. Yet, the gospel is preached in new places and the church grows around the world. We sing a song about this, but not at Christmas. We sing in on Missions Sunday. But it applies to Christmas, too. It is called “We’ve A Story To Tell to the Nations”. The first verse and refrain goes like this:
We've a story to tell to the nations, 
that shall turn their hearts to the right,  
a story of truth and mercy,  
a story of peace and light,  
a story of peace and light. 
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
And the dawning to noonday bright;
And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
The kingdom of love and light.

The Christ child in the manger is the light of the world, bringing eternal life to all who believe in him. That fragile baby survived a jealous Jewish king willing to kill all the male babies in town to kill him. But that darkness did not overcome the light. Jesus rose from the grave after being killed by Romans and Jews. The darkness did not overcome the Light of the World. 
And today, as we string light on trees and houses, and in church sanctuaries, we proclaim that the darkness of sin and evil have not, and will not, overcome the Light of the World. He will overcome all of the darkness. And we will stand in the light with him for all eternity.
That is a cause for a Merry Christmas. 
Let’s pray.