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Hebrews 1-2: We Have a Savior Who Can Help

Have you ever wondered why God sent Jesus into the world to die? Yes, I know He came into the world to die so we could be saved by His sacrifice. But why is that what was needed?

Think about it. God created the world. He then created the plan by which we could be saved. He could have come up with any means to save us. But He came up with the plan to sacrifice Jesus so we could be saved. Wow! I know we could talk about the meaning of sacrifice, we could talk about God’s justice and mercy. But, in reality, it doesn’t matter what we say about it, the sacrifice of Jesus works because God says it works. If God had said something else could work, then it would work. God got to decide what would work for our salvation and He set up this plan of sacrifice.

With this in mind, I find a great deal of comfort in Hebrews 2:14-18. Jesus came to share in flesh and blood because God decided that was what was needed. But was it needed because God somehow needed to know what our lives were like? Was it needed because God needed to learn what it was like to be us? Of course not. God created us; He knows. Rather God did this so that we, in our finite minds, could grasp that He knows. No doubt, without the incarnation, we would always wonder if God could know what it was like to be us. Now we can know that He knows and therefore, we know we can go to Him for help. 

He has faced what we face and overcome. He has experienced what we experience and been victorious. He has lived what we live and come out unscathed. Who else would we remotely want to turn to for help but the one who has been there, done that and knows the way through. When you are faced with temptation, don’t feel alone. Turn to Jesus for help. He knows how to overcome and He will provide strength and help. Even if that help is in the form of greater knowledge of His word or help from His people. He knows how to deliver you from temptation. Turn to Him. Don’t face temptation alone.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

October 31, 2008 Posted by | Hebrews, temptation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Matthew 27-28: You Make Disciples by Baptizing and Teaching Them

No doubt, in these chapters the amazing part of what is going on is that Jesus died for us. I’m just amazed that He did. How could He possibly love us that much? That is just how unfathomable God’s love is. Yet, He does love us that much.

However, what good does it do for God to love us if we won’t submit to even the simplest and straightforward commands of His? In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked how we could call Him Lord and not do what He said. Yet, folks do it all the time today.

The Gospel of Matthew ends with these words:

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 that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (ESV).

I’m just not sure how we can get any clearer that Christ’s disciples are made through baptizing them. They aren’t made through praying a sinner’s prayer. They aren’t made through a moment of faith. They are made through baptism and teaching. 

Why is baptism for the remission of sins such a dividing point today? Why do so many refuse to be baptized in order to become Christ’s disciple, in order to be forgiven, in order to be saved? Why can’t we all just do what Jesus asked? Have you submitted to Jesus in believer’s baptism in order to become a disciple and receive the remission of your sins (Acts 2:38). 

I encourage you to read these verses and see what they really say. I’m not making this up. 

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

October 30, 2008 Posted by | Baptism, Matthew, salvation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Matthew 25-26: Why People Go to Hell

I clearly recognize that following a different gospel leaves someone accursed (Galatians 1:9-10). I also recognize that not abiding in the doctrine of Christ means we will have neither the Father or the Son (II John 9). Thus, getting the gospel and doctrine of Christ right is important and necessary to our salvation. 

However, I can’t help but notice when Jesus very specifically talked about the sheep and the goats and who will be allowed into heaven and who will be cast into hell in Matthew 25:31-46, He didn’t talk about those who got the gospel and doctrine of Christ right. He talked about those who did good deeds for others. He talked about those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited those sick and in prison. Now, I recognize this is not talking about just general welfare. This is talking about love among brethren. 

We need to recognize however that it is not enough to know and teach the right gospel and doctrine. The gospel and doctrine of Christ must impact our lives such that we humbly submit to others around us and do good for them. If we close our benevolent hand to others around us, we are closing it to Jesus. In that case, we may be the soundest teachers in the whole world. We may debate with excellence and shut the mouths of all false teachers and yet we will still be cast into hell. 

If you want to go to heaven, take some time to get out of your study and off the debate podium and do some good works for those around you.

October 29, 2008 Posted by | Christian Living, Matthew, salvation, Serving | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Matthew 23-24: 5 Sins of the Pharisees and Not One of Them is Legalism

Interestingly, I hear all kinds of accusations about the Pharisees. Today, evangelicals and ecumenicalists are free with pointing the finger at all those awful, rotten Pharisees out there. Of course, the Pharisee accusation usually means LEGALIST. I find that interesting when we read Matthew 23. This is the most in depth rebuke of the Pharisees and yet not once does Jesus rebuke them for being legalists. Notice instead what he does actually rebuke them for.

1. Not practicing what they preach.

In Matthew 23:3-4, Jesus said the folks should do what the Pharisees taught. But not do what they did because they didn’t practice what they preached. Further, they would lay all kinds of burdens on the shoulders of other people but wouldn’t lift the finger to lift these burdens themselves. Now don’t read into this. Jesus didn’t rebuke them for laying heavy burdens on anyone. He rebuked them for not lifting the heavy burdens themselves.

2. They were self-seeking.

According to Matthew 23:5-15, Jesus says the Pharisees weren’t doing what they did out of humble service to God so that He might be glorified. They were doing things so others might see them and praise them for being so spiritual. Again, Jesus didn’t rebuke them for being legalistic about what they taught or practiced but for their motivation behind what they did and taught. This self-seeking led to some pretty awful results. First, their self-seeking caused them to lead a double life. On the one hand, they were taking advantage of widows. On the other, they were making long prayers for a pretense. The second negative consequence was their self-seeking caused them to make followers of themselves instead of followers of God. Thus, when they found a proselyte, the person did not get in a right relationship with God but became twice the child of hell as the Pharisees.

3. They were dishonest.

Perhaps Matthew 23:16-22 is where some folks find legalism. Certainly, they are drawing a bunch of lines on when to actually keep their word. But Jesus is not rebuking them for their lines. He is rebuking them for their dishonesty. He wants them to simply tell the truth, not make up rules about when they have to tell the truth. Further, notice that this issue of line drawing is not about adding burdens of greater weight about telling the truth but about trying to figure out how to get out of the real height of honesty God demands. I find it interesting that so many want to ridicule the Pharisees for making serving God harder, when here they were trying to get out of what God had commanded.

4. Disobeying the weightier matters of the law.

In Matthew 23:23-24, Jesus rebuked them for attending to minor details while they disregarded the more important parts of the law. I find this one intriguing too because many like to use the figures of speech used in these verses to claim Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for legalism. This is odd since they are actually trying to avoid keeping the law here. We should notice something pointed in these verses. Jesus did not rebuke them for keeping minor details. In fact, he says they should have done that. Rather, He rebuked them because they did not keep the weightier matters. He did not rebuke them for straining the gnats. He rebuked them for swallowing the camels. But what was Jesus’ overall complaint for them? It was not that they were getting too legalistic with God’s law. It was that they were not legalistic enough. They weren’t keeping the Law well enough.

5. Hypocrisy

In Matthew 23:25-32, Jesus got down to the major rebuke against the Pharisees. I know we expect it to finally be legalism. But, it’s not. It’s hypocrisy. In actuality, we already saw this building in the other rebukes, but now Jesus just spells it out, repeatedly calling them hypocrites. They simply worked on the outside and not on the inside. This doesn’t mean the outside doesn’t matter. Rather, Jesus explains if we get the heart right, then the outside will follow. The Pharisees, however, since they were self-seeking were only focused on whatever would make them look good, not would actually let them be good. Sadly, this hypocrisy led to one major consequence. When real men of God came in their midst, they persecuted and even killed them.

As Jesus ended this discussion, He pointed out the Pharisees would be judged. But He never mentioned legalism. In fact, I’m actually still waiting for a rebuke in the entire New Testament where the Pharisees were actually condemned or rebuked because they were legalists. Seems to me that is merely a modern statement because so many people today want to get away from being held accountable by a real system of law. They seemingly want to make Christianity a kind of free for all that says we are all allowed to do whatever we want in the name of Jesus and no one has the right to draw any lines. After all, look at how Jesus rebuked those pesky Pharisees for their legalism. Yet, I keep trying to find the passage where Jesus actually rebuked them for that. 

Can you find it? If you do, let me know. Until then…

Keep reading and keep the faith,

ELC

October 28, 2008 Posted by | Matthew, pharisees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Matthew 21-22: Four Possible Responses to God’s Invitation

In the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14, we find God pictured as a king giving a wedding feast for his son. He has invited many but there are different responses to his summons. We are all making one of these responses to God’s invitation to come to Jesus’ wedding feast. The question is which one.

Response #1: Ignore it

According to Matthew 22:5, some simply pay no attention to the invitation. How many today are ignoring the invitation of God. They are busy taking care of their job, education, family. They are only focused on their own lives and not at all their eternal lives. They do not think God’s invitation will help them at all. They simply walk away.

Response #2: Attack it

According to Matthew 22:6, some did not ignore it. Instead, for some reason they got upset at the invitation and attacked the messengers. They treated the messengers shamefully and even killed them. I know that sounds odd. Why on earth would you attack someone who has invited you to come to feast. Even more odd is the fact that some will attack those who invite folks into a relationship with Jesus. We are castigated, mocked, ridiculed, persecuted. We are laughed at, called names. We are told that we are judgmental and narrow minded. It is sad that some people who disagree cannot just let alone, they have to attack. Sadly for them, their judgment will come in time. Our king will not leave us unavenged.

Response #3: Fake it

One man accepted the invitation, but he didn’t come prepared for a wedding feast. This was a man who wanted to partake in the food but was unconcerned with the celebration of the son’s wedding. He was faking it. Some people today want the rewards God offers, but they don’t remotely care about the Son who secured those rewards. They aren’t interested in worshiping and glorifying God. They will do enough to be considered a disciple by men, but they are not really serving the Lord. They are faking it. Sadly, these will not be patted on the back and told, “Good enough.” They will be bound hand and foot and cast out.

Response #4: Be Changed By It

Despite the number of people who pursued the sad responses listed above. Some people accepted the invitation and came rejoicing for the king’s son. They were not celebrating the wedding before they came. But when they received the invitation, they changed. Interestingly, the text says they invited the good and the bad. Whether good or bad they came to celebrate with the King and his son. Are we changed by God’s invitation? Do we put on our wedding garments and celebrate with the King and His Son?

The question, of course, is how are you responding to God’s invitation?

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Glorifying God, Matthew, Obedience, salvation | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Matthew 19-20: Length of Discipleship vs. Depth of Discipleship

The parable of Matthew 20:1-16 is powerful for me today. 

I have a tendency to get wrapped up in how long I’ve been a Christian or how long I’ve been preaching or how long I’ve avoided a particular sin. When I start thinking like that, I get arrogant and the warning “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” really applies to me. 

This parable, however, reminds me that God is not necessarily interested in how long I’ve been serving or conquering. Those who have started serving today receive the same reward I will. Certainly, having served for a long time is good for me. It removes a great number of regrets. I don’t want to use this parable to say I can wait to start serving until the last minute.

However, what I need to remember is that today the length of my discipleship is not nearly as important as the depth of my discipleship. The fact is, if I let my discipleship get shallow, it won’t be long before I leave the vineyard and it won’t matter how long I had been working there. If I want to stay in the vineyard, I have to dig deep in my discipleship. 

If you’re just starting or if you left the vineyard and have just come back, I know there are numerous regrets, lots of guilt and shame. Don’t let that overwhelm you. The folks who have a longer time in the vineyard aren’t any better than you. Just focus on how deep your discipleship is today. When you get to tomorrow, focus on the same thing.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

October 24, 2008 Posted by | Christian Living, Matthew | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Matthew 17-18: It Doesn’t Take Two or Three to Be in Jesus’ Presence

I don’t know how many times I have heard Christians completely miss the point of Matthew 18:20

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (ESV).

You often hear this when someone is making some kind of announcements at the beginning of some congregational assembly or in some class.

“Brothers and Sisters, it is wonderful to be here in the presence of Jesus, because we know He said where two or three are gathered in His name, He is here.”

That just isn’t what Jesus was talking about. We must not forget Hebrews 13:5–“Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you” (ESV). God is with us even when we are by ourselves. Jesus was not telling us when we are in His presence because He is always with us Christians.

Rather, we need to keep this verse in its context. He had been talking about discipline. Remember he had said if you know someone is sinning, you go talk to them alone. Then if they refuse to repent, take one or two with you to establish evidence based on two or three witnesses. Then if the person still won’t repent the two or three witnesses can take it to the church. If the person still doesn’t repent, then mark them and treat them as a tax-collector or Gentile; that is, have no common association with them, but withdraw yourselves.

This brings up an immediate question. Does the matter have to be witnessed by every member of the congregation for the congregation to act? No, the two or three witnesses can make the case for the congregation to act. Why? Because when two or three are acting in Jesus’ name, He is right there with them.

You see, the point is not that we have to have two or three people gathered to be in Jesus’ presence. We are always in His presence. However, in the cases of disciplining impenitent sinners, we need to have two or three witnesses acting in Jesus’ name. Then Jesus is also there acting and supporting the decision to discipline.

Please, don’t use this verse to say Jesus is present at your church’s assemblies because more than two or three or gathered. Even more, please don’t use this verse to say you are having a church assembly because you have two or three Christians gathered. That just isn’t what Jesus was saying.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

October 23, 2008 Posted by | Jesus, Matthew | , , , , | Leave a comment

Matthew 15-16: How to Offend Like Jesus

Sometimes it seems the only rule for today is don’t offend people. Of course, this rule isn’t applied to offending people because our language is crude. It doesn’t apply to offending people because we are being vulgar. It doesn’t apply to offending people because we are being sexually explicit. No, the only rule guiding society today is we are not allowed to offend someone by suggesting something they are doing religiously is wrong. After all, we are told, Jesus would never be offensive. He came down just to let everyone know how much He loved us all.

Yet, look again at Matthew 15:10-14:

“And he called the people to him and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.’ Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind both will fall into a pit” (ESV).

Oh…wait…maybe Jesus wasn’t as PC as modern folk want to claim. However, note that Jesus’ offense was not because of carelessness or lack of concern. He was merely going to teach the truth no matter what anyone thought about it. If if offended them, so be it.

We need to keep this in mind. As Christians, we should not be carelessly and recklessly offensive. Offending because we don’t care about people and therefore we mock them or treat them sarcastically should not be known among us. However, we need to come to grips with the fact that lots of people just won’t like the truth. Whether they like it or not, we have to teach it just like Jesus did. 

I think the key is to check our motivation. When we speak, are we speaking the truth in love? Or are we merely trying to put someone with whom we disagree in their place? Are we trying to help someone? Or are we trying to make them look foolish?

If someone is offended because we are being careless, reckless and sarcastic, then we need to repent and make amends. If someone is offended because they simply won’t accept the truth revealed in God’s word, then we should recognize them for the blind guides they are. 

Keep the faith and keep reading.

ELC

October 22, 2008 Posted by | Jesus, Matthew, Teaching | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Matthew 13-14: The Kingdom of Heaven is Like…

I’m back. Sorry for the break. I had a great little vacation with the family in Crossville, TN last week, but our apartment did not have internet access. I hope you kept up with your reading even if you weren’t able to discuss it here. Let’s get back into the swing of things here.

Matthew 13 has a collection of kingdom parables. Of course, there is the parable of the sower. But then there are five parables, which all set forth similes about the kingdom.

 

  1. The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.
  2. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.
  3. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.
  4. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of a fine pearl.
  5. The kingdom of heaven is like a fishing net which gathers every kind of fish.

 

The first and last parables seem to make the same point. Not everyone who is “in the kingdom” is of the kingdom. Satan, sadly, influences some who have entered the kingdom and on the day of judgment, they will be sifted out and cast into the torment of fire. This encourages us to make sure we are not submitting to the influence of the Satan and simply thinking “going to church” means all that other stuff we do doesn’t matter.

The second parable of the mustard seed is pretty easily understood. The kingdom of heaven began extremely small, but it would grow to be huge. That is exactly what happened. Prior to pentecost, the seed for the kingdom was only 120. But on Pentecost, it immediately grew to about 3000 (still not a very large number in comparison to the world population). In time, however it grew and grew and grew. Multitudes and multitudes entered. This all happened despite constant warring against Christ’s kingdom.

It is the other two parables that give me a bit of trouble. I know that may sound odd because they seem so easy to grasp. On the surface, most just view them as repetitions of the same point. The kingdom is worth so much we should sell everything. But these connected parables always give me some trouble. The parable of the hidden treasure I get. The man, seeing the field and finding the hidden treasure sold everything he had because that was the purchase price of the land. However, upon gaining the land, he actually had something more valuable than all his earlier possessions. That is the kingdom of heaven. We should be willing to give up everything because when we gain Christ’s kingdom, we gain it all.

Perhaps the parable to the pearl of great price is making the same point and I’m just thinking too hard. But this parable always causes me a problem because once the guy gets the pearl, the only way it will be of any real benefit to him is to sell it again. Otherwise he has a very costly trinket and that is it. Some suggest this is because he knew he could turn around and sell it again for even more than he paid. I guess that might be right, but then that leaves us buying the kingdom and selling it to get the value. Maybe I’m over analyzing, but, I just don’t think this is the point.

A brother once pointed out to me a major difference in these two parables. In the parable of the treasure, the kingdom is compared to the treasure. However, in the parable of the pearl, the kingdom is not compared to the pearl but to the merchant. When that very simple point was made, the parable suddenly was turned on its head. The parable of the treasure is about how I should value the kingdom. The parable of the pearl, however, is making the opposite point.

The kingdom is a merchant in search of valuable pearls. The picture is about Christ and his looking for the lost sheep. We are the pearl. Christ, in His kingdom, valued us so much He gave up everything to purchase us. He gave up the glories of heaven, the fellowship with the Father and then even gave up His life so I might be in His kingdom. WOW! How powerful is that.

If Jesus and His kingdom valued me that much, how much more should I value Jesus and His kingdom? It truly is a treasure. I guess it’s time for me to start selling things.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

October 21, 2008 Posted by | Kingdom of God, Matthew | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Possible Hiatus

It is Sunday afternoon (October 12) and the fam and I are heading out of town to have a week of relaxation. The problem is, I don’t know if where we are going has internet access. I normally try to schedule the posts ahead of time if I’m away from the web, but the past week was very busy and the one thing I just didn’t have time to get done was this week’s posts.

If I have internet access, I will post as usual. If not, well, I’ll be back here next week and try to catch up and then move forward as scheduled.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

October 12, 2008 Posted by | Daily Bible Reading | Leave a comment