Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Wilderness: Good for What - Sermon of the Week

 

 Why does God put us through wilderness experiences.


Dr. Jim Berg, Dean of Students at Bob Jones University, provides today's sermon of the week. 


http://www.sermonaudio.com/playpopup.asp?SID=3205134318

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Do You Fall Prey to Christian Superstitions?



Surely in the 21st Century Christians Are Too Sophisticated to Be Superstitious


This is not going to be a post about whether or not we should avoid stepping on cracks.  However I will admit right now that I never purposely step on a crack, and my 88 year old Mom has a great back.  Just for fun, I'm guessing that you, my faithful reader pay at least some attention to one or all of the following:
  • Not walking under ladders
  • Friday the 13th
  • Spilt salt
  • Knocking on wood
  • Saying good luck or break a leg 
  • Using a lucky charm, stance, or routine in sports
  • horoscopes and fortune cookies
So, we sophisticated types who know better because we are wise, and even more so because we know that the Bible teaches against such things, continue to be superstitious.  But I want to explore a different type of Christian superstition. 

As I opened my email this morning, I was confronted by one of those subject lines that is filled with foreboding. In this case it was one of my clients cutting back on services "for a time." This would results in a not-unsubstantial lost of income for the next two months. Not the end of the world, but a concern on a number of levels. Was it really temporary or truly permanent? Was it something in our services or should I take his statement about cash flow problems at face value? How did God fit into all this?

How did God fit into all this?! Was I being punished for some sin? Was this a signal of needing to slow down, do better work, or change approaches? Was it some kind of test of my faith? Was there any spiritual component at all?

Tending to spiritualize everything is a common rebuke, but the opposite is no better. We certainly should believe that God is at work in our lives. But while anything that happens to us in the course of our day can be used for His perfect plan, it doesn't mean that everything that happens is specifically orchestrated to create benefits, obstacles, tests, or punishments.

Those who might argue the point can give plenty of scripture references where God did all of the above, creating benefits, obstacles, tests, punishments, and more. Jesus certainly intervened during his earthly ministry, and Paul spoke of circumstances that had a spiritual source affecting his choices, including whether to travel to this town or that.

On the other hand there is no possibility of our being given a choice to do good and evil, to love or hate a brother, or to forgive someone, if that choice is merely a false choice being implanted in our head by the grand puppeteer.

Thus I would make the case that we could literally drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out why God wanted us to get a hangnail, or why he caused the USA to lose to Belgium. Stuff happens. It rains on the saved and the unsaved alike. Gravity exerts the same pull on everyone. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The question for each of us is how we use the rain or lack of rain to further the will of the Father in making the earth more like heaven.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Feeding of 5000 and 4000 and a Message for Us Today


How Could the Disciples Be So Dense?


Once again the disciples are witness to supernatural events that should have their eyes popping out of their heads. A crowd comes. Jesus heals everyone in the crowd who needs healing. And Jesus preaches. It becomes obvious that the assembled group has gone a long time without anything to eat, and Jesus feeds 5000 men, which likely means 20,000 people, with a few loaves and a couple of small fish, not to mention left overs.

Within hours the, disciples are on their way across the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a fierce storm when Jesus approaches them walking on the water. At the end of this miracle, the disciples that were with Him said, "Of a truth, surely thou art the son of God." The healing and feeding were not miraculous enough? But him walking on water and empowering Peter to walk on the water did it for them.  Or did it?

A while later (weeks, months), another multitude had been following Jesus for three days, and Jesus had compassion on them because they had nothing to eat. These same men give the reader of Matthew the impression that they are truly feeble minded. They ask, "Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?" Seriously?!

Before you join me in being hard on these guys, lets all do a little soul searching. I don't know about you, but here is my resume'

Raised in the church. Considered the pastorate at age 18. Been in church leadership most of my adult life. Read the Bible cover-to-cover multiplied times. Read many dozens if not hundreds of books related to Christianity. Listened to thousands of hours of Christian radio. Taught a Bible study class for the last 9 years starting in Genesis and now in Matthew. Have published two books for the Christian market. And I'm really old. BUT: Last year I finally got clarity on what God means about pride and humility. This year I have had eye-opening revelations about the Beatitudes and what it means to be a disciple. Oh yeah, and I have the Holy Spirit to help me. The disciples had only been at this for a couple of years. Let's have a bit of grace. 

Ask yourself these questions:

What does it really mean to love God?

What does it really mean to love others?

What does it really mean to be intimate with God?

What is a true Disciple?

What is humility?

How are you doing with pride? What does it really mean to be prideful?

Have you died to self? Are you actively seeking to know God's will for your life? Are you prepared to fully surrender and answer any call that God places on your life?

Or are you holding tight to your possessions, relationships, income, lifestyle, leisure, sins, worldly entertainment, and personal ambitions?

If you feel that all of these issues are totally under control in your life, you are either in denial or you are merely sadly mistaken. If you know that you are not even close to getting most of these, and you aren't really that interested in working towards understanding, then you are very likely not named in the Lamb's book of life. If you are somewhere in between like most of us, consider stepping up your game and becoming a serious and true disciple. The blessings of doing so are beyond most Christian's ability to imagine. 


Monday, June 16, 2014

The Freedom of True Discipleship (John 8:31-36) John MacArthur




Who is a True Disciple according to Jesus?


We come now to our study of the Gospel of John, and I want you to open your Bible to eighth chapter of John. If you didn't bring a Bible with you, there should be one in the pew rack there. You'll want to follow along because we're going to be examining closely what is a very, very important portion of Holy Scripture.

Just about every verse in the Gospel of John is loaded with divine truth. The depths of this Gospel we have not plumbed by any means. Its range is vast and eternal because we're dealing with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. All passages in the Gospel of John seem to be highlights, but this one in a sense rises up, maybe above even the other peaks in its importance. And what I'm speaking of is chapter 8, verses 31 to 36. We're going to be looking at this in our ongoing study of John's Gospel, so let me read these verses, and you'll quickly see the importance of this section.

We'll start actually in verse 30. "As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him," speaking of Jesus. "So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed him, if you continue in My Word, then you are truly disciplines of mine, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free. They answered Him, 'We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'?"

Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.'"

What jumps out of this text are the words of our Lord in verse 31. "If you continue in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine." This is about being a true disciple.

This is an urgent and important subject. Many people profess Christ. Many people declare
themselves to be believers in Christ. Many people give witness to the fact that they are Christians. In fact, that's fairly common even in our culture, but who is a true Christian?

Who is a real disciple? This is an urgent and essential question. You have to be able to answer it for yourself, and you have to be able to answer it for those around you. It's not superficially answered.

Listen to the words of the apostle Paul who addresses this important matter in 2 Corinthians 13:5, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves or do you not recognize this about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you unless indeed you fail the test." Paul is saying, "Test yourselves to see whether you're really in Christ. See if you can pass the test." Well, that is a similar issue to the very words of Jesus about being a true disciple of Mine. Who is a true disciple? Who is an alēthōs mathētai, a true learner, a true follower of Christ? True in the sense of real, genuine, authentic.

Now, this is a very important question for us and a very important question at this juncture in the Gospel of John because we have seen indications of faith and belief. We have seen them since the beginning of the gospel. We have seen true faith such as in the case of the early disciples in chapter one. And we've seen less than true faith such as those who believed in chapter two, but Jesus didn't commit Himself to them because He knew what was in their heart and He knew their faith wasn't the real thing. It wasn't a true faith.

Nicodemus represents those people, and he articulated that they did believe that Jesus was a teacher come from God because no one could do the works that He did unless God had sent Him, but that's not sufficient to save. There were people, we've learned, all the way into chapter 6 who had called themselves disciples, identified as disciples, but turned their back and walked away from Christ. "Walked no more with Him," chapter 6, verse 66. The prototype, we've already been introduced to, is Judas Iscariot. "Judas - " Jesus says in chapter 6, verse 70 and 71, " - is a devil and a betrayer." But the disciples don't recognize that. In fact, even at the end of his life in the upper room the night of His betrayal, Jesus said, "One of you will betray Me," and they didn't all point at Judas. They said, "Is it I? Is it I? Is it I?" Were they so insecure about the genuineness of their own salvation? Were they so blind to the greed and the avarice and the deceptions of Judas?

How hard is it to tell? This is an urgent issue. There were believers who turned their back and walked away from Christ.

Now, we meet another group of believers here in verse 30 who came to believe in Him. He refers to them as, "Those who had believed," in verse 31. And yet I want you to know how these people are referred to, these same people in verse 44. "You are of your father, the devil." How can it be that people who believe in Him, whose faith He acknowledges by His own words could be at the same time children of the devil? Well, we already know there is such a thing as false discipleship and false faith and defection. As I said, we saw that in chapter 6. We know something of the pathology of false discipleship, something of the being attracted by the crowd and the supernatural and wanting your needs met and being supplied with food and having miracles done on your behalf. We know the kinds of things that lead to superficial faith that's not real and genuine, but we haven't really had a definitive statement about what the test of true faith is until we come to this passage. This becomes a very critical section of Scripture.

Now, it's not a new issue. If you go back to the Gospel of Matthew, which in the purposes of the Holy Spirit appears first in the New Testament, we read in Matthew these words.

Chapter 7, verse 21, the Sermon on the Mount. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven. But he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' and then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you. Depart from me you who practice lawlessness!'" These are people who are believers. They say, "Lord, Lord." They say, "We prophesied in your name.

We acted as agents on your behalf, cast our demons, performed miracles." He says, "I don't know you." And there weren't a few; there were many. There will be many who say such things.

In Matthew 13, our Lord gives us a picture of the kingdom, and it's a fascinating picture as He describes the nature of the kingdom. Perhaps the most memorable of all his parables in that chapter is the parable of the soils in which we find out that there will be people who make a superficial commitment to Christ such as the rocky soil and the weedy soil.

It's superficial. It's temporary, and when tribulation or persecution comes along or because of the love of riches or the cares of this world, they never bear fruit. They wither and die. In fact, Luke 8:13 describes such people as, "Those who believe for a while.

Those who believe for a while." And then they don't believe, and like those in chapter 6, verse 66, they walk away.

The apostolic writers including John make much of this important issue. Listen to John, the writer of the gospel when he writes his first epistle. He says this in chapter 2, verse 19, "They went out from us. They were not really of us, for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us. But they went out so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." John is saying, there are going to be people who are going to be part-time, superficial, shallow, who won't last, who will go out from us and demonstrate that they really are anti-Christ. That's the term he uses in the previous verse. The writer of Hebrews addresses this multiple times, but at the end of chapter 10 he says in verse
38, quoting from Habakkuk, "But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul." And earlier he said, "You have need of endurance." There are people who endure, persevere, remain faithful to the end, and then there are those who are defectors. Again, the prototype of all spiritual defectors, all false disciples is none other than Judas himself.

So how do we tell? We've all had that experience. We know Jesus in Matthew 13 also told the parable about the wheat and tares growing together, and that we would be unable to tell them apart in every case. Some cases clearly we can. By their fruits we can know them, but sometimes it will be hard to distinguish and the only distinguishing will come at the end of the judgment when the angels do the work of God and separate the wheat from the tares. We also know the parable of the dragnet. The kingdom is like a dragnet that drags the bottom of the Sea of Galilee, for example, and pulls in all kinds of things useful and useless. And the kingdom is going to collect all kinds of things. We also know the parable of the mustard tree, that the kingdom is going to grow out of all proportion to it's real life, and it's going to be full of all kinds of birds.

So how do we know who's real? We all have this experience. There's not a week that goes by in my life in which there's not a discussion about, is this person saved? Is this person not saved? Is this a true Christian, a false Christian? How do we know? How do we tell?

It's constant. You have the same conversations. You may be asking about your spouse. You may be asking about your children. You may be asking about a neighbor, somebody that you know. You may be asking about a person who is at work and talks about being a Christian, but you are wondering if it's legitimate because you see the behavior. You may be asking about a person you see occasionally at church who is here less than not here, so you kind of wonder. We all have this.

Going back in my life, my best friend in high school, we did gospel evangelism together as high school kids. Went away to college and declared himself an atheist. My best friend in college, we were co-captains of the football team, was headed for seminary. He essentially denied the faith and walked way. One of my best friends in seminary, his father was the dean of the seminary. After he graduated, he set up a Buddhist altar in his house. So we all deal with this. We all are asking the question all the time who is real? Who is genuine? Now, we don't ask the question necessarily about everybody, but there are some people that we're asking the question about, and we might even be wondering for our own condition.

There are many who believe, but may not be real. We need to know that. Why do we need to know that? Because we need to know their true condition, right? So that we can call them to true repentance and salvation. We need to know. We don't want to take this for granted just because somebody says they believe in Jesus. You can't take that for granted.

You don't want to just with all good intentions and good will, just settle on that whether it looks legitimate or not. Judgment begins at the house of God. You've got to start with the people who are making the profession. So here we meet some Jews who, according to verse 30 and 31, had believed in Jesus. They believed because initially it's kind of easy to believe. You're drawn by the crowd, as we saw in chapter 6, fascinated by the supernatural.

He's healing people. He's casting out demons. He's giving free food, wonderful meals. The battle for bread, of course, occupied everybody's life. He's doing all those kinds of things that provide amazing benefits. It all seems so wonderful. He's promising forgiveness of sin. He's promising heaven, all of that.

People still seek Jesus on the basis of that. They still come after Him initially on that basis, people who are seeking personal fulfillment, people who want a better life, people who want answers, people who are tired of their weakness, tired of falling to temptation, people who are weary of bad habits, who want more out of life, people who want to escape fear, want to feel secure, people who want some hope in the life to come, afraid of death, seeking heaven, desiring spiritual help, wanting to belong to a loving group. For all those reasons, starting to believe in Jesus is easy. A lot of people do that, but when they start in that direction and the world, the flesh, and the devil fully empowered by their own
fallen nature starts to pull hard against Christ; the half believer, loving sin because half believers still love their sin, and unwilling to yield to the hard demands of true repentance and humble submission to Christ falls back. It may take a little while. It may take a long time.

Shallow, temporary, half faith is an important reality, and it's all the time an important reality in John's day and in our day and all in between. So, again, we come back to this question. How do we know who is a true believer? Now, back into the setting, our Lord is in the city of Jerusalem. They have just been celebrating the Feast of Booths. We know all about that where He declared Himself to be the Living Water and the Light. He's there with those Jewish people in the same setting in Jerusalem 6 months before his death. He has been rejected by the leaders. They want him dead. In fact, the last verse of chapter 8 indicates they picked up stones to throw at Him to try to stone Him on the spot, something they had tried previously; not only in Jerusalem, but even as we shall see in His hometown of Nazareth.

So the leaders have rejected Him. They wanted Him dead. He exposed their hypocrisy. He confronted
their false and deceptive religion. They wanted Him dead, but while their hostility was escalating
and would escalate all the way to the cross, there were people who were attracted to Him and they were believing. They were believing in Him. And our Lord directly confronts that beginning belief, the nature of that initial belief speaks directly to them.

I was reading this week J.C. Ryle, and he had an interesting little paragraph in the part that I was reading in which he said, "This is the most dangerous spiritual condition any person can ever be in where you're halfway to Christ; inclined to Jesus, inclined to the truth about Jesus, wanting what Jesus provides and what He offers, but not willing to give in to the full demands that He lays on the sinner of repentance and faith in Him, declaration of His lordship, turning from sin toward righteousness." He says, "That is the most dangerous position to be in because that's the path of apostasy and if you go down that path and you reject Christ in the end, you could be an apostate." And it's impossible to be renewed again to repentance, and you're guilty of trampling under foot the blood of the covenant. And that is going to bring about the severest judgment in hell.

So, Ryle is right when he says, "This is the most dangerous place to be." You'd be better off to be a pagan in some foreign land who never heard about Jesus than to be halfway to Christ, exposed to the truth, and unwilling to let go of the world. To hang on to carnal pleasure in the face of all that Christ offers -- very dangerous, very dangerous. Reaching out toward Jesus not letting your grip go on the pleasures and the comforts of the world; these are believers at the beginning of this section who turn out to be nothing more than the children of the devil. Wow. These are people who are slaves of sin, as our text says. They are children of Satan. They are haters of truth. They are blasphemers and they are murderers. Look at verse 44. "You are of your father the devil. You want to do the desires of your father.

He was a murderer from the beginning. He doesn't stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature. He is a liar, the father of lies, but because I speak the truth, you do not believe me."

He stopped there long enough to say they believed He was from God. They believed He was very
-- some of them did, that He was likely the prophet of Deuteronomy 18. Some of them said, "He is the prophet. He is the Christ, the Messiah." They believed that, but His words were what turned them off. They were far too indicting and far too demanding. And because He speaks the truth, "You do not believe Me. You do not believe Me." Verse 47, "He who is of God hears the words of God." It always comes down to the words, always comes down to the words. These people who believed like many others that Jesus could be the prophet, could be the Messiah, was sent from God, was a teacher, was a miracle worker, all of that -- were still the children of Satan, the haters of the truth. And at the end of the ministry of Jesus, they're right there screaming, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" with everybody else.

And by the way, when He came into the city of Jerusalem in Passion Week, they had affirmed
Him as the Messiah, threw palm branches at His feet. And masses, tens of thousands of them had done this, but by the time you get to the upper room and true believers, there's. False faith is everywhere, very common and very dangerous.

So, as we come to this text, this is a very important portion of Scripture for us, and I want you to see two clear realities, just two. One, the benchmark of true discipleship. Two, the benefit of true discipleship. The benchmark and the benefit. Mental assent to Jesus, not enough, not enough. "The devils believe and tremble," James 2 says. They have orthodox theology. Mental assent is not enough. What is the benchmark? Go to verse 31. Here it is: "So Jesus was saying to those Jews - " Remember, whenever John uses Jews, he's talking about prominent leaders primarily, but it would also encompass those who followed them. "Was saying to those Jews who had believed Him -- " here's the benchmark, " -- if you continue in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine." What is the benchmark? Perseverance, or if you want another word: endurance, endurance. Perseverance, endurance. That's the issue.

How can you tell a true believer? Perseverance, endurance. That's the benchmark. If you continuein My Word." That simple statement ought to be underlined in everyone's Bible and everyone's mind. "If you continue in My Word." What does that mean? Obedience to everything He has said, a life pattern of obedience. That's why the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19, 20 is, "To go into all the world and teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." That's part and parcel of being saved.

What happened when you were saved is you confessed Jesus as what? As Lord, Jesus as Lord. That's
the great Christian confession. Jesus is Lord, kurios, I am doulos, His slave. He is my Lord, and that essentially defines what it means to be obedient. He is the Master. I'm the slave. He is the Sovereign. He is the Ruler. He gives the orders and the commands.

I respond in loving obedience. Now, that is the distinction that our Lord made on the Sermon on the Mount. Remembering how He ended that sermon in Matthew 7, He said, "Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, does them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and slammed against that house, and it didn't fall for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the floods came, the winds blew, slammed

The storm is judgment, and the house that falls is the house of the one who said but didn't do. It's not about profession. It's about continued loving obedience. This becomes clear through really all the gospel records, but listen to Matthew 12 and verse 50, "Whoever does the will of My Father -- " Jesus said, " -- whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother." That is another way of saying, "He has a relationship with me, whoever does the will of My Father." Same thing as what was in the Sermon on the Mount. That may not be easy to do that. Listen to chapter 10, verse 22, "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." Enduring not only the good times, but persecution, hatred,
even martyrdom. This marks a true believer. A true believer is marked by perseverance, by endurance. His faith does not fail. His faith does not fail. Matthew 24:13, "The one who endures to the end, he will be saved." The one who endures to the end.

Now, this is a major theme for John and it's most opened up for us in the upper room the night that Jesus met with His disciples to share the Passover. So turn to John 14 for just a minute because it's important to get this, and this is language you're very familiar with. We're just pulling it all together around this text, John 14, verse 15. "If you love me -- " this is not a request. This is a statement of fact. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." Down in verse 21, "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me, and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." Verse 24, "He who does not love Me, does not keep My words and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me." When you obey the Word of God, you are giving evidence of love that is the product of true regeneration.

Romans 5 says, "God has shed His love abroad in our hearts." Those that are genuine believers
are literally filled with love. The fruit of the Spirit is love and all its manifestation.

So love shows itself, first of all, in eager, willing, joyful obedience, even under duress, persecution, suffering, and facing death. In the fifteenth chapter of John there is the same statement made in different words. Verse 10, John 15:10, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love." How do we know the Son loved the Father? How do we know the Son loved the Father? The Son says, "You know I love the Father because I obeyed the Father, because I did what the Father commanded me to do. I did only what the Father commanded me to do."

As the Son demonstrates obedience and love to the Father, we demonstrate obedience and love to the Son. That's the pattern. That's how we demonstrate the genuineness of our conversion. Verse 14, "You're My friends if you do what I command you." By the way, this is what it means to abide. Go back to verse 7, "If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you." What does it mean to abide in Christ? It means to be in a true, saving union with Christ. How do you know that's a reality? Because you know His Word and you are lovingly and eagerly obedient to it. Not perfect. You fail. You sin. You stumble, but you hate the sin and you hate the stumbling. You're motivated by love to endure.

John can't let go of this, so in his first epistle, as he writes, he says this, chapter 2, verse 4, "I have come to know Him. The one who says I have come to know Him and does not keep His commandments is a liar." Wow. You say you know Him, but you don't keep His commandments, that's a lie. The truth is not in him. Pretty simple. "But whoever keeps his Word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this, we know that we are in Him." That's what it means to abide, sharing life in Him. "The one who says he abides in Him, ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked." And how did Christ walk? In obedience to the Father, and if you say you belong to Christ, then you walk in obedience to Christ as Christ walked in obedience to the Father.

So what is the mark of a true believer? It's not a profession. It's not some past event. It is a continuing loving obedience. Obedience out of love. You can't separate keeping commandments from love. They're all mingled in those passages in the upper room. John also is important. It says its important for us to acknowledge that part of obeying is obeying the truth as sound doctrine. So in 2 John 9, he says, "If anyone goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, he doesn't have God. The one who abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son." If you have an errant Christology, if you err regarding who Christ is, and a lot of people say, "I believe in Christ," but it's the wrong Christ. It's the wrong Christ, not the Biblical Christ. You don't know God either. Sound theology
and sound practice go together.

This is an urgent issue with the apostle John so much so that in his first epistle, if I can go back there for just a moment in chapter 3 and verse 24 he says it again. "The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him and he in Him." And then in chapter 5 he says it again. In chapter 5, verse 3, "This is the love of God that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome." So we are marked by our perseverance in loving obedience to the Word of God. That's how you know a true believer. That's how you know, and in the midst of persecution, persecution will not destroy his faith. Persecution will reveal the legitimacy of his faith, Peter says, and that will be the proof of his faith, which is a gift. You should pray for persecution. You should pray for difficulty. You should
pray for suffering if you have doubts about the legitimacy of your salvation. Pray for suffering. Pray for dire circumstances, and you will be given the greatest gift. If your faith survives, you'll know it's the real thing. So where there's no perseverance, there's no salvation.

So if you're asking yourself, "What about so-and-so? They don't come to church. They don't show an interest in the things of Christ -- pretty easy to answer the question. The benchmark is enduring faith, and that's a heavenly gift that cannot die because enduring faith, saving faith is a gift from God, Ephesians 2:8 and 9. That's why the devil tried to destroy Job's faith and couldn't do it. The devil tried to destroy Peter's faith and couldn't do it. The devil assaulted Paul and couldn't destroy his faith because saving faith cannot be destroyed. The kind of faith that Judas had collapsed just on the prospect that he wasn't going to get as much out of this deal as he thought he deserved.

So what is the benchmark then of true discipleship? It is perseverance and endurance in loving
obedience to the Word of God. Now, secondly, I want to talk for a few minutes about the benefit of true discipleship, the benefit. We talked about the benchmark. Here is the benefit, and the benefit is clear, and it's in one simple statement, which is then expandedin the conversation, but the statement is in verse 32. "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." Those are powerful concepts aren't they? You hear a lot abouttruth and freedom, truth and freedom. It seems like that's what people exist to find out, to find the truth and be free. Very popular, very pursued realities. Truth and freedom.
Nobody is looking for ignorance. Nobody is pursuing ignorance. Nobody is pursuing bondage.

You know any people who are looking for bondage? You know any people who are trying really
hard to get into prison and you know people who are trying to be stupid all their life and avoid information? No. People are looking for truth and freedom. The heart is driven in that direction. The unfortunate reality is they're looking in all the wrong places.

They want the truth that frees them from their confusion, their lack of wisdom, their struggles,
their troubles, their dissatisfactions, their unfulfilled dreams and ambitions. They want the truth that frees them from fear, fear of disease and death and the mystery of life and eternity. And the search goes on in every library and every university, in every schooland every classroom, every courtroom. And deep, deep down in the souls of men, the search goes on for truth and the freedom from the bondage of ignorance.

In 1883, there was born a Jewish German man by the name of Franz Kafka. If you've studied
philosophy or literature, European literature, you know about Franz Kafka. He was an existentialist.
He was also what we would call, I guess, a surrealist. He created an existential world of his own making, of his own musings, of his own realities that was surreal. It was disconnected from normal people's thinking so that when you read Kafka you feel like you're -- and he died in 1924, when surrealism as a view in itself was only in its insipient years. Now, almost everything in our world is a chase for what is surreal and fantasy world has trumped almost, in our time, reality.

But in his day being a surrealist was kind of a novel thing, and he wrote these stories and these books and portrayed this surreal world that was in some way, his answer to the confusion of life. Of course, Kafka was on a relentless search for truth, and my favorite thing that he wrote, I'll just give you the condensed look at it. A solitary stranger picking his way through rubble of a city that's been completely destroyed. Everywhere there is rubble, scorched earth, total disaster, death. He wanders around in this and finally finds a building, one solitary building standing. It's a very tall, cement apartment building.

So he goes in the door and he goes up the concrete stairs all the way to the top, anit's totally dark and he finally gets to the top floor, trying to find someone. He sees a long, dark hallway, and he goes down that because he can see a flickering light at the very end of the hallway. He comes to the flickering light at the end; he turns in and finds it's a little bathroom.

He walks into the little bathroom and there to his amazement is a man sitting, fishing in the bathtub, and the bathtub, he observes, is empty. The visitor says in Kafka's words, "You're not going to catch anything." And the defiant fisherman says, "I know," and he keeps on fishing. This is Kafka's view of higher education. Looking for what's not there while the world is being blown to bits, trying to find truth in all the wrong places. This would be 2 Timothy 3:7, "Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." That's humanity's futile effort, and eventually they want to include religion in their search, and, of course, that's where the Jews were. They thought they were coming
to the truth; they had come to the truth and knew the truth. The problem is that for unbelieving
people, even when the truth shows up, they reject it.

Romans 1:18 says, "It is characteristic of fallen people to suppress the truth in unrighteousness."
That's what they do. They suppress it. You can pick the university of your choice. Go there. Mingle among the tens of thousands of students who are searching for the truth and offer them the truth, and see how well you are received. Go to the philosophy department. Tell them you want to lecture on the truth, that you know the truth. You know the truth from top to bottom, side to side; you're here to reveal completely the truth. See how welcome you are. Talk about Jesus Christ and the truth. Talk about the Gospel and the truth. Talk about sin and judgment. Talk about righteousness and heaven. You will not be welcome because it is the nature of fallen man to suppress the truth even when it shows up, and it was true of the Jews.

But verse 32 says, here is the benefit of believing, true belief, true discipleship. "You will know the truth. You will know the truth." It's not so bold to say, "I know the truth." You will know the truth. Well, what truth is he talking about? Well, he's talking about spiritual truth, eternal truth, salvation truth. I love the phrase in Ephesians 4:21,

"Truth is in Jesus," Paul says. "Truth is in Jesus." That's the only place you're going to find it. That's the only place. If you don't look to Jesus for the truth, you will not find the truth that sets you free. Jesus is the truth, John 14:6. He said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." "The Holy Spirit is the source of truth," John 16:13 and 14. Jesus says, "I'm going to send the Spirit of truth, who will teach you about Me." "Scripture," John 17:17 "is truth." "Thy Word is truth." "Jesus is the truth." "The Holy Spirit is the truth." "The Scripture is the truth." And all of it represents the God of all truth.

So he's talking about spiritual truth, and to prove that they suppress it, even people who are exposed to it, who believe to some degree, all you have to go back to is verse 45, "Because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me." If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? "He who is of God hears the words of God. For this reason, you do not hear them because you are not of God." Only the people of God can hear and believe the truth. Everybody else suppresses it. This is the challenge we face.

John makes much of the truth as he wraps up, of course, his writings before the Book of Revelation. Second John he talks about the truth and knowing the truth and loving the truth and walking in the truth; and he says that in 2 John and 3 John. He made much of the truth. The truth is in Jesus. That's what our Lord is talking about. Salvation truth, kingdom truth, eternal truth. And he says, "This is the truth that will make you free, make you free."

Was there a context for that? Of course there was a context. They were part of a religious legalist system. You remember back in Matthew 11 how Jesus characterized that system, really in a very unforgettable way. He said this, "Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." What were they weary from and what were they heavy-laden with? Legalism. Religious legalism. "Take my yoke on you and learn from Me. I am gentle and humble in heart. You will find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy. My burden is light." They had put a burden, a pile of burdens on you you can't carry, you can't bear. Matthew 23, He describes the leaders of Israel as putting a burden on people, which they didn't help them carry and they couldn't carry it anyway.

In Matthew 23, He says, "You produce sons of hell," with your legal system. The Jews weren't free. They wouldn't admit that. They were in horrendous bondage to sin, false religion, but they don't see that. So verse 33, they answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say you will become free?"

Now, some folks have said, "Well, boy, that's selective memory. Don't they remember the bondage of their past?" Sure. They were in bondage to Egypt. They were in bondage to Babylon. They were in bondage to Medo-Persia. They were in bondage partially to the Greeks. They were in bondage at the time as this was going on to the Romans. But they're not talking about that. They're not talking about some kind of a political situation. They're saying, "We are spiritually free because we are Abraham's children." I think t hey associated bondage with a bad position, with a position of sin and a position of impending judgment. Spiritually, they didn't buy that for a minute. They didn't think they were lost.

In fact, Jesus describes them this way. "I didn't come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners." They were the righteous in their own minds. But the truth was, they were in horrendous bondage, but they wouldn't admit that. Go back to Luke 4. There's a really powerful illustration of this that happens in Nazareth. Most of you will remember it. Jesus goes back to Nazareth, his home town, and He teaches in the synagogue. He meanders after doing miracles in Galilee and they all are excited to have their hometown boy back after all that has transpired and everything they've heard about Him. As a visiting rabbi,

He is asked to speak, to read. So, verse 17 of Luke 4, the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, and this is Isaiah 61. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord." He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were on Him, and He began to say to them, "Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your ears."

That's a Messianic passage. They all knew it was speaking of Messiah. Messiah is the anointed One. He is the One anointed. So He anointed Me to preach the Gospel. Messiah will come and bring good news. Messiah comes to bring good news. Amazingly, the text says,

He will bring that good news to the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed. Okay, the poor, prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. Well, at first they were speaking very well of Him, and then He began to apply that. What obviously happened is He told them, "You are the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed." What was their response? Verse 28, "They were filled with rage. As they heard these things, they got up, and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of a hill in which their city had been built in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passed through their midst, He went on His way."

They tried to kill Jesus after His first sermon in Nazareth. They tried to throw Him off a cliff. Why? Because He said, "You are the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed, and you will not acknowledge it." It's the same as your ancestors. God couldn't heal any widows in this country, had to go to a widow in Baal's world. God couldn't do wonders among Jewish people in the past. He had to do a miracle for a border terrorist named Naaman from Syria. God's never been able to work with you legalistic self-righteous people because you will not admit you're the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed.

So that's exactly -- go back to John 8 -- that's exactly their attitude here. They're saying, "We're Abraham's descendants. We've never been enslaved to anyone. Why are you saying we will become free. We are free." They see themselves as free. They are not. So what kind of freedom is Jesus offering them? This is so important. What kind of freedom is He offering them? Go to verse 34, "He said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.'" Oh, now we see. Freedom from what? Slavery to sin.

They were not free. They were slaves to sin. How do you know they were slaves to sin? Because
the pattern of their life was to commit sin, present tense. You all continually commit sin, demonstrating that you're the slaves of sin. Their sin was religious sin. They had corrupt religion.

Our Lord is saying to them, the Gospel truth will give you spiritual freedom, which is freedom from slavery to sin, from sin's total power, total control, freedom from spiritual blindness, spiritual oppression, Satanic dominion, freedom from the fear of death, the fear of judgment, the prospect of eternal hell, freedom in the purest and truest sense. Galatians 5:1 says, "It is for freedom Christ has set us free." Boy, they just didn't want to buy into that. That infuriated them. I'm surprised that it took until verse 59 before they picked up the stones this time. They did the same thing in Nazareth, tried to throw Him off a cliff. Here, they tried to crush Him under stones. Why? Because they would not ascknowledge their sin.

This is where we come when we talk about true salvation. The true disciple, the real disciple comes to the Word of God, penitently, submissively embraces the Word of God, lovingly obeys the Word of God, it's theological truth, it's assessment of his own condition, and it's mandates and commandments. The false disciple want what Jesus offers without giving up any of his own carnal pleasures. The false disciple is unwilling to take the diagnosis of his own wretchedness that is necessary to true salvation. Our Lord then says something to them that was really shocking, verse 35, "The slave doesn't remain in the house forever. The son does remain forever."

They were thinking, "We are sons of Abraham. We are sons of Abraham. We're Abraham's seed.
We're the elect covenant people. We have the law, the prophets, the covenants. It's all ours. We belong to God because we belong to Abraham." This is blind pride. Jesus is indicting them as being sinners and not only that, but slaves of sin. They're not about to accept that. Then He takes it a step further and sys this shocking thing, "You are slaves, not sons." Now, He may have had on His mind the whole story of Abraham. Since this is talking about Abraham, He may have been talking the same way that Paul talks in Galatians 3 and 4. You remember Paul says there are two possibilities here. There is the possibility of Hagar and Ishmael. Remember the metaphor there? And there is the possibility or the reality of Abraham and Isaac.

Ishmael was a slave. Ishmael had no inheritance from Abraham. Ishmael and his mother, the
slave, sent away. Sarah and Isaac stay in the house. Isaac receives the inheritance. Jesus is saying to them, "You think you're Abraham's son, but if you are, you're Ishmael50:45 You're a slave, and you're not an heir. And the slave doesn't stay in the house forever. Only the son does, and you are slaves; not sons. You will be left out of God's inheritance."

The language here could not be stronger, and again, we understand why they reacted the way they did trying to kill Him. Listen to Matthew 8:11, "I say to you, many will come from East and West and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the sons of the kingdom, the Jews, will be cast out into the outer darkness in the place that will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." There are going to be people at the table with Abraham. It's not going to be you. They will be the sons of Abraham, by faith, Galatians 3. Sons of Abraham by faith.

There's some prophetic implications here as Israel is being set aside and set aside as a nation of slaves, Hagar and Ishmael-like. And Abraham's true children, his children by faith made up of Jew and Gentile are the heirs to God's possession. The heirs to God's possession are those who are sons or those who come to Christ that we learned in the first chapter, verse 12, "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." You become a child of God with true saving faith.

So what is the benefit? Freedom from the bondage of sin, freedom from slavery, freedom to become
a son and an heir. And he culminates it with this, "So if the Son makes you free, you will really be free," not the false freedom to which you claim. Total freedom from sin's deception, power, punishment, penalty, and presence, forever free, forever free. This is our Lord's message. "There will be no condemnation to those who are in Christ - " Romans 8 says " - because the Spirit of life in Christ has set us free."

Who is a true disciple then? A genuine follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who perseveres
in the faith, one who endures through blessing and suffering, faithful to the end and lovingly obedient. That's a true believer, a true disciple, and that soul is a son and not a slave. And that soul has been set free from sin's bondage to the freedom of complete forgiveness, complete forgiveness and the promise of eternal glory. Very important to know this and to proclaim it.

Father, we now ask that You would confirm to our hearts this truth and may it find a place in our conversation and in our witness and our testimony. May we realize that the whole world is engulfed in suppressing the truth and many would have an initial attraction to Jesus, but when confronted about the reality that, as our Lord said in the earlier passage, "You will die in your sins and where I go, you cannot come unless you repent and believe in me," -- they turn and flee. But make us faithful to speak the truth to remind them that that truth is the only thing that will set them free, really free to become sons and not slaves. Use us to that end we pray in the name of Christ.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Succinct Outline Concerning True Disciples of Jesus

Sermon Outline regarding the definitions, marks, costs, and blessings of discipleship.

Taken from Executable Outlines
 
You don't really need to hear your pastor preach this. The outline is so clear and
compelling that it should move any true Christian to repentance and action. 
 
I. THE DEFINITION OF A DISCIPLE

   A. THE WORD "DISCIPLE"...
      1. The word "disciple" literally means A LEARNER
      2. According to Vine's Expository Dictionary Of New Testament
         Words, it denotes "one who follows another's teaching"
      3. But a disciple was not only a learner, he was also AN ADHERENT
      4. For this reason disciples were spoken of as IMITATORS of their
         teachers.

   B. THE GOAL IN BEING A DISCIPLE...
      1. Stated by Jesus himself:  to be like the teacher - Lk 6:40
      2. To be Christ's disciple, then, is to strive to be like Him!
      3. According to the apostle Paul, this coincides with God's goal
         in the redemption of mankind, that they be conformed to the
         image of His Son - Ro 8:29

[Do you have a strong desire to follow Jesus and become like Him?
Unless you do, it cannot be said that you are truly His disciple!

There are also some "identifying marks" of discipleship given by Jesus
which can help us to further identify a true disciple of Jesus...]

II. THE MARKS OF A DISCIPLE

   A. A DISCIPLE IS "ONE WHO ABIDES IN JESUS' WORDS" - Jn 8:31
      1. This would imply being a diligent student of the teachings of
         Christ
      2. It also requires one to be a "doer" of the Word - Mt 7:21-27;
         Jm 1:21-25
      3. In view of this, a true disciple would not...
         a. Fail to study the Bible diligently
         b. Willingly refrain from opportunities to study with others
            (e.g., Bible classes, church services, gospel meetings).

   B. A DISCIPLE IS ALSO "ONE WHO LOVES THE BRETHREN" - Jn 13:34-35
      1. With a love patterned after the love of Jesus ("as I have
         loved you")
      2. With a love that is visible to the world ("by this all will
         know")
      3. Therefore, a true disciple would...
         a. Make every effort to get to know his brethren
         b. Take advantage of occasions to encourage and grow closer to
            them (e.g., attending services on Sunday and Wednesday
            nights)
      4. Remember, a disciple is one who wants to become like his
         teacher 
         a. Was Jesus willing to sacrifice time and effort for His
            brethren?
         b. Of course, and so will we... IF we are truly HIS disciples!

   C. A DISCIPLE IS "ONE WHO BEARS MUCH FRUIT" - Jn 15:8
      1. Notice the word "much" (also found in verse 5)
         a. Jesus is not talking about an occasional good deed
         b. But a lifestyle which prompts people to glorify God!
            - Mt 5:16
      2. This is so important, that failure to bear much fruit will
         result in being severed from Christ - Jn 15:1-2
      3. How can one be a disciple if he or she is cut off from Christ?

[The point should be clear:  to be a disciple of Jesus Christ means 
more that just a casual church member.  It requires COMMITMENT, 
especially in regards to:
  
                    The teachings of Christ 
                    The love of brethren 
                    Bearing fruit to the glory of God

The kind of commitment involved is seen further when we consider the 
"high cost" of discipleship demanded by Jesus in Lk 14:25-33...]

III. THE COST OF BEING A DISCIPLE

   A. JESUS MUST COME FIRST - Lk 14:26
      1. Before anyone else, including members of our own family 
         - Mt 10:34-37
      2. Even before one's own self - Lk 9:23-25

   B. WE MUST BE WILLING TO SUFFER FOR CHRIST - Lk 14:27
      1. Trying to live godly lives in an ungodly world, we may find
         that following Christ sometimes involves ridicule and
         persecution - 2Ti 3:12
      2. Even if we are blessed to escape such things, we must still be
         willing to expend time and effort in promoting the cause of
         Christ in positive ways

   C. PUTTING IT SIMPLY, WE MUST FORSAKE ALL TO FOLLOW CHRIST 
      - Lk 14:33
      1. In other words, Jesus must be KING and LORD of our lives
      2. Nothing can take precedent over Him and His Will for us

[This kind of "high cost" of discipleship demanded by Jesus caused 
many people to turn away from following Him.  But Jesus wasn't trying
to attract large crowds, He wanted disciples!

Is the COST worth it?  I believe so, for consider some of the REWARDS
of discipleship...]

IV. THE REWARDS OF BEING A DISCIPLE

   A. THERE IS THE PROMISE OF "FUTURE BLESSINGS"...
      1. We shall be saved from the wrath of God which is yet to come
         upon the world for its sins - Ro 5:9
      2. We can look forward with joyful anticipation of eternity with
         God, free from sorrow, pain and death - Re 21:1-8

   B. THERE ARE ALSO "PRESENT BLESSINGS"...
      1. Jesus offers a PEACE the world cannot give to calm the
         troubled heart - Jn 14:27
      2. His words inspire JOY to lift our spirits out of any
         depression - Jn 15:11
      3. He also offers to those who follow Him the ABIDING LOVE OF
         GOD, which can cast out fear - Jn 15:9; 1Jn 4:18
      4. And he makes it possible for us to be members of THE FAMILY OF
         GOD, which is able if need be to replace our physical family
         - Mk 10:28-30 
 
If you want to take some immediate action to change your life, and to become an 
activist Christian, desiring nothing more than that God's will be done on earth as
it is in heaven, consider purchasing my new book, God Called - He Needs Your Decision! 
Just click http://bit.ly/GodCalled 

Monday, June 09, 2014

What Will Be Required of You to Be Seen as a True Disciple?



I've been trying to find a serious theologian who has spoken on the issue of discipleship who believes that showing up in church after making a decision constitutes your being seen as a true disciple. J Vernon McGee, John MacArthur, Charles Spurgeon, and the list could go on and on. I'm reading or listening to their sermons and they all agree: Jesus required some pretty significant obedience and humility, not to mention being in the word, before he would bestow this description on a follower.

The video above goes briefly into the subject, but the book shown in the picture above takes on the issue in earnest. It is available on Amazon Kindle at http://bit.ly/GodCalled and will soon be out in paperback.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Sermon of the Week - Charles Spurgeon Isaiah 1:3 - To the Thoughtless

The Israelites were not very good at learning their lessons. Are you?


The ox knows its master,
    the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.”

What an indictment. Even the ox or the donkey gets it. They are thoughtful and aware of their master. They are quick to respond to their master's voice. 

In this sermon by non other than Charles Spurgeon we look at Isaiah 1:3. As is always the case with Spurgeon, you will be deeply touched by the message, and thrilled with the delivery.

http://www.sermonaudio.com/playpopup.asp?SID=111107190493

Friday, June 06, 2014

Best Father’s Day Present Ever

 

Bless your dad with a gift that may be remembered for a lifetime

My wife and kids have complained for many years that I am impossible to buy for. I suppose that is common for many dads, and I, personally, am prone to spontaneously purchase anything I really want, depriving them of many options. On the other hand I have been very clear that I will always be pleased with:
    •    Dark chocolate
    •    Books
    •    and Toys

You would think that would give them a good start, but they insist that there is no surprise when the choices are so limited. I must say in my defense, I really, really like dark chocolate, books, and toys. Therefore, surprise me with unique chocolates, books I’m not asking for but which you believe will knock my socks off, and toys that we can laugh about together.

My oldest daughter Christian and her husband Nathan got the memo. They had read a book that had been very meaningful to them, and they wanted to bless me with the inspirational and transformational content they had appreciated. So among my Christmas gifts in 2012 was a short volume from a gifted New York preacher who has become a major force for the church. The book was King’s Cross and the author was Tim Keller.

Through this masterfully crafted work I was able to chase away the last vestiges of sinful self indulgence that had plagued me during a few dark years of one thing after another. This same daughter had said that I was “like a Country Western song. Even my trusty old dog had died.”

That book moved me so much that my smoldering cinders were fanned into a raging fire for Jesus. Out of that change of heart and mind, my own book was born. The goal in writing that book was to admonish and encourage lukewarm or stuck Christians into full surrender to the will of Christ in their lives. God Called was just released in Kindle.

God Called - He Needs Your Decision! would be a perfect book for your dad this father’s day. At just over 100 pages, it was designed specifically for men, though as is usually the case, more women have read it at this point than men. 


It would also be a perfect companion piece as a set with Keller’s work, also available on Kindle or in print. What could be more important to your dad than to help him improve his walk with Jesus? What would be more important to the rest of the family or to the kingdom at large? Let us know in the comments how it turned out.

You will find God Called here  and King's Cross here



Sunday, June 01, 2014

Sermon of the Week - Edward Donnelly - Jesus Washes the Disciples Feet



STRONGLY Recommended Listen of the Week! From SermonAudio.com where you can find 1000's of sermons in every possible format.

"A sermon that has blessed our hearts this week. We strongly recommend the following to you:

You Ought to Do This • 2,600+
Pastor Edward Donnelly

Editor's Comment: This was a powerful sermon that needs to be heard by all. A sermon that will hopefully humble every church member's heart and bring a spirit of unity in humility."


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Beatitudes Are Woven Together Like a Tapestry



Each Beatitude is powerful standing alone, but together they are a wonder: Matt 5:3-12

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

In his introduction, Spurgeon points out that the character traits pointed to in the Beatitudes are placed in an order from the least to the greatest.  Then each attribute is accompanied by a specific blessing.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. The blessing in this case, as with all the others, is totally appropriate. The poor will be blessed with a very special inheritance, the Kingdom of Heaven.

But as the character traits ascend, there is not any greater blessing, but merely an appropriate one. In fact, the 8th blessing is the same as the first.

Then Spurgeon makes the point that each Beatitude opens the door to the next, and that each looks to the previous. For now, lets just look at the first one.

We will discuss Spurgeon's analysis of what "poor in spirit" means in detail later, but for now the basic description would be someone who realized their sinfulness. We are poor in spirit prior to coming to know Jesus, and then we see the gift of forgiveness He is offering. We repent and then mourn that we have been such an offense to the Lord. Then this process continues throughout my life as a Christ follower.

If I am poor in spirit and recognize it, then I will certainly repent. When I repent I should be deeply sorry and upset that I have sinned against God, and likely some individual, as well. Therefore I will mourn. And because God is gracious, He will comfort me in my time of dealing with my past sin.  The interconnection continues throughout the Beatitudes, and my new understanding gives me a sense of awe and wonder beyond any previous understanding of this sermon.

"The stones are laid one upon another in fair colors and polished after the similitude of a palace," Spurgeon explains poetically. He continues, "and yet each one is perfect within itself, and contains within itself a priceless and complete blessing."

Each of the blessings is in the present tense, which should give occasion for praise and thanksgiving. We are not told that our awareness of our sin, decision to repent, and sincere mourning will result in blessings sometime later or in Heaven. In each case the verse begins with "Blessed are." The use of "will" that follows doesn't change the timing of the blessing. Only in verse 11 are we promised future rewards in heaven because we have born up under persecution visited upon us because of Jesus.

So when I recognize on a continuing basis that I am still a wretched sinner, grieving my Holy Father in heaven, that fact alone results in my inheriting the kingdom of heaven. We know how much God hates sin and appreciates repentance.  The first words of the New Testament uttered by both John the Baptist and Jesus were "Repent."  He rewards our acquiescence with an incomprehensible reward.

Thus, each blessing that is promised is a perfect fit to the underlying character trait. If I am poor, I inherit. If I mourn, I am comforted. If I become humble I gain the whole earth. If I hunger after righteousness, I will be filled.  If I am merciful to others I obtain mercy from God and others.

But at the same time they are paradoxical, as is so much of what Jesus presents both here in this sermon, and throughout his ministry. Joy out of persecution? Blessedness out of poverty? Humility leading to power? Blessings from mourning and forgiving others.

In verses 10 - 12 we even see Jesus confirming twice that the hatred that men will show for the saints (true disciples) who possesses these traits will result in happiness. And the world will not understand.

Have you seen these interconnections between the Beatitudes before? Have you seen the power of the language which is equally offering a completely new ethic, but which at the same time is appropriate and paradoxical? As we delve more deeply into these verses, the power will become even more evident, and may unwrap for you some of the other mysteries of the Christian faith dealing with trust, abiding, and what it really means to carry your own cross.

This is the third posting in a series on the Beatitudes based on the sermons of Charles Spurgeon. The plan is to eventually compile this series into a book. If you would like to take advantage of this free look behind the scenes of the creation of a book, be sure to subscribe to the blog.  You may also want to go back and read the past two posts linked below.

The Beatitudes as You've Never Heard Them


Beatitudes Don't Tell Us How to Be Saved - They Describe the Saved

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Beatitudes as You've Never Heard Them

The Beatitudes are intended to change EVERYTHING


When Jesus gave His sermon on the mount, those who heard it were "amazed." They were amazed because the content of that sermon was more radical than anything uttered before or since. The life that Jesus offered to those on that hillside was beyond what anyone could have conceived. Today this sermon is counted as the most important ever spoken, and yet today's finest minds, inside and outside the church, still don't appear to get the potential for change that Jesus laid out for them.

Like most who have spent their life, or most of it, in church, I have heard many sermons on the Beatitudes. Maybe more than most, I have also read numerous books that tackled the hope and opportunity that these simple sayings portended. Many of these teachings were quite beautiful and helpful in forming my Christian life. If you take your Christianity seriously, you probably think you have a pretty good idea of what Jesus was talking about that day. I certainly felt that way until late 2013.

The story begins almost a decade ago. I started a small group for the purpose of reading the Bible straight through in great detail. Members came and went over the years. On some evenings I had only two others sharing their thoughts about the verses we were covering. But we kept moving along and in the Fall of 2013 we finished the Old Testament and moved on to the New Testament.

During almost all of those nine years I had relied on Thru the Bible by J. Vernon McGee as my primary reference. I love Dr. McGee, and had previously read the entire 5 years of Bible exposition he shares on radio even today, many decades after his passing.

As we got into the Beatitudes, however, I was unsettled by his analysis. I felt that others had done it better, and that he was far too eager to make these passages about end times rather than now. I did agree with him on one thing; many Christians have taken the Beatitudes to be the "10 Commandments" of the New Testament, and have missed out entirely on the blessing of grace that Jesus came to proclaim.

In any case, I started doing an internet study on the Beatitudes. In the course of this study I found the most amazing sermons I have ever heard preached. The content was stimulating at every level, from visceral to intellectual, and from emotional to practical. But as a special additional blessing, the writing was just beautiful. I described it to friends as like listening to a picture. I was so amazed that I listened to all eight sermons four times. It may not surprise you to hear that these sermons were the work of Charles Spurgeon.

Of course, they didn't have recording equipment in the 1860's, so we don't have his voice. However, the sermons were transcribed at the time, and a reader has read these sermons very beautifully on YouTube videos available at http://bit.ly/Beatitudes1

I encourage you to go listen to the Spurgeon sermons first hand. In addition, for some time I have been feeling led  to write a modern version of these sermons as a small book so that I might share the wealth of Spurgeon's fabulous interpretation of Jesus' words. As with my last book, I am going to write this new book on this blog, and when completed make it into a final manuscript available to buy. Please subscribe to the blog if you want to be kept updated on each new chapter.

In the meantime, please consider reading my just released book God Called - He Needs Your Decision! which is available on Amazon,
and as you read this, may also be available in all the other normal channels. You can read the introduction above or you can see some of the reviews here.

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The first chapter of The Beatitudes as You've Never Heard Them, begins here.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Beatitudes Don't Tell Us How to Be Saved - They Describe the Saved



Part 1 - Charles Spurgeon on the Beatitudes

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,  and he began to teach them.
Matthew 5:1-2 

As the first of the sermons opens, Spurgeon reminds us that the Sermon on the Mount is being delivered by the person, Jesus, who best knows who are blessed and who are cursed. The prophets before Him like Isaiah and Jeremiah, had heard from God and reported to the Jews about certain peoples and cities that were blessed or cursed. In the New Testament we are going to hear from the Son of God just what a blessed person should be doing. He will answer the question: How will you know a Christian when you see one?

Before we can get to those descriptions however, it is critical to warn against seeing these seven points of light as the things you must do to be saved. There is only one way to be saved, and that is through making a decision to accept the free gift of salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Your part in this is only the repenting of your past sins and the decision to follow a new way of life; to put your trust and faith in Jesus, not in the world. You can't work your way into heaven, even if you were to spend the rest of your life trying to live out the beatitudes as best you knew how.

The Beatitudes are not a set of works you need to do after salvation to make God happy. God wants to make you happy. He knows that when you worship Him or do as He says that you will be Blessed (Happy). The Beatitudes are a prescription to a sick human soul as to how you will be blessed (happy and joyful) when you abide in Jesus and are instructed by the Holy Spirit. Those who do exhibit the characteristics of the Beatitudes will also exhibit Christ. "You will know them by their fruits."

The other night in a small group Bible study I attend, the subject turned to pleasing and displeasing God. Many agreed that they commonly felt that they "needed" to spend more time in the Bible, praying, praising, or doing good deeds in order to please God. These mature Christians, including yours truly, knew better, but still had difficulty with the ideas that our love of God should result in doing that which pleases Him, not pressure or a sense of obligation or to meet His "expectations."

Certainly God desires us to obey Him, be intimate with Him, and love Him, but He isn't keeping a checklist of your daily Christian habits to determine how much He is going to bless you, or to determine if you are saved. He already knows your heart on the latter matter. And your blessings flow consequentially out of your fruitfulness.

The opposite issue was more difficult. When we sin, we clearly grieve the heart of the Father, regardless of the fact that the sin is already covered by the blood of Jesus. But once again, whether or not we repent won't have anything to do with our ticket into eternity with Jesus. Our repenting will, however, bless us immeasurably. And to the extent that we sin, there may and likely will be some negative consequences growing out of that sin. God doesn't need to strike you with lightening, give you a disease, or mess up your life. Those consequences are built in to the act.

Jesus prepares to deliver the Sermon on the Mount


Spurgeon sets the stage for the delivery of the Sermon on the Mount. He tells us that Jesus "beheld the multitude," and that this was the perfect time to give such a sermon. Spurgeon says that our hearts should be moved to pity when considering the multitude, just as Jesus was when crying over Jerusalem. This crowd, like the crowd around you on any given day, is much to be pitied. For they are damned to an eternity without God, even as they are currently damned to life on earth without Him as Master.

Do you pity the crowd or stand in judgement of the crowd? If they are not saved they have no expectation of understanding the gravity of their actions. Therefore we should not judge them. But we should be sorrowful about their condition, as we would for a little girl lost in a supermarket looking for her mom.

The sermon was likely being given to a chosen group of disciples, not the entire multitude, though fair minded individuals could come to different conclusions on this. Many of the multitude who would later hear what Jesus said from the disciples, were a long way from being saved. But even this early use of the word disciples may be better understood as students or learners, rather than as those having made a decision to be true disciples of Jesus. Later we will see that some of the multitude and some of the disciples fell away.

The opening word of the sermon is blessed or happy. Spurgeon points to the end of the Old Testament and the final words being about cursings.

 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.(emphasis added)

Malachi 4:5-6


Now in the New Testament, Jesus is teaching, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel." Mark 1:15b (King James). And the gospel He says we should believe is about salvation and blessing: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:17

So we have nine Beatitudes, nine ways that we can be assured of being blessed, and we know that Jesus desires that we be blessed. It is His mission, because He loves us. 

I think we often lose sight of this idea that God said from Genesis forward that He wants His people to have the best possible life. The way to that best is through obedience. We pray a prayer of thanks after we are blessed, but we should be expectant that our prayers will be answered, our needs filled, and our days blessed if we are obedient.

The first seven of the Beatitudes are about character, the kind of character that will grow like ripe fruit on the vine of our faithfulness. The last two are a benediction that deals with blessings that will arise when the excellent character of the Christ followers who have just been described in the first seven has "provoked the hostility of the wicked." Many will feel threatened if you actually look and act the way the Beatitudes describe. Some of those will revile you, persecute you, and worse. But, paradoxically, you will be blessed through and because of your persecution.

The seven Beatitudes describe a person of perfect character, and each of these is remarkable by itself. If Jesus had only come to tell His followers to be peacemakers, that would have been revolutionary. But there was to be so much more that would upset the social order of the day, not just among the pagans, but even among the Jews. As revolutionary as these seven ideals were then, they still amaze us today...or should.




Are you amazed by the Beatitudes? Possibly you appreciate them, but are not amazed. Maybe you have been taught that the poor refers to poor people, and that mourning is referring to a time when you've lost a loved one. Maybe your thinking that peacemakers are those who try to broker peace in the family or at work. I think you will be amazed to hear what Spurgeon says about these things. 
 
Spurgeon insists that we take the Beatitudes as a whole, however. He describes them as a ladder of light, where each step on the ladder requires having stepped already on the previous rung. He sees them as ascending; each one rising above the other. Going from being poor in spirit to being pure in heart would seem to be a very large leap without steps in between.

He also points out that while the character aspects are moving ever upward, the requirement for humility and sacrifice becomes greater. So just at a moment when the Christian might be feeling proud of his own meekness, he is faced with the reality that this pride must be put under the blood. Rather their self esteem is put aside, reduced, eliminated enough to take on the humblest tasks. We must die to self in order to truly love others.

Jesus showed this so memorably when He washed the feet of the disciples. This was a job for a slave, not a leader, a rabbi, a prophet, a king. We commonly assume that our position in life through titles, accomplishments, wealth, status, or merely having gotten to a certain age, bestows us with certain entitlements. We shouldn't need to do this lowly task any longer, and others should look up to us and be willing to serve. Jesus in His actions and in this sermon throw out that canard.

Spurgeon goes on to explain that each of the Beatitudes depends on the previous ones. This was one of the biggest eye-openers for me. We will address that in the next post.  

Again, please subscribe to this blog if you would like to be alerted to the next post in the series or of other posts on related subjects.

You may wish to go back to an earlier post that served as in introduction to this series:

The Beatitudes as You've Never Heard Them


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