PREPARE FOR THE END OF THE WORLD!

end-of-the-world

Jesus tells us how to prepare for the end of the world. It may not be what you think. 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Matthew Part 86

Matthew #86.  Matthew 24:36-51

 Among followers of Jesus, these may be some of his most-ignored words. You can hardly swing a stick in an Evangelical church without hitting two or three people (at least) who are “into the end times.” Some remarkable things have happened during the past fifty years or so, and many people try and fit those events into some sort of timeline for the end of the world. They pore over passages from Daniel and Revelation, and also study some of the things that Jesus says, here at the end of Matthew. From these obscure, and difficult-to-understand passages, they build a scenario that will indicate to them when the world will end.

It’s a tempting hobby. In fact, it is often fascinating and exciting. I think the best of it is that it gives people hope, and helps them to see that God is still active in human history. But there is a downside too. Some people may become disillusioned, and perhaps even lose faith, when the world doesn’t end on their timetable. Their main faith is not in Jesus Christ, the Person, but rather in their theoretical constructions of the end times. And even more common, I think, is that “studying the end times” becomes a way to avoid really living as a Jesus-follower in everyday life. It gratifies a sense of religious duty (“I’m studying the Bible!”) without challenging anyone to actual obedience to Jesus at any specific point. Years ago, someone left our church because I (as the pastor) did not have the same specific view of end-times as he did. I think he was a good guy, but that is no reason to break fellowship. I wonder sometimes if he would leave a church that agreed with him on end times, but taught that sex outside of marriage is not sinful.

My point is, “end times” theology is very sketchy, and neither Jesus nor the apostles define it as closely as many people do today. How can I say that? Because Jesus said it! Just in case you didn’t open your Bible for this one, here it is:

36“Now concerning that day and hour no one knows — neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son — except the Father only. (Matt 24:36, HCSB)

Unless you are God the Father (and trust me, you’re not), you don’t have a clue when the end of the world will be. The entire section of verses 36-44 is Jesus belaboring that exact point. He says it will be like the days of Noah. God told Noah the flood was coming. Jesus has told us that He will return. Noah prepared for the flood, following God’s instructions, but he did not know when it would be, until the very moment when God told him to get on the ark. The other people had no awareness of the coming of the flood until it happened. Jesus says “so this is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be (verse 39).” He describes people going about their everyday lives until the very moment he returns. In verse 42 he says: “Therefore, be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.” In case we somehow missed the point, Jesus says it again in verse 44: “This is why you also must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Some people may try to find wiggle-room. They might say, “Jesus says we won’t know the exact day, or the exact hour of the day. But we could still find out the year, or possibly even the month.” I say: Nonsense! In the first place, just back up and read the passage for what it is. His main point is quite obvious: You are not going to be able to figure out, when he will return. If you were to say, “We can’t figure out the exact day, but we can know the year, (or even the decade),” it overturns the entire point that Jesus is making here.

Let’s put this to bed once and for all. The Greek word used for “day” is hemera. It can mean a literal 24 hour day, of course. But it is also used figuratively to mean “time period.” In Romans 3:13, Paul instructs us to “walk in the day.” Obviously he doesn’t mean a specific, literal day. The New Testament uses the word for the “Day of the Lord” and for the “day of God’s wrath,” which are obviously time periods, not literal 24 hour days. Zechariah says Elizabeth is far along in “days” (meaning years; Luke 1:18). Jesus, in Luke 17:28, refers to the “days of Lot.” Hebrews 5:7 uses the word to talk about the whole earthly life of Jesus. So when Jesus says we won’t know the day, He is using the word figuratively. He is saying, you won’t know when it will be.

The Greek for “hour” is similar – it can be either literal or figurative. In Matthew 10:19, Jesus tells us that when we are persecuted, we don’t have to worry about what we will say “in that hour.” He doesn’t mean that his followers will only suffer sixty minutes of persecution. He means “when the time comes.” In Mark 14:35, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that the “hour” of his suffering might pass from him.  He didn’t mean he would only suffer for sixty minutes – in fact the suffering of his crucifixion, and the beatings that went before it, was much longer than that.

Folks, I don’t know how to be more clear than Jesus. You cannot know when he will return. He says so, three times in eight verses. It is a waste of time, and a diversion of your spiritual energy, to try and build a timeline for the end of the world, or to try and figure out which current events are represented in apocalyptic prophecy. It takes you away from the important, everyday challenges of following Jesus in real life.

Even so, there is something you should do about the end times. The fact that Jesus is returning, and the fact that we don’t know when, should lead us to live a certain way.

Two times in the verses, Jesus tells us to be ready.

Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming (Matt 24:42 HCSB).

 This is why you also must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matt 24:44, HCSB)

In verses 45-51, Jesus tells us what it means to be alert, and to be ready. He uses an analogy that would have been familiar to his disciples, but maybe not so much for us: a slave entrusted with great responsibility by his master. Slavery at the time of Jesus was not exactly like the slavery of the 19th century in America, or European slavery of the 18th century, or earlier. In the ancient Roman world, it is true, there were some type of slaves who were severely oppressed, and given no hope. Those were usually either criminals who were enslaved as punishment, or enemies captured in war and enslaved (armies in those days generally either killed their enemies, or enslaved them. There were no “prisoners of war”).

However, unlike 19th century America, there was no major industry (like producing sugar, or cotton) that depended heavily upon the work of slaves. Instead the majority of slaves in Jesus’ time were people who served their masters with a great deal of personal freedom. Many of them, in fact, had sold themselves into slavery for a period of time in order to pay debts, and had hope of obtaining freedom. Rather than what we normally think of when we hear the word “slavery,” it was more like indentured servitude. Now, I am not saying slavery was wonderful back then, but it probably wasn’t as bad for most slaves in Biblical times, as it was for those who worked on American cotton plantations in the 1800s.

Often times, a wealthy man had a slave who served as “director of operations” for his business and household. That slave could arrange his day as best as he saw fit, as long as he was diligent about his master’s business. He could conduct business transactions in the name of his master, and generally look after his master’s affairs. Such a slave was often in charge of other slaves (such as those who cleaned the master’s house, or transported his goods and so on). He had a respectable position of responsibility, and was often well rewarded for it.

If such a slave abused his position, however, he did not have the rights of a free citizen. His master would be fully justified in selling him as a galley-slave, or to the salt mines, where existence was miserable, and life was short.

Maybe another way to summarize Jesus’ words are this: “You never know when I will return. So live each day as if it will be today. Live in such a way that you will not be ashamed or afraid if I should return at this very moment.”

What does that mean, practically? Well, like the “operations manager,” Jesus has given all of us certain responsibilities. Some of those responsibilities are the same for all Jesus-followers. It starts with receiving His grace through repentance and trust, not as a result of anything we ourselves have done, or could do. Then, we are to keep on learning more of what he has said through the Bible, and learn to obey him. We are supposed to have close fellowship with other believers, and live out our faith in the context of Christian community and service.  We are also supposed to share God’s truth and His love with those that God has put into our lives. All of these are things that should become lifetime practices for everyone who calls themselves Christians. That’s how you prepare for the end of the world.

It might be easy to get caught up into thinking, “But should I take this job, or that one? Should I go on the mission field, or serve by staying here, and supporting missionaries through prayer and giving? Should I go to college? If so, which one?” Sometimes, those specific questions can be unnecessarily distracting. I think if we focus on what I just said: Trust, Obedience, Learning, Christian community and Christian service; all the other things will fall into place. I think that is the point Jesus is making. Don’t get distracted. Keep to the main things, remain faithful.

What if we do all these things, and yet we die before Jesus returns? Practically speaking, for us, the day of our death is essentially the same as the day of Jesus’ returning. I don’t mean Jesus won’t come back one day, and bring about the end of the world as we know it. I just mean that my own death brings about basically the same result, for me, as the day of His return. For my lifetime, and at that moment (either my death, or his return) have I been faithfully going about his business? That’s the question for all of us. That’s how we determine if we are ready for the end of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WAR AND HOPE

Temple _Destruction

The words of Jesus in this passage are intended to help us stand steadfast in trouble, they are intended to give us hope. Even in the middle of great tribulation we can have hope, knowing that God is in charge, that he cares about us, and has not forgotten us. Above all, Jesus’ promise to return again and make all things right, is something to give us hope and peace. The fact that he is already been right about some of the things he prophesied should encourage us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Matthew Part 85

Matthew #85. Matthew 24:15-34

In the very first part of this chapter, Jesus told his disciples that the temple was going to be destroyed, while some of “this present generation” were still alive. Certainly, the apostle John lived to see it happen, and survived even twenty years longer, after the event.

I also mentioned the fact that in this section of Scripture Jesus appears to be jumbling together both the destruction of Jerusalem, and what we call “the end of the world.” When we get to our text for next time, it will become clear that Jesus, remaining in complete dependence upon the Father, was not told by the Father when the end of the world would come (24:36). However, it is also clear (from verse 34) that Jesus himself did know that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was not going to be at the same time as the end of the world. Though he talks about the details of the two things together, when we examine the text closely, it is obvious that he knows that they are two different sets of events.

In our passage today, it is very helpful to understand some in-depth background. Stick with me through that, and I think you’ll find greater understanding and encouragement from these scriptures.

Much of what we know of the Jewish-Roman war of 66-73 A.D. comes from the Jewish-Born man, Titus Flavius Josephus. Josephus was a Jewish General in Galilee, who fought against the Romans in the war of 66-73 A.D.. He was captured in 67 by the Romans, after a six-week siege of the town of Jotopata, where he led the resistance. He then ingratiated himself with the Romans by claiming that it was prophesied that Vespasian, the Roman general who was leading the war in Palestine, would become Emperor. He was made the slave of Vespasian, and later Vespasian’s son Titus, and served as a translator for the remainder of the war. Vespasian did, in fact, become Emperor as Josephus predicted, in the year 69, and he granted Josephus his freedom. Josephus continued to serve the Romans, taking on Vespasian’s family name, Flavius. He became a historian, writing a very large volume about the Jewish wars, and also another volume of ancient Jewish history. I will share more from Josephus’ writings in a little while.

For now, let’s turn to our text. All throughout this passage, Jesus is using ideas and images that come from the book of Daniel, chapters 9, 11, and 12. Daniel, living in the Persian Empire, prophesied about the future tribulations of the Jewish people. Daniel 12:1 says:

1At that time Michael the great prince who stands watch over your people will rise up. There will be a time of distress such as never has occurred since nations came into being until that time. But at that time all your people who are found written in the book will escape. (Dan 12:1, HCSB)

This sounds a lot like what Jesus is saying in our passage today:

21For at that time there will be great tribulation, the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again! 22Unless those days were limited, no one would survive. But those days will be limited because of the elect. (Matt 24:21-22, HCSB)

In verse 15, Jesus says:

15“So when you see the abomination that causes desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand), 16“then those in Judea must flee to the mountains! (Matt 24:15-16, HCSB)

The first time I read this, I was about thirteen years old, and I did not understand, and that bothered me. I think I comprehend a bit more today, so let me help you. Here’s what Daniel says in the prophecies to which Jesus is referring:

31His forces will rise up and desecrate the temple fortress. They will abolish the daily sacrifice and set up the abomination of desolation. (Dan 11:31, HCSB)

 27He will make a firm covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the temple until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator.” (Dan 9:27, HCSB)

The Jewish people at the time of Jesus generally felt that Daniel’s prophecies had already been fulfilled. About 200 years prior, when the Jews were under Greek/Seleucid rule, the Greek leader Antiochus Epiphanes entered the temple and built a statue there. This desecrated the temple, making it unclean, and it was an abomination to all the Jewish people. It was the year 167 B.C. This led to the Maccabean rebellion, which led to a brief period of Jewish independence (See my first message on the book of Matthew for more background).

Jesus did not say, “Let the reader understand.” That was Matthew’s insertion. He wanted his readers to realize that Jesus was saying that Daniel’s prophecy had not yet been fulfilled.

The desecration of the temple in 167 B.C. may have been a partial fulfillment, but Matthew wants his readers to understand that something like those events was going to happen again. In fact, the Jewish war with the Romans of 66-73 A.D. looked a lot more like a fulfillment of Daniel than the events of 167 B.C., when Antiochus desecrated the temple.

In July of A.D. 70, the Roman general Titus set fire to the temple, slaughtered those within it, and had the Roman standards brought into the Most Holy Place. The Roman standards were poles with various decorations on them. The kind most likely brought into the temple sanctuary would have had a square flag, hanging from a crossbar near the top of the pole. Stitched on the flag would be the name of the unit and probably an image of a god, or perhaps even the Emperor (who was considered a god). It might also have had a carved image of the Roman Eagle at the top of the pole. These sorts of Roman standards were considered to be idolatrous by the Jews, and by bringing them into the Most Holy Place, Titus desecrated the temple, much as Antiochus Epiphanes did 237 years before him.

Therefore, to unwind these words of Jesus, and the parenthetical comment of Matthew, it is something like this: “When you see the Roman legions marching, carrying the standards of the Emperor, flee!” I think that the Jewish people at the time would have understood these things much more easily than us.

Later, Jesus says:

19Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! 20Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21For at that time there will be great tribulation, the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again! 22Unless those days were limited, no one would survive. But those days will be limited because of the elect. (Matt 24:19-22, HCSB)

You might think that Jesus has begun talking about the end of the world again, but I don’t think so. First, he encouraged his followers to pray that it wouldn’t happen in winter. That doesn’t make sense for the end of the world: the weather really won’t matter. But in 1st Century Israel, winter rains made most roads impassible with mud, and cold could kill those forced to camp outside with no shelter. Perhaps many people did pray, because, in fact, the worst part of the war was in spring, and the temple was not desecrated until July, and not fully destroyed until after that.

Historian Josephus, although somewhat familiar with the life of Jesus of Nazareth, was not a Christian; Christianity remained illegal in the Roman empire during his lifetime. Even so, the way he describes the war sounds very much like what Jesus predicted. Jesus said, “Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers!”

In a section about the siege engines used by the Romans against him in Jotopata, Josephus writes (warning: these words contain matter-of-fact graphic violence):

And any one may learn the force of the engines by what happened this very night; for as one of those that stood round about Josephus was near the wall, his head was carried away by such a stone, and his skull was flung as far as three furlongs. In the day time also, a woman with child had her belly so violently struck, as she was just come out of her house, that the infant was carried to the distance of half a furlong, so great was the force of that engine. (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews. Book 3, chapter 7, paragraph 23).

Josephus describes many such terrible and heart-wrenching events. It was a brutal, horrific conflict. When Jerusalem was besieged, people became lawless, and many took food and other things from mothers and babies, and did violence to them. In fact, some historians have described the Jewish-Roman War as the worst massacre of ancient times. Jesus is not wrong to call it a “great tribulation.”

Josephus also describes the kinds of natural disturbances that Jesus mentions:

There broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming. (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 4, chapter 4, paragraph five)

Some of the language that Jesus uses in our passage today is probably exaggerated imagery (in other words, he did not mean everything literally), but given the writings of Josephus, I think it is worth noting that Jesus predicted a horrific, unbelievable tribulation, and that is exactly what happened.

In verses 23-30 it seems clear that Jesus turns to talking about the end of the world. In fact, he is warning his disciples not to confuse the coming turmoil in Israel with his own return at the end of the world. This is the second time in the same discussion that Jesus has warned us not to be taken in by false prophets and deceivers who claim that the end of the world has come, or who claim to be Jesus himself, returned for his people. He makes it clear that when he comes back again, no one can miss it:

27For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matt 24:27, HCSB)

In verse 32, he may be returning to the discussion about the coming destruction of the nation of Israel. The fig tree is a useful analogy: just as we can tell the season from looking at the trees, those who hear him should be able to recognize the signs that these things are about to take place. For my part, I would think that as soon as I heard of the Jewish rebellion that led to the war, it would seem to me a sign that Jerusalem would soon be destroyed.

Verse 34 clearly refers back to the first part of the discussion, about the coming tribulation to the Jewish nation. This is clear both from what Jesus said about his own return (it will be unmistakable) and also what he says later on in verse 36 when he insists that the Father has not revealed the day or the hour to him. If the Father hasn’t told him when the end of the world is, Jesus certainly can’t claim to know it will happen before the present generation passes away. Therefore that comment must refer to the events of verses 15-22.  The short discussion from verse 32-33 is a warning not to be mistaken about the coming of Jesus.

Even though much of our passage today is concerned with events that have already occurred, I think we can learn a great deal from it, and be encouraged by it.

First, as I said last time, this is very good evidence that Jesus is reliable when he speaks prophetically. Since he also prophesied that he would return, and that we would recognize his return, I think we can bank on that, and look forward to it. Though there may be difficult times we have to endure, we can trust his promise to deliver us, and to bring us into his eternal kingdom.

A second thing gets my attention from this text. Jesus told his followers to pray that these events did not happen in winter. As it turns out, they did not happen in winter. I can’t help wondering if many Jesus-followers did, in fact pray, and so influenced the events to happen in summer. It encourages me to believe in the power of prayer.

Another thing I get from the text is this: If we find ourselves in the middle of trouble and tribulation, it isn’t wrong to try and get out of it. We may not be able to escape it; it may not be God’s will for us to escape it. Even so, it isn’t wrong to try (as long as it does not involve sinning).

The analogy of the fig tree is also helpful for me. As we will see next time, it is absolutely pointless to try and build a timeline for the end of the world. Even so, verses 32 and 33 show us that it is possible to recognize the “signs of the times.” In other words, we can look at history, and culture, and current events, and evaluate them with wisdom.

Overall, the words of Jesus here are not intended to scare us. They are intended to help us stand steadfast in trouble, they are intended to give us hope. Certainly, many Jesus-followers left Jerusalem before all this took place. They escaped this terrible tribulation. And even in the middle of great tribulation we can have hope, knowing that God is in charge, that he cares about us, and has not forgotten us. Above all, Jesus’ promise to return again and make all things right, is something to give us hope and peace. The fact that he is already been right about some of the things he prophesied should encourage us.

Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you about all of this right now.

 

THE ONCE AND FUTURE PROPHECY

destruction of Jerusalem

Our passage today contains a remarkable feature: a specific prophecy which we know was fulfilled as Jesus predicted. Read on to learn how we know, and what it means for us today.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Matthew Part 84
Matthew #84  Matthew 24:1-14

Our passage today contains a remarkable feature: a specific prophecy which we know was fulfilled as Jesus predicted. Jesus tells his disciples that the temple will be destroyed, even while some of those alive at the time (“this generation”) are still living. In fact, between 35 and 40 years after Jesus spoke these words, the Jewish nation rebelled, and the Romans responded brutally, utterly destroying the temple in 70 A.D., slaughtering thousands, and sending a large number of the remaining Jewish people into exile in other countries. Some of you have heard about the Jewish Battle of Masada: that took place shortly after 70 A.D., and was part of the same brutal Roman response to the Jewish rebellion.

So Jesus predicts a specific event within a specific timeframe, and we know that that event did indeed occur within that timeframe. This is just one of hundreds of reasons we can trust that the Bible is reliable, and that the words of Jesus are true.

Perhaps you know someone who is skeptical about this. I would like to spend a little time responding to such skepticism, because it speaks to the reliability of the Bible and therefore, the assurance of our faith. A skeptic might say: “Someone just went back and put in this prophecy after the temple had already been destroyed. Or perhaps, Matthew didn’t even write this until after the temple was destroyed.”

First, let me say that the skeptic starts with absolutely no evidence in support of either idea. The only reason to hold the opinion that the book of Matthew was either changed, or written after the destruction of the Temple, is because the skeptic has already decided she doesn’t believe in miracles like predictive prophecy. In other words, with regards to this subject, skepticism is a matter of belief, not evidence.

Let me explain further, starting with the first objection: the idea that the book of Matthew was edited later on. We have many hundreds of ancient copies, and partial copies, of the book of Matthew. They are all virtually exactly the same. In other words, there is no evidence whatsoever that someone went back and “edited” Matthew’s gospel, or indeed, any part of the New Testament. No “early copy” of Matthew exists; all of the copies are the same. Thus, there is absolutely no evidence that what Matthew wrote was changed in any way, at any point in history.

Now, let’s consider the second idea: Was the book of Matthew written after the destruction of the temple? New Testament authors did not provide dates on their manuscripts; I often wish they had. In the absence of exact dates, we have to take what we know of history, and compare it to what is written, and then speculate about whether it was written before or after a particular historical event. In the case of Matthew, we find that in many, many places, he writes about issues that would have been either unimportant, or would require more explanation, after the destruction of the Temple. Here are just a few:

23So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23-24, HCSB)

The “altar” in this case, is the altar in the temple. If the temple was already destroyed, it would have been strange for Matthew to include these words of Jesus; certainly he should have offered some explanation. After 70 A.D. it would not be safe for him to assume that his readers knew what he was talking about.

Here is another, one which we considered quite recently:

16“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever takes an oath by the sanctuary, it means nothing. But whoever takes an oath by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by his oath.’ 17Blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that sanctified the gold? 18Also, ‘Whoever takes an oath by the altar, it means nothing. But whoever takes an oath by the gift that is on it is bound by his oath.’ 19Blind people! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20Therefore, the one who takes an oath by the altar takes an oath by it and by everything on it. 21The one who takes an oath by the sanctuary takes an oath by it and by Him who dwells in it. 22And the one who takes an oath by heaven takes an oath by God’s throne and by Him who sits on it. (Matt 23:16-22, HCSB)

Again, if the temple had already been destroyed, it is surprising that Matthew would have included these words without explaining them. There are, of course, principles here that apply to all generations. Even so, if the temple had been destroyed before he wrote this, it is strange that Matthew neither mentioned it, nor explained the practice in order to make the principle more clear. Now consider this one:

4For God said: Honor your father and your mother; and, The one who speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death. 5But you say, ‘Whoever tells his father or mother, “Whatever benefit you might have received from me is a gift committed to the temple” — 6he does not have to honor his father.’ In this way, you have revoked God’s word because of your tradition. (Matt 15:3-6, HCSB)

Again, no comment about the status of the temple, and no explanation of the practice in question. If Matthew wrote after 70 A.D., he would have been writing primarily for Gentiles who would not have understood these sorts of things. As it is, the entire book of Matthew reads as if it was written for Jews, or at the very least, people very familiar with Jewish culture and practices, including those that involved the temple in Jerusalem.

There are several others, however, I will include just this one more:

24When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the double-drachma tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the double-drachma tax? ” 25“Yes,” he said. When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon? Who do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes from? From their sons or from strangers? ” 26“From strangers,” he said. “Then the sons are free,” Jesus told him. 27“But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for Me and you.” (Matt 17:24-27, HCSB)

After 70 A.D. (when the temple was destroyed), the Romans taxed their subjects to maintain the temple of Jupiter, in Rome. If that was happening at the time Matthew wrote, he surely would have made some sort of comment, or explained the situation further.

We know that the book of John was written about 20 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. John explains many things to his readers about Jewish customs; Matthew offers no such explanations. All of this is powerful evidence that Matthew wrote before the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.. The evidence against that conclusion is merely the baseless belief of someone who does not want to accept the supernatural. In other words, nothing credible suggests that Matthew wrote his book after this prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled.

There’s another important thought. Jesus seems to be talking both about the destruction of the temple, and of the nation of Israel, in 70 A.D., and also the end of time. If Matthew wrote all this after the destruction of the Temple, he would have known that the other things mentioned by Jesus were not fulfilled at the same time, and, if he was writing after the fact, trying to make it look like Jesus prophesied accurately, he surely would have left out these other words of Jesus which did not necessarily happen until later on, or have not even happened yet.

Let’s look more carefully at the text. I have spoken before about the “telescoping” nature of prophecy. In other words, a prophet may jumble together predictions of the near future, predictions of the far-off future, and predictions of the end of the world. From a distance (that is, from the prophet’s perspective) it may look like all these things will happen at the same time; it is like looking at a distant range of mountains, where all the peaks and ridges look almost like cardboard cutouts standing next to each other. Now, some people may object that in this passage we are not dealing with an ordinary prophet: this is Jesus. How could Jesus be confused about which things will happen sooner, and which things will happen at the end of the world? The answer comes in Matthew 24:36.

“Now concerning that day and hour no one knows — neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son — except the Father only. (Matt 24:36, HCSB)

Part of the deal with Jesus coming to earth, is that he laid aside his own power, and chose to live like any other human being: completely dependent upon the Father. In this case, the Father chose not to reveal the date of the end of time to Jesus while he was still on earth. So, through the Father, Jesus understands that some of these things will come upon the generation of those who are alive while he is speaking. He understands that some of them will come at the end of time. But, because he limited himself to only what the Father showed him, and because the Father did not show him the exact date of the end of time, even Jesus cannot tell for sure when each of these things will be.

So Jesus prophesies the destruction of the temple, and also events that presumably have not even occurred yet by 2016. I think he shares these things together because they have a common theme. The things that will come on the generation to whom he speaks, and the things that will come at the end of the world, are connected theologically. We are not meant to assume that they are connected chronologically.

This is the theological connection: the judgment of God upon those who reject him. First, judgment on the people who were alive when Jesus still walked the earth (whom he calls “this generation”), and second, the judgement at the end of the world upon all those who reject God. Jesus lumps them together because they are both about God’s judgment upon those who reject him.

Let me say a quick word about that judgment: It – is – optional. The whole Bible is very clear that if we repent, and turn to Jesus in trust and humility, he will forgive us and reconcile us to God, and give us eternal life. You don’t have to experience his judgement, or the punishment of hell. If we repent and trust, he graciously forgives us, comforts us and brings us into His kingdom.

I think there are several very important things that we need to hear from this passage. First, Jesus says this:

“Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many. 6You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. (Matt 24:4-6, HCSB)

There is always a certain element of Christianity that seems ready to declare that the end of the world has come. Jesus tells us here not to jump to such conclusions. In fact, as I have already pointed out, in verse 36 Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour. So one thing we should get from this passage is to not be alarmed, and to understand that we cannot build a timeline for the end of the world.

A second thing that we should pay attention to is that Jesus describes the kinds of things that will happen before the end of the world. The types of events he describes indicate that we are getting near to the very beginning of the end, not that we are at the end. He says there will be:

  • wars
  • famines
  • earthquakes
  • persecution
  • hatred towards his followers
  • betrayal, hatred and strife
  • false prophets
  • lawlessness
  • many people who fall away from him

When we experience these things we should not be surprised, and we should not feel that God has abandoned us – he told us these things were going to happen. It should be a comfort to know that even when these terrible things happen, God is in control, he is not forgotten us, and he will work all of this to the good of his own plans, and to our own good (Romans 8:28). He tells us that there will be deliverance and salvation for those who endure to the end (v. 13).

Finally, he says that the good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come. Have you ever thought of it like this? If you want the bad things in the world to come to an end, if you want Jesus to come back soon and take us all to be with him in the new heavens and new earth, the only way we can help that happen more quickly is to proclaim the good news of the kingdom in all the world.

We’ve covered a lot of ground, but just to summarize: 1. This shows us that Jesus and the Bible are reliable. 2. Don’t be deceived into thinking the end of the world is here just because others say so. 3. Don’t be alarmed by the events which Jesus mentions. They are part of the plan. Our part is to endure to the end, to hold on to Jesus through it all. 4. If we would like these difficult events to be shorter, we should assist those who are proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.

As you take time to pray about these things, please also take time to pray for this ministry. Pray for wisdom and encouragement. Pray for financial provision. Pray that the Lord uses these messages to their full potential in the lives of those who need them. If, as you pray, you feel led to help us financially, you can click on the word “donate” at the top of the page, and it will explain how you can do that. But before giving financially, please pray for our needs, and whether or not He wants you to give. God loves a cheerful giver, and so do we!

Thank You!

THE PROBLEM OF GOD’S LOVE

god's love

If God loves his people so much, what is the problem? Why can’t he just accept them as they are: sins and all, and just love them? If he cares so much, can’t he just overlook our sins? 

You cannot repeatedly ignore and hurt someone, and at the same time have a healthy, loving relationship with them. You cannot have self-respect, and also have a good relationship with someone who consistently treats you poorly. Therefore God’s love, far from making sin OK, is exactly what makes it a huge obstacle in our relationship with him. It is because he loves us that our sin and rebellion hurts him. When we also consider God’s righteous self-respect, we see that he cannot simply say: “It doesn’t matter if you are unfaithful to me. It doesn’t matter if you sin.”

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Matthew Part 83

Matthew #83  Matthew 23:37-39

 37“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! She who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing! 38See, your house is left to you desolate. 39For I tell you, you will never see Me again until you say, ‘He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One’! ” (Matt 23:36-39, HCSB)

I believe that God inspired the entire Bible, and, aside from a few small copying errors, everything in the Bible was intended by Him, for our benefit. In other words, it is all God’s Word. Even so, there are some parts of the Bible that capture essential truths more clearly and succinctly than others. I believe our text for this time is one place where, in just a few lines, we have the heart of God’s relationship with humankind.

These words of Jesus provide an all-important context to what he has just said, and what he is about to say. He has just spoken very harshly to the religious leaders, in a last-ditch effort to bring them to repentance. After this, he will give them a glimpse of what is coming because of their lack of repentance. But he pauses here, and shows us his heart of love, and tenderness, and also shows us that repentance is not optional.

Jesus sounds like a number of Old Testament prophets at this point. He should, since he is God, and God inspired the prophets to speak. Listen to the appeal that the Holy Spirit makes to his people through the prophets. Hear his love and compassion, and also his unyielding will to make his people holy.

God said through Ezekiel:

11Tell them: As I live” — the declaration of the Lord GOD — “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live. Repent, repent of your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33:11)

Isaiah prophesied:

9  For they are a rebellious people, lying children,

children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD;
 10  who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;

speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, 11 leave the way, turn aside from the path,

let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
 12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,

“Because you despise this word

and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them,
 13 therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse,

whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;
 14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel

that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

 15 For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

But you were unwilling, 16 and you said,

“No! We will flee upon horses” (Isaiah 30:9-16)

The prophet Hosea said it this way:

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
 2  The more they were called, the more they went away;

they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.

 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms,

but they did not know that I healed them.
 4  I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love,

and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,

and I bent down to them and fed them.

 5 They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.
 6  The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels.
 7 My people are bent on turning away from me,

and though they call out to the Most High,

he shall not raise them up at all.

8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?

How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim?

My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. (Hosea 11:1-8)

These days, many people are confused about the message of these verses. If God loves his people so much, what is the problem? Why can’t he just accept them as they are: sins and all, and just love them? If he cares so much, can’t he just overlook our sins?

In another place in Ezekiel, (chapter 16) the Lord speaks through the prophet in the form of an allegorical story. God comes along and finds Israel: rejected, abandoned, alone, and left to die. He saves her, and cares for her, and gives her his love and tenderness; he becomes a husband to her. Under his care, she grows beautiful. He clothes her in rich garments, and gives her wonderful shoes, earrings and jewelry. But now, healthy and beautiful, she ignores him, and instead seeks after other lovers. In fact, she has so many other lovers that she might as well be a prostitute, except that she demands no payment for her favors.

Let me ask you this: Do you think the wife has the right to say: “What’s the problem, Honey? You said you loved me, no matter what. Why can’t you just let it go, let me do what I feel like?” Do you think a husband in this situation should “just forgive?”

This woman owes everything she has and is to her husband. He loved her when no one else wanted her. He saved her, and he still loves her. Do you think the fact that he loves her should mean that her faithless behavior is no problem? Should he just overlook her sins, accept her as she is and “let love conquer?” For him, that would mean sitting at home every night, knowing his wife was out having sex with other men. Does that sound like love is “conquering?”

You know that isn’t how love works. It is the very fact that he does love her that makes her behavior a problem. If he didn’t love her, if he wasn’t her husband, it wouldn’t matter to him what she did. But because he does love her, and because she is his wife, her behavior is incredibly hurtful, and it is a huge problem in their relationship. They cannot have a healthy, loving relationship while she behaves in this manner.

You cannot repeatedly ignore and hurt someone, and at the same time have a good relationship with them. But that is what people seem to want to do with God. Some people say things like: “God is love. He loves us all, no matter what we do; therefore, it really doesn’t matter what I do. He’s still going to love me anyway.” In all these verses I shared from the prophets, God’s love is evident. He doesn’t stop loving his people when they sin.

But that does not mean that it is okay to sin. It does not mean that there are no consequences to your sin. It is like saying: “My wife loves me. Therefore, it is not a problem if I commit adultery. She’ll still love me.” In many cases, that is true. A wife does not stop loving her husband the moment she finds out that he has committed adultery. Even so, if he does not repent, change his ways, and try to be a good husband, her love will not be enough to fix the relationship. In spite of her love, if he persists in committing adultery, it will destroy the relationship. Therefore we find that in most of these verses, God’s judgment is also evident.

We would probably say that someone who unconditionally accepts an adulterous spouse has very little self-esteem, and certainly no self-respect. You cannot have self-respect, and also have a good relationship with someone who consistently treats you poorly. If you value yourself, you cannot allow another person to treat you like that. No one is more worthy of respect and esteem than God himself. You might say, in a way, that no one in the universe has more self-respect and self-esteem than God; and that is exactly as it should be, for One who is truly God.

Do you see now why sin is such a major problem? Can you understand that God’s love, far from making sin OK, is exactly what makes it a huge obstacle in our relationship with him? When we also consider God’s righteous self-respect, we see that it is impossible for him to simply say: “It doesn’t matter if you are unfaithful to me. It doesn’t matter if you sin.”

And so, through the prophets, and through Jesus here in this text today, the Lord says this: “I love you. I deeply desire to have a wonderful relationship with you. But you were not willing. Therefore, because you would not repent, you will be forever separated from me.”

That was the message of the prophets to the people Israel. That was the message of Jesus to the religious leaders of his day. “God loves you, but to receive any benefit from that love you must repent; you must stop hurting and rejecting him.”

That is in fact the essence of the gospel. God does love us. His love is unconditional. But because of his love, and because of his Godly self-respect, our sins separate us from him. Jesus, by his death and resurrection, has made a way for our sins to be nullified. If we turn from our sins, trusting Jesus, God is delighted to welcome us back into relationship with himself. John put it this way:

5Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him. 6If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. 7But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1John 1:5-9, HCSB)

I have spoken about repentance many times. Repentance is not perfection. Through Jesus we can be forgiven again and again. But repentance does mean that the direction of our lives is now toward Jesus. It means that we do not usually ignore him, and that we care about pleasing him, because our relationship with him is more important to us than anything else.

Have you experienced this kind of repentance? If you have not, and you want to, let me suggest that you pray for God to give you the gift of repentance. The alternative is not simply a life without God, lived on your own terms. According to Jesus and the prophets, the alternative is that ultimately you will be separated from God, and destroyed by his holiness. I know that people these days don’t like fire and brimstone sermons. But I can’t help believing that it would be extremely unloving of me, if I believe you might spend eternity in hell, to keep silent about it and affirm you as you are. So I say: Repentance is not optional. It is the very love of God that means he cannot simply ignore our sin.

Many of us have repented and received forgiveness through Jesus. But we may get afraid when we fail and fall, and we start to question whether or not we have truly repented. If that sounds like you, my counsel is that you ask God about it. Ask him to show you where you really stand. And then, read the Bible to see what he says about it. For my part, I know that though I fail, I am, however weakly and imperfectly, moving towards God, and not away from him. I know that I’m not holding back some part of myself from him. In short, I know that I am His. And I believe anyone who wants to can also have that same assurance. You don’t have to live in fear, always questioning whether or not you have truly repented. [If you cannot seem to get that assurance, please feel free to email or message me; I’d be happy to help.] As Isaiah said:

15 For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

Let’s allow all of this to sink in now. Let the Holy Spirit continue to speak to you

WOE, IS ME!

woe

The Pharisees and religious leaders. They are bad and wrong, and by pointing out exactly how so, Jesus is warning us about other leaders like them. He is also warning us about becoming like them ourselves. In other words, Jesus, as God-the-Son, is expressing his very real, and thoroughly righteous anger against sin. Let’s consider how the Holy Spirit might want to speak to us through these ‘woes.’
To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Matthew Part 82

Matthew #82.  Matthew 23:13-36

We are in the middle of a long rant that Jesus makes against the religious leaders of his time. Frankly, when I just read through quickly, I don’t get a lot out of this portion of Matthew. The Pharisees are bad, Jesus is mad, end of story, right?

Whenever I encounter a piece of scripture that leaves me cold, like this, I often find it useful to pause and ask some questions. Why exactly does Jesus rant and rave like this? Is he just angry? Is he just venting? What is the purpose of this section of scripture – why did the Holy Spirit preserve these words of Jesus for Christians throughout the ages?

As I do that with this particular passage, I think the Spirit can show us several things.

First, there is the straightforward issue of the behavior of the Pharisees and religious leaders. They are bad and wrong, and by pointing out exactly how so, Jesus is warning us about other leaders like them. He is also warning us about becoming like them ourselves. In other words, Jesus, as God-the-Son, is expressing his very real, and thoroughly righteous anger against sin. Let’s consider how these woes might affect us as well.

Jesus points out seven or eight areas where the religious leaders are in deep trouble. He begins each one with the phrase: “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

First, let’s talk about the word “woe.” It can mean: “trouble, sorrow and distress.” There is often an element of sorrow associated with this word, both in Greek and in English; it can be a lament, like “Alas!” So, in Matthew 24:19, Jesus says:

“Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.”

But I think here, in this passage, Jesus is adding a sense of warning and judgment with it. The “woe” upon the pregnant women and nursing mothers was not because of anything they did. But here, Jesus clearly connects each woe to the behavior of the religious leaders. I still think he speaks with sorrow; I don’t think he is happy about it. Even so, clearly, he is enumerating their sins, and pronouncing that they will experience trouble and sorrow as judgement for them.

The first woe and sorrow (in verse 13) is because they refuse to enter the kingdom of heaven, and stop others from entering in. This is Jesus’ core issue with the Pharisees. They warned people against the only way of salvation, which is Jesus himself. Instead, they believed that they did not need him. Specifically, they taught (and obviously believed) that they could earn their salvation by behaving well. In a more general sense, this woe applies to anyone who leads others to believe that they can be saved by any other path than repentance from sin, and trust in Jesus. So Paul reiterates this woe in the first chapter of Galatians:

6I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the good news about the Messiah. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! 9As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him! (Gal 1:6-9, HCSB)

Make no mistake. Christianity has always insisted that Jesus Christ is the only way to forgiveness, reconciliation with God, and eternal life:

5“Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way? ” 6Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7“If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:5-7, HCSB)

 11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. 13I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:11-13, HCSB)

11This Jesus is the stone rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.” (Acts 4:11-12, HCSB)

The Pharisees and Scribes rejected Jesus, and therefore rejected salvation, and led others to do so as well. Today, Christians must remember that our core belief is grace, forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ alone. We don’t have forgiveness or life because “God is love, and just wouldn’t send anyone to hell.” That lie is just as bad as anything the Pharisees taught: Woe to anyone who tells it! We are not saved because we “have lived a good life, and tried to do the right thing.” We are not forgiven because we “aren’t worse than anyone else.” Sin is much more serious than that. We aren’t forgiven because we make sacrifices, or take mission trips, or because we “speak the words of truth.” We are saved through Jesus Christ alone, and we receive that salvation by grace when we repent and trust him. Woe to anyone else who teaches otherwise!

The second woe is found in verse 15. Some of you may not have verse 14 in your Bibles: it will skip from 13 to 15. Verse 14 is actually one of those places where there is a dispute about the original manuscript of the New Testament. The oldest and best manuscripts do not contain it. The textus receptus (which is the source for the King James version of the Bible), does contain it, as do some other later manuscripts. I think the best evidence suggests that this was not originally part of the book of Matthew. This is one example of why I am not a fan of the King James version. Even so, I’d like to point out that whether you leave verse 15 in, or take it out, it does not change very much at all; certainly it changes no Christian doctrine. This is considered a major variant, and once again we see that even major variants are actually extremely minor. We can have great confidence that the New Testament we read today is, in fact, what was written by the apostles.

In any case, I will move on to verse 15, where Jesus pronounces judgment upon the religious leaders for converting even non-Jews to the belief that they can earn their way into God’s favor, and eternal life. This is very much like the first woe, the main difference being who gets led astray: Jews, or non-Jews. For our purposes, it is a warning that if we get people to join our church, but do not teach them that forgiveness, life and salvation are found only in Jesus, given to us by grace through faith, we would be better off not bringing the new people in the first place.

The third woe is described in verses 16 through 22. Basically, Jesus is giving an example of how the teachers of the law, and Pharisees twist and undermine God’s word. Many times I have given you the example of the Sabbath, and how they added their own laws on top of the commands of God. Here, Jesus is referring to the way that they do mental gymnastics in order to benefit themselves in the matter of taking oaths. They argued that certain kinds of vows were not binding, and made fine distinctions that sounded intellectual, but were completely against all common sense.

These days, we don’t often make vows, particularly not religious vows. I made vows when I was married, and when I was ordained as a pastor. However, even in those cases, I did not swear by or on anything; I simply said: “I will, and I ask God to help me.” So the practice of swearing by (or on) something is no longer a big issue, at least not in Western culture. True, some folks might say something like: “I swear by my mother’s grave.” I don’t think anyone takes them seriously. Even so, I think we can learn something from this particular woe. The underlying issue is that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were playing games with the truth. As Jesus points out, clearly, if you swear by the altar in the temple, really, you are swearing by God. But the religious leaders came up with all sorts of obscure reasoning to avoid that obvious, common-sense conclusion.

I think that today this woe could refer to the way some people treat the Bible. Unfortunately, I have many times read Bible commentaries that tried to say that certain verses mean the exact opposite of what they clearly say. Now, you know that I’m all for thoughtful, scholarly Bible interpretation. Not all Bible verses are obvious in meaning. Even so, there are many people today, whom I can only call false teachers, who twist the words of the Bible, play games with the truth, and do mental gymnastics in order to eliminate the plain, common sense meaning of God’s Word. What they are doing is not careful interpretation, but rather, twisting the obvious truth. I think Jesus would say to them: “Woe to you!”

The fourth woe is essentially captured by Jesus’ words in verse 24:

24Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel! (Matt 23:24, HCSB)

The religious leaders spent a great deal of energy on relatively trivial matters, while ignoring the more important things. Notice that Jesus says that the trivial things are, in fact, good to do; but the important things should have first priority. I want to try and finish the woes in this sermon, so I won’t go into this one in great depth, but there are many, obvious applications for it. Woe to the church that is more concerned about the color of their carpet than about the homeless population all around it. Woe to the leaders who police the kinds of clothes people wear, and ignore the lust in their own hearts. I could spend all day on this one, but I believe you will be able to think of your own examples without too much effort. I do want to point out that this particular woe contains much of what really turns people off about churches and Christians. I think it’s good to know that Jesus hates it when people focus on minor things, while neglecting the things that are most important to true faith.

The fifth woe, found in verses 25-26, is much like the one before it. The religious leaders are concerned about looking good. They are focused on outward appearances, while they ignore the filth inside of their own hearts. Probably, Jesus is referring to the Jewish tradition of ceremonially washing cups. Mark records a different instance, where Jesus spoke about this at greater length. After discussion about ceremonial washing with the religious leaders, Jesus said this to his disciples:

18And He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? 19For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated.” (As a result, He made all foods clean.) 20Then He said, “What comes out of a person — that defiles him. 21For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within and defile a person.” (Mark 7:18-23, HCSB)

The sixth woe, is also similar. This time, Jesus describes them as whitewashed tombs, which look good on the outside, but inside are filled with rotten flesh and bone. I’m going to get personal for a moment. I don’t want to be offensive, but I do want us to get the full impact of the words of Jesus here. Here in the Southeastern USA, we have a somewhat religious culture. Even in areas where the culture at large is not particularly Christian, some churches can have a religious culture within their community. I personally know many people who are like these whitewashed tombs. They go to church and they talk a good talk. As far as the people that they go to church with know, these are wonderful Christian folks. But during the week they have affairs, they do drugs, they get drunk, they run businesses that are dishonest, they cheat people, and they are stingy and miserly. Of course, everyone struggles with sin. I’m not talking about Christians who have surrendered their lives to Jesus, but who sometimes fail and fall. I’m talking about people who pretend; people who talk the talk, but do not let Jesus have any real influence in their lives. Jesus says to such people: “Woe to you!”

Finally, Jesus says: “Woe to you who reject God’s messengers!” (verses 29-34). That is what this seventh woe is all about: rejecting those whom God has sent, and rejecting his message through them. In the Western world, thankfully, people do not kill, crucify, or whip Christian teachers and preachers. However, I think it is important for us to remember that this still happens regularly in other places in the world. And even in the Western world, often times those who seek to be vocal about their faith in Jesus are treated with contempt and derision. As one small, and relatively insignificant example, I offer Tim Tebow, former NFL quarterback. Tebow had a year or two as a starting quarterback in the NFL. It was his habit to kneel down as a sign of humility, and praise to the Lord, whenever his team scored. That may or may not be a silly thing; but it was relatively harmless. However, Tebow received a huge amount of criticism for this, and for his outspoken faith. In fact, he received more negative media coverage than many NFL stars at the time who were accused of things like drunk driving, drug possession, assault and rape. Woe to a culture that is more concerned about a public expression of Christian faith than about crimes that deeply hurt others!

Let me say another thing about mistreating God’s messengers. I will admit that this one feels a little personal with me, but that does not make it untrue. I also want to say that I am not complaining, and for the most part I have been very blessed to not experience too much of what I’m about to share with you. Even so, it is shameful – I can think of no better word – the way that many Christians and churches treat their pastors and teachers. Of course there are some bad pastors, and bad leaders, just as there are bad bartenders, truck drivers and school teachers. Even so, many of the pastors who are mistreated by their congregations have good hearts, pure motives, and have done no wrong. Sometimes people direct hateful and hurtful words towards them for doing and saying what they believe God wants them to do and say. Sometimes people slander them. Sometimes people try to run them out of a job, for no reason other than that the pastor has threatened their sense of personal power within the congregation. Sometimes pastors are threatened after teaching something unpopular that the word of God says. Quite often, pastors are underpaid, and it is unusual to find anyone who cares, in most churches, whether or not a pastor is being appropriately compensated. Almost all the time at least some people are critical of their pastor, without doing the least thing to help him.

When I look at these seven woes spoken by Jesus, I think of it as an extreme measure he is taking in order to bring the religious leaders to repentance.

Let me try and illustrate what I mean. About a year ago, I began to have constant pain in one of my kidneys, like I was having a kidney stone. After a long and difficult time, doctors finally determined that some of my nerves have been damaged by frequent kidney stones. I sat down with a pain specialist, and he outlined a number of steps to help me deal with the pain that I still have.

First, we will try a very safe, well-tested, inexpensive medication that has very few side effects. If that works, great! If not the next step is to try a second medication. The second drug is more expensive, and has not been tested for as long as the first. It has more side effects and risk factors. If the second drug works, great! However, if not, there is another step, involving directly stimulating the nerve. This is a more invasive procedure, with greater risks. There is another step after that, and another. Each new step is more drastic, increasingly invasive, and carries greater and greater risk. The final step involves “killing” the nerve that serves my kidney.

When Jesus confronts the religious leaders during these last few days of his life, he is taking the final and most drastic step in trying to bring them to repentance, faith, and salvation. He lived among them, letting his life be a testimony, but that was not enough. He gave them his preaching and his teaching, but they did not respond. He showed them miracles, and the power of God, but they turned away. And so now, he is directly confronting them with their sin. It is their last chance, and he says that if they do not take it, judgment will come upon them. He will “kill” the problem, if it can’t be fixed any other way.

In fact, he says: “I assure you, all these things will come on this generation.” I want to point out two things about this. First, it was literally fulfilled among those who heard Jesus say these words. Jesus was crucified sometime around 30-35 AD. In 70 AD, while that generation still lived, the Romans utterly crushed the Jewish people, slaughtering huge numbers, destroying the temple, and sending the Jews that survived into an exile that lasted almost 2000 years. That generation of unbelieving Jews was indeed judged.

Second, because of how Jesus said it, these words are also for us. Whether or not we are judged as a group, when it comes to the end of our life, when our “generation” passes, we will stand before the judgment seat of God. This is true of every generation that reads Jesus’ words. Let his words sink in. They are drastic, yes. But they are spoken in order to ultimately lead is into the grace of God by driving us to Jesus as our hope, life and salvation.

 

 

THERE’S A NEW MESSIAH IN TOWN…

messiah

Jesus consistently claimed that he should have the first place, and primary authority, in our lives. He did not say, “God loves you, now go do whatever you want, as long as it is loving and kind.” He said, “God loves you. Now, let me own your life in such a way that you are living for my purposes, under my authority.” Like it or not, that is what the statement about the Messiah being the Lord means. Later on, he calls himself “the master” (23:10). Is he your master? Is he not only your savior, but your Lord, your commander in chief? If not I encourage you to repent, and let him be.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Matthew Part 81

Matthew #81.  Matthew 22:41-6; 23:1-12

Starting in the middle of chapter 21, the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders begins to heat up. We have seen that most of chapter 23 covers a series of ways in which the religious leaders tried to trick Jesus into saying something that would either make him unpopular, or force the authorities to arrest him. They were trying to put Jesus on the defensive.

At the end of the chapter, after answering their malicious questions, Jesus begins firing back.

He starts with a question about the Messiah. His quote is from Psalm 110. The Jews in the time of Jesus most definitely considered this psalm to be a prophecy about the Messiah. In this instance, Jesus has the leaders caught both coming and going.

In the first place, one of the reasons the Pharisees were upset with Jesus is because, starting just a day or two before this, the crowds were calling him “the Son of David,” which was basically the same thing as calling him “Messiah.”

9Then the crowds who went ahead of Him and those who followed kept shouting: Hosanna to the Son of David! He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One! Hosanna in the highest heaven! (Matt 21:9, HCSB)

15When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that He did and the children shouting in the temple complex, “Hosanna to the Son of David! ” they were indignant 16and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying? ” (Matt 21:15-16, HCSB)

(By the way “son,” in this case, is just a metaphorical way of saying “direct descendant.”) By bringing up the question, “Whose son is the Messiah,” Jesus was be reminding the religious leaders of who the people thought he was. But they could not deny what everyone knew about Messianic prophecy, so they reluctantly admit that the Messiah will be called a “Son of David.”

But now, Jesus does something surprising. The crowds have been calling him “Son of David.” He has forced the Pharisees to admit that the Messiah is supposed to be “a Son of David.” Already, Jesus has made his point: He is claiming to be the Messiah. But he doesn’t stop there. He adds something that none of his listeners expect. Using this well-known Messianic Psalm (Psalm 110), he shows that David calls the Messiah “Lord.” In other words, the Messiah is not only the son of David, but also, the Son of God. Jesus is claiming even greater authority than most people at that time would attribute to the Messiah. Even so, the Pharisees cannot dispute what the Psalm says, nor how Jesus interprets it. For the people who heard this dialogue, most of them knowledgeable concerning the Bible, Jesus was saying, clear as could be:

  1. I am the Messiah.
  2. As Messiah, I am the same in nature as God himself.

The thing that drove the religious leaders crazy is that they couldn’t actually dispute his logic. They didn’t believe he was the Son of David, of course, but they didn’t really have any way to argue with him.

Jesus doesn’t stop there. Having established that he is the Messiah and that he has the authority of God, he starts to attack the illegitimate authority of the religious leaders. Even so, he begins by acknowledging that they do have a certain, limited authority. He says they are “seated in the chair of Moses.”

2“The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. 3Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach. (Matt 23:2-3, HCSB)

I think “the chair of Moses” meant probably one of two things (or possibly, both). First, it appears that in synagogues in those days, there was actually a special chair in which teachers would sit while they taught the scriptures. The word “scribes” in this text is sometimes translated “teachers of the law,” which is basically accurate. So Jesus might be saying, “When they are teaching the scriptures, you should listen to them.” The fact is, for the most part, Jesus agreed with the theology of the Pharisees and scribes. When they taught the scriptures, they were worth listening to, although, obviously, he did not approve of it when they went beyond what the Bible says, and began teaching man-made regulations.

Second, I think that Jesus may have had in mind the following passage from the book of Deuteronomy:

8“If a case is too difficult for you — concerning bloodshed, lawsuits, or assaults — cases disputed at your gates, you must go up to the place the LORD your God chooses. 9You are to go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who presides at that time. Ask, and they will give you a verdict in the case. 10You must abide by the verdict they give you at the place the LORD chooses. Be careful to do exactly as they instruct you. 11You must abide by the instruction they give you and the verdict they announce to you. Do not turn to the right or the left from the decision they declare to you. 12The person who acts arrogantly, refusing to listen either to the priest who stands there serving the LORD your God or to the judge, must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. 13Then all the people will hear about it, be afraid, and no longer behave arrogantly. (Deut 17:8-13, HCSB)

So, Jesus might also be saying that people should abide by the “legal” decisions that were given by the religious leaders, because that was good and proper to do, and was helpful in keeping the peace.

It may be that he meant one or the other of these two things, or possibly, both. If I had to decide, I would guess that Jesus was talking mainly about their religious authority to settle disputes.

Even so, after pointing out that the religious leaders have a certain, limited, legitimate authority, he goes on to show the many ways in which their practice and teaching is not legitimate.

First, he says, they don’t practice what they themselves teach. He will expound on this later in chapter 23. Second, he says they put burdens on people, but won’t help them. This is in stark contrast to Jesus’ own words from Matthew 11:28-30

28“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30, HCSB)

The Pharisees and scribes made following God all about rules and regulations. As if there were not enough difficult things to follow already, they added things. They “explained” the laws of the Old Testament by adding their own rules about what it meant to follow those laws. So, in the example I have used before, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” became a very long list of things you had to do, and refrain from doing. The things on that list were not originally commanded by God; rather they were added by the religious leaders.

In addition to adding their own rules and pretending that they were God’s commands, the religious leaders were all about their own power and position. Jesus says they love to be observed by others.  Verse 5 says they “enlarge their phylacteries.” A phylactery was a little leather box containing portions of scripture. It was a misguided, very literal, fulfillment of Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

4“Listen, Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is One. 5Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. 7Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. 9Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:4-9, HCSB)

So the religious leaders literally created little boxes, put portions of the scripture in them (often verses 4-5, above) and tied them on their heads and arms, and put them on doorposts and gates. In the time of Jesus, some of the leaders were making these boxes (phylacteries) very big and noticeable. Jesus, is probably slyly pointing out that though they make their phylacteries ostentatious, they are not taking seriously the command to let God’s words be in their hearts. The leaders are doing it simply in order to be noticed and praised by people.

The tassels were a similar phenomenon, made to remind the people of Israel of God’s commands. Again, the leaders in Jesus’ time were making very large noticeable tassels to make sure everyone knew that they were really religious.

Jesus also points out how the leaders love the places of honor at banquets, in synagogues, and to be recognized in the marketplace as particularly religious people. He then instructs his own followers to be different. I want us to pay special attention to verses 8-12:

8“But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt 23:8-12, HCSB)

In some ways, this statement represents God as a Trinity. The Father, is obviously God the Father, and “Master,” says Jesus, is himself, the Messiah. But the “Teacher” is the Holy Spirit. Consider these words of Jesus, recorded by John:

12“I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. 14He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-14, HCSB)

So Jesus says, you have one teacher, God the Holy Spirit, one Father, God the Father, and one Master, Jesus Messiah, God the Son. Although the Christian doctrine of God as a Trinity is not explicitly spelled out here, clearly, Jesus has it in mind. In addition, his message is plain: leaders do not stand in the place of God.

I want to point something out, before we get to applications. There are many people who believe that the Bible was either written, or at least heavily edited, by church leaders, in order to give themselves power. If that were so, they surely should have removed this passage, because it says that we all should humble ourselves before God, and even that leaders should not take special titles. In particular, since Jesus says no one should be called “father,” you would think that the Roman Catholics, who call their priests “father,” would have removed this verse. This is one of the many, many places where it is obvious that the Bible was not shaped by religious leaders for their own power or benefit.

Now, let’s look at applications. First, I think we need to see that Jesus consistently claimed that he should have the first place, and primary authority, in our lives. He did not say, “God loves you, now go do whatever you want, as long as it is loving and kind.” He said, “God loves you. Now, let me own your life in such a way that you are living for my purposes, under my authority.” That is what the statement about the Messiah being the Lord means. Later on, he calls himself “the master” (23:10). Is he your master? Is he not only your savior, but your Lord, your commander in chief? If not I encourage you to repent, and let him be.

Second, when I see Jesus’ criticisms of the religious leaders, I notice that he does not throw out the baby with the bathwater. In other words, he says, “They do say some things that are good and right. They do have a measure of proper authority.” Too often, I think we tend to judge people and their words and actions with an “all or nothing approach.” Either we accept all of what they say and do, or we reject all of it. Jesus did not do that, even with these leaders for whom he has many harsh words. When the leaders appropriately express the Word of God, Jesus says that his followers should listen. When people exercise authority that is properly given to them, we should obey. Obviously, when people go beyond their proper authority, or teachers go beyond the Word of God, we no longer have to listen and obey. But we should keep in mind that God can use anyone, and just because someone is rude, or mean, or angry, that doesn’t mean that everything he says is completely wrong.

Third, when Jesus refers to the burden that the leaders put on the people, I cannot help but remember his own invitation, which I mentioned earlier, to come to Him and find rest for our souls. In contrast to the religious leaders, He invites us not to do more, but rather to trust more. Is there some area of your life where he is inviting you to trust him, and rest from doing it for yourself?

Finally, in the last few verses, he makes it very clear that God holds all authority, and human beings do not. He invites us all to become humble, and to serve. Is there some place where you have been tempted to “exalt yourself?” Or, perhaps, is Jesus using the text today to encourage and bless you for being humble?

Let the Holy Spirit continue to speak to you about these things.

LOVE IS THE ANSWER. BUT WHAT WAS THE QUESTION?

Love concept

We are to love God with all of our being. According to Jesus, nothing is more important than this. If we love God with our entire being and put him first in our lives, everything else will flow out of that in a way that fulfills what God wants. If we don’t love him, we are just a clanging gong; nothing. We are not to act religious for the sake of being religious. It is meaningless to follow Christian morality unless we do it out of love for God.

If you truly love God, and also your neighbor, you will fulfill, not ignore, the moral teachings of the Bible. 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Matthew Part 80

Matthew #80  Matthew 22:34-45

The third question with which the religious leaders tried to trap Jesus was about the law. Among Jews in those days, it was legitimate to discuss which commands were harder to keep than others, or which ones were more “weighty,” but most Jews felt that all of the commands of the Old Testament were equally valid. Jesus had to watch his answer carefully. If he suggested that one command was more important than another, he might be accused of heresy.

37He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38This is the greatest and most important command. 39The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matt 22:37-40, HCSB)

We need to understand what Jesus did here. He says, “There is a command that is most important, and a second one also. But the reason they are more important is because all of the other commands are contained in these two.” In other words, he answered their trick question in a way that they cannot criticize; but in so doing he also teaches us something very important.

Loving God and loving your neighbor: all of the commands are summed up in love. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write this:

1If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, 5does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. 6Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. (1Cor 13:1-7, HCSB)

The attitude and choices of our hearts toward God and toward our neighbor are very important. We can do the right things with the wrong motives. The goal of all that God asks of us is love. We don’t try to live good, moral lives so that we can boast about it. The reason to live as the Bible tells us to is because that is the best way to love God, and to love those around us.

Even so, I think a large number of people in Western culture are very confused about what Jesus taught about love. I think that over the past several decades, the message of the Bible about love has been misunderstood and distorted.

First, I think we must remember that the most important command – as Jesus himself said – is to love the Lord with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind. A lot of people these days sort of skip that part, and jump right into loving our neighbor. But Jesus said we need to love God with our entire being, and put him above all things in our lives. We are to love him emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. The word for “soul” is the Greek “psuche,” which has developed into the modern English word “psyche.” It means all of what makes you, you. This means we are to love God with all of our being. According to Jesus, nothing is more important than this. If we love God with our entire being and put him first in our lives, everything else will flow out of that in a way that fulfills what God wants. If we don’t love him, we are just a clanging gong; nothing. We are not to act religious for the sake of being religious. It is meaningless to follow Christian morality unless we do it out of love for God.

Look at it this way. My motivation to be a good husband to Kari is not out of fear that she will punish me. It isn’t just because it is a good moral way to behave, in the abstract. Most of my positive behavior as a husband is because I love my wife. No doubt, there are times when I don’t feel particularly loving, but even in those times I motivated by the fact that my love is more than just feelings; it is also a lifetime commitment to honor and value her. So, even when I don’t feel like it, my loving behavior proceeds from true love. When I am a bad husband, it is usually because I am not behaving in a loving way. The key to my behavior is love. In the same way, the key to my behavior as a follower of Jesus is love for the Lord.

When it comes to the second most important command, love for our neighbor, I think we have become confused about what love means. For many people influenced by popular culture, love means unconditional affirmation. In other words, a lot of folks think that if you love someone, it means that you must endorse everything they do, no matter what. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard that it is not loving, or even that it is hateful, to tell someone that I cannot endorse all of their lifestyle choices as good and righteous.

But both common sense and the scriptures tell us very clearly that real love for neighbor is not the same thing as unconditional affirmation. The verses above state that love finds no joy in unrighteousness, but that it rejoices in truth. That means that true love cannot approve falsehood, and it cannot approve that which it believes to be unrighteous. It would not be real love if it did approve those things.

Consider this example: I have four children, all of whom I deeply love. Suppose one of my kids becomes a drug addict. Would it be loving for me to affirm her lifestyle as a drug addict? Of course not. The loving thing to do would be to help her confront her addiction and get free from it. The hateful thing to do would be to affirm her choices, and encourage her to continue on a path that I believe will ultimately destroy her. It would be hateful to affirm the lies in her life that tell her that addiction is not a problem. Affirmation and encouragement are not always loving. Love is not always affirming or endorsing.

As author Rick Warren says:

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense”

In addition, when I really love someone or something, it often means that I want them to change. When I don’t mind if someone changes or not, it often means that I don’t care about them. To illustrate this, Let me offer another analogy. I know this is somewhat frivolous, but please bear with me and I think you’ll understand my main point.

Somehow, years ago, I became a fan of the Minnesota Vikings NFL team. You might say I love the Vikings (I know this is silly, but stay with me). I don’t love them because they are so great. No one would love them for that, because, frankly, they aren’t. But I care about the Vikings, and because I do, I want them to be better than they are. I don’t require them to change before I will love them, but rather, because I already love them, I want them to improve.

The Cleveland Browns is another NFL team that hasn’t won very often over the years. However, I don’t mind if the Browns never change. Is that because I love the Browns unconditionally, in a way that I don’t love the Vikings? No, it is exactly the opposite. It is because I don’t care about the Browns that I don’t mind if they never change (apologies to my many readers in NE Ohio, it’s nothing personal). I don’t necessarily want the best for the Browns, and so I can affirm how they are, with no desire to see them become different.

You see, love often seeks change, precisely because love seeks the best for the beloved. So I repeat: loving your neighbor does not always mean affirmation and endorsement; these are not always loving.

I feel the need to explain a little bit more. I am not giving you a license to nag your loved ones, or to be cruel to anyone who lives in such a way that you disapprove. Some people are harsh and judgmental, and even if their words contain truth, they do not speak them out of love, but rather out of fear or anger. Do not use what I say here as an excuse to be that way. Love genuinely wants change, because love genuinely wants the best for the beloved. But love is also patient, gentle, and kind (see the verses quoted from 1 Corinthians 13, above).

So our culture when it hears “Love your neighbor,” often misunderstands this to mean “affirm and endorse whatever your neighbor chooses to do.” However, this is not what it means.

There is another way in which our culture misunderstands what Jesus said here. Many people think that when Jesus says “The law is summed up by ‘love God and love your neighbor,’” it means that this cancels out the specific moral guidelines of the Bible. In other words, people think Jesus was saying, “Forget all that stuff about traditional morality. Just love.”

If this was the case, we wouldn’t have to worry about it when the Bible says, “don’t bear false witness,” as long as we tell lies only for reasons that are loving. Or, it wouldn’t matter whom we have sex with, or even whether or not they are married to us (or another person) as long as we simply love them. Or, we wouldn’t have to worry about foul language coming from us, as long as we love God. Or, it wouldn’t matter if we stole something, as long as we did it with a loving heart.

But this is not what Jesus meant at all. He said all of the law “hangs” on these two commands. It is not that love replaces the other commandments, it is that if you truly love God and your neighbor, you will fulfill those commandments. For instance, if you love your neighbor and God, you won’t steal from your neighbor. Or, if you truly love God, you will put him first, above all things in your life.

These days, the cry of the new sexual ethics is “It’s all about love.” But Jesus is saying here that if you love God and your neighbor, you will lovingly, voluntarily, keep your sexual activity within marriage. “Love” does not mean “sleep with anyone with whom you fall in love.” What Jesus is saying is that real love for God and neighbor will result in keeping the command: “do not commit adultery.” Love for God and neighbor will result in keeping the commands: “Do not covet,” and “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

If you truly love God, and also your neighbor, you will fulfill, not ignore, the moral teachings of the Bible. Paul explains this more fully in his letter to the Romans:

8Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and whatever other commandment — all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself. 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom 13:8-10, HCSB)

This helps me, because I realize that when I sin, one of the underlying things going on with me is that I am not loving God, or my neighbor, or sometimes, either one. It isn’t just that I need to behave better externally (though that is true) – it is also that I need to love God and my neighbor more. Over the course of my life, I have learned to see this problem, and to ask God not only to help me not to sin, but also to increase the love I have for Him and for my neighbor. I am convinced that is a prayer he is happy to answer.

Our love comes from the Lord in the first place, and so, if we ask him, we can trust him to give us the love that we need; for Him, and for our neighbor, to live as he wants us to.