Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Revenge Is Sour

Part 15 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:38-42

You can listen to this sermon here.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (vv. 38-39). 

Revenge Is Sweet? 

When someone mistreats us, the natural reaction is to want to get revenge. We say, “Revenge is sweet.”

Followers of Jesus are to be different by not desiring revenge when people mistreat them.

An Eye for an Eye

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’” (v. 38; cf. Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21). The principle of “an eye for an eye” was meant to guide the judges of Israel so that the punishments that they handed out would fit the crimes—not too harsh or lenient. It was not meant to encourage personal revenge (“You shall not take vengeance,” Lev. 19:18; cf. Deut. 32:35; Prov. 20:22; 24:29; 25:21-22).

But I Say to You 

Jesus says, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil” (v. 39). And then he gives four illustrations of not resisting an evil person.

  • “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (v. 39). 
  • “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (v. 40). 
  • “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (v. 41). 
  • “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (v. 42). 

Jesus is not giving us rules; he’s challenging our thinking. We are to be willing to suffer wrong-doing (see 1 Cor. 6:7).

What About Justice? 

Shouldn’t we seek justice? First, we should seek justice for others when they are harmed. If we didn’t seek their justice, we wouldn’t be people of love. Second, when we are personally harmed we are not to seek revenge. Instead, we must leave the carrying out of justice to our governing authorities (Rom. 13:4) and God (Rom. 12:19).

Our Lord Is Our Model 

The Apostle Peter writes, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless” (1 Peter 3:9). Is this too much to ask? No, because Jesus has already done it.
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21-23). 
Jesus knows what it’s like to be mistreated: “They spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him” (Matt. 26:67; cf. Isa. 50:6). Think about God in human flesh being spit in the face, struck, and slapped. And he didn’t seek revenge. Instead he prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Jesus calls us to follow his model “so that [others] may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Keeping Our Promises

Part 14 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5;33-37

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Let what you way be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt. 5:37).

I Promise

Sometimes when you tell someone you’ll do something, they ask, “Do you promise?” Why do people want us to say, “I promise”? Because they have doubts that we’ll really do what we say we’ll do. We live in a world of broken promises.

People of Integrity

Why is it important that we keep our promises? In a world of broken promises, followers of Jesus are to be different. We are to be people of integrity.

Being a person of integrity is an effective way to display the life-changing power of the gospel.

An Oath Is a Serious Thing

“You have heard that it was said of those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn’” (v. 33). Jesus is summarizing what the OT says about oaths. Oaths are “invocations of God or of some sacred object to undergird a statement or promise.” [1] “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:12). “If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Num. 30:2).

The Abuse of Oaths in Jesus' Day

When you were a kid, did you think you didn’t have to keep a promise if your fingers were crossed? In Jesus’ day, the Jews believed that some oaths were binding and some weren’t. [2] According to Jesus, there is no hierarchy of oaths. Every oath invokes God’s name in some way. If you swear by heaven, “[heaven] is the throne of God” (v. 34). If you swear by earth, “[the earth] is [God’s] footstool” (v. 35). If you swear by Jerusalem, “[Jerusalem] is the city of the great King” (v. 35). If you swear by your head, your head (i.e., your physical life) is under God’s control (“you cannot make one hair white or black,” v. 36).

Oaths Should Be Unnecessary

Jesus declares, “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all” (v. 34). Jesus adds, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (v. 37; cf. James 5:12). Honest people don’t require oaths.

We are to be people of such integrity that we will be trusted without taking an oath. 

Is it wrong for a Christian to take an oath (e.g., in a court of law)? Apparently not since Jesus himself testified under oath in his trial before the Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:63-64). [3]

Let Your "Yes" Be Yes and Your "No" Be No

In this passage, Jesus is mainly speaking against deliberate deception. If we profess to be Christians but lack integrity, we profane the name of Christ.

Sometimes we can break our promises for reasons other than deception. Sometimes we make a promise we shouldn’t because we want to please people. We sometimes say to someone, “I’ll remember you in my prayers,” but don’t ever pray for that person. Sometimes we neglect church commitments that are considered less important.

We must see ourselves as representing Christ in this world. We must strive to be people of integrity.

[1] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 213.
[2] Jesus also condemns this wrong belief about oaths in Matthew 23:16-22.
[3] God “guaranteed [his promise] with an oath” (Heb. 6:17). Paul writes, “Before God, I do not lie!” (Gal. 1:20).

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

How to Be a Better Spouse

Part 13 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:27-32

You can listen to this sermon here.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27). 

Strategies Are Not Enough

If you were to do a Google search for “How to be a better husband/wife?”, you’d find all sorts of strategies for being a better husband or wife (e.g., to be a better husband: (1) learn how to communicate; (2) be willing to compromise; (3) help your wife around the house). [1]

Strategies can be helpful, but they don’t address our fundamental problem: our sinful hearts. All sinful behaviours originate in the heart: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts [e.g., lust], murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).

A Better Righteousness in Marriage 

In Genesis 2, God “brought [the woman] to the man” (Gen. 2:22). And we are told, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). A marriage is not merely a contract between two people. It’s “a sacred bond between husband and wife before God as a witness.” [2]

In our marriages, God wants us to have a righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (i.e., a better righteousness). [3]

1. We must commit to the exclusivity of marriage, even in our thoughts. 

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’” (v. 27). [4] But Jesus declares that a husband or wife can be an adulterer even if he or she doesn’t commit the act of adultery. Adultery can happen in the heart: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent [5] has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (vv. 27-28). [6]

Jesus wants us to take sin seriously: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (vv. 29-30). Jesus doesn’t want us to literally tear out our eyes and cut off our hands. He’s stressing that we need to do everything we can to avoid sin. [7]

2. We must commit to the permanence of marriage, even if our marriage doesn’t turn out the way we hoped it would. 

Jesus says, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’” (v. 31). According to Deuteronomy 24:1, a man was permitted to divorce his wife if he “found some indecency in her.” In Jesus’ day, the Jews debated the meaning of “indecency.” [8] Jesus’ interpretation was more strict than his contemporaries: “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, [9] and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (v. 32). [10]

We should be less concerned with how we can get out of a marriage and more concerned with how we can stay in a marriage. When Jesus was asked about divorce in Matthew 19, he answered the question by going back to God’s original intention for marriage and said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6). Today, Christians have different views on what Jesus meant by “sexual immorality,” but we can all agree on two things: (1) Jesus disapproves of easy divorce (“for any cause,” Matt. 19:3); (2) reconciliation should be the goal when marriage problems occur (cf. Matt. 5:23-26). While divorce is sometimes permitted, it’s never required

Husbands and Wives Need Better Hearts

To be a better husband or wife, we need a better heart. Adultery begins in the heart with lust. Divorce was permitted because of the “hardness of heart[s]” (Matt. 19:8). How can a husband or wife get a better heart?

First, we need the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22). The Spirit is given to all who put their faith in Christ. Then after we receive the Spirit, we need to continually remind ourselves of God’s love for us: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

The essence of sin is self-centeredness, which is the source of all marriage problems. The opposite of self-centeredness is sacrificial love. In sacrificial love, Jesus gave up his life for us. If the Lord of the universe gave himself up for me, I should be willing to give myself up for my spouse.

[1] http://www.wikihow.com/Be-a-Better-Husband
[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 73.
[3] As we have seen already in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wants his followers to be different.
[4] This is the seventh commandment (Exod. 20:14).
[5] Jesus is not saying it’s sinful to appreciate a woman’s physical beauty. Looking at a woman with “lustful intent” is having the desire to commit adultery with her.
[6] It could be said that lust is a violation of the tenth commandment because it says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Exod. 20:17). The Septuagint used the same Greek word for “covet” that Jesus uses for “lust.”
[7] Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes” (Job 31:1).
[8] The rabbinic school of Hillel believed that a man could divorce his wife for all sorts of trivial reasons (e.g., if she had bushy eyebrows).
[9] This doesn’t mean perpetual adultery.
[10] The apostle Paul also writes, “If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so” (1 Cor. 7:15).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Angry Enough to Kill

Part 12 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:21-26

Sorry, there is no audio for this sermon.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22).

A Deeper Righteousness

In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus describes what he means by a righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (v. 20). He desires that his followers have a righteousness that goes deeper than merely obeying the rules. He repeatedly says, “You have heard that it was said” (vv. 21, 27, 33, 38, 43), and then he declares, “But I say to you” (vv. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). [1] Jesus is not contradicting the OT law; he is correcting a misunderstanding of it.

Is Anger Really That Bad?

Why did Jesus teach that anger was such a serious sin? He compares anger with murder [2] and says that if we are filled with anger against another person, we are “liable to the hell of fire” (v. 22).

If we are filled with anger against another person, we have a murderous heart. 

There are degrees of anger. There’s a difference between the anger of a murderer and the anger of a father who yells at his son. Jesus is talking about an intense kind of anger. If we have this type of anger, we are like a murderer [3] in two ways.

First, if we are filled with anger against someone, we desire harm to come to that person. An angry person longs for revenge. He would commit murder if he could get away with it.

Second, if we are filled with anger against someone, we don’t value the life of that person. Genesis 9:6 says, “Who-ever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Premeditated murder was punishable by death because human life is precious to God. But the person with a murderous attitude sees his enemy as worthless. He “insults” him [4] and calls him a “fool” (v. 22).

Is Anger Always Wrong?

It’s possible to be angry without sinning: “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Sometimes anger is the appropriate response (e.g., when a child is harmed). Jesus was sometimes angry (e.g., the cleansing of the temple). He even said to the scribes and Pharisees, “You blind fools!” (Matt. 23:17). Unlike our anger, Jesus’ anger was always righteous.

When Jesus was angry, he was angry at sin, not because offended him: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23). How did Jesus respond? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus’ anger wasn’t a self-centered anger. Many times we think our anger is appropriate, but it’s actually sinful. We get angry not because someone has sinned, but because someone has sinned against us.

The Heart of the Matter

We often blame external conditions for our anger (e.g., other people, “I had a bad day!”). “While external conditions can be very influential in our lives and should not be ignored, the Bible says that they are only the occasion for sin, not the cause.” [5] The cause of sin is within us: our hearts. Jesus declared, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). James writes, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Murder is generated in the heart.

If I have a murderous heart, I have forgotten about God's grace. 

I can’t calculate how much I’ve offended God by my sinfulness, yet Christ died for me. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). If God so loved me, I also ought to love people who have wronged me.

The Urgency of Reconciliation

Jesus says that we are not to delay in seeking reconciliation with others (“First be reconciled to your brother,” v. 24; “Come to terms quickly with your accuser,” v. 25). “Interestingly, it is not the anger of the person Jesus is addressing of which he speaks, but anger provoked by that person. It is not enough to control one’s temper (though that is important); one must not arouse other people’s anger.” [6]
Reconciliation is so important that it takes priority over worship. 

The illustration that Jesus uses in verses 23-24 would have been shocking to Jesus’ original hearers.
Most of Jesus’ hearers were from Galilee, and their disputes with others would be centered there as well. Jesus’ teaching would require them to bind the legs of the sacrificial animal and leave it at the base of the altar in the Jerusalem temple, travel the approximately 80 miles back to Galilee to seek reconciliation and offer restitution to an offended brother, then travel the same 80 miles back to Jerusalem to complete the sacrificial ritual! [7] 
Even if reconciliation is not possible, we are to make an attempt. We should strive to be “peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

[1] When Jesus said, “But I say unto you,” he was emphasizing his own authority to interpret the OT law. “The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29).
[2] The apostle John writes, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).
[3] Of course, the consequences of anger are less severe than the consequences of murder (i.e., the death of someone). If I had a choice between someone hating me and someone murdering me, I’d take hatred every time.
[4] A more literal translation of the original Greek is “says Raca to his brother.” “Raca” is an Aramaic word that means “worthless.”
[5] Timothy S. Lane, Paul David Tripp, How People Change, 151.
[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 115–116.
[7] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church, Kindle locations 2600-2603.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Righteousness Redefined

Part 11 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:17-20

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). 


Over time, words often change their meaning. Referring to someone as a “bully” in the sixteenth century was like calling them “darling” or sweetheart.” In the fourteenth century, “awful” meant “inspiring wonder” and was a short version of “full of awe.” The original meaning of a “nice” person was a “foolish” or “silly” person. In the fifteenth century, a “nervous” person was actually “sinewy and vigorous.” [1]

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus redefined “righteousness.”

Entrance into the Kingdom

Jesus declares, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). “Righteousness” is obedience to God’s commands. Does entrance into God’s kingdom depend on our obedience to God’s law? No, we enter God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus. [2]

Those who have entered God’s kingdom possess a different kind of righteousness. 

Jesus wasn’t saying that we need to be more righteous in the way that the scribes and Pharisees were righteous. He was saying that our righteousness is to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees because it’s a better quality of righteousness.

Jesus Didn't Abolish the Law

Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (v. 17). “The Law [and] the Prophets” refers to the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures. People were accusing Jesus of setting aside the OT. [3] But Jesus makes four statements in verses 17-20 that show the falseness of this accusation.

(1) He had not come to abolish the OT but to “fulfill” it (v. 17). How did Jesus fulfill the OT? He fulfilled the OT’s messianic prophecies, satisfied the OT’s demands by his death on the cross, perfectly obeyed the OT’s commands, and he taught the full meaning of the OT.

(2) All of the OT—even “the smallest letter” and “the least stroke of a pen” (NIV) [4]—is relevant “until heaven and earth pass away” (v. 18).

(3) Every OT commandment should be taught and obeyed (v. 19). Of course, there are many commands that Christians don’t obey in the same way as God’s people did before the coming of Jesus.

(4) The scribes and Pharisees’ obedience to the OT was deficient (v. 20). “Jesus was so far from being the one intent on annulling the Law that he believed that those who had the reputation of being especially punctilious about the details of the Law were totally failing to take it seriously enough.” [5]

Some Christians like to say, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” But Christianity is a relationship with God and a religion. We obey God’s commands because we love him. But didn’t the apostle Paul write that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4)? Yes, but this “does not mean that we are free to disobey [the law], for the opposite is the case. It means rather that acceptance with God is not through obedience to the law but through faith in Christ….” [6]

A Different Kind of Righteousness

“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of God” was a shocking statement in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees were admired for their obedient to the OT, but their righteousness was merely outward conformity to rules. Jesus desires a different kind of righteousness.

1. It is a righteousness that comes from a transformed heart. 

The scribes and Pharisees impressed others by their outward appearance, but their hearts were full of sinfulness. Jesus said to them,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to other, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:25-28). 
The kind of righteousness that Jesus desires is an inside-out righteousness. It’s righteousness that comes from a heart that loves God because of what he has done for us (i.e., because of the cross).

2. It is a righteousness that produces acts of love. 

Jesus was once asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36). His answer:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (vv. 37-40). 
Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their lack of love:
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:  
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me
teaching as doctrine the commandments of men’” (Matt. 15:1-9). 
In Romans 13:8-10, Paul wrote,
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law

What About Your Righteousness? 

Here’s a question we should all ask: “Does my righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?”

What is your motivation for obeying God’s commands?

Are you more concerned with the letter of the law or the spirit of the law (i.e., love for God and others)?

[1] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/words-literally-changed-meaning-through-2173079
[2] Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” To “repent” means to turn from one’s sin, which also implies turning to Jesus.
[3] In Matthew 12, Jesus’ disciples picked grain on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees accused Jesus and his disciples of breaking the OT law (see vv. 1-8). Actually, they broke the Pharisees’ rules, not the OT law.
[4] An “iota” refers to “the Hebrew letter yod, the smallest of the alphabet,” and a “dot” (kepaia) refers to “the small stroke that is used to distinguish letters or an ornamental stroke added to a letter” (Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 182).
[5] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 225.
[6] John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 73.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Witnesses of the Kingdom

Part 10 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:13-16

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Is Christianity Good for the World?

Some non-Christians claim that Christianity has had a negative effect on the world (e.g, the Crusades). Of course, Christians will counter with all the good things Christians have done (e.g., started orphanages, hospitals, schools).

It’s true that many people who called themselves Christians have done terrible things. But these people have disregarded the teachings of Jesus. They are Christians in name but not in deed.

What You Are

What does Jesus expect his followers to be? Jesus gives two metaphors to describe his followers: (1) “You are the salt of the earth” (v. 13) and (2) “You are the light of the world” (v. 14). Jesus didn’t say, “You should be salt and light.” He said, “You are salt and light.”

Salt and light were very important to people in first century Palestine. [1] As “salt” and “light,” we are to have a good influence on those around us. Jesus says that when we let our light shine, people will “see [our] good works” (v. 16; cf. 1 Peter 2:12).

Citizens of God’s kingdom are to be people of good works. 

A popular saying among Christians is “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” [2] But if we are to effectively share the gospel with others, we need to use both deeds and words. “It seems that ‘good works’ is a general expression to cover everything a Christian says and does because he is a Christian, every outward and visible manifestation of his Christian faith.” [3]

The Watching World

We are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” Jesus doesn’t want us to be isolated from the world. He prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world…. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:15, 18).

We are not to be private Christians. Jesus says, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden” (v. 14). He wants the world to notice us. He wants people to see a difference in our lives. Salt is good for nothing if its saltiness is lost [4]; light is good for nothing if it is concealed.

God wants the world to see good works in our lives so that we might be witnesses of the power of the gospel. 

If the world sees no difference in our lives, we will be “trampled under people’s feet” (v. 13). But if they see our good works, some will “give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (v. 16). [5]

Glorifying God

“While Jesus is opposed to doing good works publicly for one’s own honor (6:1, “to be seen” by people), he exhorts his disciples to do those good works publicly for God’s honor (5:16; cf. 6:9).” [6]

We desire to bring glory to God because he has provided salvation for us through the cross.

[1] Salt had many uses, including preserving food.
[2] This saying is widely attributed to Francis of Assisi, but no published source has been located prior to the early 1990s.
[3] John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 61.
[4] Technically, it’s not possible for salt to lose its saltiness. We shouldn’t think that Jesus intended to give us a scientific explanation of the properties of salt.
[5] Of course, we shouldn’t always expect a positive response since the eighth beatitude speaks of persecution.
[6] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 175.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blessed Are the Persecuted

Part 9 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:10-12

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

Persecution of Christians

According to Open Doors, a ministry that serves persecuted Christians, each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed, and 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians. [1]  We’ve probably all heard the stories of ISIS executing Christians.

When we think about the horror of Christians being killed for their faith, we might question how the words of the eighth beatitude can be true: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” [2]

Persecution Is Inevitable

Jesus is talking about persecution that is “for righteousness’ sake” (v. 10) and “on [his] account” (v. 11). In other words, it’s persecution for following Jesus.

This persecution can take many forms. Persecution is not limited to physical violence. We are persecuted when “others revile [us]…and utter all kinds of evil against [us] falsely on [Jesus’] account” (v. 11). During the first three centuries of church history, Christians were accused of cannibalism (because of the Lord’s Supper), incest (because husbands and wives were called “brothers” and “sisters”), and atheism (because they didn’t worship a visible God). Today, sincere and loving Christians are called “bigots” and “mentally ill.”

The citizens of God’s kingdom should expect persecution for following Jesus. 

Jesus told his followers to expect persecution:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-20). 
D. A. Carson writes that “if the disciple of Jesus never experiences any persecution at all, it may be fairly asked where righteousness is being displayed in his life.” [3] Or maybe the lack of persecu-tion is the result of being too isolated from the world.


The most shocking part of Jesus’ words about persecution is that he says, “Rejoice and be glad” (v. 12). Why should we rejoice when we are persecuted? 

1. To be persecuted for following Christ is a great honour. 

When the risen Jesus appeared to Thomas, he showed the doubting disciple the scars from his crucifixion (John 20:27). In amazement, Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). The first followers of Jesus were willing to endure persecution because Jesus—God in human flesh—had willingly been crucified for their salvation. In Acts 5, Peter and some of the other apostles were arrested and flogged for preaching publicly about Jesus. They went home “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (v. 41). [4]

Peter was probably thinking of the eighth beatitude when he wrote his first epistle:
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.  
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:13-18). 
Then in 4:12-16, Peter writes,
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian , let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. [5]
2. To be persecuted for following Christ brings a great reward. 

Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (v. 12). Jesus compares his persecuted followers to the persecuted prophets (“for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” v. 12). Hebrews 11:37 mentions an unnamed prophet who was “sawn in two” (possibly Isaiah). We can be sure that the prophets were rewarded by God for their faithful service. Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). The false prophets might have been treated better by people (because they often told people what they wanted to hear), but they didn’t receive any heavenly rewards.

Paul writes that he was “persecuted, but not forsaken” (2 Cor. 4:9), and he would “not lose heart” (v. 16). Why? “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (v. 17). There can be no greater joy than to stand before Jesus—the one who died for us—and hear him say, “Well done.”

[1] Are there eight or nine beatitudes? In my opinion there are eight beatitudes. The eighth beatitude is “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 10). Then in verses 11 and 12, Jesus talks more about persecution.
[2] https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/
[3] D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 29.
[4] The disciples rejoiced, but they didn’t desire persecution. In Acts 22, when the apostle Paul was about to be flogged, he asked, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” (v. 25). By questioning the legality of his flogging, he was able to escape it.
[5] The name “Christian” was originally used as an insult by non-believers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Part 8 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:9

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). 

Church Splits

Some church splits would be funny if they weren’t so tragic. In the little town of Centerville, Georgia, there was originally one Presbyterian church. Then in 1911, a disagreement arose in the church over whether to take up the offering before or after the sermon. Some members of the congregation left and began a new church: “Centerville Reformed Presbyterian Church.” Just four years later another church split occurred over whether to have flowers in the sanctuary or not. The church that split off was renamed “Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church of Centerville.”

Through the years several more church splits occurred so that the one original church split into 48 different churches. The last split was over whether or not it was a sin to check your email on a Sunday. Several people left the Second Street First Ninth Westminster Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church and named their new church “The Presbyterian Totally Reformed Covenantal Westministerian Sabbatarian Regulative Credo-Communionist Ammillennial Presuppostional Church of Centerville.” [1]

The God of Peace

Three times in the New Testament God is described as “the God of peace” (Rom. 16:20; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20). Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. [2] God wants our relationships to bring happiness to our lives. [3]

Because of our sinfulness, we need peace with God. God has reconciled us to himself through the death of Christ (“making peace by the blood of his cross,” Col. 1:20).

God is a peacemaker, and he wants us to be peacemaker. 

This statement raises two questions: (1) What are the benefits of being peacemakers? (2) How can we become better peacemakers?

What Are the Benefits of Being Peacemakers? 

We are to strive for peace in all our relationships, especially our relationships within the church. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3, NIV). [4]

1. When we are peacemakers, we demonstrate that we are children of God.

Peacemakers “shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). “In Jewish thought, ‘son’ often bears the meaning ‘partaker of the character of.’” [5] This doesn’t mean that we become children of God by being peacemakers “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26; cf. John 1:12).

2. When we are peacemakers, we become persuasive witnesses to the world. 

Jesus prayed that his followers would “all be one…so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

How Can We Become Better Peacemakers?

Sometimes it’s not possible to achieve peace. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). Sometimes conflict arises from doing what’s right (Matt. 10:34-36). Peacemaking isn’t easy.

If we want to become better peacemakers, we must remind ourselves of what God has done to make peace with us.

What did God do to make peace with us? He sent his Son to die for us. If God was willing to make peace with us through the death of Christ, shouldn’t we be willing to make peace with others?

[1] http://columbiadailyherald.com/sections/lifestyles/religion/splitting-hairs.html
[2] This means that peacemaking is not appeasement or the toleration of wrongdoing. When our motto is “peace at any price,” what we achieve is not really peace.
[3] The Hebrew word for “peace” (shalom) means “well-being.”
[4] Conflicts in churches often arise when we aren’t careful with our words (“A soft answer turns away wrath,” Prov. 15:1) or when we think we can read people’s thoughts.
[5] D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 28.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Risen: An Unbelievable Story

An Easter sermon

Text: Matthew 28:1-20

You can listen to this sermon here. (Sorry about the poor audio quality. It's too loud at the start and too quiet at the end.)

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay” (Matt. 28:5-6). 


In my opinion, one word that is overused is “unbelievable.” Nowadays everything is unbelievable. Today, many Easter dinners will be described as “unbelievable.” People don’t seem to know what “unbelievable” means. According to one dictionary, the word “unbelievable” means “difficult or impossible to believe.”

On this Easter Sunday, Christians are celebrating something that really is unbelievable: the resurrection of Jesus.

An Unbelievable Story

Usually, if something really is unbelievable, there’s a good chance that it’s not true (like alligators living in the New York City sewers).

We must acknowledge that the resurrection is a story that’s hard to believe.

We’re so familiar with the story of the resurrection that we don’t appreciate how unbelievable it is. The angel said to the women, “You seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen” (28:4-5).

The story of the resurrection is hard to believe for two reasons. First, it’s hard to believe that a crucified man could be a Saviour. To the people of the first century, “the message of the cross [was] foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18, NKJV).

Second, it’s hard to believe that a crucified man could rise from the dead. If you were told that [dead celebrity] had risen from the dead, you wouldn’t believe it. Dead people stay dead.

Why Should We Believe It's True?

If the story of the resurrection is hard to believe, why should we believe it’s true? What if a non-Christian friend were to ask you this question. How would you answer? You could say, “My parents taught me it’s true,” but your friend would say, “How do you know your parents weren’t wrong?” You could say, “The Bible says it’s true,” but your friend would say, “How do you know the Bible is right about the resurrection?” [1]

It’s reasonable to believe that the resurrection is true because it’s the best explanation of the “minimal facts”—facts that are accepted by the majority of scholars, whether Christian or secular. [2]

1. Jesus was crucified. 

The crucifixion of Jesus was a public event and is mentioned in secular history books. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Christ “suffered the extreme penalty [i.e., crucifixion] during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” [3]

2. The tomb was empty. 

If the tomb of Jesus had not been empty, the story of his resurrection would have easily been disproven. The enemies of Jesus didn’t dispute the fact that the tomb was empty. Instead, they invented a lie to explain why the tomb was empty: “[Jesus’] disciples came by night and stole him away while [the guards] were asleep” (28:13). [4]

3. The disciples really believed that they had seen the risen Jesus. 

The followers of Jesus didn’t act like people who had stolen his body. [5] They were willing to endure persecution and even martyrdom to spread the story of the resurrection. Liars make poor martyrs.

4. A notorious enemy of Christianity was converted. 

The apostle Paul had been a persecutor of the church, but he claimed that the risen Jesus appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:8). Skeptics will argue that the disciples wanted to believe in the resurrection, but the same can’t be said of Paul.

Yes, the story of the resurrection of a crucified man is an unbelievable story. But what about the fact that the tomb was empty? What about the fact that the disciples really believed they had seen the risen Jesus? What about the conversion of Paul? How do we explain these facts if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?

What If It's True? 

The Gospel of Matthew begins with Joseph in fear. An angel says to him in a dream, “Do not fear” (1:20). And Matthew comments that the baby born to Mary would be called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (1:23). The Gospel of Matthew ends with the women at the tomb in fear. An angel says to them, “Do not be afraid” (28:5). [6] And he tells them that Jesus is risen.

If the resurrection is true, it means that the risen Jesus is God with us. 

Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus promised his followers, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20). Jesus is not dead. He’s alive. And the risen Jesus is with us to calm all our fears.

If you fear sharing the gospel, the risen Jesus is with you, and he gives you courage. [7] If you fear death, the risen Jesus is with, and he gives hope.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He Lives, all fear is gone; 
Because I know He holds the future, 
And life is worth the living just because He lives! [8]

[1] I am not casting doubt on the truthfulness of the Bible. However, we should not be under no illusion that a non-Christian will accept what the Bible says as fact.
[2] A good presentation of the minimal facts approach can be found in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona.
[3] Tacitus, Annals 15.44 (c. A.D. 115).
[4] In the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that this lie was still being circulated in his day (Dialogue with Trypho).
[5] It’s significant that Matthew says that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. This detail adds to the genuineness of the account since in that culture the testimony of women wasn’t valued.
[6] Jesus later appears to the women and says, “Do not be afraid” (v. 10).
[7] Before the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples, they were hiding in fear (John 20:19). But after they saw Jesus, they courageously shared the gospel in Jerusalem.
[8] Bill Gaither, “Because He Lives.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Different Kind of King

Text: Matthew 21:1-11

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’” (Matt. 21:4-5). 

Palm Sunday

Five days before his crucifixion, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We call this day Palm Sunday. The event itself is known as the triumphal entry. [1] What was the significance of Palm Sunday? Why did Jesus decide to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey on that day?

1. Jesus presented himself as king. 

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (v. 9). “The Son of David” was a messianic title. John writes that the people called Jesus “the King of Israel” (John 12:13).

2. Jesus presented himself as meek. 

In v. 5, Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, which describes the coming king as “humble and mounted on a donkey.” [2] The Greek word for “humble” (praus) is found four times in the NT, and is also translated as “meek” and “gentle.”


The excited crowd exclaimed, “Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9). “Hosanna” literally means “save us.” [3] However, by the first century it had become a cry of praise to God. [4] Regardless, it’s clear that the people had salvation on their minds. The first part of v. 5 (“Say to the daughter of Zion”) is a quote from Isaiah 62:11, which goes on to say, “Behold, your salvation comes.” The people understood that the king had come to bring salvation, but they were confused as to what kind of salvation Jesus had come to bring.

The people also “cut branches from the trees and spread them on the ground” (v. 8). John’s Gospel tells us that the branches were “branches of palm trees” (John 12:13). About two hundred years earlier, a Jewish rebel group known as the Maccabees liberated Judea from Antiochus and the Greeks. One of their victories was celebrated with “palm-branches” (1 Macc. 13:51). In Jesus’ day, the Jews were under the power of Rome, and they were looking for the Messiah to defeat the Romans.

Jesus came to bring salvation from sin, not salvation from Rome. 

One day, all who have received salvation will together praise Jesus. Revelation 7 describes what could be called a “new Palm Sunday.”
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10). 

The King's Followers

During the previous week, two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, asked Jesus for positions of prominence in his kingdom (Matt. 20:20-21). Jesus rebuked them, saying,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (vv. 25-28). 
Jesus is a different kind of king, and he expects his followers to be a different kind of people. 

The people of Jesus' day had a wrong expectation of what the Messiah would be. We must not have a wrong expectation of what Jesus' followers are to be. We are to be like him: servants.

[1] All four Gospels give an account of the triumphal entry (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19).
[2] The “donkey” of Zechariah 9:9 is contrasted with the “war horse” of Zechariah 9:10.
[3] The praise of the people was inspired by Psalm 118:25-26: “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.”
[4] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew (NAC), 313.