Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Harmony of the Events of Holy Week

We will soon be entering the Holy Week. This year, you might want to follow this harmony of the events of the Holy Week [1] as part of your Easter celebration.


- Jesus arrives in Bethany (John 12:1)
- Mary anoints Jesus (John 12:2-8)
- Crowd comes to see Jesus (John 12:9-11)


- Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-18)
- Some Greeks see Jesus (John 12:20-36)
- Jesus weeps over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41)
- Enters temple (Mark 11:11)
- Returns to Bethany (Matt. 21:7; Mark 11:11)


- Jesus curses the fig tree (Matt. 21:18-19; Mark 11:12-14)
- Clears the temple (Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46)
- Returns to Bethany with the Twelve (Mark 11:19)


- Disciples see the withered fig tree on the return to Jerusalem (Matt. 21:20-22; Mark 11:20-21)
- Temple controversies in Jerusalem (Matt. 21:23-23:39; Mark 11:27-12:44; Luke 20:1-21:4)
- Olivet Discourse on the return to Bethany (Matt. 24:1-25:46; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36) 


- Jesus continues daily teaching in the temple (Luke 21:37-38)
- Sanhedrin plots to kill Jesus (Matt. 26:3-5; Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:1-2


- Preparation for the Passover (Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13)


- Passover meal/Last Supper (Matt. 26:20-35; Mark 14:17-26; Luke 22:13-20)
- Upper Room Discourse (John 13:1-17:26) 
- Jesus prays in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46)


- Betrayal and arrest (after midnight?) (Matt. 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:2-12)
- Jewish trial: (1) before Annas (John 18:13-24), (2) before Caiaphas and part of the Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:57-75; Mark 14:53-72; Luke 22:54-65; John 18:19-24 ), (3) before full Sanhedrin (after sunrise?) (Matt. 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71)
- Roman trials: (1) before Pilate (Matt. 27:2-14; Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:1-5), (2) before Herod (Luke 23:6-12), (3) before Pilate (Matt. 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25; John 18:28-19:16)
- Crucifixion (approx. 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) (Matt. 27:27-54; Mark 15:16-39; Luke 23:26-49; John 19:16-37)
- Burial (evening) (Matt. 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-54; John 19:38-42)


- Empty tomb witnesses (Matt. 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12)
- Resurrection appearances (Matt. 28:9-20; Mark 16:9-20; Luke 24:13-53; John 20:1-21:25)

[1] Taken from the ESV Study Bible, p. 1866

Monday, March 23, 2015

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

Part 7 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:8

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).

Amazing Sights to See 

There are many amazing places to see on earth--places like (1) Zhangye Danxia landform in Gansu, China, (2) Victoria Falls bordering Zimbabwe and Zambia in Africa, (3) The Hang Son Doong cave in Quang Binh Province, Vietnam, (4) Tunnel of Love in Klevan, Ukraine, (5) Sea of Stars on Vaadhoo Island in the Maldives. But nothing compares to seeing God. Jesus declared,

Psalm 24

The sixth beatitude is “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). When Jesus spoke these words, he was probably thinking of Psalm 24. This psalm refers to a person with “a pure heart” (v. 4), who “will receive blessing from the LORD” (v. 5) and “seek[s] the face of the God of Jacob” (v. 6).

The Importance of the Heart

Jesus didn’t say that the outwardly pure would see God. He said “the pure in heart.” The heart is “the core of a person, that place from which we feel and think and determine out actions.” [1] The heart is who we really are.

All of us, to some degree, are concerned with our outward appearance. But how concerned are we with our hearts? “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus emphasized the importance of the heart. He taught that his followers are to strive for inward purity.
“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. 5:27-28). 
All sin begins in the heart. Sinful desires often lead to sinful actions.
“What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:18-19). [2]
The scribes and Pharisees were satisfied with being outwardly pure. Jesus called them hypocrites.
“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 also 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 others, but within are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:25-28). 

What Does It Mean to Be "Pure in Heart"?

You can buy "maple flavoured syrup" or "pure maple syrup." Maple flavoured syrup" It’s packaged to appear like it’s maple syrup, but it really isn’t. The person who is “pure in heart” is what he or she claims to be (unlike the scribes and Pharisees, who were hypocrites).

Purity of heart is sincerity of heart. The person with a pure heart just doesn’t claim to love God. He or she really does. In Psalm 24, the person who has a pure heart “does not lift up his soul to what is false [i.e., an idol]” (v. 4). His heart is devoted to God, not an idol.

Citizens of God’s kingdom sincerely love their King. 

Many people claim to love God, but their hearts don’t belong to God. They are idolaters. Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke against idolatry and said, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24). [3]

A Change of Heart

We do not by nature have pure hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). We need new hearts. God saw this need and promised that there would come a time when his people would receive new hearts.
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:25-26).
When we put our faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us (“I will put my Spirit within you,” Ezek. 36:27). The Holy Spirit transforms our hearts. We now have a new desire to love and obey God. “Purity of heart is not a qualification for salvation; it is a result of salvation.” [4]

Seeing God

There is a connection between having a pure heart and seeing God. When your heart is devoted to someone, you long to see that person. A woman is apart from the man she loves, longs to see him. Only those who truly love God long for the blessing of seeing him.

The pure in heart are blessed because “they shall see God.” The apostle John writes, “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12). And the apostle Paul says that God “dwells in unap-proachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Moses was given a glimpse of God’s glory, but God told him, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exod. 33:20). But one day, all of God’s people “will see his face” (Rev. 22:4).

The greatest blessing a human could ever experience is to see God. 

But if your heart isn’t devoted to God, then the thought of seeing God isn’t very exciting. It’s a sign that you’re devoted to an idol.

You Don't Need a Bucket List 

Some people make a “bucket list.” It’s a list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.” It would be nice to see all of earth’s amazing places before I die. But I also believe that death is not the end.

In this life, I won’t see everything I’d like to see. But that’s alright because I know I’ll see God. And I’ll enjoy the new heavens and new earth without having to worry about death again. So I don’t really need a bucket list.

[1] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 205.
[2] Jesus also said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34).
[3] James writes, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).
[4] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church, Kindle location 1402.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Blessed Are the Merciful

Part 6 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:7

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7). 

Our World Lacks Mercy 

One of the problems in our world today is hunger. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, about 805 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world suffered from chronic undernourishment in 2012-2014. That’s one in nine people. [1] But did you know that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone? World hunger is a solvable problem.

There are many reasons for world hunger. But one of the most basic reasons for world hunger is that there is a lack of mercy in the world.

A God of Mercy

What is mercy? Mercy is “compassion in action.” [2] “The merciful” are “those who demonstrate forgiveness toward the guilty and kindness for the hurting and needy.” [3] Many times in the Gospels, people in need of healing cry out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me.” [4]

Scripture presents God as a God of mercy. David declared, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 103:8).

The greatest demonstration of God’s mercy is the cross. 

We “were by nature objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). We were helpless and hopeless. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5).

God Desires Mercy in His People 

As Christians, there is always the danger of losing sight of what is most important. This is what happened to many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They were very good at doing religious things, but they weren’t good at showing mercy.

Citizens of God’s kingdom are to value mercy over empty religion. 

In Matthew 9:10-13, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who would rather avoid “sinners” than show them mercy.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  
In Matthew 23:23-24, Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, who were careful to tithe their spices while neglecting to have mercy.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”  
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite—two religious men—chose not to show the injured man mercy.
"Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan], do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37). 

Is Mercy Earned? 

Some people think that the fifth beatitude teaches that God’s mercy is earned. But this goes against the clear teaching of Scripture that salvation is by grace through faith. The story of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35) teaches us that we should show mercy to others because God has shown mercy to us.

Showing mercy to others is evidence that we have received mercy. 

The apostle John writes,
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:16-18). 

Making Mercy a Priority 

Each week we plan to do spend our time doing many things: complete a project, go to a movie, watch a hockey game on TV, spend time doing a hobby, or go shopping. But how often do we plan to do something that will show mercy to someone else?

[2] R. K. Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, 46.
[3] Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 208.
[4] See Matthew 9:27; 15:22; 17:15; 20:30.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Part 5 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:6

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).

Hungering and Thirsting

Most of us really don’t understand what it’s like to hunger or thirst. How many of us have gone twenty-four hours without eating or drinking?

To “hunger and thirst” means to have an intense longing for something. Many people live their lives longing for things (e.g., wealth) and are never “satisfied.”

What Kind of Righteousness? 

To what kind of righteousness does the fourth beatitude refer? In Scripture, there are three kinds of righteousness: (1) legal righteousness (known as justification), (2) moral righteousness (known as sanctification), and (3) social righteousness (e.g., helping the poor). [1] The word “righteousness” occurs four more times in the Sermon on the Mount.

  • “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:10). 
  • “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). 
  • “Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (6:1). 
  • “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (6:33). 

The context suggests that “righteousness” in the fourth beatitude refers to moral righteousness. D. A. Carson defines this righteousness as “a pattern of life in conformity to God’s will.” [2] Basically, this kind of righteousness is right living.

Citizens of God’s kingdom are to have an intense longing to obey God's will. 

To some, desiring moral righteousness is like desiring vegetables. In other words, obeying God’s will is something a Christian should do (like eating vegetables), but it’s not really enjoyable. However, the closer you get to God, the more desirable righteousness becomes (see Isa. 6:1-5).

Driven to Action

If you’re hungry or thirsty, what do you do? You get something to eat or drink. Your desire (for either food or drink) drives you to action. What if you were stranded on a deserted island and you discovered some fruit high up in a tree? You would do everything you could do to get that fruit. In the same way, our hunger and thirst for righteousness should drive us to action.

Satisfied, Yet Not Satisfied

Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness “shall be satisfied.” We who have put their faith in Christ are both satisfied (because of our justification) [3] and not satisfied (because of our imperfect sanctification). We look forward to the day when Christ returns when we will be completely satisfied (when sin and injustice will be no more).

Be Like Jesus

When Jesus lived on this earth, he always obeyed the will of the Father. He said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34). Jesus desired to do the Father’s will more than he desired to eat.

To live a life in obedience to God’s will is to be like Jesus. 

Back in the nineties, millions of kids wanted to be like basketball superstar Michael Jordan. So Gatorade made a commercial with Jordan that featured the jingle “Be Like Mike.” [4] Part of the song went like this:

Sometimes I dream that he is me; 
You got to see that’s how I dream to be. 
I dream I move, I dream I groove 
Like Mike, if I could be like Mike.

Kids want to be like their favourite athlete. So Gatorade was hoping kids would think, “If I drink Gatorade, I’ll be like Michael Jordan!” As Christians, we want to be like Jesus. Jesus’ food was to do the Father’s will. We must long for this same food.

[1] John Stott writes about these three kinds of righteousness in The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 44-45.
[2] D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His confrontation with the World, 23.
[3] Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
[4] A digitally remastered version of the commercial was re-aired during this year’s NBA All-Star Game.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Were Torn Asunder for Us

I am currently reading How People Change by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. In chapter 4, "Change Is a Community Project," the authors make some interesting comments on Genesis 15:7-21:
What is going on in this strange encounter? Abram is struggling to believe God, so God helps him. He tells him to cut some animals in half. That night, a smoking firepot and a blazing torch pass between the animal halves. God was saying, “If I do not keep my promise to you, may what happened to these animals happen to me! ” This is called a self-maledictory oath. God is saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the bargain, may I be ripped asunder!” Over two thousand years later, God the Son hung on a cross, crying out, “My God! My God! Why have we been ripped asunder?” God allowed what should have happened to us to happen to Jesus. We were the ones who failed, yet the triune God was torn asunder so that we might be united to him and to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. The perfect love, unity, and joy that existed between the Father, Son, and Spirit were demolished, for a time, for our sake.  
This is the ground on which we build all relationships. Every time you are tempted to shun another believer, remember that the Father, Son, and Spirit were torn asunder so that you might be united. When you sin or are sinned against, you are to move toward your sibling in Christ aware that Father, Son, and Spirit were torn asunder so that you might be reconciled! If we approached relationships in the body of Christ with that in view, it would transform our friendships (p. 80).

Blessed Are the Meek

Part 4 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:5

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). 

It's Not Easy to Be Meek 

How would you respond if you found yourself in the following situations? A co-worker spreads a false rumour about you. You invite a friend to a party at your house. She says he’ll attend, but she never shows up. You see your neighbour back his car into your car, denting your car’s bumper. He drives away without telling you what they did.

When we face these type of situations, the natural response is to defend ourselves or demand our rights or plot our revenge. [2] But Jesus expects his followers to be meek. And meekness is “the power to absorb adversity and criticism without lashing back.” [1] It’s not easy to be meek.

Meekness in the Midst of Adversity

The Greek word for “meek” (praus) is found four times in the NT (Matt. 5:5; 11:29; 21:5; 1 Peter 3:4). The ESV translates the word as “meek,” “humble,” and “gentle.” Psalm 37 helps us understand what it means to be meek. [3] The psalm makes two key statements: (1) don’t let evildoers cause you to fret; (2) trust in God to make things right. [4] According to Sinclair Ferguson, meekness is “the humble strength that belongs to the man who has learned to submit to difficulties (difficult experiences and difficult people), knowing that in everything God is working for his good.” [5]

The citizens of God’s kingdom are more concerned with glorifying God than defending themselves.

Moses is an example of a meek person. In Numbers 12, he relied on divine vindication instead of defending himself (see Num. 12:1-3). To be meek requires self-control. Sometimes we do need to defend our beliefs or actions, but we should always do so in meekness. For example, the apostle Peter writes, “Always be 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 [6] and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

God Is for Us

“Biblical meekness is rooted in the deep confidence that God is for you and not against you.” [7] In Romans 8, the apostle Paul writes, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31). Why was Paul confident that God is “for us”? Because God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (v. 32). Paul asks, “How will [God] not also with [his Son] graciously give us all things?” (v. 32). 

When we know that God is for us—that he loves us and sent his Son to die for us and has giving us many amazing promises—we can be meek (i.e., we can stop fretting about evildoers and trust God to make things right).

Glorifying God Through Meekness

Why should we want to be meek? Many people equate meekness with weakness. So meekness is often considered to be an unappealing attribute.

Since very few people aspire to be meek, those who are meek are unique. And remember that the main point of the Sermon on the Mount is that the followers of Jesus are to be different. And when we are different, we bring glory to God. As Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). We should want to be meek so that we bring glory to God—the God who is for us.

The Meekness of Jesus 

The greatest example of meekness is Jesus. He said, “I am gentle [8] and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29; cf. 21:5). Sometimes Jesus was bold and confrontational (e.g., the cleansing of the temple), but he was slow to defend himself (e.g., his silence before Pilate).

“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 2:23). Jesus knew that his mistreatment and suffering wasn’t the end of the story (see Phil. 2:3-11).

This Life Is Not the End of the Story 

How can we learn to be meek? We will increase in meekness if we have an eternal perspective (like Jesus and the author of Psalm 37).

Since this life is not the end of the story, we can live meek lives. 

The world thinks the meek person will never succeed. But Jesus says that the meek “shall inherit the earth.” The promise of inheriting the earth will be fulfilled when God makes the new heavens and the near earth.

Paul stated that he “[had] nothing, yet [possessed] everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Jesus said the following to his disciples:
“Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundred fold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matt. 19:28-29). 

It Helps to Know the Ending 

I'm a fan of the New England Patriots. When I was watching this year's Super Bowl, it looked like they weren't going to win...and I was not happy. Of course, the Patriots made an incredible interception in the final seconds of the game, and they were victorious. Since then, I have watched a recording of the game. My reactions to the Patriots' misplays are different when I watch the recording. I don't get upset because I know how the game ends.

If I know the ending—if I’m going to inherit the earth—I shouldn’t be too upset if someone puts a dent in my vehicle.

[1] I’m not saying we should never correct a false rumour, but we need to be careful that our responses are not self-centered, rather than God-centered.
[2] In the ESV, Psalm 37:11 reads, “But the meek shall inherit the land.”
[3] John Piper, “Blessed Are the Meek.”
[4] Psalm 37 says, “Trust in the LORD,” (v. 3), “Commit your way to the LORD,” (v. 5), “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him” (v. 7).
[5] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 21.
[6] The Greek word translated as “gentleness” (prautes) is often translated as “meekness.”
[7] Piper, “Blessed Are the Meek.”
[8] The Greek word translated as “gentle” (praus) in Matthew 11:29 is the same word translated as “meek” in Matthew 5:5.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Part 3 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:4

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). 

One of These People Is Not Like the Others

When I was a kid I watched Sesame Street, and one of the segments on the show was “One of these things is not like the others.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that the people of God’s kingdom should not be like other people. We should be different.

Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the beatitudes. The second beatitude says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). When Jesus said these words, he was probably thinking of Isaiah 61:1-4.

Happy Are the Sad? 

A few months ago, my wife and I met with a guy at the bank to take care of some financial matters. During our meeting, he talked about life insurance. And every time he mentioned a scenario in which Marsha or I died, he would say, “Heaven forbid.” Every time. People try to avoid thinking and talking about sad things.

How can Jesus say, “Blessed are those who mourn”? In essence, Jesus is saying, “Happy are the sad.” How do Jesus’ words make sense?

Good Grief

Charles Quarles explains the connection between Isaiah 61 and the second beatitude:
The context of Isaiah 61 portrays the “mourning” as an expression of sorrow over Israel’s exile, which was a punishment for their sinful rebellion. This mourning was thus an expression of grief from those suffering the consequences of sin and constituted an attitude of repentance. The appeal to Isaiah 61 in the second beatitude thus implies that the mourning of which Jesus spoke was mourning for sin and its grievous consequences. [1]
So when Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn,” he wasn’t talking about bereavement (i.e., sorrow over the loss of a loved one); he was talking about repentance (i.e., sorrow over sin). Repentance is a good kind of grief.

Citizens of God’s kingdom grieve over sin. 

There is a connection between the first and second beatitudes:
The first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is primarily intellectual (those who understand that they are spiritual beggars are blessed); the second Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn,” is its emotional counterpart. It naturally follows that when we see ourselves for what we are, our emotions will be stirred to mourning. [2]
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (6:21). Later, he declares, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (6:25). “Woe” is the opposite of “blessed.”

True repentance is not merely being sad about the consequences of our sin; it’s being sad about sin itself. Often when a murderer is pronounced guilt of the crime, he will cry because of how the crime has affected himself, not because of the awfulness of his sin. The apostle Paul writes, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). “True repentance makes no excuses and offers no rationalizations. It grieves for sin from a broken heart.” [3]

What Causes Us to Mourn over Our Sin?

What should cause us to mourn over our sin? The gospel. When we understand that God loves us and that Christ died for us, we should never enjoy sin. “The law of God convicts us of our sin…. But it is the grace of God that melts our hearts and causes a right attitude toward that sin, in sorrow, shame, and mourning.” [4]

Comfort Is Coming

Jesus promises that those who mourn over their sin “shall be comforted.” Those who repent of their sin will be comforted in two ways.

1. Those who mourn over there sin will be forgiven.

The parable of the prodigal son helps us understand God’s forgiveness.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants”.’ And he arose and came to him father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’. But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 18:17-24). 
The story teaches that God’s forgiveness isn’t reluctant; it’s extravagant. It not only gives us joy; it gives God joy.

2. Those who mourn over their sin will one day be freed from mourning. 

Sin is an ongoing struggle. Paul experienced this struggle: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). But one day this struggle will end. “[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev. 21:4).

Bad News and Good News 

Sometimes a person comes to us with both good and bad news, and they say, “What do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?” The Bible gives us the bad news first: we are sinners in need of forgiveness. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes that “conviction must of necessity precede conversion, a real sense of sin must come before there can be a true joy of salvation.” [5]

Once we acknowledge the bad news about ourselves, we can then receive the good news of the gospel: there is forgiveness through the blood of Jesus.

[1] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle locations 1199-1202.
[2] R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 26.
[3] Quarles, Kindle locations 1215-1216.
[4] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 19.
[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 45.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Part 2 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:3

You can listen to this sermon here.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3).

The Beatitudes 

Everyone who puts his or faith in Jesus Christ is a citizen of God’s kingdom. And in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus, our King, tells us that he expects his people to be different. 

In verses 2-12, Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with what are commonly called the Beatitudes. [1] Each beatitude begins with the word “blessed.” [2] Charles Quarles writes, “The fact that Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with such pronouncements of blessing on His disciples before placing demands on them is significant. This order suggests that the righteousness described in the sermon is a result of divine blessing rather than a requirement for divine blessing.” [3]

D. A. Carson call the beatitudes “the norms of the kingdom.” [4] The beatitudes give us a summary of what Jesus expects his people to be. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “All Christians are meant to manifest all of these characteristics.” [5]

Is Christianity a Crutch? 

It’s sometimes said, “Christianity is a crutch for the weak.” [6] But is a crutch a bad thing? No, a crutch is a good thing for person who has a broken leg. Spiritually speaking, we all need a crutch. We are all spiritually lame.

Sometimes when a person has a broken leg, they’re too proud to use a crutch. Christianity is only for those who will acknowledge their spiritual need and cry out to God for salvation.

The Kingdom of God Is for Lame Beggars

In Jesus’ day, a person who was lame would usually need to be a beggar in order to survive (e.g., the lame beggar who was healed in Acts 3). A lame beggar had to completely rely on the generosity of others. “‘Poor in spirit’ means ‘beggarly in spirit,’ and describes someone who is keenly aware that he is spiritually destitute and must rely entirely on the grace of God for salvation.” [6] The kingdom of God is for lame beggars. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

Citizens of God’s kingdom acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy. 

During Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders often complained that Jesus spent time with “tax collectors and sinners.” We find an example of this in Mark 2:13-17.
[Jesus] went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinner and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) taught the need for poverty of spirit.
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to be a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 
In Isaiah 57:15, God says that he lifts up the poor in spirit and brings them into relationship with himself: “Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name in Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”

What About My Self-Esteem? 

Today, there is an emphasis on self-esteem. Do those who are poor in spirit lack self-esteem? No, the message of the Bible is that we are not without value. Humans were made “in [God’s] image” (Gen. 1:26). Yes, we are sinners in need of salvation, but the fact that Christ died for us tells us that we are anything but insignificant.

The Gospel Gap 

Many Christians think that the gospel only affects their past and their future. They say, “God forgave all my sins, and I will go to heaven when I die.” But what about life right now? There’s a gospel gap in their lives.

In How People Change, Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp write, “The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a ‘then-now-then gospel.” There is the “then” of the past. (God forgave all my sins.) There is the “then” of the future. (I will go to heaven when I die.) But there’s also the “now” of the present. What difference does the gospel make in my life right “now”?

If we understand the gospel—that salvation is by grace alone—we will be poor in spirit. And when we are poor in spirit, we are free from self-righteousness. How would our lives change if our self-righteousness was removed? We would be less judgmental and more caring. We would have less bitterness and more forgiveness.

[1] “Beatitude” is from the Latin word beatus, which means “blessed.”
[2] Sometimes makarios is translated as “happy,” but this is misleading since happiness is often associated with good circumstances.
[3] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle Locations 1039-1040.
[4] D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 16.
[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 26.
[6] The idea for this introduction was found in John Piper’s sermon “Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit Who Mourn.”
[7] Quarles, Kindle locations 1045-1046.
[8] Timothy S. Lane, Paul David Tripp, How People Change, 3.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The King and His People

Part 1 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:1-2

Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them (Matt. 5:1-2).

Can You See the Difference?

The teaching of Jesus found in Matthew 5-7 is commonly called the “Sermon on the Mount.” The sermon gives us the essence of Christianity. In other words, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers how he wants them to live.

There used to be an ABC laundry detergent commercial that asked the question “Can you see the difference?” According to the commercial, clothes washed with ABC look no different than clothes washed with a more expensive brand of detergent.

Sadly, many people say they can’t see a difference between Christians and everybody else.

We Should Be Different

Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven [1] is at hand.” [2] The kingdom was “at hand” because the King was present. And Jesus declared that all who desire to enter God’s kingdom must “repent.” To repent means to change one’s mind. Those who enter the kingdom of God decide to make Jesus the King of their lives. And when Jesus is our King, we are expected to live a certain way. [3]

The Sermon on the Mount is meant for all Christians--not just a special class of Christians. R. Kent Hughes writes that the Sermon on the Mount “is the antidote to the pretense and sham that plagues Christianity.” [4]

The Sermon on the Mount is the King’s declaration that he expects his people to be different. 

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is often compared to Moses. [5] Jesus is a new and greater Moses. Moses went up a mountain to receive God’s law for the Israelites. Obeying God’s law would make the Israelites different from the other nations. Matthew 5:1-2 says, “Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them.” And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly makes it clear that his followers are to act differently than other people.

We should be concerned with our inward desires, not just our outward actions. “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” (5:27-28).

We are to love our enemies, not just our family and friends. “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (5:46-47).

We are to try to impress others with our religious acts. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for them you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (6:1).

We are not to worry about material things. “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seeks after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows you need them all” (6:31-32).

If you’re a Christian—a citizen of God’s kingdom—people should be able to see a difference in your life.

What Difference Would It Make? 

What difference would it make if people could see a difference in our lives?

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that living out the Sermon on the Mount “is the best means of evangelism.” “I am never tired of saying that what the Church needs to do is not to organize evangelistic campaigns to attract outside people, but to begin herself to live the Christian life.” [6] 

[1] “The kingdom of heaven” is identical to “the kingdom of God.”
[2] The kingdom of God is the rule of God. God rules in the lives of Christians, but the church is not synonymous with the kingdom. The kingdom is both already here (“the kingdom of God has come upon you,” Matt. 12:28) and not yet here.
[3] This doesn’t mean that we enter the kingdom by our own good works. The only requirements are repentance and faith in Christ.
[4] R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 16.
[5] An example of this is how both Moses and Herod were saved from two murdering kings: Moses from Pharaoh and Jesus from Herod.
[6] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 13.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How Can I Keep My Resolution to Pray Daily?

Part 2 of Resolutions

Text: 1 John 4:13-15

You can listen to this sermon here.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 John 5:14-15).

Resolutions Are Hard to Keep

This is the time of year when people are trying to keep New Year’s resolutions. Christians often make New Year’s resolutions. Two of the most common Christian resolutions are to read the Bible daily and to pray daily.

January 17 was Ditch Your Resolutions Day. Two ice cream franchises, Marble Slab Creamery and Maggie Moo’s, celebrated the fake holiday by offering a special by one, get one free ice cream deal. Why was January 17 picked as Ditch Your Resolutions Day? Because by this time, many people have already given up on the resolution. Resolutions are hard to keep. How can we keep our resolution to pray daily?

Keeping Our Resolution 

If we are to keep our resolution to pray daily, we should remember five things.

1. When we pray, we should remember that it’s normal to be frustrated with prayer. 

There are many biblical examples of people who were frustrated with prayer. One of these people was the prophet Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet complaining to God about unanswered prayer: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab. 1:2). Sometimes it’s encouraging to discover that other people struggle like us. (We’re not happy about the struggles of others, but we are happy to know we’re not abnormal.)

2. When we pray, we should remember that we’re approaching a loving Father. 

Throughout 1 John, John emphasizes that believers are God’s children (“born of God”). In 3:1, he writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” God is a Father who loves his children more than we can imagine. Because we know God loves us, we can have “confidence” (v. 14) when we pray.

When we approach God in prayer, we are approaching a Father who wants what is best for us. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:9-11). Sometimes God’s children ask him for stones and serpents, and God says, “No.” Sometimes God grants his children’s requests for bread and fish, but he says, “Wait.” Sometimes God’s children ask for bread and fish, but God says, “I have something else planned for you” (e.g., Paul’s denied request in 2 Cor. 12:7-10).

3. When we pray, we should remember that prayer really does work. 

Sometimes, when something good happens, we think, “Maybe that was going to happen whether or not I prayed.” But prayer is not a waste of time. It’s possible that when we pray we can “have the requests that we have asked of him” (v. 15). Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can make God do things he doesn’t want to do.

4. When we pray, we should remember that prayer isn’t all about us.

Prayer is about getting God’s will done, not ours (“if we ask anything according to his will,” v. 14). We should also prayer for the needs of others, not just our own needs (see v. 16).

5. Before we pray, we should have a plan. 

Instead of saying to ourselves, “I want to pray daily,” we should make a specific plan. An ideal plan would be to combine Bible reading and prayer. Here’s one possible plan: (1) set aside 20-30 minutes; (2) pick a quiet time and place; (3) read a portion of Scripture; (4) meditate upon the words you read; (5) ask God to speak to you through those words; (6) pray.