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?

[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.

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.