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.