Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Witnesses of the Kingdom

Part 10 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:13-16

You can listen to this sermon here.

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

Is Christianity Good for the World?

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

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

What You Are

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

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

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

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

The Watching World

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

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

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

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

Glorifying God

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blessed Are the Persecuted

Part 9 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:10-12

You can listen to this sermon here.

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

Persecution of Christians

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

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

Persecution Is Inevitable

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Part 8 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:9

You can listen to this sermon here.

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

Church Splits

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

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

The God of Peace

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

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

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

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

What Are the Benefits of Being Peacemakers? 

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

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

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

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

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

How Can We Become Better Peacemakers?

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 6, 2015

Risen: An Unbelievable Story

An Easter sermon

Text: Matthew 28:1-20

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.”