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Jesus Is The Sole Authority

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

In yesterday‘s study Jesus debunked the prevalent notion that one can earn salvation through outward behaviors. It is our inward attitudes and motives that are much more important to God. Beginning today and for the next few days, Jesus will give several examples of what He means by clarifying Old Testament laws that had become falsely interpreted by the religious leaders of the day.

Jesus took what the people [had] heard was said and told them it was wrong. He replaced these false beliefs with the correct ones – ones that He Himself defined (But I say to you). Jesus was establishing Himself as the sole authority on spiritual matters. And the people were amazed [Matthew 7:28-29l; Mark 1:22].

An analogy is hard to come up with but imagine someone today appearing on television explaining to the country the true intentions of the US Constitution. Imagine he clarified all the debatable issues and boiled it down to its true interpretation. Imagine he spoke with such authority and confidence and clarity that made sense to everyone who listened.

This is how Jesus spoke. He explained the law of God in a way that no one alive had ever heard before. He removed all the extra rules that had been added by the religious leaders. He removed any confusion as to what God’s standards were. And the people were slack-jawed.

By establishing Himself as the authority on the law of God Jesus was equating Himself with God. Either Jesus was an arrogant megalomaniac or He truly was God. Even a cursory study of the rest of Jesus’ life demonstrates that He never sought attention for Himself. His entire life was spent ministering to others. He was not a narcissist. He was God on earth.

Jesus took the highest wisdom of men and corrected it. He didn’t reason with anyone. He didn’t justify His opinions. He just spoke as if what He was saying was 100% true. No debate was needed.

No human being can adequately speak for God. As we learned previously, man makes rules that are nothing more than whims and loopholes to justify our own sin. If anyone wants to understand spiritual issues they should not look to another human being or within themselves.

What the Pope says doesn’t matter. What the Dalai Lama says doesn’t matter. What the President of the Mormon Church says doesn’t matter. What Mohammed said doesn’t matter. What the President of the United States says doesn’t matter. What Oprah says doesn’t matter.

Jesus’ is the only authority in heaven or on earth. Unless someone’s comments and opinions about the Bible or eternity or any spiritual issue agree with Jesus, then that person is wrong.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.



God Can Not Be Obligated To Take Anyone To Heaven

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

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines “post-modernism” as “a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason”. A post-modern mindset rejects standards of truth outside oneself. Instead we define our own standards. As a result, we can never fall short of our concept of ideal.

Although the definition of post-modernism states that it is a movement associated with the late 20th-century, the Bible tells us that it has been around forever. It was the primary philosophy of the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day.

These religious leaders replaced God’s standards (the Bible) with their own standards of righteousness that were easier to follow. They were easier to follow because they were behavior-based. The determination of righteousness was based one’s outward behavior.

The scribes and Pharisees were sure they were going to heaven because they kept all these outward rules. Rules that they themselves created.

In this verse Jesus tells His listeners (and us) that this is not the case. Jesus said keeping these rules would not gain anyone entry into the kingdom of heaven. This would have shocked those who heard Him. It shocks many people today.

The vast majority of people on this planet belong to a religion that teaches one can earn his/her way to heaven. They teach that God evaluates our behavior and if it is more good than bad (the exact percentage is never defined) then God is obligated to let them into heaven. The emphasis is entirely on the so-called goodness of man. God is reduced to a servile position controlled by His creation.

Every world religion teaches this: Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism. Each “ism” may have their own definition of heaven and their own set of rules to get there. But the overall premise is the same: we can “deserve” to go to heaven based on our behavior. The Bible tells us this is wrong.

God does not measure our righteousness by our behavior. He looks at our heart [1 Samuel 16:7; Luke 16:15 et. al]. The righteousness God wants must exceed any and all man-made definitions. It must be more than external. It must be internal. This internal righteousness begins with repentance and includes the characteristics Jesus’ defined in the Beatitudes [Matthew 5:3-12].

To be sure, external righteousness (doing good) is important. But it should be the result of internal righteousness [James 2:17]. It should not be something we feel obligated to do but something we want to do. Otherwise it is hypocrisy. And hypocrisy cannot substitute for holiness.

It’s interesting to note that God’s law was never meant to make anyone righteous because no one could keep it in its entirety [Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16]. It is arrogant of man, therefore, to think he can create his own way of becoming righteous.

Post-modernism leads to nothing more than pride of self which leads to intolerance and judgmentalism of others. This is exactly what we see in our world today. Ironically, the philosophy the world has adopted for the apparent sake of making life better has just the opposite effect.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


How To Experience The Most Eternal Joy

“Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:19 ESV)

In this passage of scripture we are currently studying Jesus has just laid out eight characteristics of what is expected of a true disciple of His [Matthew 5:3-12]. These are collectively known as The Beatitudes.

He followed this by identifying further expectations that come with aligning oneself with Him including being salt and light. Today Jesus gives another responsibility of anyone who wishes to be one of His disciples. Such a person must agree with and uphold God’s law.

The Bible is not a collection of man-made religious concepts. It is God’s revelation of absolute truth. Its contents are not suggestions to be evaluated. They are requirements to be followed.

If anyone is going to become part of God’s family through faith in Christ [John 1:12], then God is going to expect them to respect these rules and also teach them to others. Notice that there is a reward for anyone who does them and teaches them. Such a person will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

However, just the opposite is also true. If a child of God relaxes even one of the least of God’s commandments and teaches others to do the same then that person will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

Notice that Jesus is not talking about salvation here. Both types of people have been saved from the penalty of their sins and are in heaven. The issue is how they behave after being saved.

God’s children are not to pick and choose which commands to obey. We are commanded to follow all. But we have the option to knowingly sin if we want to. We are not robots. God lets people choose if they want to join His family. He also lets them choose how they will behave once they are a part of that family. But such a decision has eternal (i.e. permanent) consequences.

From this passage it is apparent that people will have rank in heaven. This rank will not come from how much money, or popularity, or achievement one had in this life. Those are earthly measures. Heavenly rank will be based on how a person viewed, defended, and taught Scripture while on earth. Note that we can “teach” simply through our lifestyle. We don’t have to be formal teachers.

We all sin. We sin out of habit or addiction or forgetfulness. Jesus is not talking about that here. He is talking about knowingly and willingly ignoring what God says is true. For example, many believers reject God’s command not to have pre-marital sex. Instead of agreeing with Him they have agreed with the world. They are consciously opting for short-term pleasure at the expense of long-term satisfaction. Such people will lose heavenly rank.

God’s moral law is a reflection of His very character. When a child of His brazenly ignores any of it they are insulting Him. They are saying that He is wrong. While such a person will still go to heaven, that person will not experience as much eternal joy as they could have.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


Replacing God’s Truth With Our Own May Make Life Easier But It Doesn’t Make It Better

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
(Matthew 5:17-18 ESV)

Yesterday we learned that despite His teachings going against what many believed, Jesus’ goal was not to eradicate the Scriptures (which at this time was only the Old Testament). His purpose was to complete them. By so doing Jesus confirmed the Old Testament as valid and true.

Just like the Jewish religious leaders did 2,000 years ago many try to do today. People who know nothing about the Bible attempt to modify – or even nullify – God’s word. This happens all the time.

You don’t have to work too hard to find articles on mainstream websites such as CNN, Slate, or MSNBC or TV shows on networks such as The History Channel that deny the Bible. They attempt to “explain” events such as the virgin birth, or the flood, or the resurrection by denying the existing evidence while providing no credible evidence of their own.

We also see our government diluting and rejecting God’s laws. Over the past several decades this movement has taken on increased momentum. During that time our government has condoned and even promoted sinful behavior including pornography, abortion, and the homosexual lifestyle. In so doing we are saying that God’s word is wrong.

Of course we also see in this in the general lifestyle of our population. We take on debt. We have sex outside of marriage. We seek fame and fortune. We pollute the environment and don’t take care of those in need. We reject what God says is true and replace it with what we think is true, just like the Pharisees and Sadducees did in Jesus’ day.

In 1974 Harvard law professor Harold J. Benjamin stated that laws without a foundation in religion are unworkable. Without an absolute truth external to ourselves our laws and rules are nothing but self-serving whims of the human mind. What is true today may not be true tomorrow, or vice-versa. Circumstances dictate what is right and what is wrong. Mr. Benjamin concludes that no society can function like this for very long.

As we saw when we studied the Beatitudes [Matthew 5:3-12] and also see throughout the entire Bible – God’s truth is not easy. It holds us to an incredibly high standard. But man rejects God’s truth and replaces it with his own to make life easier. But this does not make life better. We’d rather take the easy road rather than the hard and in so doing we retard our own development. We may accomplish many things. But our character languishes, hastening our own destruction [Matthew 7:13-14].

Every iota and every dot of God’s word has been true from day one and will continue to be true until heaven and earth pass away. These words of Jesus (who was God in a human body) confirm the accuracy, importance, and usefulness of the Bible. What God says is true is true. All of it. For ever.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


Jesus Is The Fulfillment Of The Old Testament Laws

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
(Matthew 5:17-18 ESV)

As we’ve learned since we started reading the Sermon on the Mount, which was Jesus’ first public sermon, His teachings went against what was the primary thought process of the day. He espoused difficult concepts like repentance and meekness and warned of persecution to anyone who lived this way.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene the Jewish leaders had accumulated hundreds of piddling laws that, they claimed, had to be observed for a person to be right with God. The problem was none of these were actually from God. They were created by human beings. Jesus refused to obey them.

There were many who thought that since Jesus disregarded these rules He preached a message contrary to God. But that was not the case. His message was actually an undiluted version of God’s message. It removed all the “junk” that man had added to it. In today’s passage Jesus wants His listeners to understand this. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (e.g. the Old Testament). Rather He came to fulfill them.

There are three categories of law detailed in the Old Testament: ceremonial, judicial, and moral. The ceremonial laws included animal sacrifices that symbolically removed people’s sins. Jesus fulfilled these laws when He became a sacrifice on the cross. Dead animals could not really pay for man’s sins. They were simply a reminder that man was sinful and was unable to pay for his own sins. Jesus’ death actually did pay for the sins of mankind. Once Jesus died the animal sacrificial system was no longer needed as Jesus Himself became our sacrifice.

The judicial law regulated lifestyle issues including diet and dress of the Jewish people. They were meant to give the Jews a unique identity to demonstrate that they did not belong to the world but to God. These laws were also fulfilled with Jesus’ death as once sin was paid for (i.e. the ceremonial laws were fulfilled) anyone and everyone – Jew and Gentile – could come into a relationship with God. The Jews were no longer the only path to God.

Finally, Jesus fulfilled the moral law by keeping every single one of God’s rules for righteous living. This included not only external behavior but internal thoughts. Jesus never sinned with His body or His mind. He is the one and only person ever to do so. He did not obey the man-made laws created by the Jewish religious leaders – but He did not need to as these were not created by God. Jesus did, however, keep every commandment given by God, which are the ones that count.

While the ceremonial law and the judicial law are no longer applicable to our lives, the moral law lives on. Just because Jesus “fulfilled” it does not mean that those of us living today should ignore it. These rules were given to us by God for our benefit. They still have value. First, if we followed them life on this planet would be immeasurably better. Second, they show us just how sinful we really are [Romans 5:20].

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


God’s Children Are Light To A World Living In Darkness

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)

Yesterday, as part of the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed that those who are His disciples are the salt of the earth. That is, they preserve the world’s inevitable decline. This is a great responsibility. Today He expands that responsibility by saying that we are the light of the world.

Whereas the effects of salt are not readily observable, light is very noticeable. When Jesus spoke of salt He was referring to our indirect influence on the world around us – mainly through our actions. When He speaks now of light, He is referring to our direct communication of the gospel. This is exactly how Jesus lived. Jesus affected the world around Him by what He did and what He said [Luke 1:1].

Verbally declaring the gospel is meaningless if our lifestyle does not support it. Likewise, simply living godly lives without explaining why has no influence.

If we study the life of Jesus we notice that His entire ministry was very public. He taught others about God in public places. He healed people in public places. Everything He did was witnessed by many (sometimes thousands) people. He was God walking and living among men for the purpose of directing them to Himself.

That is why Christians are commanded (this is not optional) to let their light shine before others. We are not to hide our light (put it under a basket). A light that is hidden is useless. Light must be seen to have any benefit. God commands us to let others know that we are His children. If you are a true follower of Jesus, there should be no one in your life who does not know it by observing your actions and words.

Light illuminates and provides guidance. That is why we have street lights. They illuminate the road so we can get where we need to go. This world is driving down an unlit road. This can only result in disaster. When God’s children live according to the beatitudes [Matthew 5:3-12] we show people the way to our Father who is in heaven. Heaven is where people need to go.

When we live like this we give glory to [our] Father. The purpose of the lives of God’s children is to cause others to notice God. This is not for God’s sake – God has no ego. Rather, this is for their sake. People need God. They cannot, and will not, find anything good anywhere else.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


The World Can Not Get Better; It Can Only Decline

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
(Matthew 5:13 ESV)

Having just finished teaching on eight characteristics of one of His disciples, Jesus now explains how someone who possesses and exhibits those characteristics function in the world. Firstly, they are the salt of the earth. Tomorrow, we’ll read that they are also light.

In summary, being salt (and light) means that we who are God’s children through faith [John 1:12, 3:3] have influence in the world. By definition, an influence must be different from that which surrounds it. As God’s witnesses on this earth, it is primarily (although not exclusively) through us that the world comes to see and know God.

This is a great responsibility born out of the blessings described in the Beatitudes [Matthew 5:3-12]. God’s blessings are not to be kept to ourselves, but are to be spread to others.

One of the many attributes of salt is that it is a preservative. It slows down decay. Almost any packaged food in a grocery store will be salt-laden to prevent it from going bad while it is shipped to the store and while it sits on the store shelf. In a very similar way, Christians preserve what is good in the world.

The world is corrupted by sin and is decaying. Despite what man thinks, the world can never be made better. It will only get worse as time goes on as evil accumulates [2 Timothy 3:13]. We think that our increased knowledge and accomplishments over the centuries indicate progress. But really, they only allow us to express our depravity in new and more efficient ways. Our so-called advancements (for example, technology) are actually fueling our decline.

God’s people are the only way to retard the increased corruption, hate, and immorality we see in the world. But as the eighth beatitude taught us, such people will be despised by the world and even persecuted [Matthew 5:10-12].

Moreover, the world believes that removing Jesus will make things better. Certainly we can look around us and see that this is not true. As we have removed Jesus from society over the past several decades life has clearly gotten worse, not better. In fact, God tells us that when His believers are removed from the earth at the rapture, it will take less than seven years for the world to collapse into total depravity.

Christians are a preserving force on this earth. We stand up for morality and goodness. Our presence prevents the planet from degenerating even faster than it would otherwise.

Jesus’ comment about salt losing its taste and being thrown out seems to reference Christians who allow the world to influence them rather than the other way around. Salt can never really lose its saltiness. But its function can be diminished if it is contaminated with other substances. So too will a Christian lose their influence if they allow themselves to become too much like the world around them.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


God Blesses His Children When The World Mistreats Them

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:10-12 ESV)

Today we read the last of the eight Beatitudes – characteristics of a true believer in Christ that result in their being blessed. As we’ve learned, each beatitude builds on the ones before it and today’s is the culmination of the previous seven. It is also the most difficult to accept.

This is the only beatitude in which Jesus uses the word blessed twice. Some might conclude that there are, therefore, two beatitudes mentioned here. But notice that there is only one condition and one reward, just like the previous seven. The double use of the word “blessed” is an emphasis on God’s favor that will be shown those who meet the very difficult condition mentioned in this beatitude.

When disciples of Jesus pursue righteousness in our own lives by living according to the first seven beatitudes (with humility, meekness, purity of heart, etc) the world will take one of three actions against us. They will revile us (direct verbal abuse), persecute us (physical harm), and/or utter all kinds of evil against [us] falsely (slander). Godly living brings antagonism from the world.

It’s easy to let these things get to us and prevent us from continuing to live for God. We could easily adopt the world’s customs and in return be liked. But that would be a mistake. When we live to please the world we grieve God [James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17]. Not to mention that suppressing the message of Christ by altering our lifestyle to satisfy those around us does not do others any good. It only keeps them distant from God.

Rather than changing our behavior or getting down about the ill-treatment we receive, we are commanded to rejoice and be glad. This life is only a vapor that lasts for only a short time [James 4:14]. There is no reason, therefore, to let it dictate our attitude. Instead we should be focused on our great reward in heaven. When we live for Christ, including and especially suffering, we are storing up eternal rewards.

Those who mistreat followers of Jesus are really mistreating Jesus Himself [John 15:18]. We need to keep this in mind. They don’t understand the love that God has for them and the blessings He wants to bestow on them. So they take it out on those who represent Him.

Notice that the persecution Jesus is talking about is limited to that which we receive on [His] account. Jesus is only talking about treatment we receive because of our faith [John 1:12]. Someone who is a Christian but is one secretly does not share in this blessing.

The message God has for the world is not easy for any of us to swallow. It brings resentment and mistreatment. But those who believe it and live it can rest assured that God sees what is happening and will bless us for letting our lives be a message to those around us.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


The Most Peace-Loving Thing A Person Can Do

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

The earliest recorded history of mankind depicts an environment of peace [Genesis 1:26-31]. There was peace between man and God as well as among men themselves. When Adam & Eve introduced sin into the world they removed all peace.

Ever since there has been a notable lack of peace on earth because sin is the enemy of peace. Where there is sin there can be no peace, despite voluminous and well-intentioned attempts by man to create it. The truth is, man will never create peace on this earth because man is filled with sin and can only create evil [Mark 7:21-23]. Good things – which includes peace – only come from God [James 1:17].

What man calls peace is more aptly defined as a lack of conflict. We think we are creating peace simply by suppressing disagreements or tolerating differences. But even if we were successfully able to do that, we would not have true peace. We would simply have containment.

The world is without peace because it lives without God, who is the source of peace [Psalm 29:11; Romans 15:33; 2 Thessalonians 3:16]. We cannot have peace with each other until and unless we first have peace with God.

Two thousand years ago God sent His son to earth as a peace-offering between Himself and His sinful, wayward creation. Jesus is the Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6]. Yet the world lacks peace and many people wonder why.

It’s actually very simple. Jesus came to restore the peace between man and God which is a prerequisite to having peace with each other. Sin separates people from God. To close that gap, God placed every sin of mankind on His son who then bore the punishment due that sin on the cross.

With sin now conquered, every single human being is able to have a right relationship with God. That is, peace with God is now possible. And when we have peace with God we can then have peace with each other. Peace with God is appropriated by repenting of our sins and accepting Jesus’ death as payment that we owe for those sins.

Anyone who does this is a true follower of Christ. This section of Matthew we are studying, called The Beatitudes, defines eight characteristics of a follower of Christ that cause them to be blessed. Here we see that they, like Jesus,  are peacemakers.

Christ-followers bring peace by introducing the world to Jesus, the one and only source of peace. To spread the gospel by our words and lifestyle is the most peace-loving thing a person could do as there is nothing the human race needs more, both individually and collectively, than peace with God.

Those who are peacemakers according to this definition shall be called sons of God. These are the people who are God’s children [John 1:12]. Very interestingly the verb tense of the word “shall” implies eternity (heaven). A child of God is a child of His forever.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


Someday Paradise Will Be Restored

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

Today we study the sixth beatitude. In it Jesus identifies another characteristic of His disciples: having a pure heart.

The Greek word for “pure” here is κατηαροσ (pronounced: kath-ar-os’). It was used to describe metals that had been refined to the point where they were free from impurities. It is the word from which we get the English word “cathartic”, which describes something that cleanses the mind.

Just like today the word “heart” back in Jesus’ day not only referred to an anatomical organ it also referred to someone’s character and motives. By referring to a purity of heart Jesus is referring to an undivided devotion toward God.

This is not easy. But God makes it clear: we cannot serve Him and the world [Matthew 6:24]. We live in a world with many temptations. Even the apostle Paul struggled with doing the right things during his life [Romans 7:15].

The problem is that none of us have a pure heart by nature [Proverbs 20:9]. But this is exactly the standard God calls us to. God’s standard is He Himself. So God has to give us a new heart – one that is pure [Psalm 51:10].

He does this only for His children – those who repent of their sins and accept His offer of forgiveness through Jesus [John 1:12]. Such people are poor in spirit and mourn over their sinful state, which are the first two beatitudes. This leads them to seek forgiveness from God and in return He gives them a new heart (i.e. new character).

The reward is that these people shall see God. The original Greek here is very interesting. The verb tense implies something that is on-going and never-ending. That is, for all eternity. Those people who by repentance have been forgiven will dwell in God’s presence forever.

Adam and Eve are the only two human beings who ever lived in God’s presence. In the Garden of Eden they had full fellowship with God. But when they brought sin into this world they could no longer be in God’s presence as God is so holy and pure that He cannot be in the presence of sin. But someday paradise will be restored.

At that time, we who belong to God through Jesus will also experience life in the presence of God and in the absence of sin. This will be a welcome relief. The world we live in is so far off-course from what God wants for us. But He gives us the freedom to make our own decisions. Sadly, all of history is pretty much nothing but bad decisions by human beings that separate them and future generations from God.

The way back into God’s presence requires a heart that is pure and desires Him only.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


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