Monday, August 4, 2014

A Salty Challenge

The Passage
Matthew 5:13-20[1]
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

A Little Background
The Sermon on the Mount opened with Matthew 5:1 telling us that Jesus went to a level place, sat down with his disciples and began to teach them. It closes with Matthew 7:28, 29 telling us that the people were astonished at His teachings. It seems as though Jesus chose the location to sit down with the intent, first of all, to teach His disciples, but knowing also that He would attract a larger audience.

Jesus’ teachings are specifically targeted to those who will follow Him: those who will be believers. We who are readers of the 21st century have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story. We know that ultimately Jesus will go to the cross, taking the punishment of our sin on to Himself, and then rise from the dead. However, even after 3 ½ years of teaching, His disciples did not understand when Jesus foretold His death. Certainly the crowd would not be able to comprehend His future sacrificial atonement. We can look at the entire context and understand that salvation through faith in Jesus’ cross work is the entrance into God’s Kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ description of how life will be in His kingdom. It is a spiritual kingdom in which Jesus Christ reigns as king in the hearts of believers[2].

Some Explanation
In the last post we saw that Jesus opened His sermon with the Beatitudes, or eight blessing statements. These were unusual “blessings”—to be poor in spirit, to be meek, to be persecuted, etc. The Beatitudes stand at the entrance of this Kingdom message pointing to the heart change that is necessary for Kingdom life. We must first recognize our own spiritual poverty. It is no wonder that the people declared that Jesus taught as one having authority unlike the scribes and Pharisees. In fact, Jesus very quickly challenged the Pharisees’ teachings.

Observations and Insights
You are the salt of the earth...” In ancient times salt was so valuable that Roman soldiers were often paid with salt[3]. Before industrialization there was no source or process for purifying salt; salt was harvested out of rock and other minerals containing many impurities. The salt would lose its moisture and turn to powder. When salt “lost its savor” it was no longer useful. Salt poured onto soil could damage the soil; therefore, the only “safe” place to toss spent salt was in a road way.

George W. Wright notes, “Salt is used to season food. It can be irritating to a wound[4], or it can create thirst in a person. It is also used as a preservative. Christian believers are called to be all of these things.” Jesus warns us that it is possible to lose the strength of our testimony.

You are the light of the world...” The “Bible” that people had in Jesus’ day was the Torah, or Law of Moses. The Law is God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. Since the Pharisees kept and interpreted the Law, various noted Rabbis were called “the light of the world”[5]. But now Jesus is calling these fishermen, tax collectors, and other common people the light of the world! The Greek word for light here is phos,[6] and it is used here in the singular spoken to a group of people. Jesus is not saying that each person has his own divine spark or light.  John identified Jesus as the light, and later Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” The picture here is like the sun and the moon. The moon gives light at night, but it has no source of light in itself. It reflects the light of the sun. We have no true light in ourselves. John the apostle said of John the baptizer, that he was not “that Light.”[7] He also said that mankind hated the light because their deeds were evil.

The two pictures of salt and light are reminders that our lives are to be an active and effective witness for Jesus in the world. If Jesus had not rankled the Pharisees yet, what He said next would surely strike hard.  Indeed, the context of the Sermon on the Mount, stands in bold opposition to the Pharisees religious system.

http://www.hebrew4christians.com/
Grammar/Introduction/
Why_Hebrew_/why_hebrew_.html
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets...” Jesus declared that He would fulfill the Law and the Prophets. The emphasis here is on the law, which Jesus will continue to expound on. A jot and tittle were the little letters and serifs on Hebrew letters. In Jesus’ day, the Word of God was so revered that extreme, meticulous care was taken to copy it so that there were no errors in transcription. Jesus was emphasizing that He Himself would fulfill even the smallest detail. If Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, is the fulfillment of even the slightest detail of Scripture, shall I take a Scripture out of context and lead others into misunderstanding, “...Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so...”?  How can I take any Scripture lightly? Neglecting God’s Word in light of Jesus’ statements here is like neglecting Jesus Himself.

“...unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees...” Perhaps Jesus gave at least some commendation to the Pharisees here for their adherence to the Law, but that is not His point. The Pharisees’ righteousness was their own personal effort to keep the details of the law, not because of their love for God, but for their own gain and boasting. The apostle Paul was himself a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He said that in regards to keeping the law he was blameless, but he had no righteousness in himself.

...concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Philippians 3:5b-10

We have no righteousness apart from Jesus’ righteousness. We receive that through faith in His cross work for us. Do we want to know the power of His resurrection? Then we must also be made conformable to His death, and know the fellowship of His suffering. He set aside His own power, authority and glory. Denying Himself he received our sin as His own. He took the punishment of death in our place and God received His sacrifice by raising Him from the dead. If He did that for me, then how can I cling to any so-called inherent goodness in my “self”? If I cling to my self-esteem, my personal rights, or my own identity, how then can I receive the righteousness of Christ?  His cross work is the faith that that I stand upon. That is not only my power for living, but unless I receive it, I cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.


[1] Note: Much of the Harmony readings will be pieced together like a puzzle putting the four Gospels together into one narrative. I am copying the order or format from A Simplified Harmony of the Gospels, George W. Wright, Holman Bible Publishers, 2001. However, I am using the New King James rather than the HCSB. This order is from the research of Wright and is open to discussion. Of course, you can also read the passages side by side separately if you prefer.
[2] This describes the Kingdom of God as we know it now. Ultimately, Jesus will return to earth and establish an eternal kingdom in which He will reign over all the earth.
[3] A soldier was said to be “worth his salt” when he performed his duties well. The word salary comes from the word salt.
[4] Although “rubbing salt in a wound” makes it feel worse, it also helps it heal faster!
[5] http://www.come-and-hear.com/bababathra/bababathra_4.html
[6] Phos is the root of the word phosphorus
[7] John 1:4, 5;6-9;, 3:19

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Blessed...?

The Passage
Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 6:20-26[1]

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.  Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, ​​for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
​​Blessed are those who mourn, ​​for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, ​​for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, ​​for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, ​​for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, ​​for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, ​​for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, ​​for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
 But woe to you who are rich, ​​for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, ​​for you shall hunger. ​​Woe to you who laugh now, ​​for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, ​​for so did their fathers to the false prophets."

A Little Background
This part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount is known as The Beatitudes.  The word beatitude comes from a Latin word meaning blessed or happy. Jesus preached this message to a crowd that had gathered around Him as He spoke specifically to His disciples.

On Holy Land tours, the commonly accepted location of this event is on Mount Eremos on the northern shore of Lake Galilee, near Capernaum. The setting around the sea provides natural amplification and a broad area on which the people would have sat.[2]

Some Explanation
Jesus made eight blessing statements in Matthew 5:1-10. The last portion from verses 11 and 12 is considered to be an explanation and extension of verse 10.  The word blessed in the Greek here means to be happy or in an enviable state.

Jesus had been introducing the coming of the Kingdom of God. This good news was eagerly anticipated. These Roman-oppressed Jews had been waiting for the Anointed One to reclaim Israel for God’ glory.  However, when Jesus appeared before Pilate He declared that His kingdom was not of this world. The kingdom that Jesus preached was to be a spiritual reality for His followers now, and a governmental reality at some future time. As Jesus preached, He was saying that these truths were the way His followers would live in His kingdom. Salvation would be the entrance.

Observations and Insights
Our modern Western culture defines blessing as having peace, prosperity, and ease. We are blessed to have a nice home, cars that run, a good income, and good health. But notice that none of these items are part of the Beatitudes. Instead, Jesus opens with a statement that contradicts our very idea of blessing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit...”

John Piper notes that the very first blessing statement and the last both declare a present reality. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10) Each of the six statements in between declare a future reality, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4)[3]

I found an excellent study on being poor in spirit by Mike Cleveland of Setting Captives free:
* This spiritual poverty is, in reality, the foundation of all graces.  God gives grace to the humble, not to the proud.  The humble—those who recognize their own impoverished condition—are given grace.
*  Emptiness precedes fullness.  We cannot receive anything from God until we have empty hands.  He who recognizes he has nothing to offer God will receive everything from God.
*  Self must be denied in order for Christ to be wanted.  If our goal is to honor ourselves, Christ will be far from us.  But he who honors God will himself be honored.
*  A starving heart will give all to have the Bread of Life.  It is only the hungry person—not the full—who senses his need of Jesus.

We cannot enter God’s kingdom unless we are truly poor in spirit for we are enemies of God by our wicked works with no possible way to reconcile ourselves to Him (Colossians 1:19-22). We must humble ourselves before Him confessing our sin and fallen state and then receive Christ’s death as payment for punishment that we deserved.

The last of the Beatitudes states blessing for those who are persecuted; theirs, too, is the kingdom of heaven. We should expect that as a child of God we will at some time face opposition for our faith. Jesus said that if the world hated Him, they would hate us also, for the servant is not greater than His master. Persecution is an absolute reality for the follower of Christ. For some it is opposition and rejection from family, friends, neighbors or co-workers. But for many, (and that number is surely increasing), true persecution resulting in physical suffering and/or death awaits us.

These two promises are like two slices of bread on a sandwich, with the meat in between. For the citizen of God’s kingdom who enters through poverty of spirit and walks in the reality of persecution, the blessings are rich. These blessings are not the requirements to enter the kingdom, but the character of those who are living in the kingdom and the promises that are theirs. We will mourn, but we will be comforted[4]. Meekness, gentleness, mildness will be rewarded with an inheritance in the earth. Believers will hunger and thirst for righteousness—not their own, but Jesus’ own righteousness, and He will fill them. (Phil. 3:8-9) We will be required to show mercy for the mercy we obtain. God indwells those whose hearts are toward Him in purity and truth. Finally, sons, or children of the kingdom will be peacemakers. God gives us the ministry of reconciliation. By leading others to faith in the Lord Jesus (who themselves become children of God), we show them the One who made peace with God for us by the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:19-22).  These shall be called sons of God.

I recognize a shallowness in myself when I consider how I have breezed through this passage so many times. Instead, I now see its truth as sobering, yet its promises rich. It stands as an entrance into the rest of the sermon; my poverty of heart is the gate. But today's Christianity often beckons us to befriend the world's system, to seek popularity and earthly success. Notice Jesus' stern warning, "But woe to you who are rich, ​​for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, ​​for you shall hunger. ​​Woe to you who laugh now, ​​for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, ​​for so did their fathers to the false prophets."

From Adam4D: http://adam4d.com/jesus-vs-world/





[1] Note: Much of the Harmony readings will be pieced together like a puzzle putting the four Gospels together into one narrative. I am copying the order or format from A Simplified Harmony of the Gospels, George W. Wright, Holman Bible Publishers, 2001. However, I am using the New King James rather than the HCSB. This order is from the research of Wright and is open to discussion. Of course, you can also read the passages side by side separately if you prefer.
[2] There is another location that some scholars argue may have been the site. It is noted that in Luke’s account, Jesus went down to a level place. But this is no contradiction. There are several level places on the slope of Mt. Eremos where Jesus may have taught.
[3] http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/the-beatitudes-and-the-gospel-of-the-kingdom
[4] The mourning is for our sin and its consequences leading to repentance. For more excellent commentary on the beatitudes see: http://www.gotquestions.org/search.php?zoom_query=beatitudes&search.x=0&search.y=0

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Lost Pages and the 50 Commandments of Christ

A number of years ago, I challenged myself to read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7) every day. Here’s what I learned. Law is hard; law brings condemnation. Yes, it was a great idea, but when I missed, I felt my failure.

To be sure I DID read the Sermon on the Mount many times over, in fact, so much so that the pages fell out of my Bible and eventually were lost. That is the point of this post. This sermon of Jesus’ describes a spiritual life that is beautiful. It inspires and compels us. But it also condemned me when I failed...which I did, and do...almost daily...ouch!

When God separated the Israelites out from among all the peoples of the earth, He gave them a precious gift and a curse. He gave His “Rules for Lining””—the Law. This law was the way for them to live in relationship to God. That was the blessing. But the relationship was limited, partial, and ultimately only served to show them their failure and condemnation when they could not keep it.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount took the law even further. Jesus preached that it was no longer enough to keep the outward requirements of the law; God was looking for inward purity. It wasn't enough to refrain from adultery; if one even looks at another woman with lust, he is guilty. I have to remove “the log” out of my own eye before I can talk about the splinter in someone else. These teachings must have worn on the disciples’ soul for eventually they would cry out, “Who then can be saved!” Exactly! It is impossible to win God’s favor by keeping the law. But God provided the way.

The Law, written on tablets of stone, was stone to hardened hearts. In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was declaring the coming of a new kingdom in which Jesus’ cross work would ultimately bring the Holy Spirit to our hearts. His power would transform stony hearts to receive a new royal law of liberty written on hearts of flesh, and that is faith working through love.[1]

The disciples were right. No one can be saved by the law, and neither can we be made righteous by our depraved efforts to keep it. I once read an article in which the author proclaimed that the 50 commandments of Christ would transform the world. The missing pages from my Bible explain why this is a problem.  Striving to live this sermon by our own self efforts is a lost cause. It is simply law heaped upon law. None of our “good works” can merit us the benefits of God’s favor and grace.

It is only through the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit living in us that we can live this beautiful sermon. I did eventually copy the lost verses and replace them in my Bible. God’s Word itself explained the solution to my problem. Jesus died and rose again to redeem me from the curse of the law: the condemnation for my failure. Salvation is the way into His Kingdom, and that is the good news of the Gospel. In the same way Jesus also provides the means to live in His kingdom. He is the One who grows us, and changes us as we obey Him.

As we read through the next three chapters of Matthew, I pray that you will know the transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ through the salvation He provided and the enabling power of His grace to live it as you yield to Him. His yoke is easy and His burden is light.



[1] Ezekiel 36:26; James 1:25, 2:8 ; Galatians 5:6


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Twelve Disciples and a Fun Video

The Passage
Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16[1]

Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John (to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”); Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew the tax collector and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.

Some Explanation
Excerpt from A Simplified Harmony of the Gospels by George W. Wright[2]:

A comparison of the lists of Jesus’ twelve disciples in Matthew, Mark, and Luke yields some interesting results. Another list also appears in Acts 1:13. All the names in these three lists are not the same. The differences are explained by the fact that some of the disciples were known by more than one name.
Here is a complete list of the Twelve, with the variant names noted and a brief description of each.

Disciple/Apostle
Description
1.      Simon (Peter)
A fisherman from Galilee; Andrew’s brother
2.      Andrew
A fisherman from Galilee; Peter’s brother
3.      James
A fisherman from Galilee; son of Zebedee; John’s brother
4.      John
A fisherman from Galilee; son of Zebedee; James’s brother
5.      Philip
From Bethsaida
6.      Bartholomew (Nathanael)
From Cana in Calilee
7.      Thomas (Didymas[3])
Perhaps a fisherman
8.      Matthew (Levi)
A tax collector from Capernaum
9.      James[4] (not the same as James, son of Zebedee)
Son of Alphaeus
10.  Lebbaeus Thadddaeus (Judas)
Called Judas son of James to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot
11.  Simon (the Zealot)
From Cana; associated with the Zealots, revolutionaries opposed to Rome
12.  Judas Iscariot
From Kerioth in southern Judah; probably the only disciple from outside Galilee

Some Explanation
These are the twelve disciples that Jesus specifically called and trained to ultimately be the foundational apostles of the faith (minus Judas). These twelve apostles were responsible for establishing the church and doctrines of the faith according to Ephesians 4:19-22; Acts 2:42; and 1 Timothy 4:6, 13, 16, 17 (and numerous other passages). There were many other followers—disciples—of Jesus. For example 70 disciples were sent out by Jesus in Luke 10.

Observations and Insights
Jesus often pulled aside three disciples within this group of twelve—Peter, James and John. One of these three, John, is often seen as having a closer relationship to Jesus than the others. Some commentators write of these relationships as being “the inner circle”. This is used to support a popular teaching that believers should strive to achieve higher levels of intimacy in God for greater power and authority in the Kingdom of God.

It is a valid observation that these three did experience more of Jesus attention and seemed  to have experiences of special privileges above the others, such as seeing Jesus’ transfiguration. However, when the mother of James and John, two of the so-called inner circle, asked that her sons have higher honor in Christ’s coming kingdom, Jesus was quick to correct her faulty request. He also said that whoever wants to be great in God’s kingdom must first of all be a servant. He modeled this principle by washing the disciples’ feet just hours before His arrest.

Later, Paul also rebuked the Corinthians believers for practicing sectarianism and promotion. Speaking of Paul, he was known as an “apostle born out of due time”. This meant that he, too, was a foundational apostle, but not one of the original who had been with Jesus before His crucifixion. Since Paul did not have the three years’ of teaching under Jesus as the original eleven had, Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ doctrine was by special revelation and visions which he likely experienced in the Arabian desert for approximately three years (Galatians 1:11-17). When Paul later soundly rebuked the erring Corinthians for their spiritual arrogance, he was loathe to defend himself by claiming any superiority by his revelations. In fact, he claimed that his “thorn in the flesh” was given to him by God, through Satan to keep his spiritual pride in check (2 Corinthians 12:1-11).

Finally, Jesus appeared to the Apostle John during John’s exile on the island of Patmos (in Greece) and gave specific messages to seven churches. In two of the messages he rebuked a group of people known as the Nicolaitans. It is understood by most Biblical scholars that the Nicolaitans (the word means “conquer the laity”) had established a spiritual hierarchy within the church. Jesus said that he hated the deeds and doctrine of the Nicolaitans in Revelation 2:6, 15.

It is clear by these examples that Jesus not only did not establish a model of spiritual levels and authority, but that He hates such a teaching. I believe that Peter, James and John’s unique and special experiences with Jesus were because of the greater weight that they would bear. Peter became the leader of the Apostles after Jesus' ascension. Jesus told His disciples (not just the twelve but all his disciples) that they would be hated and persecuted, and delivered up to death. James was the first Apostle martyred.[5] John received the Revelation of Jesus Christ regarding the end times while exiled on the island of Patmos. Jesus said, “...to whom much is given, much is required...” (Luke 12:48). 

Rather than seeking greater honor, power and authority, we as disciples and leaders must follow Jesus’ teaching to serve, preach the gospel, and make disciples. Wherever the Lord leads us, whatever He brings to our lives is to be given back to Him in humility as a crown laid before His feet. We have received nothing except what is given to us by Him anyway (1 Corinthians 4:6,7). Leadership in the body of Christ is a place of honor, but it is also a great responsibility. Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. We who serve as under shepherds must do so in fear and reverence for the Lord whom we follow. 

And one final question: Can you name all the disciples? Here is a fun video. I learned this song many years ago. I still sing it to remember the names. Enjoy! 
video




[1] Note: Much of the Harmony readings will be pieced together like a puzzle putting the four Gospels together into one narrative. I am copying the order or format from A Simplified Harmony of the Gospels, George W. Wright, Holman Bible Publishers, 2001. However, I am using the New King James rather than the HCSB. This order is from the research of Wright and is open to discussion. Of course, you can also read the passages side by side separately if you prefer.
[2] George W. Wright, A Simplified Harmony of the Gospels, Holman Bible Publishers, p. 63.
[3] Didymas means twin
[4] Later known in church history as James the Lesser or James the Minor
[5] Stephen was martyred before this, but he was not one of the twelve appointed by Jesus.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bruised and Broken

The Passage
Matthew 12:15-21; Mark 3:7-12[1]

But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him.  So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him.  For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him.  And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.” 
But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
 ​​“Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, ​​My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!
​​I will put My Spirit upon Him, ​​and He will declare justice to the Gentiles. ​​He will not quarrel nor cry out, ​​nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.  ​​A bruised reed He will not break, ​​and smoking flax He will not quench, ​​till He sends forth justice to victory; a​nd in His name Gentiles will trust.”[2]
  
A Little Background
Galilee, Judea, Idumea and Perea (aka TransJordan or “across the Jordan River) are all regions within Israel. Tyre and Sidon were in Phoenicia, now modern-day Lebanon. By the way, the wicked princess Jezebel was also from Sidon. 

Observations and Insights
Even in a day without modern communication technology, news of Jesus’ ministry spread quickly. It was not uncommon for Jesus, pressed by the crowd, to sit in a boat to teach. The prophecy from Isaiah 42:1-4 explains the nature of Jesus’ ministry. Despite the crowds, Jesus was not an attention seeker; he didn’t stand in the streets to incite the people. He did not need, nor want, advance marketing teams to organize ahead of his arrival. In fact, it seems from Mark 1:45 that the crowds prevented Him from moving freely. He even forbade the demons from speaking of Him (see also http://justasimplesheep.blogspot.com/2014/03/jesus-and-deliverance-ministry.html).

Today, ministries often strive to start some movement or advance an agenda, but that was not Jesus’ goal. Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for us, to seek and save those who are lost. The people wanted instant deliverance from their immediate problems: disease, distresses, demons, Roman oppression. But deliverance from these injustices would be temporary and incomplete. Jesus’ one purpose was to redeem us from the injustice inflicted on us all from the Garden of Eden—the curse of sin.

Jesus lived in human flesh; He saw our lives, heard our cries, and felt our pain and bondage. Those who came to Him with their bruised and broken lives in willing repentance, He did not scold or rebuke. The tax collector, the prostitute, the thief, the poor in spirit—these He received, and gave life and victory.



[1] Note: Much of the Harmony readings will be pieced together like a puzzle putting the four Gospels together into one narrative. I am copying the order or format from A Simplified Harmony of the Gospels, George W. Wright, Holman Bible Publishers, 2001. However, I am using the New King James rather than the HCSB. This order is from the research of Wright and is open to discussion. Of course, you can also read the passages side by side separately if you prefer.
[2] Isaiah 42:1-4

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pickin'

The Passage

Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5[1]

Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:  how he entered the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?  Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?  Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.  But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.[2]
Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” And he arose and stood.
Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?
Then Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” But they kept silent.  And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
Then the Pharisees went out, filled with rage, and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.

A Little Background
The Old Testament law allowed for passersby to pluck and eat from the grains of wheat in a farmer’s field, but they could not reap it (Deuteronomy 23:25). The Pharisees were not disputing the disciples eating the grain, but that by plucking or picking the grain, they were “working”.

Jesus was reminding the Pharisees about an event in the life of David found in 1 Samuel 21. When David fled from Saul, he ran to the tabernacle and asked for bread from the high priest. The bread was from the table of showbread in the tabernacle. That bread was set aside, made holy, for worship to the Lord. New fresh bread was to be placed on the altar each day. The high priest gave David the old bread that had been replaced by the new bread.

Some Explanation
“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry...” The Pharisees were experts in the fine parts of the law—the Old Testament. Jesus, therefore, used the Old Testament to point out their error. Just as in the case of David’s need of bread, so also Jesus’ disciples were hungry and needed food.

”...on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless...” The law stated that fresh new bread was to be placed on the Table of Showbread every day; therefore, the priest had to “work” on the Sabbath. The Pharisees got around that issue by stating that because the Temple (also the tabernacle) is holy, work on the Sabbath related to Temple worship was allowed. When Jesus said, “Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple,” He was again declaring His authority and superiority over the Sabbath laws and the Temple itself.

“... and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.” The Herodians were one of five sects of Judaism at the time of Christ. As the name suggests, the Herodians were Jews who supported Herod. Pharisees were the polar opposite; yet, the two sects collaborate to destroy Jesus.

Observations and Insights
The Pharisees had added burdensome layers to the Sabbath laws, and then made keeping those Sabbath laws central to Judaism. Colossians and Hebrews gives us insight on the Sabbath. In Paul’s letter to the Gentile Colossians, he tells them not to receive judgment from anyone who tries to burden them with keeping the Sabbath, the Feasts or laws about eating and drinking. All these things from the Old Testament law were a shadow (a prefigure or picture) of Jesus Christ and His ministry which was the substance, or the fulfilment of them (Colossians 2:16, 17).

Hebrews 3 and 4 is a rich passage that explains the excellence and superiority of the Lord Jesus who is Himself our Sabbath rest. God did not command the Sabbath to bind man to a law to prove his faithfulness to it. Rather the Sabbath was a gift. In addition to physical rest for the body one day per week, it also provided rest for the soul. The Sabbath was a day to give thanks to God, and extol His character. But how does that give rest to our souls? In living life day in and day out—especially in ancient times when life was often survival—it would be easy to fall into the belief that life depended on constant work, striving, and fear. By setting a day apart for worship of God, His people would be reminded that it is God alone who gives life and prospers us. The Sabbath was a reminder not to strive in themselves, but to trust the Lord for their salvation and their survival.

But the Sabbath was not just one day a week. The feasts were also considered Sabbaths. Additionally, every seven years was declared a Sabbath year of rest for the land and cancellation of debt, and after seven cycles of seven years, an entire year of rest was celebrated as Jubilee. (See here.) During these times, the Israelites would have to depend on God to sustain them.  

Hebrews 3 and 4 explains that entering the Promised Land was also a rest that God provided for the Israelites. When the people refused to listen to the good report from Joshua and Caleb who trusted in God’s promise of victory in Canaan, God was angered by their unbelief. The Israelites looked at themselves: they were small in size, their army small and untrained. Though they experienced mighty deliverance from the slavery of Pharaoh, and saw the Lord perform spectacular miracles for them, they refused to have faith for His provision in Canaan.

Hebrews explains that in the same way the Israelites refused their “Sabbath rest” in Canaan, they also refused their rest in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is exactly the problem that the Pharisees were facing from our reading today. Jesus Himself is Lord of the Sabbath loving mercy over judgment—loving a man by healing him and giving him true rest.

Good works, keeping Old Testament laws including Sabbath and feasts, self-esteem, modern psychological systems, laws/principles/keys/secrets, etc. for better leadership/relationships/self-awareness, etc. —all of these become our own efforts at pleasing God or striving for self-improvement. Not only are these efforts ineffective, they are actually a rejection of God’s means of grace through faith in the Lord Jesus. We have no “rightness” of our own or in our own sef-efforts. We can only rest in Jesus’ righteousness.



[1] Note: Much of the Harmony readings will be pieced together like a puzzle putting the four Gospels together into one narrative. I am copying the order or format from A Simplified Harmony of the Gospels, George W. Wright, Holman Bible Publishers, 2001. However, I am using the New King James rather than the HCSB. This order is from the research of Wright and is open to discussion. Of course, you can also read the passages side by side separately if you prefer.

[2] Not to be confused with Lord Sabaoth which means Lord of Hosts. Sabaoth and Sabbath are two different Hebrew words. (See Isaiah 5:16, Romans 9:29, James 5:4)