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Entries in Reward (6)

Wednesday
Sep202017

The Judgment of the Nations II

We apologize that the audio is not available for this sermon.

Matthew 25:35-46.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 17, 2017.

Today we finish part two in this look at Jesus judging the nations after His Second Coming.  This is an event that is in the future, but towards which we are hurtling quickly.  The Bible is clear that Jesus will return after a devastating period called The Great Tribulation.  This period is at least 3.5 years long and some speak of it as 7 years.  During this time mankind chooses to put a tyrant in charge of the world that then uses religion and economics to control all peoples.  At The Second Coming of Jesus, this governmental system is destroyed, leaving only the surviving populace left.  This is who Jesus is judging in this passage.

Last week we saw how Jesus will come in a spectacular manner and as the King of all Kings.  He sets up a throne and will judge who gets to enter into the new kingdom.  His judgment is a matter of discerning who is righteous and who is not.  Regardless of whether or not a person survives to this point, the question is the same for every person in every generation.  When I am judged by God will He see me as righteous or wicked?  It is easy to say that He will see us as “basically good.”  Of course we all think that we should be accepted.  But will God think so?

The sheep on the right hand

We left off with verse 34 last time, and saw how Jesus was separating the sheep from the goats, or the righteous from the wicked.  Thus the sheep or righteous are put on his right hand.  They are basically told that they are blessed because they will get to enter into the Kingdom that Jesus is setting up.  In Revelation we see that this kingdom will last 1,000 years on this earth and thus it is often called the Millennial Kingdom.  Technically Jesus already is a king over a kingdom.  But that kingdom is from heaven and in the hearts of men.  This point in time represents a real and significant change in the administration of Jesus.

So how does he determine the good from the bad?  Interestingly enough, he says to the people on his right hand that it is their care for even the least of his brothers and sisters.  He gives a list of 5 situations in which they helped his family (hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, in prison).  They had fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the imprisoned.  Even more than this, Jesus states that when they helped his family they were helping him.  It is interesting that the righteous are clueless to this dynamic.  So this is not a group of people who are trained in the Word of God.  I believe that most of these people refused to take the mark of the beast, but not necessarily because they believed in Christ.  They probably witness the hatred of the world against Christians and feel sorry for them.  In helping them they take a stand against the beast and with God’s people.  Jesus accepts this as having taken a stand with Him.

This begs the question.  Just who are the brethren of Jesus?  In Matthew 12:50 Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”  At the time, his mom and brothers were trying to get into see him and take him home.  They thought that he was out of his mind.  When told that his mother and brothers were outside, Jesus counters with the recognition that his true brothers (family) are those who do the will of God.  The will of God is for all people everywhere to repent of their sins and believe on Jesus, a.k.a. To become true, born-again believers in Jesus, Christians.  Sometimes people try to interpret this as the Jewish people themselves.  Let me say that its proper meaning is those who follow Jesus.  However, the bible is also clear that The Great Tribulation is about God bringing the nation of Israel to a place of repentance and salvation from their enemies.  So there is room to recognize that God will hold people accountable for how they treated Christians and Jewish people who He is bringing to salvation.  We should always beware working against those whom God has pledged Himself to. 

Now the key to this passage is the close identification that Jesus makes with his family.  These people are being blessed because they identified with the family of Jesus in times of difficulty.  Jesus considers a good deed done for them as a good deed done to Him.  This does put a bit of a wrinkle in the mentality of those who say they like Jesus, but don’t care for His followers.  If you really like Jesus then you will recognize how closely He identifies with his followers and bless them when they need help rather than piling on with the rest of the world.  You don’t have to like them, but you do need to love them.  Why?  We need to do so because Jesus loves them so much that he inseparably identifies himself with them.  This is just as important among fellow believers.  How do we treat one another as the brothers and sisters of Christ, or even as the least of his brothers and sisters?  We cannot use the status of a person and their failings as an excuse not to love them.  Now let’s turn to the goats.

The goats on the left hand

Next we are told that the goats (wicked) are put on the left hand.  In verse 41 they are called cursed, and the implication is that they are cursed by the Father.  Their punishment is given in the command to depart from Jesus and go into the everlasting fire.  This is the fire that was originally created for the devil and his angels, but to which wicked men will go also.  It is clear that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, in this life.  Which will it be for you?  Sure you can deny it or theologize its existence away.  But the truth is that Jesus will judge us and give us our reward or punishment.  Which will your life warrant?

In parallel fashion, Jesus points out that the goats had not cared for his brothers and sisters.  In fact, this is probably putting it rather mildly.  The Tribulation period will involve one of the greatest persecutions of God’s people ever.  Those who do not pledge allegiance by taking the mark of the beast will be excluded from buying and selling, and also will be hunted down and put to death.  Whether these actively helped in this persecution, or passively allowed it to happen, they are held accountable.  Whatever good they had withheld from his family, He considers it withheld from Him.  Now, not to help people who are hungry, thirsty…etc. is an injustice on the face of it.  No person deserves to be abused for simply refusing to join a political system.  But again we notice that Jesus takes it personal.  Even believers should stand up and take notice of this.  Some believers have no problem talking about other Christians behind their back and saying all manner of things that they have no proof of.  Won’t Jesus consider it as if we did it to Him, if we are wrong?  We should love one another on its face value.  The other Christian has just as much right in God’s family as I do.  Even if I hold a position that is “above” them, it does not give me the right to be unloving towards them.  That said, we do live in an age where to hold someone accountable to the Word of God is considered unloving by some.  When we love each other, we truly love Christ.  When we correct each other we should do so with the humility of knowing that I will have to give account before Christ some day.  We must remember that we all bear the image of Christ.  When we love each other we love Christ in a very real way.  This is probably the key to understanding why Christians are not called to take over the world and fix it.  Our job is not to fix the world, but to offer it salvation.  In the middle of this, we also become a litmus test to those who interact with us and within each society.  Just as the treatment of Jesus proved Israel of the first century was worthy of judgment, so the world’s mistreatment of God’s people will prove its worthiness of judgment.  This is not a fun job, but it will allow us to become like Jesus, rather than becoming like the devil and his angels.

In conclusion, we need to see that faith in Jesus will lead to good works that God will accept.  Some people get hung up on the fact that there is no mention of faith.  However, this is like saying God isn’t in the book of Esther.  He isn’t named or blatantly acting like He did at Sinai, but He is there nonetheless.  So too, the people had to exercise faith in those actions of mercy they gave to God’s people.  Some will even say that these people aren’t being saved they are just being allowed to enter the Kingdom.  Yet, verse 46 says that these same people will enter into eternal life.  To have Jesus is to have eternal life.  1 John 5:12, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life.”  Because they are mortal, they are in the same condition that Christians are in today.  Their initial faith led to actions worthy of repentance.  Rather than joining with antichrist against God’s people, they have stood with God’s people before mankind.  This faith has put them in relationship with Christ, which is to have eternal life.  However, they must continue in faith in Jesus in order to continue in eternal life.  They are not being saved by works, but rather being saved by faith that was alive enough to do works.

Also, we should note that in this passage the main point is about helping God’s people.  So does that mean it doesn’t matter if we help the lost or not?  Or, another might ask, “Shouldn’t we help unbelievers too?”  The short answer is of course we should.  But let me simply answer this by quoting Galatians 6:10.  “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Clearly we are instructed to do good to all.  Friend, don’t go another day without making your peace with Jesus, and taking your place among His family.  No they aren’t easy to love, but then neither are you.  We will have to become more like Jesus in order to accomplish such a tall order!

Wednesday
Sep132017

The Judgment of the Nations I

A great theme throughout the New Testament is the mercy and the grace of God that is offered to everyone who will put their faith in Jesus, the Son of God.  However, the reason it is such great grace and such immeasurable mercy is because it saves us from the judgments that are coming upon the earth at some point in the future.  The passage that we will look at this morning deals with this judgment that will happen when Jesus comes back to earth in order to set up his earthly kingdom.  Something we should keep in mind is the fact that by this time many “judgments” will have occurred already (as we see in the book of Revelation).  During the seven years leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus, God will send forth severe judgments on the earth.  Some of them involve the removal of His protection from our own actions.  The Beast Leader of Revelation will come forward and take control of the whole earth, bringing it under a mandatory economic system that involves allegiance to him.  He will have many people put to death.   Other judgments involve God actively doing things such as: allowing the spirit-beings to be released from the bottomless pit, earthquakes, and other environmental destruction.  We also see in Revelation 19 that the nations of the world will gather their armies together in the Middle East in order to fight against Christ and stop His coming.  We are told that these armies will be completely destroyed, and the beast and the false prophet will be captured and thrown alive into the Lake of Fire.  Thus we are given a scene of a conquering King who is judging those who are left among the nations, those who have survived the horrors of The Great Tribulation.

Takes place when the Son of Man comes

The phrase “Son of Man” was used a lot by Jesus referring to himself.  On one hand it is a title that emphasizes that someone is human, i.e. born of a human.  He wanted us to know that he truly was human.  This should not be seen as a contradiction of his also being the Son of God, i.e. divine.  On the other hand, this phrase is also a technical term for an individual that was revealed in Daniel 7:13-14.  It was revealed to Daniel that none of the empires of the earth would last.  Rather, God would give everlasting dominion and a kingdom that cannot be destroyed to a character called “The Son of Man.”  The Son of Man would be representative of the saints and share his kingdom with them.  Jesus clearly saw himself as this character and his apostles clearly taught this about him later.  This passage represents that point in the future when the Son of Man takes up this rule upon the earth.

We are told that the Son of Man would come in his glory.  The idea of coming in glory refers to both how it will appear to those who see it, but also to the particular stage of Christ’s activity.  The first coming was all about his humbling.  But the Second Coming will be all about his being glorified.  We should also connect this to Matthew 24:30.  There Jesus tells us that the Son of Man will come on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (similar descriptions are in Daniel 7:13-14).   This glorious appearing involves visibility to the whole earth with Jesus in the sky, accompanied by angels who are most likely visible as well.  Some would also say that resurrected believers will also accompany Jesus, but that is another sermon.  On top of all of this, in the book of Revelation the Apostle John sees Jesus in a way that makes clear that he is not the same as he was when he was a lowly teacher in Israel.  His glorified form is described in Revelation 1:13-16.

“13 and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.”  (NKJV)

He is not coming again to lay his life down for sinners.  He is coming to bring the judgment that has been warned against for millennia, and He will be in glorious form.

Part of his glory is to sit on the throne of his glory.  This is as opposed to sitting at the right hand of the Father’s throne where he is now (Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 8:1).  His Second Coming takes place because the Father has determined the time is ready for Jesus to come back and begin his 1,000 year rule on this earth.  Christians are already a part of the kingdom of God.  But that kingdom is ruled from heaven and has a very spiritual nature to it.  At this point, the Kingdom of God will take on a more physical reality because Jesus and his place of rule will be a visible place here on earth.  It is important for Christians and the denominations, to which they belong, to avoid seeing their buildings and headquarters, or even each country, as synonymous with God’s kingdom.  No leader or city on this earth is to be confused with what this passage is talking about.  Jesus is the only king and until he comes back no earthly city has claim to the allegiance of Christians.

We are also told that part of taking his place upon the throne of his glory is to judge all the nations.  As I said earlier, it is the survivors of The Great Tribulation that are in view here.  Thus Christ takes time to remove all things that are wicked before He continues His kingdom.  The nations have already had their political aspect judged.  Here the individuals of the nations are brought before Christ and he gives a decision regarding their future.  It is amazing how many people and even Christians who do not understand that Jesus is the judge of all people.  But this is a cardinal teaching of the New Testament.  Jesus is the judge of the dead and the living.  He has been given this position by the Father.  Please remember that the key understanding of the word “judgment” is that of making a decision.  He is making a decision between what is good, or acceptable, versus that which is not good, or wicked.  This is pictured by a separation of sheep from goats.  Notice that though these are all people who may not have noticeable differences to us, Jesus is able to determine a spiritual difference between them.  Those who are classified as sheep are those who are putting their faith in God.  Those who are classified as goats are those who have not trusted in God, and His Anointed One Jesus.

This judgment will lead to an individual being rewarded because they are deemed righteous or punished because they are deemed wicked.  We are only going to look at the righteous today and will pick up the rest of the story next Sunday.  Notice that the sheep are told that they are blessed of the Father.  They are blessed because they get to experience and enter the kingdom of God.  This kingdom will not be ruled by the wicked politicians of this world, or even hypocritical religious leaders.  It will be ran by the perfect judge, Jesus Christ.  This will truly be a Utopian age in which wars will cease and the ability of mankind is enabled by the grace of God to become what He intended it to become.  The Bible says that people will live longer during this period of time and will not die from diseases and other maladies.  Revelation 20 gives some more information on this 1,000 year period.  Now it is important to recognize at this point that these people are still mortal.  However, there will also be a large host of glorified believers who have accompanied Jesus to earth along with the angels.  They are not emphasized in this passage, but we know they will assist Jesus as kings and priests in His administration.  So the Millennial Kingdom will have both resurrected humans (who cannot die) and mortal humans who can.  This mixed group will be like Noah and his family stepping off of the ark.  They were spared the destruction of God’s wrath and are blessed with the grace and peace of entering the new age.  Many people of this world believe they can bring about a new age that is full of peace and joy.  All attempts that do not look to Jesus to bring it about are doomed to failure, even if they are done by Christians.  We cannot make this happen.  But we can serve Christ faithfully as we wait for the day in which this will come to past.

We do not know when Christ will return.  We are simply told to continue to be faithful to what Christ has told us to do.  Our mission statement is that we exist to connect people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.  We must make sure each day that we are drawing life from Jesus and following Him in all that we do or say.  We must make sure that we are taking our place in His family of believers and doing our part to encourage others.  We must make sure that we are having compassion on the lost and making them aware of Christ’s offer to join his people and enjoy the blessing of the Father.  Our reward is sure no matter how dire things may get on earth before then.

Judgment of the Nations audio

Tuesday
Feb092016

True Leadership

Luke 22:24-30.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on February 7, 2016. 

We have been looking at the Passover Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed.  Each of the disciples was destined to have a critical role in the work of Jesus moving forward.  Yet, this brought great temptation with it.  They renewed an old favorite pastime of squabbling among themselves about who was the greatest disciple.  This argument gives rise to great insight from Jesus into what makes a great leader.

Who is the greatest disciple?

It is common in any group to have a clash of inflated evaluations of self and the disciples were not immune.  Verse 24 brings this out.  Of course, self-evaluations are always there and are not wrong necessarily.  However, Jesus taught that judgments should not be according to appearance, but rather should be righteous (John 7:24).  Clearly the disciples failed on this evening.  Yet, they become an example of what we should not do.  Take joy in the fact that, even when you fail, you can provide an example to yourself and others.

The word translated as dispute is a bit unclear.  The word that is translated here means more than just a dispute and the strife that goes with it.  It is literally a “love of disputes” that is referred to.  Thus this was not just a difference of opinion, but a love of arguing with each other.  Sometimes when you argue with someone you realize that either you or they fall into the trap of arguing for arguments sake.  You may use logic for your point but then refuse that same logic from the other side, which is both illogical and hypocritical.  Such love of dispute is not anchored in a love of God, or a love of righteousness and truth.  It is anchored in contention itself.  Conflict can become a habit that mimics addiction.  However, Christians are called to be peacemakers, not lovers of strife.  Their question of which of them is the greatest stirs up a spirit of arguing within the group.

Jesus steps in and uses the situation to teach about true leadership.  Notice the word “considered.”  They are all concerned on how they are considered by the others.  They each think the others should consider them the greatest.  Jesus points this out as a problem.  They are thinking like the world about power and position.  He reminds them that in the world the rulers exercise dominion and rule over the people.  The people in turn often admire them and give flattering titles like “benefactor” to them.  Thus in the world leaders are often seeking the admiration of the crowd and the titles that they may give in consideration of them.  People will often take pride in an oppressive leader if they think the leader is benefiting the status of the nation within the world.

Greatness is defined by Jesus

Our knee-jerk answer to the question of which of them was the greatest might be to exclaim, “None of you are great!  Only Jesus is great!”  Yet, take notice that this is not how Jesus responded.  None of them are claiming to be greater than Jesus.  They are only thinking among themselves, and Jesus gives them an honest explanation of what greatness is in God’s eyes, rather than men’s.  So who do you want to “consider” you great, God or people?

Christian leadership must not seek privileges nor to be served by others.  Jesus points out that in the systems of this world the older ones obtain privileges the higher they move up in leadership.  To become like the younger is not to use the system for these privileges.  In fact it is to be as one who has none.  One of the problems with our government today is the many privileges that they have legislated for themselves.  This is also seen in the way that great leaders of this world are served by lesser leaders.  To move up in leadership is to have more servants at your beck and call.  This creates a kind of sycophantic system in which younger leaders serve greater leaders in flattery and unhealthy ways in order to obtain position and privilege.  Think of how corrupt religious and secular institutions can become through this dynamic.  Even in the sciences there is a system in which the younger plebes do research and write papers in order to please the older ones who hold the power of their advancement.  In a perfect world this would not be a problem.  But, welcome to Earth.

How does the Lord respond to this?  “Not so among you!”  It is sad to see how often we have tossed such words aside in the heat of the moment in order to obtain what our flesh desires, greatness.  Whether in local churches, within denominational structures, or among the body of Christ as a whole, we have continued to transgress this command and to our own detriment.

Yet, Jesus then points to himself.  The example that Jesus gave of servant-leadership is contrary to the way of the world.  It would be interesting to know exactly when the foot-washing of the disciples occurred.  Even so, it works the same whether he had already done it or did it right after these words.  As Jesus washes their feet, he takes a lowly position that would be given to the lowest plebe in any worldly system.  All of the disciples would have stated strongly that Jesus was the greatest among them.  Thus Jesus highlights the inner dissonance that exists.  They know that he is the greatest and yet they continue to follow the world’s ways in order to obtain their own greatness.  The greatest leader in God’s eye is the one who will come down off their throne and serve those under them.  The world serves for the privileges and the accolades of men to the expense of pleasing God.  The disciples of Jesus must not follow that model.  The believer must reject privilege and use the position and power to serve those “under” their authority.  Even then, the service must be done not to please those you help, but instead God.  Of course Jesus was within 24 hours of his ultimate service.  He would become the substitute for the punishment of their sin.  If Jesus led to please his disciples, he would have never gone to the cross.  They didn’t want a crucified leader.  They wanted Jesus to walk into Jerusalem and take over.  They wanted the fame of the world, not the hatred.

The rewards of following Jesus

In verses 28-30 Jesus changes his tone.  Though he has verbally stripped them of any appearance of being great disciples, he transitions to what they have done that he thinks is truly great.  On top of that he tells them they will be rewarded for it.  Many had left Jesus over the course of the last months.  The crowds had quit following after him.  Even Judas was in the middle of leaving him.  The disciples themselves would scatter in unbelief of what would happen to Jesus the next day.  Even today, followers of Jesus are being challenged.  Will we leave Jesus in order to give allegiance to something else?  Or, perhaps we will simply redefine Jesus and thus serve “another” Jesus, a Jesus of our own making and in our own image?  These men had remained with Jesus through his trials.  The word has the sense of a trial that is intended to prove the genuineness of something.  Jesus was enduring a test to prove whether he truly was the Anointed Son of God.  His teachings and way of living life was undergoing a test.  And, as he is being tested, so those who are learning his way are to be tested.  Jesus was joyous to have these men in all their weakness and frailty, who had nevertheless stuck with him.  “Who else has the words of Life, Lord?”  The truth of Christ and his way is undergoing a test in this generation.  Will we stand by Jesus unwavering, or will we betray him?  Will we learn to seek his approval, or will we seek the consideration of each other, striving to be seen as great?  His testing is our testing.  So, learn to trust the master.  His way leads to life.

Verses 29-30 are interesting.  In a sense Jesus speaks of two kingdoms: one that he is giving to his disciples and one that they will join him in later.  The way they lead in the kingdom that he gives them will be rewarded in the Lord’s kingdom later.  He will not be present as they lead the Church after his ascension.  Thus their faithful service in the first century to lay down a foundation for the Church to be built upon would be rewarded in the coming millennial kingdom.  If we will listen to the commands of our Lord then we will find sure reward later.  Do not worry about the level of your authority and strive to get higher and higher.  Whatever authority comes your way in life, use it to honor Jesus and not yourself.  Use it to serve those under you in a way that will cause the Lord to think you are great.  At times that may make people under your influence to think less of you.  But that must not matter to us.

Do not embrace worldly thinking in any part of your life, much less within the Church.  It is high time that we drop the ways of the world and adopt the ways of the master, our Lord Jesus.

Leadership audio

Wednesday
May272015

Faith, Duty and Being Offended

May 24, 2015-Luke 17:1-10

Today’s passage follows the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  The parable was given to the Pharisees, but at this point Jesus turns back to his disciples to instruct them on obedience in these matters.  It is easy to treat the instructions of Jesus as optional, and only for those who want to move to higher levels of discipleship.  But in this passage Jesus drives home the importance of listening to him.  When people live for themselves and without thought for others, we end up sinning against each other.  Eventually those sins heap up on top of each other and create large separations between us.  In the last chapter Jesus spoke of how wealth could be used to bless people around us in His name.  But in this chapter Jesus deals with the other side of the equation: when you are the one being overlooked or sinned against.

Make Sure You Are Not A Cause Of Stumbling

It is very easy in this area to only focus on the sin of other people.  But Jesus warns against causing each other to stumble.  In 1 John 2:10 it says, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”  When we truly love one another we will rid ourselves of those things that get in each other’s way.  Yet, when something does happen, we can let it bother us so much that it impacts our ability to trust God and obey Him.  Thus Jesus puts this in very strong terms; as a command and as a warning.

So what is meant by “offense” in this passage?  In verse 4 it is to sin against your brother.  The word that is translated “offense” here is more than just being offended by someone.  It is used to refer to anything that causes a person to be trapped or to fall.  It was used to refer to the stick that triggers a trap.  The Bible also refers to a “stone of offense (or stumbling)” in which the same word is used in regards to causing someone to fall and be injured.  Here it is being used of spiritual matters.  When we sin against each other we are causing a situation where the other person is tempted to fall into a trap of sin with us.  Jesus says that it is impossible for these offenses not to happen.  In fact it is impossible for us to live in this world without being an offense to others.  Some are an offense because they could care less about pleasing God and living for Him.  However, we can be an offense even when we want to please God, simply because we have a heart of flesh.  Christ is calling those who want to follow him to learn to deal with sins that inevitably crop up between them and others.

Jesus then pronounces a woe upon those who offend others.  This is a warning that when we walk this way (offending each other) we are headed for grief.  Like the Rich Man we will wake up one day to find ourselves weeping and crying for mercy.  Jesus gives very stern warning to those who do not take these matters seriously and learn to restrain themselves.  Even though Jesus does not flesh out what the woe would detail, it is clear that it can involve a number of things.  How we treat one another can affect our eternal destinies.  But, it can also affect our lives in the here and now.  It can bring grief to every one of our relationships and spoil the good it is intended for.  In fact, many times people who reject being a part of Christ’s Church do so out of hurt and bitterness.  They see Christians sinning against each other without dealing with it and it causes them to reject Jesus.  What a woeful condition we can find ourselves in when we reject God’s way and follow our own.

Ultimately Jesus is challenging us to pay attention to ourselves.  It is our tendency to be so focused on the sin of others that we pay little attention to our own.  We are told to “pay attention” to ourselves.  Inspect, and analyze how you treat others and how you respond to them.  Make sure there is no cause for stumbling within you.  It would be good to recognize that even if someone sins against us, there is a secondary temptation for us to sin against them.  Thus, especially in this situation we need to watch ourselves carefully.

Now the way Jesus lays this out, it doesn’t seem that there is much mercy.  I believe he puts it so sternly because our pride does not need coddled.  Yet, we know that God does not just warn us of woes, but also calls us to take advantage of the grace He has provided in order for us to deal with our sin correctly.  The heart of this instruction is that we work on not sinning against each other and that we exercise mercy with each other regardless of what side of the problem we find ourselves.  When we think of the rich man and Lazarus we clearly see the warning for the rich man.  But, Lazarus was being tempted to fall and to be trapped in the sin of bitterness and unbelief.  He could have refused to serve a God who would allow such a horrible life to happen to him, and yet, he clearly kept his faith in God.  What a sad turn to this story it would be if Lazarus would have been filled with such bitterness and hatred that he found himself right beside the rich man in the fires of Hell.

Reconcile With Those Who Sin Against You

Though Jesus doesn’t use the word reconcile here, the two instructions he does give to those who are sinned against are what help believers overcome the separating influence of sin and keep themselves tied together in relationship.  Sins separate, but forgiveness overcomes that separation.  Thus God does not give us any excuses to pull away from working things out with each other.

So, verse 3 gives the first instruction to you when someone sins against you.  Rebuke them.  Now that word sounds pretty harsh, but it simply means to correct them.  It is easy when we are hurt to lash out angrily or to retreat silently.  Neither one is a godly response to sin.  The believer is under a command from the Lord to face it when others sin against us and to deal with it.  Yet, correcting someone is a skill that needs to be honed.  Just as you were not born able to walk, so you are not born able to correct.  Sure you can do it, but are you causing more damage than good?  In this case we can be so right, in that we were sinned against, and yet so wrong, in that we rebuke harshly and angrily.

Now let me remind us that not all things are big enough to merit a rebuke.  We cannot expect people to speak and act perfectly all the time.  Little things that are merely aggravations can be and should be overlooked.  1 Peter 4:8 reminds us, “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’”  Now that doesn’t mean we are covering up sins.  But rather we cover it much like we would cover a bill for which someone else is short the money.  Also in Proverbs 19:11 it is said this way, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.”  Thus discretion is found in thinking about ourselves and how we need to give mercy to others that we expect from them.

So how do we properly correct each other?  Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love with one another.  Love is that guiding principle that should surround our decision to correct someone.  This takes some serious time spent in prayer asking for wisdom as to what to say and for control over our own spirit.  I can sin against my brother in how I rebuke him.

Thus we are to correct and then forgive our brother.  Now forgiveness is a skill that needs to be honed as well.  We all have emotional barriers to overcome in order to truly forgive someone.  When we truly forgive someone we release them from the desire for justice we could hold over them.  When I see them their sin is no longer a part of the picture because I have released them from it.  Now this passage assumes a brother repents.  What do you do if he won’t repent?  You have to go to Matthew 18 for that information.  But let me just say that it follows the same spirit of this passage.  You must reconcile with your brother as far as is possible from your side.  There is no choice, if you are going to follow Jesus, and you are never free to flee from reconciliation.  Thus in Matthew 18 we first correct our brother in private and without telling others what happened.  If the brother rejects us then we widen the circle and bring in one or two others to try and help us reconcile.  If he still refuses to repent then we take it before the Church and its elders.  If a person still refuses to repent even when faced with a whole church that is calling him to repentance he would be treated as if he wasn’t a believer.  Of course at any time he could repent and rejoin the assembly.  But, until then, he would not be received as a brother.  Why?  If he was truly following Jesus he would have no problem repenting.  Today we can get offended and go down the street to another church.  This is a weakness in the church today.  Instead of being reconciled and becoming more like Christ, we are fractured and become more like the spirit of this world.  God forgive us for running from reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness.

In fact Jesus goes on to instruct us not to limit our forgiveness.  Even if your brother sins 7 times in one day and continues to ask forgiveness, we must forgive him.  There is no wiggle room to deny the repentant forgiveness.  We are under a command.  Now seven times is amazing to us.  We would question such a person’s sincerity.  However, the truth is that our flesh questions their sincerity on time number one.  If he is not sincere then his master (Jesus) will take care of that.  The rich man did all manner of religious things in his life, but eventually his lack of sincerity caught up with him.  Quit worrying about a person’s sincerity and start worrying about your own soul.  Yes, we can even rebuke a person regarding their sincerity or lack thereof.  But we still must do so in order to reconcile and out of love.  Now, seven is not some lucky number that allows us to quit forgiving.  Elsewhere, Jesus gives the number 70X7, i.e. 490.  The numbers are really meant to be so incredulous so as to cure us from counting.  Love keeps no record of wrongs, i.e. it doesn’t keep count.  Instead it speaks the truth in love and forgives.  If you limit your forgiveness to others, do you not limit it to yourself?  If you are merciless to others are you not asking God to be merciless to you?  Think on this.

We Have A Duty To God

Now Jesus ends on a note of duty.  He does so particularly because his disciples are amazed at what he expects of them.  “Increase our faith.”  Now surely this is a prayer we all should pray.  However, that is not what they are doing.  It is the equivalent of saying, how in the world do you expect us to do that!  Lord, I don’t have enough faith to do that!  Now before we talk about duty let us all understand that God wants us to do the right thing for more than duty.  He would rather we obey Him out of love for Him and also a love for His character, and the way that He does things.  Our obedience is best when it is the cry of faith, “I want to be like you, Lord!”  Yet, underlying this higher motivation must be a foundation understanding that I am also duty bound.  Like a foundation is to a building, so duty is to our desire to be like God.  When a hurricane strikes and wipes out a house, it leaves behind a foundation.  So, there are times when our desire to be like God and our love for him is wiped away in the storm and trial of temptation.  Yet, there must always be a foundational response of duty before God.  If you are a follower of Jesus then you have become a servant of God, duty-bound to Him.  Duty can save us when our own love fails us.  But, we must never settle for duty as the sole motivation.  We must build upon this foundation a whole structure of love and desire to be like Jesus.

Now the instructions of Jesus make it clear that the disciples do not need their faith increased.  You do not need great faith to follow these commands.  You need only a small amount of faith.  The amount of faith is not the problem.  It is my own stubborn pride.  The problem isn’t that I can’t believe and do it, it is that I don’t want to do it.  It is simple to do and yet hard because my flesh fights it so.

Yet, even our pride and wounds can be overcome.  The mulberry bush in this passage represents the root and bush of the sin of unforgiveness and bitterness that can grow in our hearts.  If we even have a mustard seed of faith in Jesus we can send our own bitterness into the sea of God’s forgiveness.  If we even trust Jesus one speck we could free our brother from his sins against us.  It is only our pride that stands in the way of forgiving another person.  So why am I so prideful?  And, if it causes me to reject the command of Jesus, am I truly trusting and believing upon Him?

Thus, the call to duty is given by Christ.  There is a reward for those who will serve him in this matter.  Yes, a reward in the life to come, for sure.  However, there is a reward in this life.  We will be enabled to become one with a spouse, and to raise a family.  We will be enabled to build a church body that brings honor to God.  We will be able to be a peaceful influence everywhere we go and enjoy the fruits of brotherly love rather than the bitterness of selfish endeavors.  We will be rewarded according to what masters us.  So who is your master, your own fleshly pride or Jesus?

Being Offended mp3