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Weekly Word

Entries in Righteousness (5)

Wednesday
Nov012017

Having Confidence at His Coming

1 John 2:24-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 29, 2017.

If Jesus were to return today would I be joyful without restraint, or would I be fearful with shame?  This is a powerful question.  The idea of facing Jesus (He who knows what is in a man) face to face can be intimidating.  Yet, it is important to recognize that God’s desire is not for this to be a scary and fearful thing.  Rather, He wants it to be a joyous event in which you can confidently come into the presence of Jesus, the One who paid the price for your sins.  He loves you and, whether it is at your death or the 2nd Coming, we need not fear that He will reject us.  The whole purpose of Jesus was to bring us into a close relationship with the Father, to make us a part of His family, and to cast out the fear of any rejection.  Now this is not a braggart’s confidence that we see in this world.  It is not a confidence built on our great self-attainment.  No, it is a confidence that is made of far stronger metal.  It is that which comes from an experience of the love of the Heavenly Father who as adopted us into His family.  I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit to remove fear from your heart and replace it with a confidence in Him.

Let the Truth Abide in You

In verse 24 Paul has just finished warning believers of false teachers and even “antichrists” that would try to deceive them and lead them astray.  This verse is a conclusion to that section (“Therefore”).  Though John’s statement in verse 24 does not explicitly state what it is he wants them to have dwelling in them, the statements all around it leave no question that he is thinking of the truth they had received from the beginning.  It is interesting that believers are told to “let that (truth) abide in you…”  The truth of God comes into our hearts and naturally wants to dwell there and grow.  Thus Jesus used the parable of the seed of God’s Word being sown into the soil of people’s hearts.  Am I allowing that seed to take root and grow, as it will naturally do, or am I doing things that are adverse to this?  We can reject the Truth, but we can also displace it by filling our hearts and minds with the false-truths of this world.  Let us cling to the Truth of God.

John is writing to people of whom he is intimately aware of the Truth that they received “from the beginning.”  He knows that they received solid, undefiled truth.  However, over time they are being tempted by other so-called truths and twisting of what they knew.  Yet, Christianity is not just about receiving the Truth about life.  It is about receiving the revelation that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the only way to the Father, and in Him Truth is a person, not just a statement of fact.  This connection between Jesus and the Truth must be understood by all His followers.  John sees this as so important that he ties our fellowship with Jesus and the Father to our holding on to the Truths about Him.  If the Truth of the Gospel (Who Jesus was and What He was doing) dwells in our hearts then we will abide in the Son and the Father.  The opposite is implied that if we let go of that Truth then we will no longer be dwelling in the Son and the Father.  To embrace the Gospel is more than embracing a set of propositions.  It is embracing a relationship with the only being of whom it can be said He is Truth.  To use another analogy that Jesus gave us in John 15, to believe the Truth of the Gospel is to connect to Jesus with a living relationship.  We draw life out of our relationship with Him.  You cannot have one without the other.  We cannot claim intimacy with the Son and Father, and yet toss aside the Truth which we received from the beginning.  As I said earlier, this statement is to people whom John knows well what it was they received.  The tragedy is that many in this world have received everything but the Truth.  Some are raised in atheism, and others in false religion, and others yet who are raised in perversions of Christianity.  These people should not hold on to what they received from the beginning.  The key is that we are holding on to the Truth that the Apostles of Jesus transmitted to us in voice and in writing, and refusing to be separated from them by any voices that have risen since then.  To remain in fellowship with Jesus is to hold fast to the teaching received from His apostles.  This cannot be avoided.

In verse 25 he reminds us that this is the promise that God gave us, eternal life.  Those who embrace the Truth about Jesus and the Truth of Jesus are now connected to eternal life.  When we speak of eternal life it is easy to focus solely on length of time.  It is true that eternal life is of unending duration.  However, if you read the passages of the Bible that speak of “eternal life” it will be clear that it is more about quality of life than it is about quantity.  We don’t just live, but we experience the very life of God (i.e. eternal life).  We live in a world that owes its existence to God and yet is separated from the eternal life of God.  It is dying even as it lives.  But in Christ we are living even as we die.  The eternal life that we are connected to is not intimidated by death, but in the end will swallow it up in victory.  This is the life that Christians can experience right now.  No, I won’t live forever in this mortal flesh, but I have a relationship with a kind of life that is greater than mortal death.  This life is extremely important and we need to live in Christ in order to experience it.  This world works daily to try and extend life, deferring the consequences of our fleshly desires.  Though we may open such a Pandora’s Box through technology, it will not give us the life that we desire.  It will only bring us to greater sin and sorrow.  Jesus is the only way to true life.  God’s plan will work, but man’s plan will only forge ever stronger chains for mankind.

Now verse 26 turns our attention back to those deceivers that would try to separate us from the Truth (i.e. the eternal life of the Son and the Father).  There are many deceivers today.  Some wear religious garb and give sermons on whatever day of the week they hold dear.  Others have websites that promise all manner of secret knowledge that will fill that sense of lacking that you have.  When I look at most of the TV and movie programming, the music, and books of this world, I see a continual onslaught of the idea that we can be good without having to believe in a God, Sin, and a Savior.  We are pointed to ourselves, or mankind as a whole, as the answer to fixing everything and having a great life.  We are encouraged to put our faith in mankind’s ability to achieve all this through the power of science and developing technologies.  Such deceivers, whether they know it or not, serve only one purpose: to separate us from the Truth, whether we have received it yet or not.  It is to separate us from a relationship with Jesus in which we experience eternal life in the now.  How are we to keep from falling to such deceptions?

John points to the anointing within all God’s children (vs. 27).  His main point is that you do not need some guru to come along and explain everything for you.  They already had Jesus and the Truth about Him.  They were not missing out on any special knowledge.  If you are a Christian, but feel that you are missing something, the answer is not to pursue information “out there.”  All you need to do is get back to the Truth and the Faith once and for all delivered unto the Saints, that is the Word of God.  When you are reading God’s Word and daily walking in a living relationship with Jesus, you are not missing anything.  Deceivers many claim to be Christ or to be from Christ, but none of them have come, riding on the clouds of heaven and descending to the Mt. of Olives.  Too many Christians are hungry for a miracle worker or a wise teacher, when we already have the anointing of God Himself, the Holy Spirit, dwelling within our life.  The metaphor of anointing reminds us of the special calling to which we are called.  “The anointing” points to the Holy Spirit coming into the life of a person in order to live for God and accomplish His business.  This Spirit dwells in believers and leads us to become more like Jesus. John’s point is not to say there should be no teachers.  They wouldn’t have come to know the Gospel without teachers and all churches had teachers in their midst.  But once you have come to know the Truth and have entered into relationship with Jesus through God’s Spirit, you have all that you need to be acceptable to God and live a full life.  You are not lacking anything.

When a person lives such a life they are ready for the return of Christ (vs. 28).  You can have confidence that you are ready for His return, a confidence born of the Holy Spirit and not the false spirit of this age.  The Pharisees had great confidence, but it was based upon their own ideas, and their own works.  Analyze your own confidence.  What is it based upon?  If it is something other than the witness of the Holy Spirit within you, and the Word of God, then you have a confidence that is like those Pharisees.  The Holy Spirit will lead us to put our confidence in Jesus and His work (past, present, and future) in our life.  That daily relationship of learning to take our feelings, desires, and hopes before Jesus, and learning to trust Him over them, is crucial to growing a proper confidence.  Those who are confident in Christ will rejoice at His coming.  But those who are confident in themselves and the things of this world will be ashamed.  Ashamed because they did not truly trust in Him, or ashamed because they deserted Him and lived for themselves.  Ashamed because they will be separated from Him and not have eternal life.  Now the words in verse 28 are literally, “and that we might not be made ashamed from Him.”  The preposition is often translated as before.  Though this is true, the preposition in the Greek actually emphasizes separation.  Such a person will not just be ashamed before Jesus, but also be separated from Jesus and His eternal life.

Are you ready for the return of Christ?  Will it be a time of rejoicing and celebration, or one of fear and shame?  If we have continued with Him through temptations, trials, and sufferings, then we will have nothing but a confident rejoicing when we come before Him.  It will be a final uniting with one who has helped us through all the good and the bad of this life, and more than that, the one who loved us enough to lay His life down for us.  Such a being you would never have to be afraid of unless you had deserted Him along the way.

Confidence at His Coming audio

Thursday
Aug242017

Faith in Action

Hebrews 12:12-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 20, 2017.  Today we will continue in looking at Hebrews 12 and the importance of faith in the life of a Christian.  We have looked at how faith is a long-distance, endurance race, which includes times of discipline from the Lord.  In the verses we will look at today, we are given instructions that will help us to keep living by faith and what that looks like.

Prepare yourself for God’s work

As the Holy Spirit instructs us to lay aside the weights and sins that would hold us down (vs. 1) and to keep our eyes on Jesus (vs. 2), here we are given further instructions in verse 12.  Before we get into what those instructions are, it is imperative to recognize that faith involves doing what God has for us to do.  These instructions are teaching us how to prepare ourselves so that we can do His work by faith.  Running the race of faith is a series of actions in life that flow from our confidence in Christ (his commands and direction), as opposed to doing our own thing. 

So we start with strengthening our hands and knees for the work.  Both of these aspects of our body are important to many tasks of life.  We use them to move, touch, and help others in so many ways.  Of course other body parts could be mentioned as well.  The point is really about strength to obey Jesus.  In fact the word for “feeble knees” could be translated as “paralyzed knees.”  Why would I have my hands hanging at my side and my knees paralyzed when Jesus has given me my marching orders?  It could be because of fear and discouragement, whether from past failures or present threats.  It could also be from the temptation of sin, its debilitating effects, and even deception.  The devil loves to get us in a position where we are neutralized from doing God’s will for any reason possible.  We need to first know what our Father’s business is, and then we must strengthen ourselves to do it.  I believe keeping our eyes on Jesus (vs. 2) and praying for the help of the Holy Spirit will go a long way to giving us the strength we need to obey Jesus.  However, don’t think that means you will feel strong.  The flesh often “feels” weak when you are exercising faith in God.  So trust God to help you as you step forward in faith.

Next we are told to straighten our path with others.  A straight path is an important image in the Bible.  In fact it reminds me of John the Baptist who quoted from Isaiah when he called himself, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.”  This image of building a road could be seen as making a path for the Lord Himself to walk on.  However, it can also be seen as straightening our lives because they belong to Him.  We have been purchased by Jesus and our lives (the way we live them) should take on the same form as the Lord himself.  My flesh makes me want to go to the left and to the right.  My flesh doesn’t want to go through the hassle of tearing down the high and proud places in my life, or the hassle of letting him lift up the low places (humble or weak) in our life.  To build a life that walks straight with our fellow man and is flat before them and the Lord is not easy.  In fact, without God it is impossible.  Repentance is the first step in asking God to help us in this endeavor, and believe His Word, He will.  Don’t let your flesh, or the world, dictate how you live among others or for what purposes.  Instead focus upon Jesus and the path you walk will be straight (correct).  His way must become our way.

Pursue peace with others and holiness with God

The next steps come in verse 14.  We must pursue peace with others and holiness with God.  A common thing in the Bible is the three aspects of self, others, and Jesus.  In verses 12 through 13 the instruction is focused on what we should do in ourselves.  Here we deal with the other two aspects “others” and “God.” 

When we are told to pursue peace with all people, it assumes that it will be hard to achieve for both internal and external reasons.  It is easy to quit seeking peace with others.  But that door is not left open for us.  No matter what we are to pursue peace.  Yet, peace cannot be contrived.  It must be real.  On one hand it is God’s will for His people to dwell in peace together, and it is His will for us to live peacefully among unbelievers.  However, Romans 12:18 gives us more information on this command.  “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  It even goes on to tell believers that they must refrain from seeking revenge for wrongs done to us.  Instead we are to trust God’s judgments.  So recognize that though peace is the goal, we must not become people pleasers in order to get it.  We are to remain God pleasers always.  Thus for our part we act peacefully towards others, even though they may reject us and act without peace back towards us.  In those cases, we pray for them and wait for God to bring them around.  One of the surest ways to snuff out faith in others is to seek your own revenge, or to be overly obsessed with peace.  Both extremes side step the power of the Gospel and replace it with human power.

Now the holiness part needs to be looked at.  Holiness with God cannot be skipped in our lives.  It is often the first thing to be jettisoned when dealing with others.  What do I mean by that?  The essence of “holiness” is that we are not just another person.  We belong to the Lord and thus are to use our lives for his purposes only.  This is a holy thing.  But hurt and anger tempt us to reject holiness and choose to use our lives as we please.  We cannot continually reject our Lord and think such a life will end in our salvation.  I am not saying that our works save us.  But I am saying that the Lord has saved us for us to follow Him.  If we say we are following Him, but do whatever we want, we are simply lying to ourselves and the world around us.  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and faith involves learning to follow Jesus.  Praise God that He helps us and knows that we are weak.  Trust His love and His instructions and He will bring you through.

In verse 15 we are told to watch again.  In verse 2 it was to look to Jesus for direction and encouragement.  But here we are told to watch for those things that are hazardous to our faith, and pitfalls spiritually.  As a band of brothers and sisters we must not only watch out for ourselves, but for one another.  We don’t want anyone to fall short of the grace of God, that is, to quit the race for one reason or another.  One of those hazards is bitterness.  Bitterness is likened to a root that starts out deep in our heart.  Someone wronged us somehow.  It can even be bitterness at God for allowing something to happen in our life.  We become frustrated and angry of how things went and can hold on to grudges and anger.  Like the roots of a weed, the roots of bitterness can go deep quickly.  We must be ruthless in digging it out of our own lives.  We must be careful in helping others who are dealing with bitterness because trying to force them to do it can become another source of bitterness for them.  In fact the writer says that bitterness can grow up and come to the surface.  We can be defiled through the turmoil and dissension caused by it.  It is good to be able to recognize wrongs, but we must not let self-pity and fear have a place, or we will become another part of the problem.

In fact the writer brings up Esau as an example of what not to be.  He grew up in a home that worshipped and served God.  He was the eldest and thus stood to be the inheritor of the birthright and blessings of his father.  Now two words are used.  “Fornication” is any sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.  It is sometimes connected to food in a metaphorical sense because both are appetites of our flesh.  Proverbs says that those who go to a harlot have been reduced to bread.  Both by being the means of her obtaining the money to buy food, but also the sexual act itself is simply two people satisfying their fleshly appetites.  Sex is something far greater than a means of satisfying our libido.  The word “profane” means to treat or use something that is holy for common or selfish purposes.  Esau stood to inherit a great spiritual blessing, but He treated it as if it was merely a commodity that he could trade for a meal.  Later his repentance was only a physical repentance.  In other words, his flesh was sorry that he would not get the blessing.  His tears are not about his own sin, but the effect of that sin.  True repentance is not just sorry because of the effects of sin.  It is also sorry that it chose the wrong path in the first place.  Though he sought to blessed by his father Isaac with tears, Isaac would not repent of giving the blessing to Jacob.  We cannot obtain the blessing of God without a life of faith in Jesus and avoiding those materialistic pitfalls that find a place in our heart.

Take time today to examine your heart and life.  Have I become profane and am I using the life that God has given me simply to please my flesh?  The good news is that even now if we recognize it to be true, we can have true repentance.  May our lives be filled with strength, straightened, peaceful, and holy.  May we be the saints of God!

Faith in Action audio

Thursday
Jul272017

Slaves to Righteousness

Romans 6:15-23.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 23, 2017.

Last week we looked at the first half of this chapter and focused on how our water baptism symbolizes and highlights the new life that we are given in Jesus Christ.  This new life is not a life that is exactly the same as the world, yet covered by “Jesus Insurance.”  It really is a new life where we grow in our ability to walk away from the unrighteousness of the world and our own flesh. 

Now in this passage the Apostle Paul uses the imagery of slavery to make a point.  Now, I know that such imagery can be offensive to many, but please recognize that Paul is not advocating slavery here.  So, instead of letting this become a red herring, let us try to focus on the Paul’s argument that Christians should not continue in a life of willful sin.  Simply put, he reminds believers that they have been freed from sin so that they can follow Jesus.  May God help us to truly follow Jesus and experience the new life that God has for us in Christ.

Our change in status is put in terms of slavery

In verse 1 Paul contemplates a sort of “godly sinner.”  Clearly this is an oxymoron, but what I mean by it is a person who does not claim to reject Christ, but instead have come up with a religious argument why it is okay for them to continue in sin.  They see nothing wrong with sinning because it is covered by the grace of Jesus.  Paul answers the person who thinks their continued sinning somehow glorifies how great God’s grace really is with a very strong rejection of such a thought.  The phrase is literally, “may it never be!”  It is a categorical rejection of such an idea.  Thus in verse 15 he contemplates this same issue in relationship to our status as a slave under the law versus a free child of God under grace.  Paul does not give a fully explored and neatly outlined theology.  But, he does give us enough to understand what is right in this area.  The people to whom Paul is writing were well acquainted with slavery.  It was around them every day.  Paul uses this imagery to speak in a powerful way to both free and slave alike.  No free person desires to be a slave, and most slaves want to be free.  So what about the person who treats God’s grace as a license to be able to do anything?  Paul’s answer again is, “May it never be!” 

Now this is a very important concept because there are some in Christianity who are so afraid of legalism that they push grace to the point that Paul is talking about here.  I would call this a hyper-grace theology.  Christians have truly been set free, but not in order to keep on sinning.  Instead we have been set free to fight against sin without guilt and fear.  This is the proper understanding of grace.

In verse 16 Paul reminds us that we are a slave to that which we obey.  Notice that Paul uses an interesting turn of phrase.  Though he is saying they are becoming slaves, he expresses it in a way that emphasizes their freedom, “to whom you present yourselves.”  The picture is of a slave presenting themselves to their master for instructions.  A Christian is no longer a slave to sin, but they can still make the mistake of presenting themselves to sin.  Don’t be deceived.  If you do this you will become a slave to sin all over again.  To obey sin is to present yourself to it, receive its instructions, and then do it.  This always leads to death in the end.  Such “obedience” is actually disobedience to Christ.  We were not raised up to plunge into the same old life of sin.  How can a Christian be a slave to sin?  The answer is simply because they use their freedom to rebel against the command of God, and love themselves above all else.  Let me use the example of the Pharisees who confronted Jesus.  Their problem was not that they wanted to be righteous before God and their fellow man.  Their problem was that they refused to listen to God’s message through the Law- you fall short and need my grace.  Instead of seeking a righteousness from God by grace, they clung to the self-righteousness of their own making.

In verses 17-18 we see that the Gospel has freed us from being sin’s slave so that we can become slaves of righteousness.  The Gospel comes to all of us when we are slaves to sin and our flesh.  The “form of doctrine,” or teaching that they received, was the teaching of true righteousness, which can only be found in Jesus.  Paul continues the slavery terminology by saying that they were delivered from sin to this new master of the Truth of Christ, and his true righteousness.  When they believed the Gospel, they then obeyed its instructions: they repented of their life of sin, and confessed Jesus as their Resurrected Lord.  Sin no longer had dominion over them, but that does not mean they are “free” from the Gospel that set them free.

Now in verse 19 Paul makes it clear that he is using terms from the human situation of slavery because of their weakness of understanding, and their weakness towards sin.  They needed to stop serving sin and start serving the righteousness of Christ.  It is clear that Paul is uncomfortable in couching this teaching in these terms.  Grace really is about freedom.  It is the freedom to actually be able to follow Jesus, and live out the true righteousness by faith.  Anyone who teaches that freedom means you can sin if you want to do so is lying.  Sin is bondage.  So even though Grace is truly freedom and not slavery, he uses those terms for the sake of understanding.  Ultimately he is reminding us all that we are not our own.  We have been bought with a price, the blood of Jesus.  Christians are those who refuse to serve sin anymore, and begin serving Jesus.  If we continue to serve sin it will just lead us to more sin, until eventually we are destroyed by it.  But serving the righteousness of Christ will lead to holiness; a person that is set apart by God and by their life for His purposes, not sin’s.

What does our slavery produce?

In verse 20 Paul points to the reality of what our slavery produces.  When Israel was in Egypt, their slavery produced bricks for Pharaoh’s glory.  But when they served God, He led them to the freedom of producing life for themselves, and to God’s glory.  Imagine being set free by God, but then turning around and going back to Egypt in order to make bricks.  Paul is challenging us to think about what our choice in this matter leads to.

If I obey sin, it will only lead me to shameful things and then death (vs. 20).  When we were sinners we weren’t worried about what Jesus thought.  We were too busy sinning and pleasing our master, sin.  This implies that Christians should be too busy serving the righteousness of Christ that we no longer give thought to pleasing sin.  Of course, that is easier said than done.  Why go back to shame and death?  There are some who believe that a Christian is somehow immune to the effects of sin.  Even if you repent and are forgiven, sin still produces death in our lives.  If you are unfaithful and your wife leaves you, she may not come back just because you repent.  However, Paul’s emphasis here is not on the singular consequences of a particular sin.  It is on the end product of living our life in service to sin.  It leads to physical and spiritual death.  Remember Paul’s words to the Galatian Christians in Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”  Grace does not make us immune to the effects of sin.  Rather, it provides a way out from under its tyranny and dominion.

In contrast to this, to serve God produces holiness and everlasting life.  God wants us to follow Jesus by the help of the Holy Spirit.  This is what produces everlasting life.  Think of all the grace that God has given us.  He has freed us from sin and its dominion.  He has shown us the True Righteousness that is found in Jesus.  Yes, His righteousness saves us and sets us free.  But then His grace enables us to live out his righteousness too.  Thus, serving God is like a tree of righteousness in our life producing the fruit of holiness and a new life that is eternal.

So what is the conclusion of the matter?  Verse 23 lays it all out in a succinct statement, but we should also notice the change in his terminology.  When speaking of sin, he keeps it in terms of Law and slavery.  If you work for sin you will be paid death, period.  But, if you are under grace Paul drops the slavery terms.  The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.  Slavery terms are very appropriate for a person who is living for their flesh and sin because that is exactly what it is.  But they are not the most appropriate terms for our New Life in Christ.  We really have been set free in Christ to now produce the righteousness of God.  So the choice is before us.  Will we choose death or choose life?  Let’s choose life by voluntarily presenting ourselves to God, through Jesus.  He will set us free from sin and give us eternal life!

Slaves to Righteousness audio

Tuesday
Jun302015

In God We Trust

June 28, 2015-Luke 18:9-30. 

This sermon was preached by Pastor Nick Hauenstein.  The following is only a summary of it.  Please click the audio link at the end of the article to listen.

Today we are going to look at 3 stories: Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector, Jesus with the children, and the story of the rich man.  Although these are three very different stories the same spiritual issues lie at the heart of them all.  Thus, Jesus helps us to see through varying circumstances that our approach to God is critical.  If we approach trusting ourselves we will not be successful.  But, if we approach trusting Him then we will.

Parable: The Pharisee & The Tax Collector

Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee who is in the temple praying at the same time a tax collector is doing the same.  He basically gives us a look at what each of them prays and commentary on why one is acceptable and the other isn’t.

First we have the Pharisee.  He spends a lot of time thanking God that he is righteous and not like that rotten tax collector.  This begs the question, how righteous is this Pharisee?  Well he fasted twice a week, which is way more than the Law of Moses required and most people want to do.  Next he tithed on everything he had even down to the spices he acquired.  He had a very meticulous and exacting ability to do what the Law of Moses required.  No one would question his righteousness by the measures of that day. 

Now this is compared to the tax collector who won’t even look up to heaven.  He admits he is a sinner and cries out for mercy from God.  Notice that his posture before God is very different.  He makes no claim upon God.  He has nothing to offer God and makes no negotiation.  Now Jesus explains to us that the Pharisee was not justified by God, but the tax collector was.  In the society of that day, this statement would have radically blown the minds of the people.  Why would God justify the tax collector over the top of the Pharisee?  His answer is this: those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  So God is not looking for pompous people who come before him reciting their spiritual resume, and believe they are acceptable.  Rather, he is looking for people who know that they are not acceptable and ask for mercy.  If you had the choice, who would you choose to represent you in court, yourself or a famous lawyer like Johnnie Cochran?  Only Jesus can make us righteous.  Thus it is a dangerous thing to try and justify yourself in front of the only one who can make you righteous.  The apostle Paul points this out in Romans 3:9-10.  Just as this Pharisee was not more righteous than the tax collector, so the Jews were no more righteous than the Gentiles.  No one is righteous, not even one!   Let’s move to the next story.

Jesus Blesses The Children

This is not a parable.  It is a life event that Jesus uses much like a parable.  Parents were bringing their children to Jesus hoping to have him bless them.  The disciples were annoyed by this and were telling the parents to leave.  We can only guess at what is in their minds.  In the first century children were the least and the last.  There was a high infant mortality rate and so each child is more of a problem that might never come to maturity.  Why bother Jesus with children who may not survive to adulthood when there are others who are adults?  I know that we can come up with reasons, but that is more a result of the teaching of Jesus than it is our own goodness.  Jesus rebukes his disciples and tells them to let the kids come to him.  Why?  The answer is that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.  In fact, if you don’t receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a child, you can never enter it.  This had to drop the jaws of everyone listening.  Think about that last parable.  The tax collector didn’t approach as one who had proven his place and warranted something from Jesus.  He approached as a child who had nothing to offer and yet begged for mercy.  A child does not receive out of their own merit, but out of the mercy of adults.  Anyone who is justified is a person who sees themselves as a child before God, rather than an adult who has merited favors from Him.  Now let’s look at the last story.

The Rich Man

A religious leader approached Jesus and asks him, “Good teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?”  Most likely this is a test question to see what theology Jesus has and from there to know how to attack him.  Yet, Jesus stops him with a question back at him.  Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God.  Now clearly we can talk about the goodness of people in relation to others who are not so good.  But Jesus goes to the heart of the matter.  Do not compare yourself to others.  Compare yourself to God and in that case none of us are good.  This is important because it is at the heart of the religious leader’s problem.  He does not approach God like a child who has nothing to offer.  His problem is that he believes he has an abundance of goodness to offer God.

Jesus then goes on to answer the main question by listing 5 of the 10 commandments.  Do these.  The religious leader responds with the statement that he has done all of these things since he was a child.  Of course he does not recognize the trap he has fallen into.  Jesus purposefully leaves off coveting because he knows that this is part of the man’s real problem.  Jesus tells the man that he is missing one thing: sell your possessions, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.  It says that the religious leader went away sad because he was very rich.  The implication is that he can’t obey the command Jesus has given him.  His heart is too attached to the wealth he had amassed to approach Jesus with the right posture.  He wants to hold on to all his wealth and be acceptable to God, even though his heart was full of coveting.  Jesus then states that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to be saved.  But, with God all things are possible.

Now there were not an abundance of rich people like this man.  So when they marvel at the words of Jesus, they do so because they saw his riches as proof that he was acceptable to God.  Yet, Jesus is saying that these are the very things he has to give up to be acceptable.  His “resume” was the best of the best.  He was a rich man and not a poor child.  He was a Jew and not a gentile, a male and not a female, obedient to the law and not disobedient.  Yet, it is all about exalting himself before God.  Look at how great I am, God!  Surely you want me on your team.  But, God will humble those who exalt themselves, and He is looking for people who know they don’t deserve a spot in His family.  Know this, you cannot buy your way into heaven, nor can you merit it by any number of good deeds.  This kind of goodness cannot be achieved by any man, no matter how great the distance between him and other men.  In reality, acceptance by God must always be preceded by surrender of those things that are in the way.  The rich man must sell his possessions.  The fishermen must leave their nets.  The tax collector must leave his booth.  And they all must then follow Jesus as those who have nothing to offer him but themselves- and that of little value.  This necessity of surrender in order to follow cannot be avoided because we will not follow Jesus without tossing them aside.  In fact we will be like a slave chained to a wall; unable to obey the command to follow.

In verses 23-25, Jesus then brings the point home to his listeners.  What is it that firmly attaches you to this world and keeps you from following Jesus?  This is no easy command that everyone must sell all their possessions in order to follow Jesus.  No it is something much harder than that.  He is asking you to surrender precisely what your flesh doesn’t want to surrender.  To obtain the things you want in life, you often lose your soul.  But to gain your soul, you will have to give up those things that have become idols between you and God.  Jesus is asking you to let it go and come follow him.

This causes Peter to pipe up and declare that he and the other disciples have given up their homes (and livelihood for that matter) in order to follow Jesus.  Jesus then recognizes this and declares that anyone who gives up something to follow Jesus will be repaid many times over in this life and will also have eternal life.  Now Jesus is not promoting a doctrine of “Give $1 and God will give you $100.”  He is saying that you will be repaid, but it will be something different.  The person who gives $1 in order to get $100 is now in a worse condition.  He is using God to get what he really wants, money.  This is not only idolatry, but it is using God pursue that love.  If you lose money to follow Christ, He promises to take care of all your needs.  If you lose family to follow Him then you will receive multitudes of brothers and sisters in the Church.   Yes, you are paid back, and it will be more than you had, but it will be different than your flesh would hope.  You have to choose between the desires of your flesh and Jesus.  You can’t have both.

Let’s bring this to a close.  Christianity is a religion that stresses the inability of man to justify himself.  We are justified by the grace of God through our faith in Him and Him alone.  Paul points this out in Philippians 3:5-9.  He lists his resume in the flesh and then says that he counts it all as rubbish in order to have Christ.  Next to Jesus all my goodness is like filthy rags.  So, which will I chose?  Will I cling to my own righteousness and insist on being accepted (exalting myself)?  Or, will I let go of it and cling to the righteousness of Jesus?  This same issue is explained in Ephesians 2:8-10.  No one will be able to stand before God and boast in themselves. They will only be accepted by the grace of God and through faith in His Son, Jesus.  Salvation is not a reward because of the good things we have done.  It is a gift to those who believe Jesus so that they can then do good things in His name.

May God enable us to let go of the things we take pride in and accept His grace.  We can sophisticate ourselves in our religion to the point that we have excluded ourselves from the very God we claim to love.  Eternal life has never been achieved by anyone.  It is offered to those who can offer nothing in return; those who see themselves as merely a child.  Thus the simple prayer of a child says simply, “I did it.  I liked it.  I am a sinner and beg your forgiveness.”  No negotiation; only surrender.  Let us hear what Jesus is telling us today and surrender everything that can stand in our way to following Him.

 

 

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