Saturday, April 27, 2019

Peter's "Yes"

Why do Christians try to put the Ten Commandments in public places and not the Beatitudes? The simple answer is that the Ten Commandments are for everyone, believer or unbeliever, and the Beatitudes are only for disciples, those who have been transferred into a covenant of grace by the Lord.  It would be fruitless to put the beatitudes in a public place, because the world is unable to possess them.  The beatitudes are descriptions of faithful Christians, and the only place where the unbelieving world factors in is in the latter part (verse 11), as people who insult and persecute faithful disciples.

The ten commandments have a use for the unbelieving world. They are the spelling out of the eternal conscience that all people have. All cultures know that they should not covet, steal, lie, murder, commit adultery, and disobey their parents. Everyone's conscience also tells them that there is a God and that we should love him, but many find successful ways to bury that truth.  However, the ten commandments are the best, most universal way of getting across solid boundaries that prevent the world from harming their neighbors.  All successful laws are founded on them, and even though the world will try to eradicate them from the public places, they cannot refute that they are the foundation of all good law. 

The beatitudes, and the sermon on the mount in general, are a completely different animal. Only faithful disciples in a covenant of grace can even come close to following them. They run counter to the world's teaching, and whereas the world will look to the ten commandments and with honesty say that at least commandments 5-9 are rules to live by, the world teaches the opposite of the beatitudes.  The sermon of the mount in its entirety contrasts the two covenants: the covenant of works that all are born into and the covenant of grace that only believers (true disciples) are transferred to by the Lord himself.

1. The beatitudes are descriptors of a faithful disciple.
2. True disciples are evangelists to the unbelieving world.
3. Following the ten commandments, even to the letter, does not make one a true disciple.
4. True disciples follow the spirit of the law, which is deeper than the letter of the law.
5. Social justice in the covenant of works does not look like social justice in the covenant of grace.
6. True disciples value heavenly things and not earthly things.
7. True disciples have peace, even in adversity.
8. True disciples do not judge others but help them to also become true disciples.
9. True disciples have a good relationship with God and their neighbors.
10. True disciples walk a narrow path impossible to walk for those in the covenant of works.
11. False teachers will teach the covenant of works as a rule for disciples and lead many astray.
12. Jesus concludes the sermon with an analogy of two foundations. The covenant of works is built on sand, while the covenant of grace is built on the rock of Christ.

The entirety of the law can be summarized thus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. The ten commandments only touch the surface of this. Like I said before, the world does not keep the first four commandments at all, and they can't keep the last six, either from failure or indifference. A disciple who wants to keep them cannot do so in order to be saved. God saves us through his grace alone, by our faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. The result of his salvation is the desire in the believer to please God and live in the covenant of grace as espoused in the sermon on the mount, not the ten commandments (although the sermon on the mount contains a deepened version of the ten commandments).

Let's look at loving your neighbor:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-5)

How do I love the God whom I can't see? By loving my neighbor whom I can see. In the example above Jesus shows one in the covenant of works pretending to love his neighbor in order get praise by other people. This is not true love of neighbor. This is nowhere near love of God.  Now look at John 21:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

Peter is in the covenant of grace. Jesus does not command him to do good works in order to gain God's love. God already loves him, and Christ has died for Peter's sins. Now Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. He asks him three times. Peter is not saying "yes" each time so that God will accept him. God has already changed his heart. He has already taken him from the covenant of works and put him into the covenant of grace. Peter's "yes" is in response to his trust in Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.  He knows that God loves him.  Does he love God? His answer is "yes." Now, how does he show that he loves God? Jesus tells him: "feed my sheep." Love your neighbor, not to be seen by others, not to be rewarded, but to love the God whom you cannot see.

Peter himself affirms this in his first epistle: "Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight NOT UNDER COMPULSION." In other words: not from within a covenant of works. Not out of fear of hell or reward of heaven but out of love for God. Not under compulsion, Peter tells us, "but voluntary, according to the will of God." Yes, God wills his believers to shepherd the flock of God, because they are now operating within a covenant of grace. In God's grace we are subject to his will alone.  Peter finishes, "not for sordid gain (Matthew 6:1-5), but with eagerness (John 21:15-17)."

You don't have to be a pastor to shepherd God's flock. True disciples share the gospel with each other and study the bible together.  They seek Christ and his kingdom together. And they do all things for each other out of love for God. They do not seek to be praised by others. They don't do it because they feel they have to or God will punish them.  They offer up their lives each day to serve their brothers and sisters--whom God has given them to serve--because loving their neighbors is loving the Lord who has eternally saved them.  God brings them from being rebellious self-servers into faithful God-pleasers. God loves you. Do you believe that? Are you loving the brethren?

Saturday, April 20, 2019


Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (Matthew 28:10).

1. When Jesus mentions his "brethren" in this verse, he is not talking about his natural family. In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus' natural mother and brothers seek him, wishing to speak with him. Jesus asked, in response, "who is my mother and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Behold, my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother." So, we know from these verses that Christ's disciples are more closely related to him than his natural family.

2. Now, we learned from John 8 that not all disciples can be called such. One can follow Jesus and not put his faith in him for his salvation. At the end of Matthew 28 we read, "But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee." So, when Jesus designated his "brethren" to meet him, he was not talking about the mass of followers but specifically the eleven, those whom he knew would put their trust in him, those who indeed had left their livelihoods to be with him.

3. However, the great commission Jesus gives to his eleven disciples encourages them to make disciples of all the nations. He's not talking about making disciples of the kind who may follow for a time and then fall away, who are believing Christ's teaching until something they don't like comes up. Jesus is talking about making disciples of the kind the eleven are, those who put their full trust in Christ for their salvation, for the forgiveness of their sins.

4. In Romans 8, Paul tells us for these specific disciples, God causes all things to work together for good. These are the disciples who truly love God, because they are putting their faith in him. God works things out for their good, even dark trials and tribulations are part of this working out. These disciples are called to him. This is not a general call of discipleship but a special calling into a spiritual family. God knew whom he was going to call from the foundation of the world. And these individuals are being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Even more than being called brethren in name only, true believers are transformed into the kind of people that please God, making them brethren of the spirit as well.

5. None of this would be possible without the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 2:9-18 tells us that Christ has done the following for those he calls his brethren:

a. He gives us understanding of the gospel. We identify Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father.
b. He tastes death on our behalf, so that we may have eternal life.
c. He suffers for our salvation and glory.
d. He cleanses us to be fit for the Father's presence, just as he is clean. We can call him brother.
e. He also takes possession of us. The Father chose us before the foundation of the world and has given us to his Son.
f. He destroys the power of the devil over us.
g. He frees us from slavery to sin and death.
h. He makes us descendants of Abraham through faith.
i. He is merciful and faithful to his brethren.
j. He is our great high priest, sacrificing himself for the sins of the brethren and reconciling us to the Father.

Finally, his resurrection ensures that he will raise his brethren up on the last day. When we read our bibles, we see Christ's suffering in his incarnation, we see his sacrifice for the sins of his brethren, and we see the firstfruits of eternal life in his resurrection. Can you be called his brethren? Are you drawn to him? Do you believe he died for you? When you see the risen Christ in the pages of scripture, are you filled with an overwhelming sense of love? Do you have faith in him for your salvation, for the forgiveness of your sins?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Christ's "Yes"

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. (Matthew 5:33-37)

Christ tells us to make no oath or vow at all, neither a false vow nor a true vow. Why? Because making a vow or an oath is exercising a work, depending on a man-made construct for doing good. I want to keep my word because my heart is truthful, not because I made a vow and I am superstitiously bound to the vow, whether I want to fulfill it or not. Oaths an vows force us to do the right thing, even when our hearts are not desiring to do so. The Sermon on the Mount overall tells Christ's disciples what the attributes of a true believer are. So, he tells them, "you don't want to make any vow, because you will be putting your faith in the vow." You want to put your faith in Christ, and so when you do so, Christ changes your heart to one pleasing to God. You don't need to keep a vow, because you are in a new covenant, where your yes is yes and your no is no.

Let's see this in action:

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

What is "God forbid it?" It is a vow that Peter is not able to keep. He is in the covenant of works.

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:69-75)

Peter denied Christ with an oath. Yes, Peter is still in the covenant of works, and he doesn't get out of such until Christ gives him the Holy Spirit.  Here is one last example:

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” (Matthew 27:11)

No oath, no vow. Jesus' yes is "yes." Do you see the difference? Through the Sermon on the Mount, Christ sets up clear delineations between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace:

1. Works: do not commit murder. Grace: your heart does not anger.
2. Works: do not commit adultery. Grace: your heart does not lust.
3. Works: do not make false vows. Grace: your heart is honest.
4. Works: repay crimes with equal punishments. Grace: your heart forgives.
5. Works: Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Grace: your heart loves your enemy.

When Jesus moves us from one covenant to the other, our hearts change. Peter's heart changed when Jesus moved him. The covenant of grace is a covenant of love. Those in such do not get angry, they do not lust, they are honest, they forgive, and they pray for those who persecute them. They also know that Jesus' death on the cross was crucial for the salvation of the world.  They don't deny Christ, and they willingly die for each other. When one is in the covenant of grace, Christ is transforming him into a new person. It takes our lives, and we stumble and fall often, but our hearts know we are being changed. Which covenant are you in?  Do you look at the cross and see failure, or do you look at the cross and see the highest love?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Freed Slaves

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-37)

1. There is a difference between "following Jesus" and putting your absolute trust in the Jesus of the Bible. There were Jews following Jesus, and even believing what he was saying, but then, he told them that they were not free, and they stopped believing.  Now, if they went to the scriptures at the time, they would see the story of a people who were not free. They had been enslaved to Egypt, but God had set them free. However, they were continually slaves to sin, and they were captured into exile. God did set them free again, but now, because of their disobedience to God, they currently were enslaved to the Romans. They were not free. Jesus was giving them the truth about himself, and they stopped believing in him. Their following Jesus had been the following of a false Christ, even though they were technically following the true Christ. They did not know enough about him, and in this moment, he has revealed "one truth too many" for their hearts to comprehend.  They now reject him.

2. To properly disciple, one needs to stay in the word, where the real Jesus is found. Here is part one of the truth that Christ lays upon them. You find the true Jesus in God's word and nowhere else. The act of knowing the real Jesus through his word is called discipleship. This can be done alone with a Bible or with others who are truly seeking to discover the real Jesus.

3. Here is part two of the truth Christ speaks: to know the real Jesus, the truth, frees one from slavery to sin. Romans 8:2 reads, "the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." The truth that the Jews did not want to hear was that they were slaves, even to sin and death. Many today do not like the doctrine that we are born into slavery to sin and death, and yet the Bible says it is true, and our own experience declares this to be true. Here is Romans 6:16-18:

"Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."

4. Those who follow a different Jesus deny reality. The Jews denied the reality of being slaves to sin, but they also went further in denying the reality of any physical slavery in their history. Not only will one deny Christ, but one will deny all reality, when he is confronted with the truth.

5. Sin and its slaves will be destroyed. The Son and his slaves will endure forever. We are all born slaves of sin, and Jesus tells us in this passage that the slave does not remain in the house forever. The world of sin is passing away, and all its slaves are passing away, too, but the Son, Christ tells us, does remain forever. If we are slaves of Christ then we will endure forever, just as Christ endures forever. How do we move from being a slave to sin to a slave of Christ?

Christ purchases us. He actually purchases his Church, but we become members of the Church through faith. We believe Christ when he says that we must continue in his word. We believe him when he tells us we are disciples. We believe him when he tells us that all truth is in his word, and that knowing his truth--THE truth--will free us from the bonds of slavery to sin. We believe him when he tells us that we are slaves. This was the hurdle that the Jews--and the visible church today--not to mention the unbelieving world--could not get past. We believe that we are spiritual wretches, that we can do no good of ourselves, that we are totally depraved. This honest self-evaluation is impossible for anyone whom Christ is not changing, not purchasing, not adopting. So, we believe in our desperate state, and we believe that Christ is the only solution for our state. Do you believe this? If you do, you have already been purchased with his blood. The Holy Spirit is now presenting the bill of sale and claiming the property for the rightful owner.

Finally, slavery to Christ is not truly slavery. It is the only time in our lives in which we are truly free to do good, to choose the good, which is God himself. Pure joy and everlasting life comes with this kind of slavery. So, the Son must make you free, if you are ever to be free. If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed, eternally, forever.