Jan 082016
 

Be reconciled first So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

In the last couple of blogs in this series on ‘The sermon on the mount’ we have looked at the phrase “Do not murder” and then the idea that even being angry in your heart towards somebody is tantamount to murder in God’s eyes, because He sees into our very hearts and can detect that hateful murderous intent.

This week sort of continues along that theme and talks about being reconciled with one another before we even think of offering service to God.

God has such a love for all people that it really upsets Him if we are in wrong relationships with one another. He would much rather we sort it out with one another before we consider coming into His presence. He considers it the height of hypocrisy to start to worship Him while we are in conflict with another of His precious children.

What’s interesting about these verses is it is focusing on someone else’s attitude other than our own. Of course we should pursue reconciliation if we have something against someone, but this passage is suggesting we should still do something even if someone has got something against us. It might not affect us at all, but if we are aware of it, we should do something about it.

If we are really not aware, our conscience is of course clear, but even if we have an inkling that someone has a problem with us we are obligated to do something about it. A little qualification is required here though. We are responsible to make restitution for the unrighteous acts we do, but not the righteous ones. If we have done something foolish, selfish or sinful, then of course we should set it right. But sometimes people are upset with us because of righteousness. Jesus upset an awful lot of people, but he wasn’t required to apologise to them. Yes He always wanted to keep the channels open for reconciliation and still loved those who hated Him, but He would never have worshipped at all if He had been required to make restitution to everybody He had upset. It would have been a very long queue!

In the book of Romans the apostle Paul wrote some great wisdom for these sorts of situations;

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18) That’s the key. Sometimes we can attempt reconciliation but it is thrown back in our face. We can’t do anything about that, but if it is a genuine attempt, that is what matters.

It occurs to me that there are at least 3 very important points here;

· We need to seek reconciliation wherever and whenever we can.

· We need to be able to recognize our own faults and when we are in the wrong.

· We need to seek God for a humble spirit.

This passage makes it clear that God is not looking for personal piety but a communal love between brothers and sisters. We live in a very individualistic society, but God’s kingdom is all about ‘the body’, His people, the group. Yes of course he loves individuals but He doesn’t consider them on their own, but only as they function as a unified group.

We get the sense of how important this is when we consider the context of the situation Jesus was speaking into. He was speaking in Galilee, the altar that these sacrifices were to be made was in Jerusalem, which was about 80 miles away. If you had a problem with someone when you got to the altar, you might well have a 5 or 6 day journey to make it right! That’s pretty important.

I’m going to finish with 3 reasons we need to take this passage seriously. Consider this:

· Jesus says so

· You can’t worship properly when you are in conflict.

· God won’t listen to your prayers (consider 1 Peter 3:7 in a similar concept)

That settles it for me.

 January 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:15 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 012016
 

AngerBut I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

I’ve heard it many times, when people try to justify themselves and declare that they are not that bad, they are not as sinful as others; “Well at least I have never murdered anyone!” If that is your hope for not being on the receiving end of God’s righteous judgement, then I’ve got a shock for you today. He sees things quite differently than we do.

We sort of have an inkling that this is true anyway, the bible reveals God as ‘all seeing’ and ‘all knowing’ and so He can quite easily look into the very thoughts and motives of our hearts. It’s these secret attitudes that condemn us.

Jesus was speaking to quite a crowd on ‘the sermon on the mount’ but it seems that a lot of the content was directed at the religious leaders who were obviously present. They were all about the external. As long as everything was said and done in an acceptable manner, it didn’t matter what was inside. Jesus saw it differently. Elsewhere he called them “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27-28). They had a paint job on the outside, but it covered over death and destruction. Jesus is gradually exposing their hypocrisy and revealing their hearts.

All sin begins in the heart.

Jesus is revealing in this verse today that murder is not simply the act of physically killing someone, but the anger and hatred in the heart that leads to the act. People who commit murder are very often angry inside first, for any number of reasons. It could be an explosion of rage in a moment or the slow build up of anger over years and years but it all starts in that inner place first. Just because we don’t necessarily have an opportunity to physically murder someone, doesn’t mean we don’t wish to do it in our hearts which in God’s eyes, amounts to the same thing. It’s all sin and consequently separates us from God, meaning we are heading for hell.

In the verse today, Jesus uses as an example the word ‘fool’. But it could be any similar word that conveys the same meaning. The word he uses is the Aramaic word ‘raca’ which can mean; fool, idiot or imbecile. The Greek translation of the word is ‘moros’ where we get our word ‘moron’ from. None of these words are very pleasant although some of us might just shrug them off, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” we might say. The fact is that words like these can have lasting impact on many of us. They would have had more impact in Jesus’ day as He lived in a very ‘honour’ based culture. Honour was very important and therefore shame had a much greater impact than it does in the west today, although there are a number of far eastern cultures that would consider it devastating to ‘lose face’. To be shamed, would lead a person to wish that they were dead.

We have already seen from the examples of ‘the beatitudes’ a few verses before this one, that God’s people are not the sort of people who would shame others, or get angry with one another. God’s people are known for their humility, they are meek people whose hearts are pure and who seek after peace. They are the ‘salt of the earth’.

So is every expression of anger a sin?

Well no. It is possible to be angry and not to sin. It says in Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry and do not sin.” It’s important we differentiate between righteous anger and unrighteous anger. The bible is clear that God gets angry and that is part of His holiness. Jesus himself got angry when he turned over the money changer’s tables in the temple and made a whip of cords (John 2:13-22). The important thing to notice is that Jesus’ anger was not personal but a righteous anger. It was an anger that was concerned for God’s name and His honour.

So to sum up what I think Jesus is saying in this passage is;
“Murder is always wrong and it will always be condemned and brought before a human court. But you need to realise that I’m more concerned with the root cause, the inward infestation of sin in a person’s heart, the anger that get’s a foothold because it is allowed uncontrolled and free reign to rule over a person’s heart. This careless and vengeful anger can destroy the character and reputation of others and is just as worthy of the highest judgment as murder. In fact it comes from the pit of hell and deserves the same kind of judgment.”

Let’s be those who deal first with the anger we hold in our hearts. You might even want to make it a New Years resolution.

 January 1, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Dec 252015
 

Was Jesus born on dec 25Happy Christmas to all my readers, I hope you’re having a great day.

Last week we looked at some of the traditions we have become used to at Christmas time, which are probably only myths. Events such as; Jesus being born in a stable, Mary riding on a donkey while she is 9 months pregnant and 3 kings arriving for the birth. These things are not necessarily false, but they are certainly not mentioned in the bible.

Today I’m going to explore the age old question of whether Jesus was actually born on this day or not. I don’t want it to spoil your celebrations, the fact is He was born and it really doesn’t matter when it happened. I just thought it would be interesting to compare the assertions of those who say “yes it was December 25th” and those who think it must have been some other time.

It wasn’t December 25th

Let’s start with those who don’t believe it was this day;

They say It would be unusual to see Shepherds “abiding in the field” in December at a very cold time of the year when fields were unproductive. The normal practice was to keep the flocks in the fields from Spring to Autumn. Also, winter would be an unlikely time to hold a Census as fewer people would be able to make the journey. The weather was cold and the roads would have been in poor condition. To have a Census at that time would have been self-defeating.

A more probable time would be late September, at the time of the annual Feast of Tabernacles. when such travel was commonly accepted. This would coincide with an event widely celebrated in the Christian calendar of ‘Michaelmas’ named after the angel Michael the archangel who proclaimed to the shepherds that Christ was born. Michaelmas is celebrated on September 29th.

If September 29th was the date that Jesus was born, December the 25th(almost exactly 9 months earlier) was actually when Jesus was conceived. When you think about it, the darkest time of the year, the pagan celebration of ‘Saturnalia’ when the son is furthest away from the Holy Land, would be an appropriate time for God to give us the ‘light of the world’.

The original significance of December 25th is that it was a well-known festival day celebrating the annual return of the sun. December 21 is the winter solstice (shortest day of the year and thus a key date on the calendar), and December 25th is the first day that ancients could clearly note that the days were definitely getting longer and the sunlight was returning.

Since no one knows the day of His birth (the early church never celebrated it), the Roman Catholic Church felt free to choose this date, hoping to replace the pagan festival with a Christian holy day (holiday). They obviously came to the conclusion that rather than replace an established celebration day they would just compromise dates and change its focus so that the people would not be upset.

The bible itself points to an autumn date based on the conception and birth of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Stay with me on this one because it is a bit complicated. Since Elizabeth (John’s mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36), we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born. John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5). Historical calculations indicate this division of service corresponded to June 13-19 in that year (The Companion Bible, 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200). It was during this time of temple service that Zacharias learned that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child (Luke 1:8-13). After he completed his service and travelled home, Elizabeth conceived (Luke 1:23-24). Assuming John’s conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John’s birth. Adding another six months (the difference in ages between John and Jesus (Luke 1:35-36)) brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.

Although it is difficult to determine the first time anyone celebrated December 25th as Christmas Day, historians are in general agreement that it was sometime during the fourth century. This is an amazingly late date. Christmas was not observed in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, until about 300 years after Christ’s death. Its origins cannot be traced back to either the teachings or practices of the earliest Christians.

It was December 25th

There are a few arguments that people use to support December 25thas the date of Jesus’ birth.

Firstly, the earliest Christian tradition dating back to the 3rd Century when an early church father, Hyppolytus (ca. 170-236) stated the date as 25th December. The earliest mention of some sort of observance on that date is in the Philoclian Calendar, a Roman Calendar dated around 336 ad. Another early church father John Chrysostom (349 to 407ad) also favoured December 25thas did Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) who had access to the original Roman birth census, which also documented that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. These early church ‘heavyweights’ should not be ignored according to those who subscribe to the date we use today. They were after all, a lot nearer to the event than we are.

The second argument really disputes the assertion that Shepherds couldn’t have been outside in the fields in December because it was too cold. There is strong historical evidence that unblemished lambs for the Temple sacrifice were in fact kept in the fields near Bethlehem during the winter months. December is not the coldest month in Bethlehem, January is. Even then the temperature rarely goes below freezing. In fact the average temperature is 8 degrees (a couple of degrees warmer in December), which although cold, would not be beyond the possibility of hardy shepherds being out in the fields, with shelter and fire etc. Even in the bible there is evidence of someone looking after sheep outside in the cold. When Jacob wanted to marry Laban’s daughter Rachel, he had to work 20 years in total, tending the sheep. This was in Paddan-aram which was more northerly and therefore colder than Bethlehem. Jacob said;

These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks.What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. (Genesis 31: 38-40)

Thirdly, the issue of the timing of the census was not an issue. The census could still have been in the Autumn. Mary and Joseph could have completed the Census but not wanted to travel back whilst Mary was heavily pregnant, so they stayed in Bethlehem until after Jesus was born. This is quite a simple solution and fits perfectly into the biblical record, although slightly troublesome is the fact that there was still no room for them months later.

Fourthly, if the Romans had wanted to overtake a pagan ritual, why didn’t they choose December 21stwhen the winter solstice was celebrated?

The truth is we simply don’t know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. In fact, we don’t even know for sure what year He was born. Scholars believe it was somewhere between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. One thing is clear, if God felt it was important for us to know the exact date of the Jesus’ birth, He would certainly have told us in His Word. The Gospel of Luke gives very specific details about the event, even down to what the baby was wearing, where he was laid, a bit of a guest list etc but not the date.
The fact is that He was born, that He came into the world to save us from our sins and to bring us into a relationship with Him. That’s the true meaning and reason to celebrate the incarnation. Enjoy the rest of your day!

 December 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:00 am Christmas 2 Responses »
Dec 182015
 

Christmas mythsI’ve decided to have a break from the sermon on the mount for a couple of weeks as I usually like to write a seasonal blog at this time of year.

I’ve always been interested in how we arrive at the Christmas scene we see year after year, especially as quite a lot of our traditions and what we think happened isn’t even in the bible.

The Christmas scene we have arrived at is usually set in snow. Mary is on a donkey and Joseph is standing by, leading the donkey with a staff in his hand. They arrive at Bethlehem on 24thDecember (year 0) the night before Mary gives birth and are frantically going round town trying to find a room in an inn. Talk about ‘last minute dot com’. Eventually they manage to find a stable, clear out the trough, put some straw in, just in time for Mary to give birth and lay the baby in the trough. To make the night even stranger they are visited by some smelly shepherds who look like they have seen a ghost and 3 rather regal looking chaps with big beards, bringing gifts, muttering something about following a star. They have been rather busy to go star gazing though.

The problem with that scene is it is probably quite a long way from what actually happened. Let’s look at the clues and use our imagination a bit;

There is nothing in the bible to say Mary was on a donkey. Their journey was 90 miles and it was unlikely she would have made that Journey ‘full term’ In Luke 2:6 it says “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” That sounds like they had arrived well in time. The census would have been known about in advance given the logistics of getting everyone to their ‘home’ town. They were very poor and riding a donkey was the cheapest option (besides walking) so it is possible, but not guaranteed. They may well have travelled with other family members because they were all in the same situation and they repeated this journey every year after this to get to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 2:41). Bethlehem is only 5 miles from Jerusalem.

Because of the census including family members, they probably stayed with relatives. The bible doesn’t mention Inn’s and innkeepers (the word inn is better translated guest room). The family rooms were all taken (likely by older relatives who would have had priority) so their likely resting place was a part of the house where animals would have been kept. Usually people stayed on an upper level and animals were kept on a lower level. Animals were kept inside for a variety of reasons;

· To keep the house warm on cold nights

· To stop them getting stolen

· Their dung was often used for fuel

· The milk they produced would be easily accessible.

Imagine today having a house full of people and the only place someone can stay is the garage, that sort of idea. The bible doesn’t say Jesus was born in a stable, just that he was placed in a manger. It would be very difficult to be born in a manger as Mary would have had to have been an extremely talented gymnast! A manger was a sort of feeding trough, but with a bit of creativity could have easily been converted into a cot.

The shepherds arriving would have ensured that it wouldn’t have been a ‘still’ night and I doubt very much that Jesus didn’t cry (the phrase in the carol “no crying he makes” has always bothered me). Imagine the scene; a house full of guests, a mother giving birth, unexpected smelly shepherds arriving unannounced and clearly quite excited. This was a stressful night and I imagine Jesus did a fair bit of hollering. To make the picture complete a drummer boy appears banging his drum! Nah, that almost certainly didn’t happen.

At least it was extremely unlikely that the 3 kings arrived on that night. For starters they were not kings but wise men (magi) and there is no indication how many there were. It is assumed 3, because 3 gifts were presented, but the number is never actually stated.

It is actually quite likely, given the circumstances that when the wise men arrived, Jesus was anything up to two years old. The bible calls Him a child and not a baby. If it was a long period of time after Jesus’ birth, they would have visited Him in Nazareth, as Mary and Joseph left Bethlehem for Nazareth soon after Jesus’ birth. The main account of this is in Matthew 2 which states that Herod had ascertained from the religious leaders that the child would be born in Bethlehem. Herod had assumed that He was still there. Even though Mary and Joseph were in Nazareth, it was still a good idea to escape to Egypt, because they could quite easily be traced from Bethlehem back to Nazareth.

Next week we will continue this theme and ask if Jesus really was born on December 25th or not.

 December 18, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Christmas No Responses »
Dec 112015
 

Do not murderYou have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ (Matthew 5:21)

Jesus is here quoting from commandment number 6 of the 10 commandments in the Old Testament. These are in two places; Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17

On the surface this may seem like a pretty obvious statement but there are underlying questions such as; is the taking of human life always wrong? What about capital punishment? What about God commanding people to be killed? What about God killing people Himself, is He being hypocritical?

Firstly we need to establish the exact interpretation of murder and what it means in this context. The confusion has largely stemmed from some versions of the bible which interpret the commandment as ‘do not kill’ which could be interpreted as any sort of killing, including animals. If it meant literally not to kill anything this would have major repercussions, even for Jesus who killed fish to give His disciples breakfast (see John 21). We know that Jesus never sinned, so obviously it was ok to kill fish, so at least we have established that this verse doesn’t mean not to kill anything. The difference between killing and murder is subtle but very important. Basically, murder could be defined as “The unlawful killing of one human being by another”. You could insert the word ‘premeditated’ after unlawful, because some killing is accidental and there were many regulations in the Old Testament about what could happen if somebody accidentally killed someone, such as the provision of cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6).

One factor that must be considered is the authority that God has given to governing authorities;

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Romans 13:1).

This could cover issues such as capital punishment or fighting in a war. These can be ‘grey areas’ which Christians have long debated over. More black and white for a Christian is the issue of Euthanasia and Abortion, which even when allowed by an authority, we would still consider as wrong. There are some issues, where the conscience is concerned, where we may need to disobey the authority structure we are under. God’s law always takes precedence over human authority and where that authority clearly contradicts God’s word we must make a stand.

The last issue I want to tackle today is where people point the finger at God and call Him a hypocrite for going against His own rules by killing people. This shows a gross misunderstanding about the nature of God. Let me set one thing straight, God is not morally answerable to any person. The bible states this in Isaiah 45:9

Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’

The power of life and death is in God’s hands and He does what is right and what He pleases. The fact is that He doesn’t owe us anything except destruction. It is only through His amazing grace and mercy that He keeps us alive, because we are all rebellious and deserving of death, every last one of us. When you think about it, every single person who has ever died has died through God’s hands;

See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. (Deuteronomy 32:39)

As I said earlier, this can seem like the most straightforward command but in reality it can be quite problematic, but I hope that I have made it a bit clearer. Next week we are going to look at Jesus’ radical definition of the 6th commandment where He classifies it even further.

 December 11, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Dec 042015
 

Exceedingly righteousWe are now in the fourth week of a section of Jesus’ sermon which addressed the Old Testament and whether Jesus had come to abolish it or not. These 4 verses lead into the rest of the sermon and have been hotly debated as to their meaning. I have included the verses below with today’s verse in bold.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

Jesus here highlights to His worried listeners that He is not doing away with their history with God in the Old Testament, but He is fulfilling it. Everything that happened in the Old Testament pointed to Him. The prophecies were about Him, the sacrifices predicted His sacrifice and the regulations were a shadow of what He was going to achieve. The 10 commandments were written on stone, but these new commandments were going to be written on believer’s hearts. No longer a struggle to keep a whole host of rules and regulations but a new heart and desire to do what pleases Him.

It’s important we consider what I said last week about Christians having died to the law. Because we could be inclined to think that these new commands that Jesus is giving, which incidentally are even stronger than the Old Testament laws, are just replacing one set of laws for another. These commands that Jesus is giving are His standards for living and they are achievable precisely because we have a new heart.

What Jesus is saying in today’s passage is that our own righteousness is never enough. To say that their righteousness should exceed the Scribes and the Pharisee’s would have been truly shocking to His listeners because they were ‘super’ religious. Humanly speaking there isn’t anybody who could touch the piety of the Scribes and the Pharisee’s. They even tithed their spice rack for goodness sake! Can you imagine getting the dried herbs from your kitchen cupboards and measuring out 10%? The trouble was, they had created many extra laws than what God had decreed. God had said that you should not work on the Sabbath, but they had taken it to ridiculous extremes. Just for a laugh and actually it is really quite sad, here are some of the stipulations they put in place for the Sabbath:

  • They taught that you should not look in a mirror on the Sabbath because you might be tempted to pluck out a grey hair and that would be reaping.
  • They said that you could only eat an egg which had been laid on the Sabbath if you killed the chicken for Sabbath-breaking.
  • If the lights were on when the Sabbath came (Sabbath began at sundown), you could not blow them out. If they had not been lit in time, then you could not light them.
  • It was unlawful to wear any jewellery or ornaments on the Sabbath, since this might be construed as carrying a burden.
  • It was not permitted to wear false teeth on the Sabbath.
  • You were allowed to eat radishes on the Sabbath, but you were warned against dipping them into salt because you might leave them in the salt too long and pickle them and this was considered to be Sabbath-breaking. The Pharisees actually had discussions as to how long it took to pickle a radish.
  • It was fine to spit on a rock on the Sabbath, but you could not spit on the ground, because that made mud and mud was mortar, and that was work.

There are many, many more besides these. No wonder Jesus got cross with them as they had missed the idea completely. Their piety was external and superficial and Jesus is looking for an inner attitude that is all about pleasing Him.

We can only exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisee’s because we are trusting in His righteousness. Our righteousness is His righteousness and I for one am jolly pleased about that!

 December 4, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Righteousness, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Nov 272015
 

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

The 4 verses that we are currently looking at (verses 17 to 20) are a little introduction to what Jesus is leading on to talk about in His next part of ‘the sermon on the mount.’ They are very important but also hotly debated. I will set out my viewpoint this week on what I believe that Jesus is teaching. You may disagree, but we won’t fall out will we? I’m open to being shown where I may be wrong (as long as it’s in a loving and gracious way).

Jesus is speaking to the crowd in response to the Pharisees’ accusation that He was trying to abolish the Law of God. Jesus refutes this accusation, saying that actually He is not abolishing it but fulfilling it. He is not talking about any specific part of the law, like the 10 commandments, or He would have clarified that in verses 17 & 18, but He is talking about the whole of the Old Testament (law and the prophets).

He is not abolishing what has gone before but fulfilling or complementing them, filling them out and finishing them. Jesus completes the Law and the Prophets, the Old Covenant Scriptures, in three ways:

1) He completes their predictions or the prophecies given about Him and His work

2) He fulfilled the righteous requirements

3) He brings a new reality to the Old Testament shadows, He brings clarity to what they were pointing towards and suggesting.

That is why He is not abolishing them, because after all they are perfect.

I have read many interpretations of this verse which say that Jesus is still asking us to keep the requirements of the law, especially the moral code, such as the 10 commandments. He has just gotten rid of the rest but left those.

It is so important though, that we balance this scripture with other scriptures which speak about the law not ruling us anymore. For example, Romans 7 is very clear about this. In verse 4 it states that a Christian has ‘died to the law’ and verse 6 that we have been ‘released’ from it. That means the whole lot, not just part of it. If that is the case, what does this verse mean?

It is quite possible that when Jesus says ‘These commandments’ he is referring to the principles he is going to set out in the rest of His sermon. This could be what is referred to as “The law of Christ.” Jesus is about to set out some principles and ways of living that will please Him. We don’t have to do anything, but as those who are following Him, if we have truly repented and had our hearts changed, our desire will be to please Him. The Old law was a list of regulations we had to keep through a sense of duty. This new way is entirely different because it has been written on our hearts.

Notice that it doesn’t say that the person who relaxes any of these commandments would lose their salvation. It says that they would be considered least. A true Christian cannot lose their salvation but they can miss all that God has for them through all sorts of reasons. The person who teaches others well and gives themselves to Christ’s kingdom will receive rewards. This is clearly shown in many bible verses, such as:

Colossians 3:23-24, Romans 2:6, 1 Corinthians 2:9, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Hebrews 11:6 and many others.

I hope you count yourself blessed that you are living on this side of the law. We are living in the age of Grace where Christ has paid the full penalty. He has done it all for us and we can just live in the good of it. Praise His name.

 November 27, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Nov 202015
 

HeavenAndEarthFor truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18)

Last week we looked at the statement of Jesus; that he had not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them. The law and the prophets is another way of saying the whole of the Old Testament. The reason why Jesus made this statement was because He was aware that He was making some very provocative and radical statements and His listeners could well have thought that He was going to do away with all that had gone before. Actually it was quite the opposite, there was nothing wrong at all with the law, it was the people who were trying to obey it who came up short.

Jesus didn’t abandon the law, He actually defined what it really meant. In the process He even raised the bar by saying it wasn’t about outward appearance but what was in the heart. It was no longer necessary to just avoid murdering someone for example, you now had to not even have anger in your heart!

Jesus goes on to further define in verse 18 what he meant by fulfilling the law in verse 17.

Firstly He starts with a phrase that Jesus often used, “truly I say to you”. This can be translated in many ways; “Verily I tell you”, “I tell you the truth”, “for I assure you”, “Amen I say to you”, “I can guarantee this truth”, “for most certainly I tell you.”

Do you get the point? Jesus is saying something that He wanted His listeners to take notice of. We know that whatever He says is true, but His hearers, who were perhaps unsure, needed to sit up and listen.

Secondly, what did He mean by saying “until heaven and earth pass away”? Well this refers to the future when all has been wrapped up. All prophecies have been fulfilled and everyone has been judged. The former things have finished and the new heavens and new earth are upon us. Death has been defeated, sickness and sorrow is no more. Every Christian has their glorified bodies which are not subject to decay. At that time there will be no more need of the law. We will live in the presence of God with any thought of sinning a distant memory extinguished from our minds.

Until that point not an iota or a dot will be changed. So what are an iota and a dot? Well an iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet. The dot or as it is sometimes referred to as the ‘tittle’ refers to a tiny mark used in Hebrew letters that is shaped like a hook. As small as the dot on an i. The point is that there is nothing wrong with any of it, even the tiniest part. It was all instigated by God as His perfect standard. How could it be anything but perfect?

“All is accomplished” means literally “until all has occurred or everything is completed.” This is going back and emphasising what Jesus said in verse 17 about fulfilling the law. It does not merely refer to Jesus’ role as a teacher of the law, but as a fulfiller of prophecy and one who obeyed the moral law completely. He came to realise every prophecy and pass every test, to lead the way and accomplish every last stroke of the pen on the law’s statute books. He has fulfilled it all perfectly.

The question to leave you this week is “Do you trust Him? The one who has accomplished everything necessary in the law so that you don’t have to, or are you trying to fill in the gaps?

 November 20, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Nov 142015
 

As I sit here and watch the tragic unfolding events of violence and mayhem in Paris, I feel compelled to write something. We all react to such events in many different ways; anger, despair, sadness, indifference or just a sense of relief that it didn’t happen to us.

When I glance through social media, I see many ‘over’ reactions, often quite hurtful and unnecessary.

As a Christian for many years now, I have discovered that the bible offers many answers and wisdom about how to react to tragic events that happen. I want to humbly share some of these observations now in the hope that it will help you come to terms with this heart-rending event and others that will inevitably happen in the future.

Firstly, this event is no surprise to God. Not that He agrees with these barbaric acts, but he uses them in an amazing way to fulfill his own purposes. It is comforting to know that God knows the end from the beginning, He sees the big picture. We may not understand, but the fact that He does is really comforting.

When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. (Mark 13:7)

Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish. (Isaiah 46:10)

The second hope I can give you is that evil will not prevail. Sometimes it seems that it is prevailing rather too much, but again, God is in control. King David says it well in Psalm 21 v 8-11

Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear. The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them. You will destroy their descendants from the earth, and their offspring from among the children of man. Though they plan evil against you, though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.

That brings me to a third point – The battle is not ours. Unless we are in the armed forces, we are not to fight against people. It is not people we are fighting against anyway;

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

As followers of Jesus, He is our supreme example. We are to be like Him in our reactions. Jesus showed love to His enemies and that is to be our reaction too. I don’t know how people can call Christianity a crutch for the weak, because it is one of the hardest things to do; to forgive perpetrators of evil, to turn the other cheek, to seek to bless our enemies, but those are the things we are called to do.

Our natural, fallen reaction is to speak against people who we perceive to be behind these atrocities, to spit bile and vent our fury. We might even be tempted to speak angrily against Muslim’s, but that is not the way. We need to be people who are above all of that. We don’t have to agree with Muslim’s to love them. We should love them as our neighbours and seek for ways to be kind because we are representing Jesus. Have you ever thought that they may be just as ashamed and embarrassed about radical Muslim’s as we are about money grabbing Tele-evangelists from our own camp?

Finally, we are called to pray. The hashtag #prayforparis is trending massively on twitter at the moment and the majority is used by people that I wouldn’t even have thought would believe in God. It shows the desperation in the human soul, a reflection that we are made in God’s image, that we need to do something to help these poor souls who are suffering.

Christians who are reading this – If people who don’t even know God are trying to contact some nameless benefactor in the sky, how much more should we, who know this father of compassion and mercy, be praying? We know He acts, we know He is the only hope, we know those desperately searching for comfort will receive His care. We know that He is the only answer.

I can understand being overwhelmed by the enormity of what is happening and wondering what to start praying about, so here are a few pointers:

(1) Pray for peace – In the hearts of those who are suffering, grieving families, those who have had their lives turned upside down. Pray for peace in the hearts of those who are hell bent on revenge and would seek to take it from inappropriate places.

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

(2) Pray for world leaders – For the French government and for those governments that advise them. Pray that they would receive wisdom and look to how their reaction will affect future generations in 5, 10, 20 years from now.

Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:2) (NLT)

(3) Pray that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

(4) Pray for the police and intelligence services that they would be led to potential threats before they even happen

(5) Pray for radical members of ISIS that their eyes will be open to the evil they are committing. Pray that the brainwashing would cease to be effective, that those in authority in the Muslim community would speak out.

(6) Pray that God will bring comfort and healing

(7) Pray that the will of God will prevail, that He will turn this evil on its head and bring good out of this desperate situation.

It’s very easy to switch off and pretend it is not happening, to turn off the TV and block it all out, but we are called to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world and to bring good in the face of a whole lot of evil. Be ready to speak to those with questions, to bring comfort to the anxious and peace to the troubled. To be like Jesus to those around us.

As I was considering what to write, I started meditating on Psalm 37, which is a great Psalm to consider in this present climate. Why not look it up?

God bless, Adrian.

 November 14, 2015  Posted by at 1:32 pm Paris attacks, Peace, Pray for Paris No Responses »
Nov 132015
 

Abolishing the lawDo not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

In our ‘Sermon on the mount’ series we are now changing tack and looking at Jesus’ next point. We have looked already at ‘the beatitudes’ and then following on from that the fact that Christians are to be salt and light in the society we live in. Now we look at a subject that has caused the Christian world much consternation for a very long time…. ‘The law’. Opinion has been sharply divided on a scale of 2 extremes. At one end of the scale we are still to keep all the law, sliding through keeping certain parts of it, until you get to the other end of ignoring it completely, it has no relevance!

Opinion is divided mainly because the bible appears to contradict itself. I say “appears” because actually, as you might expect, it doesn’t. It depends how you interpret it.

I want to make this as simple as I can;

The law was instigated by God, therefore it is perfect. In reality it was a standard set that nobody on earth could obtain, except one man in the whole of history. The law was really there to show how perfect God is and how we cannot even begin to get near to His standard. On top of that, any falling below the standard means death. You only get life if you keep the whole thing. You might say “That sounds really cruel?” Well yes, if you left it like that it would do.

We of course know that Jesus was that one man, the only one who could keep it. The amazing part is that He kept it on our behalf. When we trust in Him and put our faith in Him, it is like we have kept it. That is why it is really silly to trust in Him and then try to keep certain parts in our own strength. If we can’t keep it all it’s no point in trying to keep some, it’s all or nothing.

This is the dangerous part, because if that is really true, we can do anything we like. Well yes we can, but in the act of handing over our lives to Jesus, when we trust in Him we get a new heart, a heart that now wants to please Him. We keep the spirit of the law because we want to. It’s no longer a set of rules and regulations but a set of opportunities to please Him.

This is what Jesus meant when He said He had not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it. He fulfilled it by keeping every last bit of it, the whole lot, He didn’t miss crossing a t or dotting an i. His life was a perfect example of keeping the law.

So the question is not now “should I obey that law or not?” but “what good things can I do to please Jesus?” A completely different perspective.

 November 13, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »