WHEN YOU FAST

WHEN YOU FAST

WHEN YOU FAST

Matthew 6:16-18 NET

16 “When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 17 When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Last month, when Penny and I began our focus on the commands of Christ in Matthew 6, I explained what Jesus meant by his instruction to “be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people” (6:1). These displays of righteousness were habits that the religious experts of Christ’s day practiced. They considered these three habits marks of healthy relationships. We have already looked at two of those habits.

The first habit was introduced in 6:2 with the words “whenever you do charitable giving.” Giving to the needy was considered a mark of spiritual maturity, and it helped maintain a healthy relationship with others. If God blessed a person, that person was expected to pass on the blessing to those who needed it.

The second habit was introduced in 6:5 with the words “whenever you pray.” Praying to God was a mark of spiritual maturity and it helped maintain a healthy relationship with God.

Today, I want to talk about the third habit of highly successful religious professionals. That was the habit of fasting.

Fasting is a means of displaying righteousness (6:16).

Jesus says “when you fast.” He did not say “if you fast.” Jesus endorsed every one of these signs of spiritual maturity. He expected that his apostles would be doing a lot of giving, a lot of praying, and a lot of fasting. Like giving and praying, fasting is a legitimate way of showing that you have a commitment to God and you discipline yourself because of that commitment.

The Old Testament prescribed fasting on Yom Kippur – the day of atonement.

“This is to be a perpetual statute for you. In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you must humble yourselves and do no work of any kind, both the native citizen and the foreigner who resides in your midst, for on this day atonement is to be made for you to cleanse you from all your sins; you must be clean before the LORD. It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must humble yourselves. It is a perpetual statute” (Leviticus 16:29-31).

The actual commands were for the Israelites to humble themselves, to remain ritually clean, and to cease all work on that day. Regularly fasting that one day of the year became a way to set that day apart so that God’s people could celebrate what he was doing for them by atoning for their sins.

This is not the fasting that Jesus was talking about in Matthew 6. The fasting on the day of atonement was a national fast. Jesus was talking about a personal voluntary fast.

Jesus himself voluntarily fasted, and we read about that earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 4. There, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights, endured temptation from the devil, and overcame that temptation. He emerged ready to do the ministry that God had called him to do.

We learn something about the voluntary fast from that incident. We learn that fasting can be a way to prepare yourself spiritually for something that the LORD is calling you to do.

When you face a decision that you have to make, and you want to make sure that you are making your choice based on God’s will, not just your own inclination, fasting can help you do that.

If you are facing a challenge, and you want strength from the Lord to help you overcome that challenge or endure a time of difficulty, fasting can help you do that. Sometimes people fast over some personal problem or social tragedy or injustice. You might feel that just praying about your concern is not enough – you want to do more. So, the Lord might be inviting you for an extended time of prayer and fasting. If a sin you are being tempted to commit, a loved one’s illness, COVID-19, racial injustice, or the war in Ukraine is on your mind a lot, maybe you should consider praying and fasting about it.

Fasting can be abused (16).

We need to keep in mind that Jesus brought up all three of these habits of displaying righteousness because all three of them had been hijacked by the hypocrites. Jesus told his apostles not to “look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting.”

Just as giving and praying could be ruined by doing it with the wrong motive, the same thing is true of fasting. If you fast just so people can see you fast, that is the only result you’re going to get from your fast.

The question of fasting comes up one other time in Matthew’s Gospel. That is when the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus to ask him why he and his disciples were not publicly fasting the way they were. They asked: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?” (Matthew 9:14).

Jesus responded: “The wedding guests cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15).

You see, Jesus was a publicly recognizable figure. Since his apostles were his entourage, everything they did had to fit the mission of their master. Jesus said it was like they were the wedding guests, and he was the bridegroom. While the wedding ceremony is going on, you don’t fast.

But Jesus also implied that something was going to happen to change the situation, and when that something happened, the apostles would have times of voluntary fasting, just like John’s disciples. The bridegroom was taken away.

Fasting can be done right (17-18).

Jesus told his apostles “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” When fasting is done right, nobody knows about the fast except the faster and the Father. It’s not to display your devotion before others. It’s to spend time with the one you are devoted to.

Now, it’s not always going to be possible for everyone not to know. If you are married, your spouse will know. Your children might need to know why you are not coming to the table. But the best rule is to keep the information as limited as possible.

There is also a danger that we can presume too much because we are fasting. We can get really discouraged if we have expectations that fasting is going to change us into super-saints, and fix all our problems.

Isaiah faced this with his people. They asked God “Why don’t you notice when we fast? Why don’t you pay attention when we humble ourselves?” (Isaiah 58:3). But Isaiah reminded them that they were not just fasting. They were also arguing, brawling, fist fighting, mistreating each other, failing to take care of the homeless, ignoring the oppressed, and failing to give to the needy. God is not going to be impressed if I’m doing that. It doesn’t matter how many meals I skip.

God wants to know that you love him – enough to spend quality time alone with him in prayer. God wants to know that you love your neighbor – enough to give to those in need. God also wants to know that you love yourself – enough to every now and then stop paying attention to your ordinary needs and focus on the things that can only come from God.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and told his people: “Is this really the kind of fasting I want? Do I want a day when people merely humble themselves, bowing their heads like a reed and stretching out on sackcloth and ashes? Is this really what you call a fast, a day that is pleasing to the LORD? No, this is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood! Then your light will shine like the sunrise; your restoration will quickly arrive; your godly behavior will go before you, and the LORD’s splendor will be your rear guard. Then you will call out, and the LORD will respond; you will cry out, and he will reply, ‘Here I am.’ (Isaiah 58:5-9).

If you live like the devil, fasting is worthless. But if you live like God wants you to, when you fast, He’s going to show up. When God shows up, miracles happen.

— NOTES —

the Law and fasting

“The third “act of righteousness” of which Jesus speaks is fasting. The Law of Moses seems to have required at the most only one day of fasting per year. (Leviticus 16:29 in the NIV speaks of denying oneself on the Day of Atonement, which is assumed to be a reference to fasting.) The Pharisees, on the other hand, fasted twice a week and boasted about it. They loved to demonstrate how grievously they were suffering when they fasted, and their performances impressed many people. But they did not impress God at all” (Albrecht, 94).

“The Law of Moses seems to have required fasting at the most only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Voluntary fasting on other days might be practiced as a expression of grief or of sorrow over sin” (Albrecht, 135).

New Testament and fasting

“New Testament believers are not required to fast at all. If, however, you want to fast, Jesus says, if you feel that fasting will help you to keep your sinful flesh under control and to concentrate your attention on spiritual matters, by all means fast. But don’t even mention it to anybody” (Albrecht, 94-95).

“Early documents give evidence that the church practiced fasting as a regular discipline quite as assiduously as the members of the Jewish community” (Beare, 230).

motives for fasting

“The communal fasts such as are prescribed for the Day of Atonement (in the Priestly Code, Lev.16: 29-31, etc.) are not envisaged, but only private fasts such as might be undertaken by individuals as an expression of grief, or of penitence, or of preparation for. communion with God (Neh.1:4; Dan.9:3; 10:2f., etc.). Here it is indicated that individuals might undertake a fast as a work of merit, hoping that God will reward them for their piety. The ‘hypocrites’ no doubt entertained such hopes, but they’ also wanted to win the admiration of their neighbors. They, therefore, show obvious outward signs of their fasting; they look gloomy, and even ‘cause their faces to disappear’ (that is the literal meaning of ἀφανίζουσιν yap τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτῶν), perhaps by smearing them with ashes? Whatever they hope from God, their primary desire is to win a reputation for exceptional piety. This is all the reward they will ever get; they are paid off in full by the gain in social prestige” (Beare, 179).

“Matthew says that, in addition to almsgiving and praying (see 6:2-6), Jesus spoke about fasting as another way of reminding ourselves how our relationship with God works. As with every other action, we’re tempted to make the act of fasting about ourselves — “You’re fasting? You’re so conscientious!” [v.l6]. Instead, says Jesus, let fasting help you allow God into your life; let it remind you who knows your need for nourishment better than you [vv. 17-18]” (McCarren, 28).

“As with almsgiving and prayer (w. 1-6), Christians who fast are not to call attention to their pious practice. The verb aphanizo, “neglect their appearance,” literally means “disfigure” or “render unrecognizable.” It may refer to covering one’s head with a cloth (Jer 14:4) or with ashes (1 Macc 3:47), or neglecting to wash (v. 17). The point is that adulation is its own reward, and no further benefit will accrue to one who is ostentatious in fasting” (Reid, 45).

Isaiah 58

Isaiah 58: The Lord Desires Genuine Devotion

1 “Shout loudly! Don’t be quiet! Yell as loud as a trumpet! Confront my people with their rebellious deeds; confront Jacob’s family with their sin!

2 They seek me day after day; they want to know my requirements, like a nation that does what is right and does not reject the law of their God. They ask me for just decrees; they want to be near God.

3 They lament, ‘Why don’t you notice when we fast? Why don’t you pay attention when we humble ourselves?’ Look, at the same time you fast, you satisfy your selfish desires, you oppress your workers.

4 Look, your fasting is accompanied by arguments, brawls, and fistfights. Do not fast as you do today, trying to make your voice heard in heaven.

5 Is this really the kind of fasting I want? Do I want a day when people merely humble themselves, bowing their heads like a reed and stretching out on sackcloth and ashes? Is this really what you call a fast, a day that is pleasing to the LORD?

6 No, this is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke.

7 I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood!

8 Then your light will shine like the sunrise; your restoration will quickly arrive; your godly behavior will go before you, and the LORD’s splendor will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call out, and the LORD will respond; you will cry out, and he will reply, ‘Here I am.’ You must remove the burdensome yoke from among you and stop pointing fingers and speaking sinfully.

10 You must actively help the hungry and feed the oppressed. Then your light will dispel the darkness, and your darkness will be transformed into noonday.

11 The LORD will continually lead you; he will feed you even in parched regions. He will give you renewed strength, and you will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring that continually produces water.

12 Your perpetual ruins will be rebuilt; you will reestablish the ancient foundations. You will be called, ‘The one who repairs broken walls, the one who makes the streets inhabitable again.’

13 You must observe the Sabbath rather than doing anything you please on my holy day. You must look forward to the Sabbath and treat the LORD’s holy day with respect. You must treat it with respect by refraining from your normal activities, and by refraining from your selfish pursuits and from making business deals.

14 Then you will find joy in your relationship to the LORD, and I will give you great prosperity, and cause crops to grow on the land I gave to your ancestor Jacob.” Know for certain that the LORD has spoken.

“See Isa 58, in which the prophet declares that God does not delight in sackcloth and ashes but in the fast which looses the bonds of wickedness, frees the oppressed, brings bread to the hungry, shelters the poor, and covers the naked. What counts is not external show but humility; a person’s attention should be directed towards others in order to help them, not in order to learn what good things others think about him” (Davies, 617).

Matthew 4:1-11

The Temptation of Jesus

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

2 After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished.

3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”

4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, had him stand on the highest point of the temple,

6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

7 Jesus said to him, “Once again it is written: ‘You are not to put the LORD your God to the test.'”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur.

9 And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me.”

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the LORD your God and serve only him.'”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.

Matthew 9:14-15

14 Then John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?”

15 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast.

“Matthew … could be telling the early Church why they should practice fasting” (Anderson, 33).

“There is some discrepancy between 5.4 and 9.15. In this last Jesus declares that the wedding guests (=his disciples) cannot mourn (diff. Mark, who has ‘fast’) as long as the bridegroom (= Jesus) is with them. So the text of Matthew both addresses the disciples as those who mourn (5.4) and at the same time excuses them for not mourning while Jesus is with them. The seeming contradiction, however, is only one aspect of the tension created by the fact that the kingdom of God is both present and coming in the gospel tradition (see on 4.17). And while in 5.4 the weight comes down on the future coming of the kingdom, in 9.15 the presence of the kingdom is being proclaimed” (Davies, 448).

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Albrecht, G J, and Michael J. Albrecht. Matthew. Milwaukee, Wis: Northwestern Pub. House, 1996

Anderson, William A. Gospel of Matthew. Place of publication not identified: Liguori Pubns, 1999.

Beare, Francis W. The Gospel According to Matthew: Translation, Introduction, and Commentary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982

Davies, W D, and Dale C. Allison. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Volume I. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988.

Fogarty, Philip. Matthew. Dublin: Columba Press, 2010.

McCarren, Paul J. A Simple Guide to Matthew. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012.

Reid, Barbara E. The Gospel According to Matthew. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2005.

20221002 WHEN YOU FAST.mp3

PRAYER AND FORGIVENESS

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PRAYER AND FORGIVENESS

Matthew 6:11-15 NET

11 Give us today our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. 14 “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.

When our Lord taught his disciples to pray, he packed his instructions with information about forgiveness. He knows that for us, the two ideas are inseparable. Maybe that is why people nowadays have such a hard time maintaining a consistent prayer life. Maybe it is not that we don’t know how to pray. Maybe our problem is that lack of forgiveness is keeping us from praying.

Today I want to look at this text to see if we can get a better grip on the relationship between prayer and forgiveness.

Forgiveness is something every Christian regularly needs (11-12a)

The Lord told his apostles to ask for two things on a regular daily basis: food to sustain them physically and forgiveness to revive them spiritually. Now, this is odd, because most of us are used to thinking about forgiveness as something that we got when we first came to Christ. In fact, our testimony is that we were sinners, and we repented, and God forgave us of all our sins. All our sins were nailed on the cross with Jesus. God has separated us from those sins as far as the east is from the west.

So, why does Jesus tell his apostles to come to their heavenly Father and ask for forgiveness every day? That is not a mistake. Jesus knows that each of us is going to fail in our attempt to walk the straight and narrow. We are going to need forgiveness therapy on a regular basis.

The cross has made it possible for us to enter the narrow way and guarantees us an inheritance of eternal life when Jesus returns. But God does not want to leave us to figure out the Christian walk all by ourselves. He wants to stand by us as we take our baby steps. He wants to be there for us every time we fall. He’s not going to make us fall, but he’s going to be there to pick us up every time we do fall. That is why he commands us to pray for forgiveness regularly.

N.T. Wright says that this verse “assumes that we will need to ask for forgiveness not on one or two rare occasions but very regularly. This is a sobering thought, but it is matched by the comforting news that forgiveness is freely available as often as we need it” (60).

David Turner says that the word ἐπιούσιος in 6:11 refers to “immediate day-to-day necessities rather than long-term luxuries” (188).

Jesus also knows that we will be tempted to try to live the Christian life without the Father’s help. We think that Jesus went to the cross for our salvation, but that he has left Christian living up to us. That is wrong thinking and trying to live the Christian life without regular forgiveness therapy leads to disaster.

Part of our problem is that we do not like to be reminded of our failures. It is much easier to ignore the things that we have done that need forgiveness. We don’t want to dwell on our mistakes. So, we tell ourselves that it is all covered in the blood and just try to forget it. But if we fail to deal with today’s mistakes, we are going to repeat those mistakes tomorrow. Jesus does not want us to get caught up in a cycle of failure. He has opened a window in heaven for us, so that we have access to the Father’s forgiveness, as often as we need it.

We need that regular forgiveness because every time we stumble, we are not just hurting ourselves, or other people. The most important relationship we all have is with our creator. He is our heavenly Father. The relationship we have with him is the most important relationship we will ever have. Reconciliation with him is not something we can do just once.

When I go to the grocery store and buy bread, I usually buy enough for the whole week. But I cannot wait a whole week to reconcile with God. I can survive a week between meetings of congregational worship. But I cannot put off my time at the throne room. That has to be regular.

Prayer can also keep us from failing others (13).

Prayer therapy is not only necessary to heal our damaged relationship with God. It is also necessary to prevent us from falling as we go about the day’s walk. Prayer can strengthen us. Some of that strength will be given to us so that we can have a more appropriate relationship with others.

I think this is what Jesus had in mind when he instructed his apostles to pray for God to protect them from temptation. We have been studying the book of James in our Sunday evening Bible study times. Last Sunday we read that “each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15). James taught that temptation happens when desires inside us are allowed to lure us away from healthy actions and produce unhealthy actions. We need guidance from God so that we can stay away from temptation.

Warren Wiersbe says that “In this petition, we are asking God to guide us so that we will not get out of His will and get involved in a situation of temptation”(44).

If we don’t regularly go to God in prayer for that guidance, we will not only make mistakes that hurt others, we will keep making those same mistakes over and over again. A prayer is a tool for us to repair the damage that we have done, and to prevent us from making things worse and worse.

Turner says that “When disciples pray for protection from temptation to sin, they pray for God to break the cycle that so often plagues them (cf. Josh. 7:20-21; James 1:13-15). Temptation leads to sin, and sin leads to the necessity of praying for forgiveness. Prayer for protection from temptation and deliverance from the evil one’s strategies breaks the cycle (cf. Matt. 4:1-11)” (189).

There is also a third relationship that we have to keep in mind. Jesus instructed his apostles to pray for deliverance from the evil one. The devil wants to ruin our lives. He wants us to keep failing God and each other. He is going to bring trials and temptations and stumbling blocks into our lives because he wants to prevent us from having victory.

Folks, we need to take the devil seriously. He takes us seriously. He spends a lot of time trying to discourage us and thwart our efforts. He is stronger than we are. But he is not stronger than our heavenly Father is. We need to pray for protection from and deliverance from the devil every day.

Senior says that “Both words, “test” (πειρασμός) and “evil” or “evil one” (πονηρός), have a strong eschatological flavor referring to the ultimate test of the final days and the assault of the demonic, but can also be attached to those incursions of threat and evil in the present age, which are, in a sense, anticipations of the final test” (86).

Forgiving others keeps the prayer channel open (12b, 14-15).

Jesus also commanded his apostles to specifically use their prayer time to declare forgiveness for everyone who has wronged them. In fact, he told them that this kind of forgiveness therapy is absolutely essential if the other kind of forgiveness therapy is going to work.

Remember, our problem is that we fail God and other people all the time. We have to regularly come to God for forgiveness. But Jesus said that there is something that can stop the flow of that healing. If we refuse to forgive others for the wrongs they have committed against us, then when we come to the throne room, we will get a busy signal.

The reason this happens is that one of our primary responsibilities as Christians is to represent God and his kingdom. The minute we stop forgiving those who have wronged us, we stop representing God. It is a sin to fail to forgive. It is a major sin.

It is like a person who was arrested for speeding and who argued that he should be let go because he was not speeding in this county because he was in the neighboring county robbing a bank at the time. They’re not going to let him go. They’re going to send him to that other county to stand trial.

But the good news is, it works the other way, too. When we come to the throne room of God and he forgives us, it makes it easier for us to forgive those who fail us. That is how forgiveness therapy is supposed to work. The purity and healthiness that we feel when we know we have been forgiven by God can empower us to extend that same forgiveness.

But what happens when we refuse to forgive? Jesus told a parable about a slave that had been forgiven a huge debt – ten thousand talents, but then he found someone who owed him a much smaller sum – a hundred silver coins, and he threw him into prison. When the master found out about it, he sent that slave to prison to be tortured. Jesus told his listeners “So also my heavenly Father will do to you if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

Leigh Ann Powers writes, “Sometimes people have a false understanding of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean being a doormat for others’ mistreatment. Forgiveness means relinquishing the right to our own vengeance and leaving justice with God. Forgiveness is a refusal to hold others’ sins against them and coming to that place where we desire God’s will for them — whatever that may be. When we, as God’s people, experience God’s forgiveness, God empowers us through his Spirit to extend forgiveness to others” (Younger,79).

As Turner puts it, “a forgiven person is a forgiving person” (189).

Jesus is telling us something very important here. Forgiveness therapy is available for us. We can come regularly to the throne room of heaven and confess our failures to God, and he will forgive us – clean slate forgiveness. There are some things that we can do that will stop forgiveness therapy from working. We can stop living like our heavenly Father. We can keep a grudge against those who wrong us. We can plot to get even. We can choose to ignore or ostracize those who offend us.

Living a life like that is its own prison. Forget about bringing others to Christ. Forget about having a victorious walk. When you are stuck in a lack of forgiveness, you become a liability to the kingdom. Don’t stay there. Go back to the throne room and confess the sin of failing to forgive. Forgive completely, not because they ask for it, not even because they deserve it, but because you cannot function without it. You have to forgive. Give it over to God. Set yourself free to live a Christian life.

Notice the sequence of Jesus’ commands here. He first tells us to pray for forgiveness of our debts. Within that prayer is a promise that we will reciprocate by forgiving others for what they owe us. If we first come to God praying about our problems with others, we are failing to obey Jesus.

For example, suppose I go to the Lord in prayer tomorrow morning, and say ‘Lord, Joe is a problem for me, I want you to fix him.’ But the Lord responds to my prayer and says, ‘I was just talking to Joe last night. He said ‘Lord, Jeff is a problem for me, I want you to fix him.’ Who should I fix first?

According to today’s text, I should not go to the Lord with my problems until I have already received forgiveness for being someone else’s problem. Then I am free to forgive those who are a problem for me. Every time I go to the throne room, I should leave reconciled with God and my neighbor. Prayer is the place to get free from debt, and it is also the place to set other people free.

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Senior, Donald. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.

Turner, David L. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

Wiersbe, Warren W. Meet Your King. Wheaton, Ill: Victor Books, 1980.

Wright, N T. Matthew for Everyone: Chapters 1-15. London: SPCK, 2004.

Younger, Carol D. The Gospel of Matthew: Hope in the Resurrected Christ: Adult Bible Study Guide. Dallas, Tex: BaptistWay Press, 2008.

20220925 PRAYER AND FORGIVENESS – jeffersonvann.mp3

LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

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LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

Luke 6:27-36 NET

27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either.
30 Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away.
31 Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.
34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full.
35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people.
36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Before we get to examining today’s text I want to remind you of the picture we need to see in our minds in order to understand why Jesus preached the sermon from which this text is extracted. He had just been praying on a mountain, and then he gathered his disciples to himself and appointed twelve who were going to be his apostles. The sermon was directed to the twelve as representatives of his mission to reach all the people with the message of his coming kingdom. The sermon was not a new law for the world to follow. It was missionary training for the apostles. The purpose of the message was not to get the apostles saved. The purpose was to equip them to get other people saved.

Jesus commands his apostles to GO BEYOND their enemies’ expectations (27-28).

The NET Study Bible notes for these verses say “Love your enemies is the first of four short exhortations that call for an unusual response to those who are persecuting disciples.” That means that instead of one command, there are actually four — or at least four different ways of obeying this command. Those exhortations are:

LOVE your enemies,

Barclay says of this command, “We cannot love our enemies as we love our nearest and dearest. To do so would be unnatural, impossible, and even wrong. But we can see to it that, no matter what a man does to us, even if he insults, ill-treats, and injures us, we will seek nothing but his highest good. One thing emerges from this. The love we bear for our dear ones is something we cannot help. We speak of falling in love; it is something that happens to us. But this love towards our enemies is not only something of the heart; it is something of the will. It is something which by the grace of Christ we will ourselves to do” (76).

McDonald says that this choice to love is our secret weapon. He says “This will be one of (the apostles’) most effective weapons in evangelizing the world. When Jesus speaks of love, He is not referring to human emotion. This is supernatural love. Only those who are born again can know it or display it. It is utterly impossible for anyone who does not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. A murderer may love his own children, but that is not love as Jesus intended. One is human affection; the other is divine love. The first requires only physical life; the second requires divine life. The first is largely a matter of emotions; the second is largely a matter of the will. Anyone can love his friends, but it takes supernatural power to love his enemies. And that is the love (Greek—agape) of the New Testament. It means to do good to those who hate you, to bless those who curse you, to pray for those who are nasty to you, and ever and always to turn the other cheek. … This love is unbeatable. The world can usually conquer the man who fights back. It is used to jungle warfare and to the principle of retaliation. But it does not know how to deal with someone who repays every wrong with kindness. It is utterly confused and disorganized by such other-worldly behavior” (43).

DO GOOD to those who hate you,

Jesus later told his followers “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will have some of you put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of my name” (Luke 21:16-17). So this amounts to a command to love everyone.

BLESS those who curse you,

Gooding suggests that sonship is “the key to Christ’s moral teaching” (121). Jesus is suggesting that the apostles will be cursed by many who they will try to reach. Instead of cursing back in retaliation, they should bless the people who curse them.

PRAY FOR those who mistreat you.

Our Lord Jesus himself prayed for those who nailed him to the cross.

Our enemies expect us to hate them, but we should love them instead.
Our enemies expect us to do harm to them, but we should do good to them instead.
Our enemies expect us to curse them, but we should bless them instead.
Our enemies expect us to mistreat them, but we should pray for them instead.

Craddock says that “Following the statement of principle are numerous examples of forms of mistreatment: hating, cursing, abusing, striking, stealing, begging (pressuring one’s sense of compassion). Two observations are in order. First, the teachings assume that the listeners are victims, not victimizers. Jesus offered no instruction on what to do after striking, stealing, hating, cursing, and abusing others” (89). There are some things that are going to happen when these apostles set off on their evangelistic campaigns. They should expect mistreatment and abuse.

Jesus warns his apostles that obeying him will make them vulnerable to VIOLENT REJECTION (29a).

Someone who strikes me on the side of my face is saying “No, and I mean no.” They are sick to death of me trying to witness to them. They have had enough of my preaching. My temptation will be to say, Okay, I’ll just go on to the next person. But what would happen if I resisted that temptation? What would happen in the heart of that person if I said, “Okay, beat on the other side of my face if you want to, but I have good news to tell, and I’m going to tell it”?

That is persistence. But if someone is drowning, it takes a brave person to jump into the deep water to try to save him. He might pull me down with him. But it’s life or death for that drowning victim. Love jumps in.

Jesus warns his apostles that obeying him will make them vulnerable to UNFAIR LOSS (29b).

You might lose your overcoat. Are you prepared to risk your suitcoat as well? There will be some unfair things that will happen to you if you dare to bear witness to others. Safety is for those who will never enjoy the harvest.

Jesus warns his apostles that obeying him will test their GENEROSITY (30).

We all like to manage our debts — to always know we will have enough. So, we choose carefully those to whom we will lend. But Jesus is calling on us to risk loss for the sake of his name. He’s not asking us to risk for our own benefit. He doesn’t want us to throw our money away. He isn’t telling us to invest in the lottery in the hopes of striking it rich. He’s telling us to invest in lost people as a witness to the generosity that is in us because of who our heavenly Father is.

Jesus commands his apostles to treat their enemies according to their POTENTIAL (31).

He says to “Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.” The apostles were once have-nots, now they have life in Christ. All their enemies are potential brothers and sisters because they have the potential to come to Christ as well. It is impossible to truly love an enemy, but it is possible to love someone into becoming your friend. That is what love does. “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God chose to love us — his enemies — and then we became his friends.

Jesus warns his apostles not to NARROW THE SCOPE of their love (32-34).

He said “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full.” Sinners choose to narrow the scope of their love. They decide they will love those who are related to them, those who treat them right, those who are of the same race as them, or those who root for the same team as them.

But Jesus warned his apostles that if they wanted to reach people for the kingdom, they could not afford to narrow the scope of their love. They had to stretch out their love so that it reached people outside of their comfort zones.

Jesus explains two benefits of obeying this command: HARVEST and GODLINESS (35-36).

One of these benefits is HARVEST. Jesus calls it a great reward. I used to think Jesus was talking about our reward at his coming. But the context (remember) is that Jesus is coaching the apostles to bring people to him. In that context, the great reward will be lots of people won to Christ.

Harvest takes hard work. Penny and have been enjoying a good harvest in our garden this year. But we have paid for that harvest by investing time and effort in pulling weeds, working the soil, fertilizing, watering, and processing what grows. Loving our enemies is the hard work of kingdom living. The reward of that hard work is a great harvest of new believers. Some of those enemies are going to become friends and brothers and sisters.

The second benefit that Jesus mentioned is that Loving our enemies makes us more like our heavenly Father. Godliness does not come from saying that we love them. It comes from showing that we love them. It is a supernatural act. It is Christ demonstrating his love through us.

So, the challenge today — if we choose to accept it — is to do something we cannot do for people we cannot stand so that God can accomplish the impossible. In Matthew’s version of this text, Jesus puts it this way: “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). That is not just hard, it is impossible. But Jesus never gave us a challenge that he did not equip us with the power to accomplish. Let’s go love our enemies, y’all.


Barclay, William. The Gospel of Luke. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew, 1997.

Craddock, Fred B. Luke, 2009.

Gooding, David W. According to Luke: A New Exposition of the Third Gospel, 1988.

MacDonald, William. The Gospel of Luke. Dubuque, IA: Emmaus Correspondence School, 2011.

LOVE YOUR ENEMIES.mp3

GIVING THE RIGHT ANSWER

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GIVING THE RIGHT ANSWER

“But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you” (1 Peter 3:15-16 NET).

Today I want to talk about witnessing. The apostle Peter told his readers that they should always be ready to “give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope (they) possess. I know some Christians who are always ready to give an answer, but unfortunately, it is the wrong answer. What many in our churches say when they have an opportunity to testify is biblically embarrassing.

Here is a popular but wrong answer: “I’m a good person and I come from a good family, so I know I am saved.”

I don’t know anyone who has actually said it that way, but I get the impression from a lot of people that they are depending on their own decency and niceness to count for them on judgment day. We know that is the wrong answer because if any of us was nice enough to make it by our own goodness, then Jesus would not have had to die on the cross. The fact is, even the goodness of the best of us is ugly, corrupt, and sinful. Isaiah was talking about his own nation — God’s chosen people — when he said “We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight” (Isaiah 64:6 NET). Brother, if you are trusting in your own goodness, you are still in your sins. You might be a good person in the world’s eyes, but God’s eyes see deeper and clearer.

Here is another popular but wrong answer: “I have an immortal soul, and I know it is going to heaven when I die.”

That kind of statement is very popular but it is full of wrong answers. If we have souls, they are not immortal, because only God is immortal (1 Timothy 6:16). The Bible never calls believers immortal on this side of the resurrection. It is at the resurrection that the apostle Paul says we will put on our immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). Before the resurrection, we are just as mortal as the pigs and chickens.

Another wrong answer from that statement has to do with the expectation of going to heaven. The Bible says that “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven — the Son of Man” (John 3:13). Jesus did not promise to take us to heaven. He promised to come back and take us to where he will be — and that’s not the same thing. Jesus is coming back to earth to reign as its king. I don’t know about you, but I want to be where Jesus is. If he’s not going to be in heaven when he returns, then I don’t want to be there either.

The third thing wrong about that statement is that it suggests that the goal is to go somewhere when we die. People do go somewhere when they die, but it is not heaven. In the Old Testament, the place that people went when they died was identified by the Hebrew word Sheol (שְׁאוֹל). It is the intermediate state where people wait in an unconscious state until the resurrection. The New Testament equivalent is the Greek word Hades (ᾅδης). Even Jesus went to Hades when he died, and was raised from it on Easter Sunday. That is the only place in scripture that anyone goes when they die. It is described in scripture as a dark, silent place. No one ever wants to go there but everyone eventually does. The best thing about Sheol/Hades is that it is temporary. The hope of the believer is not to go there but to be raised to live again.

The right answer begins with Jesus

The right answer has to be Christocentric. Grudem says that this passage is “preparation for active witness which will win the unbeliever to Christ” (153). It focuses on Jesus, not us. It’s not about who you are or where you are going to go. It’s about who Jesus is — what he has done, and what he is going to do. Our text tells us to “set Christ apart as Lord in (our) hearts.” There is only room in your heart for one Lord. Your job cannot be Lord. Your family cannot be Lord. Even your church or your pastor cannot be Lord. Before we come to Christ, we already have a lord set up on the throne of our hearts. His name is self. Surrendering to the Lordship of Christ means dethroning self. The Bible calls this repentance. Jesus commanded everyone to repent. He said “”The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15). If the kingdom is near, that means the king is near. Jesus is the king. There is only room on the throne for one king. That means we need to get our hearts tuned in to who is actually on the throne.

Another reason that the right answer begins with Jesus is that he is the Savior, and you are not. You might be able to save people from a lot of things, but you are not qualified to save them from their sins, and neither am I. The angel Gabriel told Mary to name her son Jesus. It means Savior. The angel told the shepherds of Bethlehem “Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

If we are serious about giving people the right answer, then we need to be telling them about Jesus: who he is, what he has done for us on the cross, and what he is going to do when he returns to earth. It’s not about us, it’s about the Savior.

The right answer explains the blessed hope.

Peter said to “set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.” The Bible identifies only one blessed hope. It is “our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). If you have to talk about heaven, talk about Jesus coming back from heaven. That’s the blessed hope.

We have never needed hope more than we need it right now. But we are used to using that word to describe what we want. For many, hope is wishful thinking. “I hope it doesn’t rain.” “I hope I get a better job.” “I hope my team wins.” Biblical hope is not wishing for what might happen. Biblical hope is confidently expecting what will happen.

The Bible tells us that the world as we know it today is going to be violently disrupted by the sudden, cataclysmic return of its rightful king. He’s going to set everything right and make everything new. He is going to judge the living and the dead. He is going to destroy the wicked, soul and body, in Gehenna hell. He is going to create a new heaven and a new earth where only righteousness dwells. He has invited us to be part of that new creation. That is the hope that we possess!

But giving the right answer needs to be accompanied by the right attitude.

Peter said to share our hope “with courtesy and respect.” Best says that if the readers really revere God, it should show in their attitude to others. He says “If before him they are genuinely humble they will not be aggressive toward others” (134). Those who do not share our faith in Christ are not going to be won to the gospel if we cannot share it without condemning them and their philosophies. Arrogance and pride have no place in the testimony of a believer. Paul told the Colossians to let their “speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that (they) may know how (they) should answer everyone (4:6). You can share the gospel without telling people that they are sinners. You shouldn’t tell them that they are not sinners, but you can concentrate on how good Jesus is instead of just telling them how bad they are. News flash: Everybody knows that things are not as they should be. The gospel is about how Jesus is going to change that. That is good news. We are sent to share that good news. There is an appropriate diplomatic decorum that we should follow. Part of that decorum is a courteous and respectful attitude toward everyone we share the gospel with.

The context of today’s passage is suffering as a believer. Peter tells his readers that they should witness not just when things are going right, but also keep giving people the right answer when they are suffering. Harrel talks about maintaining a policy of good works. He argues that “If the Lord is pleased by the gracious lives of his people, then men made in his image should also appreciate and be pleased by the good works done by the godly” (95).

Giving the right answer is not always going to make people into our friends.

Peter tells his readers that they are going to have enemies who criticize their good conduct and accuse them of all kinds of crimes. If they seek your good attitude, they may change their mind about your faith. But as Elliott points out “the possibility is expressed that the slanderers could also persist in disparaging the good conduct of Christians” (630). Our Lord himself predicted that we “will be hated by all the nations because of (his) name” (Matthew 24:9). That includes the nation that you and I live in. There are going to be some who hate you just because of what you believe and teach. You can give the right answer and it will just make them angrier at you. But Peter still says “always be ready to give an answer” to them.

Jesus told us that we are the light of the world. But he warned us against hiding our light under a basket. When I was in the army, they trained us on the importance of proper light discipline. There were times when darkness was our friend because you cannot shoot an enemy that you cannot see.

Sometimes we are afraid of shining our light because it makes us an easier target. It is so much easier when people do not know what we believe. But our instruction today is that we always need to have our lights on. The good news is for sharing, even if it makes us a target.

LORD, you have called us to be witnesses of your coming kingdom. You have empowered us with your Holy Spirit to enable us to give an answer to anyone who asks us about the hope that we have. That blessed hope of your soon coming in glory to take your rightful place as king is a hope worth sharing, even if it makes enemies. Give us the courage to have a biblical answer and to always be ready to share it.


Best, Ernest E. I Peter: Based on the Revised Standard Version. London: Oliphants, 1971

Elliott, John H. 1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

Grudem, Wayne A. 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007.

Harrell, William W. Let’s Study 1 Peter. Edinburgh [Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 2004.

GIVING THE RIGHT ANSWER.mp3

THE GOD WHO REVEALS HIMSELF

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THE GOD WHO REVEALS HIMSELF

Psalms 19:1-14 NET

1     The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. 2 Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. 3 There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. 4 Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun. 5 Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; like a strong man it enjoys running its course. 6 It emerges from the distant horizon, and goes from one end of the sky to the other; nothing can escape its heat. 7 The law of the LORD is perfect and preserves one’s life. The rules set down by the LORD are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced. 8 The LORD’s precepts are fair and make one joyful. The LORD’s commands are pure and give insight for life. 9 The commands to fear the LORD are right and endure forever. The judgments given by the LORD are trustworthy and absolutely just. 10 They are of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold; they bring greater delight than honey than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb. 11 Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there; those who obey them receive a rich reward. 12 Who can know all his errors? Please do not punish me for sins I am unaware of. 13 Moreover, keep me from committing flagrant sins; do not allow such sins to control me. Then I will be blameless, and innocent of blatant rebellion. 14 May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my sheltering rock and my redeemer.

          The author of Hebrews began his epistle with the words “at many times and in many ways, God spoke…” (Heb. 1:1), reminding his readers that supernatural revelation is not a rare commodity.  Jewish Christians in the first century are not the only ones who need to be reminded that such revelation exists.  People nowadays are very good at convincing themselves that it is impossible to know if God is real. The evidence that God has revealed himself is abundant, and that is what this psalm is about.

God has revealed himself by his creation (1-6)

1     The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. 2 Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. 3 There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. 4 Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun. 5 Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; like a strong man, it enjoys running its course. 6 It emerges from the distant horizon, and goes from one end of the sky to the other; nothing can escape its heat.  

At first glance, you might think this psalm is contradicting itself. It talks about the sky pouring speaking out in verse two, but then it says there is no actual speech and no word in verse three. You cannot catch that in some translations, because they add a word or two to make it say something else. What the psalmist is actually saying is that the universe around him does not need any words to explain itself. Its existence is constantly revealing the existence and glory of its creator.

God revealed his existence and character through the universe he created. The passage speaks of the universe as a constant light and picture show displaying how glorious God is. Paul asserts that unbelievers are not excused for rejecting God since “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20).  This is the evidence of CREATION, but people often label it EVOLUTION, a term that suggests no need for an explanation beyond what is to explain what is.

Looking closely at the evidence in this box you will find a universe that has an origin that cannot be explained adequately through the powers and processes that currently exist.  Science has suggested some “big bang” happened billions of years ago to account for the present universe. But science also predicts that the current universe will eventually be destroyed because there is no power available within it to preserve it.  However, many scientists acknowledge an anthropocentric aspect to reality. That is, the universe seems to be designed for a purpose, and humanity seems to be central to that purpose. The universe also seems to contain sources of power that are not always apparent.

God is a Puzzle Maker

If I dare to assume that creation is displaying evidence of its creator, I can draw conclusions about the nature of the creator from a reasoned look at creation. For example, the universe can be categorized as a combination of systems, each of which has a definite structure. There are star systems in space, climate, geological and ecological systems on the planet, and circulatory, pulmonary, and digestive systems among creatures. The existence of these systems suggests an intelligent designer who enjoys artistically producing unity from diverse objects. It is almost as if every system is a puzzle, and God is encouraging people to search for patterns so that we can understand the systems as a whole. Science is our attempt at putting together the pieces of the puzzles. If there were no order to the systems – that is, if everything was random chaos – the universe would be impossible to figure out, and that would lead to an altogether different view of God.

God has a Purpose for Everything

The unity that God builds into all these interlocking systems is a unity of purpose. The systems work together to foster and sustain life, reveal God’s craftsmanship in the master design, and promote more unity-in-diversity.

Everything has a purpose. We make mistakes when we use things for the wrong purpose. Children of God learn that everything that happens to us is allowed by God to benefit us in some way.  So Joseph told his brothers who had sold him into slavery ion Egypt: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). Paul told the Romans that “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Seeing God at work in the difficulties we face is not always easy. That is why David encouraged his soul not to forget all of God’s benefits (Psalm 103:2). Each of these texts points to the fact that God is at work in the universe all around us orchestrating it for his own purpose.

I want to invite you to see if I am right about this. Pick a corner of God’s universe — just one system. It doesn’t matter which one. Maybe you want to study the sky. Maybe you want to study the land all around us, the trees, or animals, or human nature. If you look for the daily speech without words, you will find it pouring forth.

God has revealed himself by his word (7-11)

7 The law of the LORD is perfect and preserves one’s life. The rules set down by the LORD are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced. 8 The LORD’s precepts are fair and make one joyful. The LORD’s commands are pure and give insight for life. 9 The commands to fear the LORD are right and endure forever. The judgments given by the LORD are trustworthy and absolutely just. 10 They are of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold; they bring greater delight than honey, than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb. 11 Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there; those who obey them receive a rich reward.      

By his word I mean his written word, the sixty six books of the Holy Bible. God revealed his standards, his desires and his plan through the scriptures.  God is our father. As a father, he wants us to do more than just acknowledge his existence. He wants us to follow his instructions. That is why deism, theism, or unitarianism will never please God. It is not enough to admit that he does (or might) exist. He is our father, and we must acknowledge that relationship through obedience. The Bible is God’s way of showing us what he wants – how we can obey him and please him.

The Bible is God’s witness to himself.” This truth serves as a foundation for all talk about revelation.  Biblical theology assumes that the author of Hebrews is right – that God has revealed himself. So a believer does not have to begin where an unbeliever does. Instead, a biblical theologian starts with affirming what the Bible says about itself, and then invites unbelievers, skeptics and atheists to evaluate the truthfulness of the statements.

The Bible teaches four things about itself.

  • Scripture is God’s word, so it speaks with God’s authority.
  • Scripture is sufficient to do what God wants it to do.
  • Scripture is as clear as it needs to be.
  • Scripture cannot be broken. When rightly understood, it is infallible.

Each of these qualities describes scripture because each faithfully describes the source of scripture: God himself.  He is the ultimate authority, having no superior from which his authority could derive. He is entirely self-sufficient, having no need for any other for fulfillment. His words and thoughts are completely clear to himself (in spite of the difficulty humans often have understanding them).  His words cannot be broken because the truth they reveal does not change, or go out of style. He is dependable.  Therefore the best thing anyone can say about scripture is not a negative statement (like “inerrant,” or “infallible,”) but a positive one.  Scripture is from God.

Scripture records the incidents when “God showed himself. He let himself be heard. He disclosed his presence. He revealed who he is. He made known his name. Today we may wonder why God chose to do so thousands of years ago to the fathers and prophets and apostles. We may question the wisdom of embedding the most important truth the world has ever heard in a collection of ancient Jewish stories. But we cannot deny that the revelation has happened. Even if we set aside the internal evidence presented in the scriptures themselves, we are overwhelmed by the impact that these Jewish stories have had on the planet.

What amazes me is that the Bible is so large. A few years ago, I decided to make an electronic scripture index of myself. It involved making folders on my computer and putting links in those folders to everything that I have written online — by chapter and verse. Apparently, not a lot of people do that because I couldn’t find an easy way to do it. So, I did it the hard way. I had to create a folder for each verse of the Bible! Just the New Testament alone has 260 chapters and 7,956 verses. The Old Testament has 929 chapters, with 23,208 verses. So, altogether, that’s 1,189 chapters with 31,164 verses. It took me about a month just to make the folders, and another month to file everything in them.

A few years ago, I realized that even though I had been a Bible college professor, I had been pretty lazy about studying the Bible on a regular basis. The Lord wanted me to read and study the Bible daily. When I first started, I was too lazy even to read a passage every day. So, I found a place online where someone would read a passage for me. I followed that site through the whole Bible in a modern version, for a year. By then, I was ready to read for myself, so I went through the Bible in three years in another modern version, and I wrote a short commentary every day.

When I finished that project a few years ago, I asked the Lord what he wanted me to do. He said, “translate.” I am translating the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. I do just a few verses a day. I’m starting to believe I can really finish this project. So far, I have just over 40 books translated. But the New Testament alone has 184,590 words in it (in English). The Old Testament has 622,771 words. So, altogether, that’s 807,361 words.  It’s going to take a while. But every day I learn something more just by staying on task. The project has given me a whole new appreciation for those who have been involved in translation. It also continues to remind me how important it is to keep it up. We are not there yet. We have a long way to go. There are still truths in the original scriptures which are not clear from our numerous translations.

God also reveals himself through personal experience (12-14).

There is another way that God who is not silent has revealed himself as well. Notice what the last few verses of this psalm tells us:

12 Who can know all his errors? Please do not punish me for sins I am unaware of. 13Moreover, keep me from committing flagrant sins; do not allow such sins to control me.Then I will be blameless, and innocent of blatant rebellion. 14 May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my sheltering rock and my redeemer.

God has overwhelmed us with evidence of his existence – first by placing trademarks in creation itself that point to his character and power, then by getting specific through the special revelation in the Bible. Through these means, anyone can recognize that God exists, and have a clear understanding of what he wants. Sadly, we humans have developed world-views that enable us to either ignore the God of the Bible or replace him with a substitute that we can be more comfortable with. But occasionally God intervenes in this mass stupidity and his Holy Spirit produces a believer.  By REGENERATION, he opens an unbeliever’s eyes, and suddenly she can see a universe that reflects its creator, and a Bible that reveals his will.

The result of this miracle is a personal experience with God – a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The miracle itself is a third means of God’s self-revelation. The final words of Psalm 19 are about this kind of revelation.

The focus of this section of Psalm 19 shifts to the personal level, as can be seen in the use of the first person (me, my). The focus also shifts from instruction through the law to redemption from sins. This amazing psalm shows that God wants to do more than just get us to acknowledge his existence, or understand his word. He wants to cleanse us from our personal sins so that we can be reconciled with him, and redeemed for the purpose of an eternal relationship with him.

The God who has flooded the universe with evidence of his creation is not silent. He has revealed himself. He gave us not just one word but over 800,000 words to reveal his will. But if you really want to get to know God, you can go beyond even these two forms of revelation. You can get to know God personally. He can redeem you and forgive you for all your past mistakes. He can walk beside you and change the words of your mouth and the musings of your heart. You can actually stand before him blameless and cleansed. You can do this because of Jesus Christ. His death on the cross was God’s answer to your sin problem. Come to Jesus today, and you will begin to know God like you have never known him before. 

Pray with me.

OUR GOD, YOU HAVE REVEALED YOURSELF.

YOU HAVE FLOODED THE UNIVERSE WITH EVIDENCE OF YOUR EXISTENCE AND GREATNESS.

OUR GOD, HAVE REVEALED YOURSELF.

YOU HAVE REVEALED YOUR WILL IN DETAIL IN THE SIXTY-SIX BOOKS YOU GAVE US.

OUR GOD, HAVE REVEALED YOURSELF.

YOU HAVE SENT YOUR SON TO DIE IN OUR PLACE SO THAT WE CAN BE REDEEMED AND FORGIVEN.

YOU, OUR GOD, HAVE REVEALED YOURSELF, SO WE CHOOSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR REVELATION.

WE ACKNOWLEDGE THE GLORY THAT WE SEE ALL AROUND US.

WE THANK YOU FOR YOUR WORD, WHICH TO US IS MORE VALUABLE THAN GOLD, AND SWEETER THAN HONEY.

WE THANK YOU FOR YOUR SON, OUR REDEEMER.

In Jesus’ name. Amen!