GIVING — NOT TO BE NOTICED

GIVING — NOT TO BE NOTICED

Matthew 6:1-4 NET

1 “Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. 2 Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 3 But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

We are beginning a study of Matthew’s sixth chapter today, which is the second of three chapters he reserves for Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Just before Jesus had begun to expound upon the principles of the kingdom, he told his apostles that “…unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

The experts in the law and the Pharisees were considered to be the super-spiritual class. When someone thought of a saint, they thought of someone from these groups. When a person decided to devote themselves to the things of the Spirit, it was one of these people that he decided to mimic. But Jesus set the bar higher. He told his apostles that they had to be more spiritual that these with the reputation of being super-spiritual. In fact, if they decided to commit themselves to just doing what the experts in the law and the Pharisees were doing, then they would not even enter the kingdom.

Lange said that these super-spiritual in Jesus’ day ” imagined that they had reached the highest eminence in these three phases of spiritual life, which mark a right relationship toward our neighbor (alms-giving), toward God (prayer), and toward ourselves (fasting)” (122).

These super-spiritual saints of Jesus’ day wanted to cover all the bases of their obedience. They wanted to do their duty to everyone, and that was commendable. As MacLaren puts it, they wanted to practice “the beneficence which is (their) duty to (their) neighbour, the devotion which is (their) duty to God, and the abstinence which is (their) duty to (themselves)” (87).

But Jesus had already warned his apostles that that commitment was not enough. In today’s text, he explains why. These four verses specifically talk about charitable giving. Jesus explains why the charitable giving of these hypocrites was not a display of God’s kind of righteousness.

The hypocrites were not giving out of love (2).

They were giving, and giving is good — except when it is not. The hypocrites gave “so that people will praise them.” Parker says “The spring of all true service in Christ’s kingdom is love; whatever is less than this, though collateral and subsidiary, will be burnt up by the final fire” (63).

Jesus had specifically told his apostles to let their light shine before people, so that the people can see their good deeds and give honor to their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). So the hypocrites’ problem was not that they were giving in public. Nast says their problem was “ostentatious display before men, which is very forcibly expressed by the Greek πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι, for the purpose of being gazed at as a show” (261). There is a difference between giving in public and giving to be praised by the public.

Maas says “our alms-deeds must be done with as little ostentation as possible” (78). MacLaren says “Christ condemned ostentation. His followers too often try to make use of it” (89). I Googled ostentation. It is “pretentious and vulgar display, especially of wealth and luxury, intended to impress or attract notice.” When we give to our neighbor in order to impress our other neighbors, we are not giving out of love.

On the word hypocrites, Williams says it “was derived from one which meant to act upon the stage. A hypocrite was an actor. As stage-playing implied that the actor did not feel but only pretended to feel, so the Pharisees only pretended to feel for the poor, and were therefore called hypocrites” (82).

The hypocrites thought that giving itself would be rewarded by God (1).

Rice said “”The scribes, like the Moslems and Roman Catholics of now, held that alms-giving was meritorious before God. The rabbins said, ‘For one farthing given to the poor, a man will gain heaven.’ The names of large givers to the poor were announced in the synagogue. The religion of that day was ostentatious, for display. Jesus unmasks this pharisaical ‘acting’ in religion by setting over against it the spirit of true worship” (76).

If you give to the poor so that your name shows up on the plaque honoring the contributors, that’s great. Just don’t expect to be rewarded by God for the gift.

The hypocrites would get their reward from the ones they were trying to impress (2).

Jesus said that when these hypocrites give in order to be seen by people, they have their reward. The reputation that they were seeking would be all the reward they get.

Chamblin says “In the Judaism of Jesus’ day, trumpets were blown to announce times for prayer and fasting …, for worship and sacrifice, for feasting and celebrating.” There is no evidence, beyond that of verse 2, that almsgivers used real trumpets to summon the poor; and while there were horn-shaped chests in the temple and elsewhere for depositing offerings, the language of 6:2 does not suggest such an act.” The words, ‘Do not sound a trumpet before you,’ are in all probability a metaphor — one readily suggested by trumpets’ actual usage… and well suited (once captured by the imagination) for showing how ludicrous such a performance is” (392).

Livermore said “Our Lord had been speaking (in chapter 5) of the wrong construction put upon many of the Mosaic precepts by the Scribes and Pharisees; and he sets up a much higher and purer standard of virtue than theirs. He now proceeds to show that in their religious acts, as well as opinions, there was a corrupt motive; and that his disciples should act from far better principles” (87).

But for these hypocrites, Maclaren says “Their charity was no charity, for what they did was not to give, but to buy. Their gift was a speculation. They invested in charity, and looked for a profit of praise” (89).

The Bible does teach us to give to the needy.

“If a fellow Israelite from one of your villages in the land that the LORD your God is giving you should be poor, you must not harden your heart or be insensitive to his impoverished condition” (Deuteronomy 15:7).

“A generous person will be enriched, and the one who provides water for others will himself be satisfied” (Proverbs 11:25).

“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” (Isaiah 58:7-8).

We also have an example from Israelite history. David announced that he was going to contribute towards building a temple in Jerusalem — a project that his son Solomon would oversee. Then the Chronicler said this happened:

“The leaders of the families, the leaders of the Israelite tribes, the commanders of units of a thousand and a hundred, and the supervisors of the king’s work contributed willingly. They donated for the service of God’s temple 5,000 talents and ten thousand darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze, and 100,000 talents of iron. All who possessed precious stones donated them to the treasury of the LORD’s temple, which was under the supervision of Jehiel the Gershonite. The people were delighted with their donations, for they contributed to the LORD with a willing attitude; King David was also very happy” (1 Chronicles 29:6-9). The people who had, gave, and gave willingly.

The apostle Paul tells us that New Testament churches should give like that:

“Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Jesus himself had taught this principle:

“Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42).

Jesus also commended a poor widow who gave out of her poverty:

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box. He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all offered their gifts out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on” (Luke 21:1-4).

So, Jesus is not discouraging giving, any more than he is discouraging the other visible displays of righteousness: praying (vss. 5-15) and fasting (vss. 16-18). But Harrington says “these acts of piety are really intended as worship of God, then they should be practiced without excessive display intended to impress other people. In each case—almsgiving, prayer, and fasting—Jesus contrasts how the hypocrites do it and what their reward is (a reputation for piety), and how ‘you’ should do it and what your reward will be (from God)” (29).

Jesus commands us to be careful about how we give (1, 3-4).

The command from our Lord with reference to giving is “Be careful.” The Greek word is προσέχω, which means to be on the alert. He uses the same word when he tells us to “watch out for false prophets, who come to (us) in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). The idea is that there is a danger here, but it might be like those wolves. They come in sheep’s clothing, so they don’t look dangerous. That is why we need to be careful.

A packet of cigarettes does not look dangerous. But that is why the government requires that the manufacturer puts warning labels on them. There is a danger there. Everyone who ever smokes a cigarette does not immediately die of lung cancer. But that is why they are dangerous.

Jesus is telling us that our charitable giving should also have a warning label. It can be a sign of our love for God and our fellow humans. But it can also be an ostentatious display of our own pride, or seeking praise from others. So, Jesus says that when we do our giving, we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, so that our gift may be in secret. And our Father, who sees in secret, will reward us.

Before we drop that offering in the collection plate, we should ask if we are doing this as part of our worship. We should ask if we would still give the gift if there was no one around to see it. We should ask if there is a way to give that does not draw attention to ourselves. Our church has a benevolent fund that we use to help the needy in our community. No one knows who gives to this fund. It is a way helping us remove the wrong motives from our charitable giving. Those gifts help others, but our giving is between the Father and ourselves, which is the way it should be.

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Chamblin, J K. Matthew: A Mentor Commentary. Fearn, Tain: Christian Focus Pub, 2010.

Harrington, Daniel J. Meeting St. Matthew Today: Understanding the Man, His Mission, and His Message. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2010.

Lange, Johann Peter, and Philip Schaff. The Gospel According to Matthew. New York: C. Scribner, 1865.

Maas, A J. The Gospel According to Saint Matthew: With an Explanatory and Critical Commentary. St. Louis, Mo: Herder, 1898

Maclaren, Alexander. The Gospel of St. Matthew. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1892

Nast, Wilhelm. A Commentary on the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Cincinnati: Poe & Hitchcock, 1864.

Parker, Joseph. A Homiletic Analysis of the Gospel by Matthew. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1870.

Rice, Edwin W. Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew. Philadelphia: The American Sunday-school union, 1909.

GIVING — NOT TO BGE NOTICED.mp3

YES MEANS YES

YES MEANS YES

Matthew 5:31-37 NET

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not take oaths at all — not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, 35 not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. 36 Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one.

We have been studying Jesus’ sermon on the mount and we are seeing that he intended his sermon to be a manual for his missionaries. He had called them the light of the world, but he knew that if they simply kept doing things the way they had learned to do them from their culture, their light would be put out. So, Jesus gave them some instructions on how to live so that the people who saw them would notice the light. In other words, if they did things “business as usual” then the mission would suffer. The mission was to draw attention to Jesus Christ and proclaim him as the world’s savior and coming king. But the world around them would want to squeeze them into its mold. The apostles would have to make choices that would prevent that from happening.

Jesus criticized his culture for making it easy to end a marriage (v.31).

The culture in which the apostles lived had an easy fix for a bad relationship. They believed that ‘whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’

Filson says the idea behind the legal document was to protect the woman. He says the “practice of giving the wife a written certificate of divorce was a protection for her. A capricious husband might drive her from his home with an oral declaration of divorce and later insist that she was still his wife. With a written certificate, however, she could remarry, as Jewish custom permitted, and could not be accused of adultery (87).

But Bland says that the legal document turned out to be an excuse to end a marriage easily. He referred to “a note or writing whereby a man declared that he dismissed his wife and gave her leave to marry whomsoever she would. This being confirmed with the husband’s seal, and the subscription of witnesses, was to be delivered into the hand of the wife either by the husband himself or by some other deputed by him for this office: or the wife might depute someone to receive it in her stead. This must be done in the presence of two, who might read the bill both before it was given into the hand of the wife and after: and when it was given, the husband, if present, said behold this is a bill of divorce to you” (134).

So, behind every man’s mind was the fact that if his current relationship did not please him, there was an easy way out. The law would allow him to have a do-over. But Jesus condemned that way of thinking.

For Jesus, easy divorce was a problem, rather than a solution (v.32).

He said, “everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” The easy way out was not a way out. It was a way into adultery. If your wife was committed to you, giving her a piece of paper was not going to change that. It would just be forcing her to commit adultery with someone willing to have her. If you sought to marry someone divorced in this way, you would be choosing to commit adultery, no matter what the piece of paper said. The culture’s solution was a problem rather than a solution. It created a whole society of broken relationships. It was too easy because it avoided the reconciliation that God wants when two people have a problem with one another.

Remember that Jesus taught his apostles to reconcile with a brother who had something against them. He said that reconciling was so important that it trumped regular worship. Reconciliation was more important than religion. The culture taught them that if someone had something against you, the solution was easy — just unfriend them and ignore them. But Jesus said that every relationship is important and that God wants reconciliation.

Jesus introduced the topic of adultery when he told his apostles that “whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:28). The culture’s easy solution to that problem was “Look but don’t touch.” Jesus told them that the easy solution is not a solution. Looking is the problem, and you need to rid yourself of the problem of lustful looking, even if it means tearing an eye out.

This issue comes up again as recorded in Matthew 19.

3 Then some Pharisees came to him in order to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?”

The Pharisees are asking the wrong question. They are only interested in what is lawful, and what is allowed. For many today, that is all they are interested in. They want to know how they can get away with doing what they want without being arrested. their question is not “What is the speed limit?” Their question is more like “How much faster can I go beyond the speed limit without being stopped by the cops?”

4 He answered, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Jesus redirected their question — away from the Law — to the original intention of the Creator for his creatures. God had created Adam and put him in a garden to enjoy. Then he made Eve and gave her to Adam so that they both could enjoy each other. The two of them were literally made for each other. They were designed for each other’s happiness. Until sin entered the picture, they were each other’s best friends.

God intends for all marriages to follow that model. The two hearts are designed to beat as one. The two are to become one flesh. This is why God joins a man and a woman together. They are combined. The combination is a good thing. God had said it is not good for man to be alone. It was lawful for Adam to stay alone, but it wasn’t good. It was permitted, but it was not the best.

7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?”

The Pharisees had assumed that Moses’ permission was God’s last word on the subject. They were guilty of taking one passage from the Bible and teaching it as if all the other passages on the subject did not matter. We should not do that, even with these passages from Matthew’s Gospel. We find out from later texts in the epistles that there are some legitimate reasons for divorce. But the issue that Jesus was dealing with was hardened hearts.

8 Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning, it was not this way. 9 Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”

Jesus encouraged a lifetime of follow-through on our commitments (vv. 33-37).

He said “you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not take oaths at all — not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one.”

The problem with staying true to your commitments was another one that the culture of the apostles had learned to deal with. In their minds, a promise did not mean anything unless it was accompanied by a solemn vow. They had learned to be fast and loose with their yeses and nos because there was no obligation to be faithful to those words unless they had been made legal by vows. Mounce explains that the “very existence of a vow introduces a double standard. It implies that a person’s word may not be reliable unless accompanied by some sort of verbal guarantee” (48).

Johnson says that when “Jesus says that anything additional to yes and no is of the evil one, it is a recognition of Satan’s title as father of lies” (41). If your yes does not always mean yes then there is a devil behind it. If your no is not consistently no then there is a devil behind it.

Jesus wants his missionaries to be just as true to their everyday commitments as if they were given from the throne of God in heaven. He wants us to understand that the commitments we make in Delco are just as important as promises made in Jerusalem. He wants our word to be our bond. He wants our small commitments to be treated with the same loyalty as our marriages. He wants every yes to be just as important to us as our “I do” was. He wants every no to be a never.

The reason for all these commands is that we represent Christ and his coming kingdom. If people are going to turn to Christ, it is going to be because of us. So our words need to be reliable. Our promises need to be kept. Our commitments need to be something that others can depend on. If we fail to live up to our commitments made in these human relationships, then people will doubt what we say about the kingdom we say we belong to.

How can we follow the command of Christ and honor all our human commitments? We can do this. All it takes is living daily with the realization that our King could come today. Would we want the last statement we made before he comes in the clouds a promise that we intended to break? We want him to say “Well done, good and faithful servant. We want to enter into his joy, not experience his condemnation.

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Bland, Miles. Annotations on the Gospel of St. Matthew. 1828.

Filson, Floyd V. A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew. New York: Harper, 1960.

Johnson, Benjamin A. Matthew, the First Evangelist: A Reader’s Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew. Lima, Ohio: C.S.S. Pub. Co, 1977.

Mounce, Robert H. Matthew. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991

BEFRIEND OR BURN

BEFRIEND OR BURN

Matthew 5:21-26 NET

21 “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ 22         But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell. 23 So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift. 25 Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!

We have been looking at our Lord’s sermon on the mount because we have committed ourselves to obey his commands. We find a lot of those commands in this sermon. We need to keep reminding ourselves that he was speaking to the crowd, but he was addressing his apostles. Those twelve men represented those who had already chosen to repent and enter the kingdom. He told them that they were the light of the world. He blessed them and along with that blessing came the expectation that they would bless others whom they came in contact with. They were supposed to produce good deeds.

We also found that there was already a group of religious professionals who were producing good deeds, but Jesus challenged his apostles by telling them that their righteousness would have to exceed that displayed by the religious professionals. Those people were hypocrites — actors who only pretended to have a relationship with God.

It is important that we understand this because if we do not, we might make the same mistake that the Pharisees and teachers of the law did. We cannot bypass repentance and go straight to obedience. That is true of any aspect of kingdom living. Repentance is the entry gate into Christ’s kingdom. If you have not gained citizenship into the kingdom, you can pretend all you want to, but it will not establish your identity.

One of the reasons people struggle with what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount is that they are trying to obey the king’s commands without first entering into his kingdom. In our survey of Jesus’ commands, we found that he gave the command to repent earlier. It is foundational.

Once we have repented, we are set to begin the process of letting Jesus change us into the kind of people who can bless others with our lives.

Today we are going to look at the problem of anger. Anger can destroy your life. It can even make you destroy someone else. It is a spark that can lead to a wildfire. It can lead to murder — even war and genocide.

In today’s text, Jesus tells us… The older generation did not solve the murder puzzle (21)

Each generation has to deal with the harsh realities of life, and one of those realities is that we humans have a habit of killing one another.

Jesus said “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’

The older generation knew that murder was a problem. But it was a puzzle that they could not solve. All that they could do was set up laws against homicide. But the laws themselves did not seem to deter people from committing murder. No matter how strict the laws were, or how terrible the punishment was, people kept murdering one another.

Jesus revealed here that… Murder is in everyone’s heart (22)

He said “anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell.”

Not everyone murders, but everyone has murder in his heart, and that murder comes out every time we feel anger toward others. The more we express that anger, the closer we get to the fire of Gehenna.

Fair says that in today’s text, “Jesus goes right to the heart of murder, addressing the anger that grows to insult and finally into open denigration, which often lies at the heart of murder. The strict adherence to the sixth and other commandments was admirable but fell short of the divine intent of the commandments” (p. 33).

Anderson says “that anger, abusive language, and contempt for another deserve as harsh a judgment as murder; they all come from the same evil root within one’s heart”(p. 23).

Now, I want you to stop for a moment and look at the faces of those twelve apostles. They have been called to follow Christ. They accepted that call. They gave up their ordinary lives because they were committed to learning from him. They wanted to obey his commands.

But right now, a lump is developing in each of these men’s throats. Some of them dreamed about killing their hated enemies — the Romans. But even those who did not, would have to admit that they struggle with anger every single day.

When Jesus said “anyone who is angry with a brother,” they thought that he must have been reading their minds. Just minutes ago, they were entertaining angry thoughts about their brothers they left at home, and even their fellow apostles. Those other eleven men really pushed their buttons.

Nothing has changed in the past two thousand years since Jesus spoke these words on that mountain. Murder is still in everyone’s heart, and the only way to deal with it is to learn how to pull the weeds of anger before they choke out the fruit of peace.

This is why what Jesus instructs his followers to do here is vital. He says to his apostles that… Private reconciliation is more important than public religion (23-24).

He told them that “if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.”

Reconciliation is the key. It is so important that Jesus tells them that if they did something that caused someone else to be angry with them, even their worship of God is not a priority. They should pause worshipping God long enough for them to fix that human relationship.

This is not how the world tells us to deal with our anger. It tells us to respond to anger with anger. It says that we should not just get mad, we should get even. It says that if they say something you don’t like, you should retaliate by insulting them.

Once with have been reconciled to God by faith in the death of Christ on the cross, our next restoration project should be reconciling with our fellow human beings. We should answer Cain’s question with “yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am responsible for our relationship.”

Argyle says that Jesus is saying ‘You cannot enter into right relationship with God if you are not in right relationship with your brother’ (p. 50-51). But what Jesus is saying to these men is that once you have entered into a relationship with God, then that relationship with God demands that you reconcile with those whom you hate, or who hate you. That is why true Christianity is not about drawing a line in the sand and declaring who your enemy is. It is about erasing the line by making peace.

Folks, this is a hard saying. It’s not hard because it is hard to understand. It is hard because it is hard to obey. Many Christians are stuck here. They cannot progress in their Christian walk because of their problems with others. Most of the time it is not some enemy far away who is the problem. It is the brother close by — the neighbor — the spouse.

If the world cannot get us to retaliate, they will shift their emphasis, and tell us to ignore the problem. If my friend wants to treat me like that, I’ll just not have anything to do with him. I will unfriend him. If my spouse is going to be that way, I’ll just divorce her — and the next one — and the next.

Anger is a problem that only gets worse if we ignore it. There are solutions to our anger problem. The Bible says a lot about anger, and we need to pay more attention to its teachings.

  • “A person who has a quick temper does foolish things” (Proverbs 14:17).
  • “A fool lets fly with all his temper, but a wise person keeps it back” (Proverbs 29:11).
  • “A person’s wisdom makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).
  • “Do not let yourself be quickly provoked, for anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
  • “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath (Proverbs 15:1).
  • “Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20).
  • “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
  • “You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

What happens if we choose to ignore this solid biblical instruction about anger? Jesus says that … Failure to reconcile creates a bondage that can destroy your influence (25-26).

He advises us to “reach agreement quickly with (our) accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand (us) over to the judge, and the judge hand (us) over to the warden, and (we) will be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, (we) will never get out of there until (we) have paid the last penny!” He is not telling us a parable here. He is warning us that if we do not deal appropriately with our damaged human relationships, it can put us in prison. Unless we learn to forgive others the debts they owe us, we will wind up owing so much that we will be rendered useless for the kingdom we claim to represent.

These are the same people whom Jesus has just called the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But he warns them that if they ignore anger issues, it can put them in a bondage that will effectively put out their light.

All across this land today there are people who want to show their love for their spouses and children and brothers and sisters and parents, but they are incarcerated. They serve as an example for us of what happens if we choose to ignore our anger or feed someone else’s anger. Anger is a serious matter, and one of the reasons it is serious is that it points us in the opposite direction. Anger tells us to make enemies, and hate those enemies. Jesus tells us to “love (our) enemy and pray for those who persecute (us), so that (we) may be like (our) Father in heaven since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).

So, we have a choice. Jesus commands us to befriend everyone. It will not be easy to obey this command. It is one of the hardest things anyone can ever do. It goes against logic. It goes against our human nature. Satan will throw every possible temptation in our way to keep us from doing it. But this is what our king wants us to do.

The other alternative is to let anger control us. What happens if we go that route? Jesus told his apostles that if they made that choice, it would send them to the local magistrate. If the anger led to insults, it would send them to the Sanhedrin. If the anger led to name-calling, it would send them to Gehenna hell. Uncontrolled anger is not something Jesus is going to allow into his kingdom.

We need to decide. Are we the reconciled of God, or are we reprobates who are doomed to be destroyed by his wrath? Are we people who befriend the world around us, or are we people who will burn when Jesus comes to destroy it?

LORD GOD, our King has challenged us with a very difficult command to follow. Empower us by your Holy Spirit to live the way he has called us to live, to love the world around us, especially those whom we don’t feel like loving.

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

Argyle, A W. The Gospel According to Matthew: Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Fair, Ian A, Stephen Leston, and Mark L. Strauss. Matthew & Mark: Good News for Everyone. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Pub, 2008.

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BEFRIEND OR BURN.mp3

THE MIRACLE ANNOUNCED BY CHRIST

church sign, 4/17/22

THE MIRACLE ANNOUNCED BY CHRIST

John 2:19-22; Mark 9:9-10

The resurrection was not a surprise. Jesus knew that he would be woken up from the dead and come out of his tomb on the first Easter morning. It was all part of God’s plan. He had to go to the cross, and he had to die there. He had to be buried in that borrowed tomb. Not one aspect of the life of Jesus was left to chance. It was all part of the plan.

Since it was part of the plan, we would expect Jesus to mention the fact that he would be dead for a few days, and then be raised. But Jesus didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about that. He did let the cat out of the bag at least two times, however. We are going to look at those incidents this morning. The two passages of scripture just illustrate what I have been saying: that the resurrection was not a surprise. It was part of the plan.

Early in his public ministry, the Lord predicted his resurrection (John 2:19-22).

19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken.

Jesus and his disciples were fresh from Galilee, where he had just performed his first public miracle. In Cana, at a wedding feast, he turned the water into wine. That miracle revealed his glory, and it strengthened his disciples’ faith in him. After a few days with family in Capernaum, Jesus went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.

Has going to church ever made you mad? That’s what happened to Jesus. He went into the temple courts and he saw all the buying and selling of birds and beasts and the people making money by exchanging this coin for that. It made him mad. It made him violently mad. He was insulted by what he saw, and he felt like slapping them.

He made a weapon out of cords — a whip. He proceeded to chase every one of those bankers and merchants out of his Father’s house. He said “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!”

All this time his disciples were watching. They were learning. When he had made the water into wine, it revealed something about him — lots of things. The disciples had learned from that incident that Jesus had compassion for the master of the party. They learned that he cared about his mother, and wanted to give her what she was asking for. They learned that he cared about the couple being married, and he wanted them to have a happy wedding. Oh, and they learned that he had the power to convert ordinary water into wine — without it having to go through a long process of squashing grapes and letting them ferment!

Now, the time is different and the place is different. Now Jesus is in Jerusalem, at God’s temple. What are they learning about him here and now? John tells us that the disciples “remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.” You can tell a lot about a person by what makes him mad. Abuse of God’s temple just ate Jesus up. He was obsessed with anger over the disrespect he saw in the temple courts. For all those bankers and merchants, it was just business as usual. But for Jesus, it was an insult to the presence of God.

There is a time and a place for buying and selling. Jesus walked by merchants and bankers all the time. They didn’t enrage him when they did what they did at the right time and in the right place. But God’s house is God’s house. It has to be shown consideration and respect.

So the disciples are watching Jesus, and they are watching him get mad. And it wouldn’t be the last time. They would see Jesus get angry in a synagogue when there is a man with a withered hand, and people were watching to see if he would violate the laws against working on the Sabbath by healing him. That kind of legalism made Jesus mad.

Anger is an emotion, and as an emotion given to us by God when he created us, it has a legitimate place. Jesus was not controlled by his anger, and he taught us not to be controlled by our anger as well. But there is such a thing as righteous indignation.

But there were some Jewish leaders in the temple that day, and they didn’t think Jesus had the right to display his anger. They were just fine with those merchants and money-changers and birds and beasts. They wanted to defend the status quo. So, they asked Jesus “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” They were looking for him to perform another miracle in defense of his outbreak.

Here we see the amazing self-control of our Lord. These Jewish leaders have just demanded that Jesus show them that he had the authority to force a change in their religious practice.

If I had been Jesus, I would have said “You want a sign, Okay, here’s your sign” and I would have unleashed all the power and wrath of God on them.

Folks, we need to remember that God is a God of wrath. His wrath sent the flood to destroy the world, saving only a handful in the ark. His wrath sent the plagues to Egypt. His wrath swallowed up Korah and his rebels. His wrath sent armies to serve his purposes by destroying his enemies. His wrath will one day be unleashed on all the unbelievers and rebellious in Gehenna hell, where Jesus tells us he will destroy soul and body.

It is a stupid and dangerous thing to ask the Son of God for a sign when he is angry. Fortunately for those religious leaders, Jesus chose to do something else besides annihilating them that day. Instead, he told them to “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.”

Now, that got them thinking. They were not about to destroy their temple. They were proud of that temple. It had been under construction for about fifty years — so they doubted very much that Jesus would be able to reconstruct it in just three days.

Now, here is where John comes in with an editorial comment in his Gospel. He explains what Jesus meant. He says “Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body.

So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken.”

So, this was the first incident in which Jesus slipped in a little hint of his coming resurrection. It probably went over the heads of those religious leaders that day. It probably went over the heads of John and the other disciples that day too. They didn’t want to think about it. Resurrection requires a death, and they were certainly not prepared to think about Jesus’ death that day.

But the words that Jesus said that day stayed in their memories. Those words bounced around in their minds, and now and again something else that Jesus would say would cause them to remember those words again.

Jesus would later tell Nicodemus “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Maybe his disciples stopped to think about what it meant for Jesus to be lifted up. Maybe a stray thought led them to imagine a cross. That would be an unpleasant thought — their master hanging on a cross. If they thought about it, they probably did not allow the thought to linger.

Jesus would tell his disciples that if they didn’t carry their cross and follow him that they cannot be his disciple. There was that cross again. What a bad thought it is. What a shameful, humiliating way to die. Surely our master is not going to die like that.

Thoughts like this keep coming back and bouncing around in their brains.

Two years later, the Lord predicted his resurrection again (Mark 9:9-10).

9 As they were coming down from the mountain, he gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept this statement to themselves, discussing what this rising from the dead meant.

Jesus had taken three of his disciples for a little mountain climbing. They hiked up a high mountain for a private show. When they got to the summit, they watched Jesus, and he “was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiantly white, more so than any launderer in the world could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared before them along with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. So Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three shelters — one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ (For they were afraid, and he did not know what to say.) Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is my one dear Son. Listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more except Jesus.”

What was the purpose of this day trip to the summit of a mountain? Jesus was going to show them who he really is. He would undergo a metamorphosis and they would see Jesus in all his divine glory. They would learn from this experience as well. They would learn that Jesus was not to be compared to any of the great men and women who have ever lived. Not even Moses — the great law-giver, nor Elijah, the powerful miracle-working prophet can be compared to him. Jesus is the one. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the one-and-only Son of God.

They saw Jesus as he really is. Now, as soon as they saw this amazing vision happen, all of a sudden it is over, and things are back to normal. Jesus tells them not to tell anybody else what they saw. What? I have just seen the Son of God in all his glory, and I have to keep silent? But Lord, people have to know who you really are! Okay, says Jesus. You can tell them, but wait “until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

There he goes again. Lord, I don’t want you to have a resurrection. That would mean you would have to die. I don’t want you to have to die.

In the third year, Jesus would have a little Supper with his disciples. He would break some bread and give it to them. He would tell them that the bread represents his body — broken for them. He would raise a glass for them to drink. This is my blood, shed for many, for the forgiveness of sins.

There he is again, talking about his death. But in the back of their minds, there are these nagging words: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again”; Don’t “tell anyone what you have seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Just some stray thoughts.

They come for Jesus — for his trial and crucifixion. He dies on the cross. The disciples hide. Then, Sunday morning, the ladies come with a story. They say they have seen him. They say he’s alive!

Then they see him themselves. Look, they destroyed the temple, and he raised it again! The Son of Man has risen from the dead!

Remember what they demanded of Jesus that day in the temple? They asked him for a sign — a miracle to prove that he had the right to interfere in their business. He gave them this answer. He challenged them to destroy the temple of his own body. Go ahead he says. I dare you to kill me. You can nail me to a cross if you want to, and I know you do. It doesn’t matter. Death cannot hold me. In three days, I will rise again. Do all you can on Good Friday, because Easter is my holiday. I’m going to come out of that tomb.

“Aint no grave gonna keep my body down.”

Brother — sister — you might be asking the same thing today. You might be wondering what the fuss is about this Jesus. You might wonder what right he has to interfere with your life — to demand that you believe him — to require that you obey him. You might want to just do your business, but he’s making up a whip and is gonna drive you out of God’s house.

If you dare to ask Jesus what right he has to interfere with your life, his answer to you will be the same he gave those religious leaders that day in Jerusalem. His resurrection proves that he has the right. The resurrection proves that he is who he says he is. Rejoice this Easter Day because Jesus lives. But remember that the miracle he announced — the miracle of his resurrection — demands that every one of us acknowledges him.

THE MIRACLE ANNOUNCED BY CHRIST.mp3

THE GOSPEL PAUL PREACHED

Isaiah 53:10-12; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

10 Though the LORD desired to crush him and make him ill, once restitution is made, he will see descendants and enjoy long life, and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him. 11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work, he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done. “My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins. 12 So I will assign him a portion with the multitudes, he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful, because he willingly submitted to death and was numbered with the rebels, when he lifted up the sin of many and intervened on behalf of the rebels.”

1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. 3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received — that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.

At Easter, we focus on some historical events that took place over two thousand years ago. None of us lived during that time. Like other events in history, we only know about them because someone teaches us about them, and explains their significance. From today’s text, we learn what those events are from the apostle Paul. They are “that Christ died for our sins …and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day.”

These three events that Paul mentions are the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. From verse 1 Corinthians 15:1 we learn that Paul is making clear to the Corinthians what the gospel is — the gospel that he preached to them. From verse 3 we learn that these three historical events are “of first importance” to that gospel message.

Note also in verses 3-4 the phrase “according to the scriptures” — which appears twice. Paul is emphasizing not only that these things happened, but that they had been predicted in the Old Testament. I have added a passage from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah to today’s lesson. I didn’t have to go to Isaiah. I could have picked any number of Old Testament texts. The Old Testament predicts the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in many places. That’s why Paul said that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the dead “according to the scriptures.”

I want you to note also that Paul admits he did make up this gospel message that he preached. Not only did he say that the events had been predicted in the Old Testament scriptures, but he also said that he had received them (verse 3). That is, someone had revealed them to him. Paul was not present at the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. He did not observe any of these events personally. The first time Paul met Jesus, it was on the road to Damascus, where he was blinded, and only heard the voice of Jesus. Jesus not only revealed to Paul who he is, but he also apparently explained the significance of his death, burial, and resurrection.

From that time on, Paul had a career change. He had been focused on destroying the church and silencing the gospel. But now he set his sights on building the church and preaching the gospel. One of the places where Paul had preached the gospel was Corinth. In today’s text, Paul said that he had already “passed on” this information to them (verse 3). But he writes to them now to make it clear to them (verse 1). The Corinthians had already received the gospel as Paul did. Paul calls it “the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand” (verse 1).

So, Paul’s purpose in explaining the gospel to the Corinthians was not to evangelize them. But he felt it important to go back over the facts of the gospel once again. One of the reasons this is true is that it was possible even for some of the Corinthians who had already received and believed to still wind up rejecting the gospel and not be saved by it. Notice how Paul puts this in verse 2: “you are being saved if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.”

Now, if Paul thought it necessary to go over the gospel one more time with the Corinthians — just to be sure that they believed it — then I don’t apologize for sharing the gospel with you today. I’m not going to say “stop me if you’ve heard this” because I’m pretty sure you have. But especially during the Easter season, it is a healthy thing for us to remind ourselves of the basic elements of the gospel that we have received, and on which we stand.

The first element of the gospel Paul preached is … Christ willingly died for our sins (Isaiah 53:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3).

Isaiah predicted a coming Messiah who would willingly submit to death. Isaiah said ironically that this Messiah would “be elevated, lifted high, and greatly exalted” (52:13). But then he goes on to explain what he means by that. He said “he was so disfigured he no longer looked like a man; his form was so marred he no longer looked human — so now he will startle many nations. Kings will be shocked by his exaltation, for they will witness something unannounced to them, and they will understand something they had not heard about” (52:14b-15). What Isaiah is talking about is the cross.

Jesus knew that the cross was in God’s plan for him. God’s wonderful plan for his life included getting beaten half to death, the nailed to a cross to die. Isaiah says that Jesus willingly submitted to that plan.

Jesus himself said that “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). He said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

There’s a chorus that goes “Lift Jesus Higher, Lift Jesus Higher, Lift Him up for the world to see — he said if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.” I used to sing that chorus, but I don’t anymore. It takes John 12:32 out of context. John 12:33 says “(Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.)” The people who lifted Jesus on that cross were not believers, and they were not worshipping him. They were his executioners.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus willingly submitted to this death. He did it because God was offering him as the sacrifice “for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Isaiah says “he lifted up the sin of many and intervened on behalf of the rebels” (53:12). This is the language of sacrifice. Under the Old Testament sacrificial system, a sacrifice of atonement required the lifting up of an unblemished animal, and the death of that animal to represent the destruction of the sin he represented.

When Jesus volunteered to willingly die on the cross, he knew that he was going to serve as a substitute for our sins.

The second element of the gospel Paul preached is …Christ accomplished the purpose of God by his death (Isaiah 53:10; 1 Corinthians 15:2-3).

Isaiah said “the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him (53:10). He was talking about the eternal plan of the LORD to redeem humankind from the bondage to sin, decay, and death. God had a purpose, and only Christ as the Son of God could fulfill that purpose.

Jesus did the hard part. He died for our sins according to the scriptures. But Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had a part to play in this divine purpose as well. They had the responsibility to receive this message by faith and hold firmly to it by faith.

The simple fact that Jesus died does not save anyone. The simple fact that Jesus rose from the dead does not save anyone. We celebrate Easter not because Jesus did everything but because he did for us what we could not do. Even if we got ourselves nailed to a cross and died, that death would not pay for the sins of the world. It would not even pay for our own sins. It would be a catch 22. Only a sinless sacrifice will do, and all of us are sinners. We needed Jesus, not to serve as our example, but to be our Savior.

Paul told the elders from Ephesus that he did not hold back from announcing to them the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27). I need to do the same thing. It was God’s purpose for Jesus to die on the cross. It is God’s purpose for you and me to believe it.

It is also God’s purpose for you and me to hold firmly to it — to not believe in vain. The Greek word for “in vain” is εἰκῇ. Godet mentions a classical expression that contains that word. The saying is εἰκῇ βάλλειν — to shoot an arrow that does not hit. 1

We need to believe what Jesus did because God wants us to apply what he did to our own lives. We cannot afford for Christ’s death to be merely a theological truth we affirm. It has to be for God’s purpose of cleansing us from sin. We have to respond to the cross by repentance and faith in the gospel.

The third element of the gospel Paul preached is … Christ demonstrated his victory by being raised from the dead (Isaiah 53:12; 1 Corinthians 15:4).

Isaiah says that the Messiah will divide the spoils of victory which means that he will be victorious. He will not only accomplish God’s purpose, but he will overcome in battle. That means that the Messiah’s death will not be the last phase of the battle; it will be the first.

Paul says that Jesus “was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” Paul says that Jesus “was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification” (Romans 4:25). He died to pay the price for our sins. He was raised to demonstrate that we are now justified in God’s sight.

Now friends, if you believe that Jesus died, that’s good. But that is not enough. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, that is good because that is true. But that also is not enough. Paul told the Romans that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The Christ of the Bible is no longer on the cross. The Christ of the Bible walked away from an empty tomb. The Christ of the Bible is victorious. The gospel of the Bible is not a gospel of defeat, but a gospel of victory.

We need the message of Good Friday, but we cannot stay there. The message of Easter Sunday is necessary. Without it, there is no victory, and without victory, we do not have the whole purpose of God. Without victory, we are preaching another gospel.

The ultimate victory Jesus experienced for himself was that he conquered death and was raised immortal, ascended to heaven, and returned to his Father. The immediate victory he experienced for us on the cross was the forgiveness of sins. But there is an ultimate victory that Jesus accomplished for us as well. He said “because I live, you will live too” (John 14:19).

Easter is the sneak preview of our permanent destiny. Each will be raised in order. Christ — the first fruits — was raised on Easter Sunday. We — the remainder of the harvest — will be raised by him when he returns. That’s the whole gospel that Paul preached, and it is the gospel that we preach too!

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1 Godet, Frederic Louis, and A. Cusin. Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. v. 2. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1889. p. 328.

THE GOSPEL PAUL PREACHED.mp3