About the Author

My resume begins normally: Christian, husband, father, architect, the fairly typical list of civic activities.  We’ve completed 531 projects in 131 cities on four continents. Then the story gets a little more unique:  sea captain, skipper of Stars & Stripes (the 12m, not the foil cat), Methodist teacher, Baptist teacher, MENSA, Honorary USAF Aviator (no, I didn’t get to fly anything cool).  I’ve shined shoes, thrown papers, and even made my money as a baseball umpire.  Then the story takes a radical departure: smuggler, pirate, illegal alien, briber of government officials (not U.S.), undocumented worker sending his earnings home to his family and a few other questionable credits.  I have an unofficial world record in Golf (most moving golf carts hit on consecutive shots).  I have stones in my drawer from the Elah valley where David killed Goliath (I’m only allowed one small drawer in the house which I can call ALL mine).  I’ve killed two wild hogs with only one bullet and shot a flying dove and caught it in my hand before it hit the ground while sitting on a stool and still holding my gun in my other hand.  It was the third of a triple.  I’ve been through 3 hurricanes, the eyes of two, and I know the secret of the Chinese ring illusion.  I drank Pennzoil 10w-30.  I’ve sunk a boat in the ocean and been bitten by a shark.  Ok, the shark bite is actually a big skin graft scar from an involuntary motorcycle jump over a moving car without a ramp but the shark bite version is more interesting.

This has made for some unusual relationships.  In Belize, one of my two main cohorts was the Belizean liaison to the U.S. DEA.  The other was wanted for murder of an undercover DEA agent in Miami and had been fighting extradition for nearly 20 years.  Ironically, they were close friends with each other, as well as with me.

In Sierra Leone, we finally found a store with beef steaks and took the all day trek to get some.  We found the store and found the steaks: wrapped with cellophane on a Styrofoam tray just like in the U.S. but also wrapped in with the steak was a sausage link and can of awful beer.


As we waited on one thing or another, I went out to visit with a young man begging at the curb.  His Krio was so thick I didn’t understand all he said but we sat in the tropical sun and had a conversation.  As we left, my driver (I’m a white foreigner so I have drivers) asked if I knew who that was.  No.  It was one of the leaders of the West Side Boys (WSB).  Many were imprisoned for war crimes.  A few went through the reintegration program.  Some of the younger ones were never caught and remained in the jungle in a “Lord of the Flies” lifestyle.  Many were simply turned back on the streets of Freetown to beg for a living.

Imagine the bloodiest revolution in history and then the bloodiest group in that revolution and you have the WSB.  They killed nearly 5,000 in a single week and are responsible for as many as 20,000 amputations.  If you were lucky, they gave you the choice of long sleeve or short sleeve – meaning amputation at the wrist or the elbow.  They were young, always drunk and high, ruthless monsters with no remaining sense of morality at all.  Some tortured and killed their own parents as an initiation rite.  They believed certain charms they wore made them bullet-proof.  They are blamed for as many as 100,000 rapes.  To top it off, they wore women’s wigs and clothing.  Serious nut cases with automatic weapons and big knives.  So there we are, sitting on the curb, talking about politics, weather, and the workers across the street.

My next encounter with WSB was buying fuel one evening at Bottommango Junction (under the mango tree).  My other driver explained that the fuel was cheap there because the WSB bought it from night watchmen who siphon it off the power generators used by Freetown’s businesses and wealthy residents.  Freetown has very unreliable power and most homes don’t even bother with electric service since it can be off for days at a time.  The widespread use of candles has, over item, burned all the wood structures and everything is concrete or block and because, as Sorie told me, AK-47’s don’t shoot through concrete.

My final encounter with WSB was a young man named Ahmed.  A carpenter I hired who was trained by an aid agency’s reintegration program.  A good worker and a good friend but an eerie relationship knowing he once spent is days raping and cutting arms and legs off people with an ax.  He was, by all accounting, quite normal but at the same time absolutely abnormal.

That leads us to Joe Opala and the Vagabond King.  Joe is an American historian who went to Sierra Leone in the 70’s with the peace corp and never came back.  He adopted restoration of the former British slave trading post at Bunce Island as a personal mission.  The U.S. Department of Interior calls Bunce Island the most important U.S. historic site not on U.S. soil.  I was hired to consult with the SL Interior Minister about restoration and possible funding and, of course, met Joe and we took a boat ride to the island and spent the day surveying the ruins and plotting solutions.  The project is still mired in conflicting politics and lack of funding but Joe connected me to the deposed dictator, Valentine Strasser, the Vagabond King.  Joe, unwillingly, became a temporary adviser to Strasser.

There are two ways to drive inland from Freetown.  The first is to go through the eastern, poorer area where vehicles jam narrow streets of long decayed neighborhoods.  It takes several hours just to get out of town.  We did it a time or two.  Hit two pedestrians and were hit by two motorcyclists; one knocking off a rear view mirror.  The alternative is the mountain road which avoids some of the congestion but soon turns to dirt which is impassable during the three month rainy season.   You pass a dirty village with a metal sign for Goodyear Tyres.  There, on most days, sits a man with short grey hair dressed in only a tee shirt and a pair of shorts.  Valentine Strasser  was once the youngest head of state in the world.


The story of Strasser, who seized power in a military coup at the age of 25 in 1992 and ruled for four years until he was deposed by the same method, is unusual even by the standard of West African dictatorships.  After attending the Sierra Leone Grammar School, he became an army officer, serving in Liberia as part of a regional peacekeeping unit.  Civil war had broken out there in 1989, and in 1991 ECOMOG was attempting to secure order in the capital, Monrovia.

After seven months in Liberia, he returned home.  In 1991, rebel fighters crossed over from Liberia into eastern Sierra Leone.  These men, on loan from the Liberian warlord (and preacher) Charles Taylor, marked the beginning of Sierra Leone’s decade-long conflict.

Led by Foday Sankoh, the rebels came to be known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).  Sankoh was a former army corporal and one-time  photographer and, like others among the initial RUF leadership, he had received training at al-Mathabh al-Thauriya al-Alamiya, Muammar al-Gaddafi’s World Revolutionary Headquarters in Benghazi, Libya.

By 1991 Sierra Leone was close to ruin. After independence from Britain in 1961, there had been a brief period of relatively functional democracy under the leadership of Sir Milton Margai. He died in 1964 and was succeeded by his less respected stepbrother Albert, who disbursed vital positions in government to people of the Mende tribe regardless of qualifications.

The decline accelerated under Siaka Stevens, a trade unionist who was elected in 1967 but did not become prime minister until the following year because of a series of coups.  In 1971, Stevens declared himself president.  Charming but spectacularly corrupt, he systematically degraded state institutions and operated a system of personal patronage.  He plundered Sierra Leone’s diamond wealth and even entered into negotiations with an American company to have toxic waste dumped in the country in exchange for a fee of $25m.  It is said he left office with over $500 million US.

The next president was Joseph Momoh, a military officer.  Despite his initial promises of reform, corruption persisted under him.  He acquired the nickname Dandogo, which means “idiot” in the language of the Limba people of northern Sierra Leone.  By 1991, Momoh had been in power for six years and the nation was ripe for revolt.

Strasser’s joined a unit fighting the rebel incursion in the east.  He and other junior officers began plotting a coup. In 1992, they launched Operation Daybreak, raiding the office of the president in central Freetown as well as the lavish old presidential lodge off Spur Road in the West End of the city.  They packed Momoh into an army helicopter and took him over the border to Guinea.


Strasser emerged as the public face of the uprising, in part because of his language skills – he spoke English well enough to read a statement on the radio.  As a captain, he was also of a higher rank than his co-conspirators.  “He was chosen in spite of, not because of, his leadership capabilities,” says Joe Alie, a professor of history at Fourah Bay College in Freetown and the author of a 2007 history of the country since independence.  My other connection to Fourah Bay College is that it is the oldest college in Africa and we were hired to consult on restoration of one of the original buildings.

Remember Joe Opala, th Peace Corp guy?  Shortly after the 1992 coup, Opala was rounded up by soldiers and taken to State House.  The windows had been shot out.  The new young leaders were sitting around in camo and Ray-Bans, stoned, cleaning their Kalashnikovs.  Strasser turned to Joe and asked, “A wan know if America go recognise we gobment?”  Joe asked him if he had spoken to the American ambassador.  Strasser replied that he had, but that he had not understood what the diplomat had told him. “En English too big,” he said. “A no undastan natin way e talk.”

Joe left the State House and walked through deserted streets to the US embassy.  There he told a jumpy marine guard that he had a personal message for the ambassador from the coup leaders.  He was allowed in and explained to the head of mission that the heads of the new government wanted to know if Washington would recognize it.  The ambassador, an American named Johnny Young, said that he had spoken at length to Strasser and had outlined the position of the US administration – that in general it did not acknowledge regimes installed by force but, in this instance, because the previous government had also not been democratically elected and considering the dire condition of the country, it was prepared to make an exception.

Strasser’s coup was popular. There were promises of a fresh start for the country. Young people mobilized to keep Freetown clean.  Murals and street art flourished.  The new rulers of Sierra Leone called themselves the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC).  Strasser was the council’s chairman.

There was still a war to fight.  The junior officers who formed the NPRC had experienced the wretched conditions of the government troops and improved matters by tripling the size of the army and going shopping.

There have been few better periods in history to buy guns.   The Soviet Union had disintegrated, leaving huge arsenals in the hands of often unpaid and unsupervised officers.  During the cold war, the Soviet Union had funded scholarships for students from the developing world. Sierra Leoneans were among those who took up the chance to study in the USSR.  One former student was Steven Bio, who had studied in Kiev and had useful connections with gunrunners in Ukraine. He was the go-between.

In spite of the new arms, Strasser’s popularity faded. Joe said there was no coherent government – no one was in charge.  Strasser’s public execution of 29 political instigators, who many considered innocent, didn’t help things.

The security situation was deteriorating and the NPRC was becoming increasingly unpopular.  Strasser turned to foreign fighters.  White mercenaries are a charged subject in Africa but these nearly saved the country.  In February 1995, the NPRC engaged the services of a company called Gurkha Security Guards (GSG), which employed Nepalese ex-British-army troops led by an American, Robert MacKenzie. MacKenzie also worked as a correspondent for Soldier of Fortune magazine.  His masterminding of GSG’s involvement in Sierra Leone was a joke: he was quickly ambushed along with Strasser’s aids.  The rebels strung him up and cut his heart out.

The next group of white mercenaries was Executive Outcomes.  Composed predominantly of former South African special forces troops, Executive Outcomes was active in Angola during the civil war there, fighting both for and against Jonas Savimbi’s South African-funded rebel army, Unita.  Joe said EO gave a radio to each of the Sierra Leonean Paramount Chiefs and told them “If you call us we will be there in 15 minutes.”  EO achieved what thousands of UN peacekeepers five years later were unable to do: they stopped the war.  But the mercenaries were soon forced out by other countries’ disapproval.  The fighting struck back up and reached its peak in January 1999, when the West Side Boys, with RUF fighters, sacked Freetown in Operation No Living Thing.

As for Strasser, he was deposed in a palace coup in 1996.  He had gone to inspect a parade at the military training academy in Benguema.  In the afternoon he went to a meeting at the defense headquarters.  There he was overpowered, packed into a helicopter, and flown to Guinea, just as was Joseph Momoh four years earlier. Strasser’s successor, the leader of this second coup, was Julius Maada Bio, still only in his early thirties and cousin of Steven Bio, the Ukranian gun runner for Strasser.

Strasser’s life got even stranger.  He moved to Europe to study law at Warwick University in a UN reintroduction program.  This didn’t go well.  His celebrity and brutal background was unwanted.  One of his fellow SL students was a niece of one of the victims of his killings and spoke publicly against him.  The former dictator had an failed affair with a supermarket clerk and dropped out of school and moved to London in 1998.

With newspapers questioning why a one-time West African strongman was living in London and headlines about human rights violations, Strasser left the country.  He went briefly to the Gambia and then back to Sierra Leone. The civil war finally ended in 2002 and the peace has held.  Strasser lives quietly with his mother, Beatrice, in the shack he built at Grafton, east of Freetown.  He receives a government pension of 200,000 Leones ($50US) a month. That is a recent improvement on the 64,000 Leones he used to get. He is desperately poor and does not even have a mobile phone as he sits by the roadside in the afternoons. “It’s a new set of circumstances and I’ve got to accept them,” he said.

What led me to Valentine Strasser?  It was a pretty day and we decided to take the mountain road from Freetown to the Rokel river bridge, stopping for fuel at that Goodyear Tyre sign.  What’s near the Rokel river bridge?  The underwater sand pits where we had sand mined for the concrete of the Lungi International Hotel project – and the former jungle headquarters of the West Side Boys where British Special Forces decimated them in a helicopter gunship raid in September of 2000 to rescue 6 British hostages.

Who is a rich man? – 2

Working internationally opens your eyes about wealth and happiness.  In West Africa, we paid unskilled labor 3x minimum wage: $6 per day. $1,560 per year and I would say they are happier than my tax attorney who makes that in less than 7 hours.  A tiny fraction of our income but the American bling we think creates happiness is even more expensive there than here.  Our Sierra Leonean workers didn’t dream of cell phones, they were saving for education.  Even the $50 per semester it costs is a huge obstacle yet a most prized possession.

Looking globally, 1/3 of the world makes $2 per day or less.  If you income is at our official poverty level, $11,344, you are in the top 10% of global wage earners.  If you make our national average $34,000 per year after tax, you are in the top 1% of wage earners.  Yet another heap of blessings we can count.

The Real Marriage Fix

In Jesus’ day, and before, marriage was a private agreement between individuals and family.  Community recognition was what made it a marriage in the eyes of man.  Spiritual commitment between spouses was what made it a marriage in th eyes of God.  All was well until 1215 when the Catholics required a Priest.  Then, in 1545, they required the witness of the local Pastor or local Ordinary.  The English Marriage Act of 1753 extended the legalism to Protestants and God’s spiritual institution of marriage became civil law based upon an economic test.

In the intervening years, the legal definition of marriage became more and more Godless until we arrive at the current definition which is purely a civil contract.  We conservative Christians cling to our idealized definition of the word “marriage” when the word in no way reflects the concept we hold dear.  A Satanist couple may go to a Texas JP Court, pay their $81 (or only $21 if they go through the State’s marriage education class) and they are just as married as a Baptist couple. In Texas, and other common law marriage states, they don’t even have to do that.  All they need do is agree between themselves to be married, live together, tell others, and they are just as married as anyone else.  The Christian concept has not changed but the definition of the word “marriage” has changed drastically.

Christians recognize the marriage of all manor of sinners: liars, gluttons, the prideful, thieves, idolaters, pedofiles, you name it.  Except homosexuals.  We single them out.  And only them.  We have assigned a particular value to one sin based on sexuality rather than righteousness.  If we are going to impose a sin trigger on whether or not we recognize a marriage, we’d do better worrying about the sin of pride.  Over one hundred verses deal with pride, calling it a disgrace, and abomination, destructive, dishonorable, being directly opposed by God, and on, and on.  If there is a most important or most destructive sin, it is clearly pride.

Our contemporary definition of marriage is not what Jesus’ was and hasn’t been for nearly five centuries.  We are fighting over a word we long ago changed.  “Marriage” no longer describes what we believe.  It’s time for a new word.  A word which we define and we recognize.  The State can do as it pleases and recognize a civil contract between whomever it chooses and can recognize our agreement, or not.  It’s not between a couple and the State, our new word is between God and a couple of Christian sinners.  Gameo was the Greek word for marriage Christ used and it suits me fine as the new word for a Christ centered institution.  Marriage is currently the word for any civil contract without God and Gameo would be the word for a spiritual contract between a couple and God.  Even gay couples?  Even gay couples who are centered on Christ.  If you struggle with homosexuality, pride, gluttony, truth, or any other Christian trial but wake up each day and say, “I’m going to do God’s will” then you can be Gameo.  If not, you can be married.  Our sacred institution regains its linguistic identity and is focused on Christians, all Christians; without human discrimination regarding whatever spiritual struggles they are dealing with.  Gameo becomes the union for any couple in the body of Christ; the whole body.

Walk Closer 11

Matthew          5:17-42

Last week:  progressive blessings

1.        “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. True happiness starts with realizing we are spiritually bankrupt. Our reward for this is the kingdom of heaven. This blessing is first, because this is where we start with God.

2.        “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”. The godly reaction to poverty of spirit is mourning. We mourn our poverty of spirit. Our reward for the sorrow of our bankrupt spiritual state is comfort.

3.        “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Meekness is moderation and balance. A meek person has learned that happiness doesn’t lie in his possessions, but in a relationship with God.

4.        “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” In the first 3 blessings, we are emptied. Now we are filled. If we are passionate about our quest for righteousness, our reward is being filled so we hunger no more.

5.        “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Those who show mercy receive mercy. The Beatitudes are like a beacon light that calls us to self-examination. If we’re merciful, then others will be merciful to us (Luke 6:38; 1 Corinthians 11:28,31).

6.        “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Being “pure in heart” is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Now, we can see God in His creation, in the events in history, and in our daily circumstances. In the future we shall see God face to face.

7.        “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Peacemakers deal with corrupted issues so there can be a true state of peace. Real peace can never be found in a compromise with evil. There can never be a peaceful coexistence with sin. The radical Muslims understand this concept. Anything contrary to their teaching is intolerable. Christians are much more pleased to tolerate and coexist with sin.

8.        “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven  for great is your reward in heaven”.  Persecution is not just having your head cut off by some radical Muslim. It can be being ridiculed at school, being passed over for a promotion, or being rejected by popular media.

See what is not there. There is a youtube video of a guy leaving for work in a hurry and he nearly backs over a kid as he leaves his driveway, gets cut off in the parking lot, gets bad service at the coffee shop, etc. He is commenting to himself as these things happen, complaining and being critical of his annoyances. Then the action replays but, this time, he puts on special glasses that let him see text bubbles on the people who annoyed him. Things like a text bubble on the kid in the street that says this child needs someone to care, one in the coffee shop has a text bubble that says he is struggling with a sense of purpose, another person is disconnected with life, another avoids relationships for fear of pain, another has never known true friendship, another recently lost his job, another is fighting addiction, one just needs a hug, one is working two jobs to feed her kids, one is grieving her best friend, all things in other people’s lives that are not visible. See what is not there.

Lastly, let your light shine. Who knows you are a Christian? And, be a Scooby Doo band aid.


This week, we look at righteousness and the law. The relationship of Jesus and the law.

To the Jews, Jesus appears to be abandoning the Mosaic law:

Abraham was the ticket to heaven, no more.

Ritual observance was righteousness but now it involves redemption and even our thoughts.

God and heaven were exclusively Jewish but now Gentiles, Samaritans, and everyone is on equal footing.

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets: Jesus began a discussion of the law, and wanted to make it clear that He did not oppose what God gave Israel in the Old Testament. He did not come to destroy the word of God, but to free it from the way the Pharisees and Scribes had wrongly interpreted it.

I did not come to destroy but to fulfill: Jesus wanted to make it clear that He had authority apart from the Law of Moses, but not in contradiction to it. Jesus added nothing to the law except one thing that no man had ever added to the law: perfect obedience.

Even though He often challenged man’s interpretations of the law (especially Sabbath regulations), Jesus never broke the law of God.

· Jesus fulfilled the doctrinal teachings of the Law and brought new and full revelation.

· Jesus fulfilled the predictive prophecy of the Law and the Prophets in that He is the Promised One.

· Jesus fulfilled the moral and legal demands of the Law and the Prophets in that He fully obeyed them and He interpreted them in their truth.

· Jesus fulfilled the penalty of the Law for us by His death on the cross, taking the penalty we deserved.

One jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled: The jot and the tittle were the smallest marks in Hebrew writing. To us, not one period or comma shall pass.

Now we learn the disciple’s relationship to the law.

“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19-20)

Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments: The commandments are to be obeyed as explained and fulfilled by Jesus’ life and teaching, not as in the legalistic thinking of the religious authorities of Jesus’ day. For example, sacrifice is commanded by the law, but it was fulfilled in Jesus, so we do not run the danger of being called least in the kingdom of heaven by not observing animal sacrifice as detailed in the Law of Moses.

Thankfully, two things have to happen before we are least in the kingdom. First, we have to break the law, which we have all already done. Second, we have to also teach breaking the law. That doesn’t necessarily mean standing in front of a group and lecturing. I can also be teaching by example. Showing people hypocrisy, situational ethics, unrighteousness, lack of mercy, or lack of moderation.

Whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven: The Christian is done with the law as a means of gaining a righteous standing before God. One passage that explains this is Galatians 2:21: For if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. However, the law stands as the perfect expression of God’s ethical character and requirements.

Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven: Considering the incredible devotion to the law shown by the scribes and Pharisees, how can we ever hope to exceed their righteousness?

The Pharisees were so scrupulous in their keeping of the law that they would even tithe from the small spices obtained from their herb gardens (Matthew 23:23). The heart of this devotion to God is shown by modern day Orthodox Jews. In early 1992, tenants let three apartments in an Orthodox neighborhood in Israel burn to the ground while they asked a rabbi whether a telephone call to the fire department on the Sabbath violated Jewish law. Observant Jews are forbidden to use the phone on the Sabbath, because doing so would break an electrical current, which is considered a form of work. In the half-hour it took the rabbi to decide “yes,” the fire spread to two neighboring apartments.

We can exceed their righteousness because our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees in kind, not degree. Paul describes the two kinds of righteousness in Philippians 3:6-9: Concerning the righteousness which is in the law, [I was] blameless. But what things were gain to me, I have counted loss for Christ. But indeed, I count all things loss . . . that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.

Though the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was impressive to human observation, it could not prevail before God (Isaiah 64:6).

So, we are not made righteous by keeping the OT law. When we see what keeping the law really means, I’m very thankful that Jesus offers us a different kind of righteousness.

Now, in this section, Jesus shows the true meaning of the law. But this isn’t Jesus against Moses; it is Jesus against false and superficial interpretations of Moses. In regard to the law, the two errors of the scribes and Pharisees were that they both restricted God’s commands (as in the law of murder) and extended the commands of God past His intention (as in the law of divorce). First, Jesus interprets the law against murder.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

You have heard it said: These people had not really studied the Law of Moses for themselves. All they had was the teaching on the law from the scribes and Pharisees. In this particular matter, the people had heard the scribes and Pharisees teach “You shall not murder.” The scribes and Pharisees were the most religious people in the country. The scribes read and interpreted the law of God for the people (Ezra 7:10). After the Babylonian captivity, the common people could no longer read the Hebrew language, and they depended on the scribes for the interpretation of the law. The Pharisees were a religious sect who spent their lives endeavoring to live by every detail of the law. They put the emphasis on the outward observances of the law and ignored the inward law of God. They obeyed the law with the wrong motive: they wanted to be seen by men.

When Jesus said, “it was said to those of old,” He reminds us that something isn’t true just because it is old. And if it is not true, it’s antiquity is no credit to it.

But I say to you: Jesus shows His authority, and does not rely on the words of previous scribes or teachers. He will teach them the true understanding of the Law of Moses.

Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: The teaching of the scribes and Pharisees (“You shall not murder”) was true enough. Yet they also taught that anything short or murder might be allowed. Jesus corrects this, and makes it clear that it is not only those who commit the act of murder who are in danger of judgment. Bit also those who have a murderous intent in the heart are also in danger of the judgment. According to the thinking of the scribes and Pharisees, if I wanted my neighbor dead, I could just cause someone else to kill him and my hands would be clean. Jesus exposes the essence of the scribes’ heresy. To them, the law was really only a matter of external performance, never the heart. Jesus brings the law back to the matters of the heart.

Barclay, commenting on the specific ancient Greek word translated angry says, “So Jesus forbids for ever the anger which broods, the anger which will not forget, the anger which refuses to be pacified, the anger which seeks revenge.”

And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council: To call someone “Raca” expressed contempt for their intelligence. Calling someone a fool showed contempt for their character. Either one broke the heart of the law against murder, even if it did not commit murder.

Commentators have translated the idea behind Raca as “nitwit, blockhead, numbskull, bonehead, idiot.” “Raca is an almost untranslatable word, because it describes a tone of voice more than anything else. Its whole accent is the accent of contempt . . . It is the word of one who despises another with an arrogant contempt.” (Barclay)

More on problem personal relationships.

“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:23-26)

Leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way: Jesus considers it far more important to be reconciled to a brother than to perform a religious duty. Jesus says we must first be reconciled to our brother. We can’t think that our service towards the Lord justifies bad relationships with others. We should do what Paul commanded in Romans 12:18: If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

Agree with your adversary quickly: Jesus commands us to quickly settle anger and malice with another. When we ignore it or pass it off, it genuinely imprisons us spiritually and may very well imprison us physically.

Paul expresses the same idea in Ephesians 4:26-27, do not let the sun go down on your wrath.

Time does not heal wounds. It only makes them more difficult to fix.

Jesus interprets the law against adultery.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

You have heard that it was said to those of old: Now, Jesus deals with what they had heard regarding the law of adultery. Of course, the teachers of the day taught that adultery itself was wrong. But they applied the law only to the actions, not to the heart.

Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart: Jesus explains that it is possible to commit adultery or murder in our heart – or mind, and this also is sin and prohibited by the command against adultery. Some people keep from adultery because they are afraid to get caught, but in their heart they still commit adultery because it is only fear that holds them back.

Adultery . . . in his heart: Since Jesus considers adultery in the heart a sin, we know what we think about and allow our heart to rest on is based on choice. Many believe they have no choice – and therefore no responsibility – for what they think about, but this contradicts the clear teaching of Jesus here. We may not be able to control passing thoughts or feelings, but we certainly do decide where our heart and mind will rest.

It is also important to distinguish between temptation to sin and sin itself. Bruce explains it well by saying the “look” Jesus is talking about is “not casual but persistent, the desire not involuntary or momentary, but cherished with longing.”

It is interesting to look at how religions respond to doctrinal teaching. In America, the Baptist outlawed alcohol and dancing. Jesus drank. David and Moses danced. We are not talking about modern dance. The Baptist outlawed dancing in the early 1800’s when dancing was far from sexual. But, in 1996, after 20 years of Madonna grinding on MTV, Baylor decides it is OK to dance and lifts its dancing ban. As far as looking at a woman and lusting, the hard core Muslims handle that easily by requiring women to wear burkhas that only show their eyes – and those only through a fabric screen.

“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30)

It is safe to say everyone in this room believes the Bible is the literal word of God but, the Bible is not always literal. The Bible’s “Figures of speech” suspend the normal meaning of words to convey an emphasized message that is easily understood by people in a particular culture. Hebrew and Greek use figures of speech just like English does. The problem is, we’re thousands of years and miles removed from Biblical culture. We don’t always quickly identify a figure of speech. Are we really supposed to hate our parents (Luke 14:26)? Was Jesus being rude to His mother (John 2:4)? Does a camel really go through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24)? In his book, Bullinger describes in great detail 217 distinct figures of speech. How literally should we interpret scripture? When you study a passage do you interpret the figures of speech or do you assume they are taken literally? We have approximately 40,000 words to express hundreds of thousands of experiences, feelings, and thoughts. Because of this poverty of words, we begin saying the sun rises or we feel blue; even though the sun does not rise and colors are not feelings. This type of expression is what we call a figure of speech, which is a special way of creating a picture in the mind of the reader to enhance understanding.

Principles for Interpreting Figures of Speech:

Identify a figure by trying to take the passage literally. If it makes no sense to apply it literally, then it’s probably a figure of speech.

Let the context determine the meaning of the figure.

Look for what is behind the figure; what is represented.

Look for specific points of similarity and difference.

Don’t push the figure past the author’s intended meaning – there’s a limit to the meaning of any figure of speech.

Some figures of speech are easy to identify, like plucking out your eyes, which we are about to discuss, and camels going through the eyes of needles. Others are more subtle. When we look around at what God has done, to see the truth, as God instructed us to in Romans, we see a 13 billion year old Earth. But, if you are tasked with explaining God’s creation to ancient Jews who have the scientific aptitude of pre-schoolers, a figure of speech relating to 6 distinct days and compressing time would create a picture to allow understanding for those people in that culture. The obvious message behind the figure is that God is the creator and clearly responsible for the creation of the universe. A similar thing happens with the word “forty”. Today, forty is forty. At the time of these writings, “forty” was a figure of speech meaning “many”. Whether it rained for forty literal days or whether “forty” is here a figure a speech makes absolutely no difference to the meaning of the event. But, when it comes to plucking out eyes, it is important to know when the Bible is literal and when it is figurative.

If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out: Here Jesus uses a figure of speech, and did not speak literally. Some people have taken it literally. Origen, the famous early Christian writer castrated himself on the principle of this passage. It can’t be literal. If you did cut off your hand or gouge out your eye, you could still sin with your other hand or eye. When all those are gone, you can especially sin with your mind.

It is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell: Jesus stresses the point that we must be willing to sacrifice to be obedient. If part of our life is given over to sin, we must be convinced that it is more profitable for that one individual part our life to “die” rather than to condemn our whole life. We have to get beyond the “wish to be better” and actually do something to eliminate the mechanics of our individual sins.

Now, Jesus interprets the law concerning divorce.

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce. But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)

It has been said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce”: In Jesus’ day, many people interpreted the Mosaic permission for divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1) as granting virtually any reason as grounds for divorce. Some rabbis taught this even extended to allowing a man to divorce his wife if she burnt his breakfast.

“Moses insisted upon ‘a writing of divorcement,’ that angry passions might have time to cool and that the separation, if it must come, might be performed with deliberation and legal formality. Yet in Jesus’ day this permission of Deuteronomy 24:1 had become an instrument of cruelty against wives. “The scribes busied themselves solely about getting the bill of separation into due legal form. They did nothing to restrain the unjust caprice of husbands; they rather opened a wider door to licence.” (Bruce)

Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality: The issue of divorce revolved around a strict or loose interpretation of the word uncleanness in Deuteronomy 24:1. Those who wanted to make divorce easy had a loose interpretation. Jesus makes it plain that the idea of uncleanness is sexual immorality, not anything the wife might do to displease the husband.

This emphasis of Jesus on the permanency of marriage and the wrong of unjustified divorce went against the thinking of Jewish and the Gentile cultures. “In Greece we see a whole social system based on relationships outside marriage; we see that these relationships were accepted as natural and normal, and not in the least blameworthy.” Roman culture came to adopt this attitude towards marriage. (Barclay)

Causes her to commit adultery: An illegitimate divorce gives place to adultery because God doesn’t recognize the divorce, and sees a new relationship as bigamous. It is possible for a person to have a divorce that is recognized by the state, but not by God. If that person goes on to marry someone else, God considers that relationship adultery because they are still married, in the eyes of God, to their first spouse. That is one reason I think the government ought to get out of the marriage business.

Our society has a marriage problem. When I was a kid, playing football in Randy Lloyd’s front yard, when there was a disputed play, there was usually a heated argument ending with “do over”. American marriage is much the same way. Why go through the effort and pain to make it work when you can so easily just walk away, “do over”, and start fresh? It is much easier to trade in for a new model than to repair a relationship with a history of unmet needs and unsolved problems. I once asked a neighbor how his new wife was working out and he said, “new face, same problems.” If you are married in a church, you swear an oath before God: the wedding vows. We’ll talk about oaths in just a minute but, even bigger is our commandment to love our spouse as God loves the church. That is some serious stuff. Is there any thing we can do to make God divorce us? No. Likewise, there is nothing our spouse can do, including adultery, to make us divorce them. Just because we have the right to divorce an adulterous spouse does not mean we should. Would Jesus divorce me for the same reason? No. God’s intention for marriage is that they be no longer two, but one flesh (Matthew 19:5-6; 1 Corinthians 6:15-20). It’s not a piece of paper or a ring. If it’s according to God, it’s one flesh. You can’t split one flesh. Matthew 19:6 also says, what God has joined together, let no man separate. The “man” in this verse is the husband and the wife and there are no conditions. There is no: don’t separate unless he turns out to be a bum, unless you find someone you like more, unless you discover irreconcilable differences. This is an unconditional, permanent union.

Now, Jesus interprets the law concerning oaths.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37).

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely”: The scribes and Pharisees had twisted the law, You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain (Exodus 20:7), to permit taking virtually every other name in a false oath because it was not specifically forbidden. The Pharisees had created a legal way of lying, and they became clever in their speech.

God gave the law to prevent chaos and for our own benefit (Psalms 1:1-3). We so often lie to ourselves, to others, and to God that we live in an atmosphere of distrust, so that a normal man has to swear to affirm that he is telling the truth.

Do not swear at all: Jesus reminds us that God is part of every oath anyway; if you swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or even your head, you swear by God – and your oath must be honored.

But let your “Yes” be “Yes”: Having to swear or make oaths betrays the weakness of your word. It demonstrates that there is not enough weight in your own character to confirm your words. How much better it is to let your “Yes” be “Yes” and “No” be “No.”

I couldn’t get this verse out of my head in west Africa. Many of the African men love to talk. My dear friend Malakie was my right hand man and interpreter. If I asked a question that called for a simple, one word, yes, or no, answer, I would inevitably get a paragraph. If he asked me a simple question and I just answered yes, or no, he would look at me like he was expecting more words. I would finally say, “just yes.” He would then start a discussion of my “just yes” answer. He used so many words, when he would finish an answer, I’d say, “so the answer is yes. He would then reply, “yes”, and in the same breath start an explanation about it being yes. It became a game and I would count how many words he used to answer. I would count right in front of him on my fingers and he would see me counting. He was mentally unable to just let yes be yes.

He was a joy to talk to and great at teaching me some of the 8 different Krio dialects, some of which were barely recognizable as being based on the Queen’s English.

Some have taken this word of Jesus about oaths to be more than an emphasis on truth-telling and honesty and to be an absolute prohibition of all oaths. This is misguided, because oaths are permitted under certain circumstances, as long as they are not abused and used as a cover for deception. The Pledge of Allegiance is an oath. Wedding vows are an oath. In court, you swear an oath of truth.

· God Himself swears oaths: Hebrews 6:13 and Luke 1:73.

· Jesus spoke under oath in a court: Matthew 26:63-64.

· Paul made oaths: Romans 1:9, 2 Corinthians 1:23, Galatians 1:20, 2 Thessalonians 2:5.

Jesus interprets the law of retribution.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”: The Mosaic law did teach an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24). But over time religious teachers moved this command out of its proper context (a principle limiting retribution for the civil government) and put it in the wrong sphere (as an obligation in personal relationships).

But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also: Here, Jesus presents the fullness of the eye for an eye law, and how its idea of limiting revenge extends into the principle of accepting certain evils against your self.

When a person insults us (slaps you on the right cheek) we want to give them back what they gave to us, plus more. Jesus said we should patiently bear such insults and offences, and not resist an evil person who insults us this way. Instead, we trust God to defend us.

It is wrong to think Jesus means evil should never be resisted. Jesus demonstrated with His life that evil should and must be resisted, such as when He turned tables in the temple.

“Jesus is here saying that the Christian has learned to resent no insult and to seek retaliation for no slight.” (Barclay) When we think how Jesus Himself was insulted and spoken against (as a glutton, a drunk, an illegitimate child, a blasphemer, a madman, and so forth) we see how He lived this principle Himself.

It is wrong to think that Jesus means a physical attack cannot be resisted or defended against. When Jesus speaks of a slap on your right cheek, it was culturally understood as a deep insult, not a physical attack. Jesus does not mean that if someone hits you across the right side of our head with a baseball bat, you should allow them to then hit the left side.

It is also wrong to think Jesus means that there is no place for punishment or retribution in society. Jesus here speaks to personal relationships, and not to the proper functions of government in restraining evil (Romans 13:1-4). I must turn my cheek when I am personally insulted, but the government has a responsibility to restrain criminals and prevent physical assault.

If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also: Under the Law of Moses, the outer cloak was something that could not be taken from someone (Exodus 22:26; Deuteronomy 24:13).

“Yet even in a country where justice can be had, We are not to resort to law for every personal wrong. We should rather endure to be put upon than be forever crying out, ‘I’ll bring an action.’” (Spurgeon) We need tort reform today, needed it in Spurgeon’s day, and needed it in Jesus’ day.

Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two: Positively, we are told to take command of evil impositions by making a deliberate choice to give more than we are required. At that time, Judea was under Roman military occupation. Under military law, any Roman soldier could command a Jew to carry his soldier’s pack for one mile – but only one mile. Jesus here says, “go beyond the one mile required by law and give another mile out of a free choice of love.” This is how we transform an attempt to manipulate us into a free act of love.

“The old said, Insist on your own right, and loving your neighbor, hate your enemy, and so secure your safety. Now Jesus says, suffer wrong, and lavish your love on all.” (Morgan)

Paul repeated this idea of Jesus: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Next week, Jesus interprets the law of love towards your neighbor.


Pray for rain, pray for rain!

Silly humans.  We see our reservoirs 70% empty and panic.  “Oh, no, we are out of water!”  God sees our reservoirs 30% full and says, “I told you I would take care of your every need – why don’t you trust me to do that?”  (Philippians 4:19)  Where it rains, and how much, is determined by God’s physical laws of the universe which he established at creation.  If you want more rain, move closer to a coastline because God is not going to violate his laws of thermodynamics and the energy balance of our atmosphere just because we want our lawns greener.  Sure, He could easily do this any time He wants.  But, if we really think He will make exceptions to His physical laws simply because we ask, then let’s go bigger.  How about praying for longer days and shorter nights?  I’d like that.  How about eliminating UV solar radiation?  Why limit our desires to physics when biology is such an opportunity for us to improve on God’s design?  Let’s make all my weeks extinct.

I can’t imagine how praying for rain ever became the thirteenth basic tenet of Christianity.  Without weather, many southern Christians would not be able to start a conversation.

If we doubt the effectiveness of God’s physics and try to help Him with when it should rain, or any other physical process, we miss the incredible elegance of creation.  We see the objects of a miraculous universe creation be we most always miss the much more amazing miracle of the process.  God only created three fundamental things, protons, neutrons, and electrons.  The real elegance of His design is the very small set of His rules governing how these three objects respond to each other.   He made about a dozen rules for a creation game, made three types of playing pieces in sufficient number, and said, “Go!”  Look around at how perfectly this is working.  This is where we see God.  “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so people are without excuse.”  (Romans 1:20)

Imagine how ridiculous we sound when we say, “Hey God, I know more about hydraulics than You so make it rain because I want it to.”  God’s patience with our silliness and His sense of humor are essential to our continued existence.

Walk Closer 10

Matthew  4:23-25, 5:1-48

We’ve talked about satan’s modern work being that of deception, distraction, and misinformation. Now we have a Biblical movie produced and directed by atheists: Noah. It never uses the word “God” or any of its variants and the producer says this is the most unbiblical biblical movie ever produced. Why would we expect satan to be satisfied twisting society and morals when he can go right to the word of God?

Eric Elder and The Ranch publish a daily online devotional called This Day’s Thought. They had a quote from an unknown author that went along with our Harlem vs. Hollywood mission discussion last week: “The most important missionary journey a person can make is to walk next door.” If we are going to transform OUR culture, we have to be in OUR culture.

Last week: Jim goes off topic, Jesus heals the nobleman’s son, household saved, Jesus returns to Galilee, teaches in the surrounding region and is well accepted, teaches in Nazareth, preaches the gospel to the spiritually poor, heals the brokenhearted, proclaims liberty to the captives, Makes the spiritually blind see and, gives liberty those who are oppressed, teaches Isaiah 61, proclaims He is the fulfillment, refuses to do local miracles for purely spectacular motives, crowd mood changes, mob takes him to a cliff to kill Him, He miraculously walks away, Jesus moves to Capernaum, begins His fundamental message, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John to discipleship.

Now that we have seen the foundation of His message, we get a description of His ministry in Galilee.

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Great multitudes followed Him; from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. (Matthew 4:23-25)

Teaching in their synagogues: The customs of the synagogue in that day gave Jesus many opportunities to teach, because they would often give a visitor – especially a distinguished one – a chance to speak. “After the address there came a time for talk, and questions, and discussion. The synagogue was the ideal place to get a new teaching across to the people.” (Barclay)

 Teaching . . . preaching the gospel of the kingdom: The difference between teaching and preaching is one of emphasis and manner, not of content.

 “Preaching is the uncompromising proclamation of certainties; teaching is the explanation of the meaning and significance of them.” (Barclay)

  All kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease: Jesus’ ability to heal those with all different kinds of diseases demonstrates that He has authentic power over the damage done by the fall of man. His authority over demons (and those who were demon-possessed) shows He has authentic power over all creation.

 This is the first mention of the demon-possessed in the New Testament, and the concept is rarely recorded in the Old Testament (Saul was one example, who was troubled by a spirit, as in 1 Samuel 18:10, 19:9). There is more record of demon possession in the New Testament than either in the Old Testament or in the contemporary western world. Why is that?

 · Some believe that God gave the devil greater allowance to afflict man in this way, to give greater evidence of Jesus’ credentials as Messiah.

· Some believe that God allowed the devil a greater allowance to afflict man in this way to rebuke the Sadducees, who did not believe in supernatural beings such as angels and demons.

· Some believe that there was no greater allowance in those days at all, and that there is the same amount of demon possession today, although it is not recognized as such. Maybe we just call it mental illness.

 · Some believe that there is simply far less demon possession in cultures that have been under the influence of the gospel for hundreds of years, and far more in pagan cultures.

 · Some believe that Satan himself is not interested in a strategy of widespread demon possession of humans in the contemporary western world, because he finds anonymity and spiritual skepticism more effective tools. Imagine how we would be turned off from satan if we routinely saw “The Exorcist” or “Amityville Horror” type demon possession. We’d all run away from that. Satan is now more effective avoiding that and concentrating on deception and, most importantly, distraction.

  Great multitudes followed Him: Jesus had a purpose for allowing such dramatic miracles to attract great multitudes. He wanted to teach the multitudes, not simply to impress them with miracles. “Christ’s fame spread very far doubtless, because of the good he did, and the miracles he wrought . . .” (Clarke)

Jesus gave us many signs. When Jesus looks down at the billboard of our life, what sign does he see us showing Him?

Once a person becomes a Christian their life should be characterized by love. God should see a big billboard of love. Our commandment, and our commission is love.

Remember when a U.S. cable network started broadcasting an Al Jazeera network feed and Christians come out of the woodwork to hold up a sign of hate and derogatory comments. How is that showing love when Al Jazeera represents 48% Christians and only 41% Muslims? We don’t even know what we are talking about but we already hate it. Is their coverage any worse than MSNBC? Two of the funniest TV shows I’ve seen were on Al Jazeera: a sports center format with x-jocks getting all emotional and animated over sports replays but, they are dressed in bright white tunics and Ghutra and ropes. The other was the Three Stooges dubbed in Arabic with English subtitles. I never thought you could make the Stooges any funnier but this was funny, speechless funny.

But, if we want a pure billboard of love, without our petty little moments of hateful political and religious thoughts, what is on it?

1.        Love of God

 Above all, our love should be directed to God. In the Old Testament this was made clear.

 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4,5).

 When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He emphasized that God should be loved above all.

 Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matthew 22:36,37).

How can we be a sign that we love God? Simple. We keep His commandments.

If you love Me, you will obey what I command (John 14:15).

2.        Love The Believers

First and foremost, the Christian is characterized by the love they show to fellow believers.

 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I do you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34,35).

Peter wrote:   Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king (1 Peter 2:17).

 3.        Love The Unbelievers

 The believer also needs to show love for the unsaved. The Bible says that God showed His love to the world by sending Jesus.

 For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

4.        Love Your Neighbor

We are also commanded to love our neighbor. Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment.

 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-39).

 We love our neighbor by keeping the commandments that effect those close to us. For example, we should provide for our family.

           We should also help with the needs of fellow believers.

 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (Romans 12:13).

 We are also to love widows and orphans. The list goes on and on.

 Our sign to God should be a huge billboard of love.

The sign of the Christian is love. First, we are to love God. Next we are to love our fellow believer. Finally, we are to love the unbelieving world. 
Now we answer this weeks burning questions: Who are blessed? Am I on that list?

Matthew 5 is the Great Manifesto of the kingdom of God. The beatitudes tell us qualities and experiences God values and wants of those in the kingdom of heaven. It is present tense! Each blessing is associated with a promise. Each ‘condition’ makes it easier to focus on God.

The Sermon on the Mount was addressed to the disciples but, multitudes were also there. There are not two doctrines, one for the disciples and one for the masses, like Buddhism. This is one message meant for us all.

The first section contains the Beatitudes. Matthew 5:3-16 The Beatitudes place the emphasis on what we are as opposed to what we do. Matthew 5:17-48 deals with the relationship of Jesus to the law. Matthew 6 deals with our relationship with God, and Matthew 7 deals with our relationship with man.

Matthew 5 – The Sermon on the Mount

Jesus prepares to teach His disciples.

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. (Matthew 5:1)

When He was seated: This was the common posture for teaching in that culture. It was customary for the teacher to sit and the spectators to stand. At Kyle Field at Texas A&M, it is traditional for spectators to stand whenever player are on the field.

 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: (Matthew 5:2)

 The verb translated “taught” describes repeated and habitual action, and the translation means: “This is what he used to teach them.” This was not a one-time sermon and was likely the core of His other messages.

 These Beatitudes, blessings, list seven characteristics that make up the Christian character. The eighth Beatitude deals with the reaction of the world to these traits. These characteristics are all interrelated and progressive. The Beatitudes are not natural characteristics, and they actually create a sharp distinction between the Christians and non-Christians in the things we should admire and the things we should seek.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

“Blessed” in the Greek means “Oh, how happy!” True happiness is a byproduct of a right relationship with God. The first three Beatitudes have to do with our response to the revelation of God (Romans 7:9; Luke 18:11). This first characteristic of the child of God is a foundation that God can build upon. God cannot build upon the foundations of pride, self will, or our own ambitions. God’s process is usually that of emptying before filling (Luke 2:34; Jeremiah 1:10). A man who is truly poor in spirit will not be admired by the world (Luke 16:15). “Poor in spirit” indicates a willingness to surrender to the authority and control of God. We will not be making demands, because we’re unworthy and undeserving (Genesis 32:10). Poverty of spirit is a consciousness of our own sinfulness and spiritual poverty (Isaiah 6:5; Daniel 10:8; Luke 5:8; Jeremiah 17:9-10; Psalms 8:3-4). The way to happiness is poverty of spirit (Luke 18:10-14; Matthew 7:13).

 The poor in spirit recognize that they have no spiritual “assets.” They know they are spiritually bankrupt. This beatitude is first, because this is where we start with God.

Occasionally, I will quote Charles Spurgeon. He died in 1892. He was a Strict and Particular Baptist (that was actually the name of the denomination), and preached at the New Park Street Chapel in London. It is said that his oratory skills held his listeners spellbound and it is estimated that he preached to 10 million people in his lifetime. I like him because of his generally precise exposition, his penetrating thought, and his creative turn of phrase.

“A ladder, if it is to be of any use, must have its first step near the ground, or feeble climbers will never be able to mount. It would have been a grievous discouragement to struggling faith if the first blessing had been given to the pure in heart; to that excellence the young beginner makes no claim, while to poverty of spirit he can reach without going beyond his line.” (Spurgeon)

The godly reaction to poverty of spirit is mourning. We mourn our poverty of spirit.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

Blessed are those who mourn: The Greek grammar indicates an intense degree of mourning. Jesus does not speak of casual sorrow for the consequences of our sin, but a deep grief before God over our fallen state.

 For they shall be comforted: Those who mourn over their sin and their sinful condition are promised comfort. God allows this grief into our lives as a path, not as a destination.

The next step: meekness.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

When we realize the truth about ourselves, our attitude towards others is one of meekness. Meekness is related to lowliness (Matthew 11:29; Ephesians 4:2), gentleness (2 Corinthians 10:1; Titus 3:2), and learning the Word of God (James 1:21; Isaiah 61:1). We are to seek meekness (Zephaniah 2:3). In the Greek the word for “meek” means “a happy medium between two extremes.” Meekness is moderation. It’s balance. A meek person can have anger when others are treated unjustly, but not be angry when he is unjustly treated (Mark 3:1-5; John 2:13-16). The Jews didn’t expect their Messiah to be meek. They were anticipating Him to overthrow the Roman government by force. Meekness is having others see the truth about ourselves and giving honor to others (Philippians 2:3). A meek person has learned that happiness doesn’t lie in his possessions, but in a relationship with God (Philippians 4:11). We have examples in the Bible of men that were called meek: Abraham (Genesis 13:5-9, 21:22-34); Moses (Numbers 12:3); David (1 Samuel 24); Stephen (Acts 7:59-60); Paul (Acts 26:21-22); Jesus (Philippians 2:5-8; John 4:34; Mark 14:36).

 When we think we are strong, we are our weakest, because we are not leaning on God’s strength. As the reverend Billy Ray Collins of the Sword of Joshua Full Gospel Pentecostal Assembly says, “lean on Jesus before he leans on you”.

 For they shall inherit the earth. What do we get for acting in moderation and balance? We inherit the earth.

 The desire of the one who has poverty of spirit, mourning for sin, and meekness: righteousness.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

The first three Beatitudes were the emptying process. Now we come to seek for an answer to our helplessness. In the Greek this verse denotes one of desiring, not just a portion but all of the righteousness of God. The primary purpose of the Church isn’t to take care of symptoms such as starvation and crime, but to bring the Gospel to men so that they will be brought into a position of hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Hungering and thirsting is such a vivid analogy. Righteousness cannot be achieved in our own strength; it is only standing before God.

 Christians are very human and we sometimes hunger after power, authority, success, comfort, happiness, etc. We’re not to hunger after these things but to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Blessed is the man, not who is righteous, but who hungers after righteousness. It isn’t necessarily righteousness itself that brings happiness (1 Kings 8:18). It is the passionate pursuit of righteousness.

 “He does not hunger and thirst that his own political party may get into power, but he does hunger and thirst that righteousness may be done in the land. He does not hunger and thirst that his own opinions may come to the front, and that his own sect or denomination may increase in numbers and influence, but he does desire that righteousness may come to the fore.” (Spurgeon)

  For they shall be filled: Jesus promised to fill us up. As much as we can hold. Hunger is a unique analogy because food both satisfies us and also keeps us longing for more.

 I can relate to this emptying and filling because the first year of architecture school is emptying: unlearning the limits we’ve been taught in the prior 12 years and unlearning the creative thought stifling mind set of public education. Only then, are we ready to be filled and, if don’t hunger and thirst for architectural knowledge and skill, we won’t make through the degree. It is not something you can do casually.

It would be unfortunate, if your are in a class taught by an architect, that you didn’t pick up something architectural. I’ll answer a couple of comments we hear too often. “Oh, I can’t draw a thing!” Picasso couldn’t draw either. The worse you draw, the more boldness is required. As clumsy as your drawing may be, own it. Picasso started a whole movement because he couldn’t draw. As clumsy as your righteousness is, own it passionately. Live and breathe is and start your own movement. Another thing that is often said is, “I can’t even draw a straight line!” Well, of course not. There is a trick. Our lines are naturally curved because of our natural motions. We put the pen down and our eyes follow it as it moves across the page. Put the pen down and look at where you want it to go instead of where it is. The pen follows the eye and goes straight to the destination rather than the eye following the pen as it wanders off the page. With righteousness, if you look where you, the pen, are now, you are satisfied: you are not hungering and thirsting for more righteousness. IF you are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, you are looking a the next destination of the pen and your path will be straight.

The last thing, “I don’t see how you come up with all these things – I just have no creativity.” I didn’t have a suitable response to this until just a few years ago. I spent most of my life being creative but couldn’t adequately define it. It’s like walking with God: I do it but I still can’t explain it in a way that does it justice. There are zillions of books and articles about being creative. Don’t waste your time on them. If they worked, we’d all be creative. Creativity is a natural, God given gift to all of us but, society takes it away when we learn there is no Santa Claus. When you grasp creativity, it is so elegantly simple – like the creation of the universe. What do you see on this table? My cup of water, my notes. That is what you are taught to see. What about the bowl of green apples, what about the glitter from someone’s scrapbooking effort, what about the crossword puzzle may friend Doug is scratching his head over? Creativity is only five words: seeing what is not there.

When we decided to re invent the toothbrush. We saw the white film of residual toothpaste on wherever we routinely put the brush. If we put it in a slot, there is a nasty white coating of white muck on it. If we put it in a cup, there is soon a pick slime growing on the bottom of the cup. We’ve all seen it. But, Pierre saw what wasn’t there: a little suction cup on the bottom of the handle so the brush stands up and sticks wherever you put it so nothing touches the bristles. We see a big cardboard box and it is just a big cardboard box. To a five year old, it’s a submarine to cruise with dolphins or a spaceship to the farthest reaches of the unexplored universe. See what is not there. Christians are, by definition, creative. We see the same world everyone else sees but, we also see things that are not visible: Jesus, salvation, redemption, and cleansing. Many people look at a Bible and see a book. We see a spiritual adventure, an odessey, a cosmic pilgrimage, a spiritual expedition. See what is not there – like a young child. That’s faith. There is a reason Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Blessing to the merciful.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Those who show mercy receive mercy. The Greek word for “mercy” has its root in the Hebrew word meaning “to get inside someone else’s skin.” This means that you can totally identify with what he’s seeing, thinking, and feeling (Ezekiel 3:15).

 Like the song says, “before you criticize, misuse, or abuse, walk a mile in his shoes.” That always works because then you are a mile away from your problem and you have his shoes.

 Being merciful requires sympathy. Sympathy is to suffer or experience the pains and sufferings of others (Luke 10:30-37). Why do Christians suffer? Many reasons but one is so we can learn sympathy and thereby be merciful.

 The Beatitudes are like a beacon light that calls us to self-examination. If we’re merciful, then others will be merciful to us (Luke 6:38; 1 Corinthians 11:28,31).

 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

The word “pure” here refers to a purity that is the result of a washing. The heart is the center of one’s being, the throne of the spirit. The Pharisees were concerned with the outward observances of righteousness (Matthew 15:2). God is concerned with the inner heart (Proverbs 4:23; Jeremiah 17:9). The heart needs to be cleansed (Psalms 51:10). Being “pure in heart” is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Christian has a renewed heart in an unrenewed body (Mark 14:38; Romans 7:15-25; Galatians 5:17; Psalms 103:14).

 We can see God in His creation, in the events in history, and in our daily circumstances (Romans 8:28). In the future we shall see God face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; John 1:18; 1 Peter 1:8; John 6:46; 1 Corinthians 15:53).

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

The Jews were longing for the Messiah to lead them in war, to conquer all Gentiles, and to rule the world. Peace is more than a passive existence; it’s a very positive state of good.

A peacemaker is more than one who stops quarrels; he brings good into other people’s lives.

Peacemakers deal with the corrupted issues so that there can be a true state of peace. Jesus was fighting against the corrupted religious system and for peace between man and God (John 2:14-16; Matthew 23:27). Real peace can never be found in a compromise with evil. There can never be a peaceful coexistence with sin (1 Corinthians 5:7; Isaiah 57:20, 48:22).

This is not just living in peace. It is not some personal apathy to conflicts around us. It is actively making peace and keeping peace.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

(Matthew 5:10-12)

The character traits described in the Beatitudes are not valued by our modern culture. We don’t recognize or give awards to the “Most Pure in Heart” or “Most Poor in Spirit.” Though our culture doesn’t think much of these character traits, they do described the character of the citizens of God’s kingdom.

 God is upfront in telling us that we will suffer and that the world will not react in love and kindness towards us (Matthew 10:16-25; Acts 9:1-16).

To be righteous is to be Christlike. We’ll be blessed for being persecuted because we’re righteous, not because we’re fanatical or stupid (Luke 6:26; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). If you do dumb things, you will be persecuted but that sort of persecution doesn’t count. This is only suffering “for My sake”.

 The doctrine stating that Christians only go through suffering and afflictions if they don’t have enough faith is very inconsistent with Scripture. (2 Kings 13:14; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Philippians 2:27; 1 Timothy 5:23). The religious people were the ones who persecuted Jesus, because they were challenged by Him. Sometimes persecution comes from religious circles.

 As Christians we should face persecution:

                        1.        By not retaliating against our persecutors (Matthew 5:44; Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60)

                        2.        By not holding resentment against them

                        3.        By rejoicing in the fact that this proves that we are God’s children and have a great reward in heaven (Romans 8:7; Acts 5:40,41). Because we’re His children, our position in His kingdom is secure. We need to remember that we’re His ambassadors on earth, and we represent Christ. We need to remember where we’re going (2 Timothy 4:8). The prophets were persecuted (Acts 7:52). All of the apostles were persecuted for Jesus’ sake. They persecuted Jesus. Persecution has strengthened the Church (Romans 5:3-5).

 Where does Jesus want His disciples to display their discipleship? The followers of Jesus should be like salt.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” (Matthew 5:13)

You are the salt of the earth: Disciples are like salt because they are precious. In Jesus’ day, salt was a valued commodity. Roman soldiers were sometimes paid with salt, giving rise to the phrase “worth his salt.”

 You are the salt of the earth: Disciples are like salt because they have a preserving influence. Salt was used to preserve meats and to slow decay. Christians should have a preserving influence on their culture.

 You are the salt of the earth: Disciples are like salt because they add flavor. Christians should be a “flavorful” people. We’re to make every experience “taste” better because of our presence.

 Salt prevents infection. Christians are to have a antiseptic effect on the sores of the world.

 If the salt loses its flavor . . . it is then good for nothing: Salt must keep its “saltiness” to be of any value. When it is no good as salt, it is trampled under foot. In the same way, too many Christians loose their “flavor” and become good for nothing.

The followers of Jesus should be like light.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

You are the light of the world: Jesus gives the Christian both a great compliment and a great responsibility when He says that we are the light of the world, because He claimed that title for Himself as He walked this earth (John 8:12 and John 9:5).

 Light of the world means that we are not only light-receivers, but also light-givers. We must have a greater concern than only ourselves, and we cannot live only to ourselves; we must have someone to shine to, and do so lovingly.

 “Poor world, poor world, it is dark, and gropes in midnight, and it cannot get light except it receives it through us! . . . To be the light of the world surrounds life with the most stupendous responsibilities, and so invests it with the most solemn dignity. Hear this, ye humble men and women, ye who have made no figure in society, ye are the light of the world. If ye burn dimly, dim is the world’s light, and dense its darkness.” (Spurgeon)

Let your light so shine before men: The purpose of light is to illuminate and expose what is there. Therefore light must be exposed before it is of any use – if it is hidden under a basket, it is no longer useful.

 “Christ never contemplated the production of secret Christians, – Christians whose virtues would never be displayed, – pilgrims who would travel to heaven by night, and never be seen by their fellow-pilgrims or anyone else.” (Spurgeon)

 The figures of salt and light also remind us that the life marked by the beatitudes is not to be lived in isolation. We often assume that those inner qualities can only be developed or displayed in isolation from the world, but Jesus wants us to live them out before the world.

A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden: Jesus wants us to live visible lives that attract attention to the beauty of God’s work in life.

Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand: The idea of a lampstand gives the sense that we are to be intentional about letting this light shine. Even as lamps are placed higher so their light can be more effective, we should look for ways to let our light shine in greater and broader ways.

 That they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven: The purpose in letting our light so shine by doing good works is so that others will glorify God, not ourselves.

 The three pictures together are powerful, speaking of the effect of Jesus’ disciples in the world:

 · Salt is the opposite of corruption, and it prevents corruption from getting worse.

 · Light gives the gift of guidance, so that those who have lost their way can find the path home.

 · A city is the product of social order and government; it is against chaos and disorder.

 People should be able to notice if we are children of God. We should not try to hide our relationship with God. Our good works should draw attention to Christ.

 When I read the beatitudes and think of what we should be, I think of Scooby Doo band aids. I carry a box of Scooby Doo band aids in my truck: Not as first aid but as a reminder. Scooby is a character that makes everyone happy. You can’t see Scooby and not see happiness. He’s humble, kind, forgiving, and he makes life better. A band aid heals wounds, it keeps things clean and antiseptic, and it is applied with love. If we could all just be Scooby Doo band aids.

 Next week, the law and true righteousness. The relationship of Jesus and the law.

Walk Closer 9

John 4: 49-54, Luke 4: 14-30, Matthew 4:12-25

Andrei Linde – next nobel prize winner – inflationary universe theory. Einstein predicted it 100 years ago but had no way to observe it. There is a gravitational ripple from the expansion of space faster than the speed of light. This occurred in the first second of creation and only lasted 10exp-32 of a second. The problem with the old big bang is that the universe should now be distinctly curved but it is isotropic (same in all directions) but still expanding, though far slower than at the moment of creation.

Everything created is evidence of the creator. God gives us the key to understanding creation in Romans 1:20.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

They are clearly seen, but only noticed if we are looking.

There is nothing more elegantly divine than the creation of the universe. So far as we know now, God only created 12 different objects, the elementary atomic particles, 4 forces, and a very small handful of laws governing how they interact.

Everything we know is some combination and location of these particles according to a minimal set of laws governing their behavior.  3 laws of motion: body at rest stays at rest, F = ma, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  1 law of gravity.  4 laws of thermodynamics: temperature, energy, entropy, relationship of temp and energy.  1 law of electromagnetism.

The Hubbell telescope gave us many new answers. Stephen Hawking – the universe was created specifically for human life on earth. Any less mass and there would not have been enough matter for gravitational forces to form rocky planets. Any more mass and gravitational forces would not have allowed the expansion of matter. We had to have all those unseen stars, and no more, for God’s laws of physics to form this universe.

Revelation 21: Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . then God said, “I am making everything new!” A new heaven and a new earth. On the seventh day, God rested. It is still the seventh day. He’s hasn’t created anything since the sixth day, and He won’t, until he creates a new universe. I’m going to be there when God creates a universe. Now, THAT, is adventure.

We tend to think that Moses’ account of God’s creation is based upon the seven days of a week and, after the seventh day, the creation week was over. The seven day week didn’t come alone until 1,000 years later. Moses’ calendar was the 10 day Egyptian week. The seven day week was invented by our friends the Magi about 600 B.C. It only extended through the Mediterranean basin. The rest of the world, and the Roman Empire, were on weeks that varied from 3 to 20 days. The Roman Empire was on a 9 day week because markets were held every nine days. France didn’t adopt the seven day week until 1802. USSR didn’t adopt it until 1941.

We are all on seven day weeks now but, we still don’t agree on what day the week starts. Only in a few countries does it start on Sunday. The EU week begins on Monday. Many African weeks begin on Saturday.

last week: John testifies, Samaritan woman gets living water, Samaritans believe, one sows, another reaps,

We left off with Jesus in Galilee and a nobleman had asked that his son be healed.

Jesus heals the nobleman’s son.

The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!” Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household. This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee. (John 4: 49-54)

 Sir, come down before my child dies! The nobleman’s plea comes from deep need, but did he ask in light of what Jesus said in John 4:48, where He warns against relying o signs and wonders? It is as if he perfectly understood what Jesus just said was not meant to discourage signs and wonders in themselves, but to discourage a carnal dependence on them.

 He was a nobleman, a man of high standing and stature. How little all his standing and stature seemed to be when he was at his point of need. Sometimes Jesus brings us low so we will come to Him with this kind of deep need, and find that the ground is all level at the cross.

 Go your way; your son lives: Jesus severely tested this man’s faith, forcing him to believe in Jesus’ word alone. But the man took Jesus at His word and departed. All Jesus gave him to trust in was His word, but real faith is simply that – taking Jesus at His word. What difference would it make in our lives if we really believed what Jesus says?

 Your son lives: Why didn’t Jesus use any dramatic effects in this healing? Many people want to see dramatic effects in God’s work. But to real faith, they are not necessary.

 And he himself believed: Didn’t this man believe before? Of course he did, but now his faith is deepened by his personal experience of God’s power. His previous faith and God’s work led to more faith. We can take God’s past blessing as a promise of future blessing.

And his whole household: The whole group was touched by this nobleman’s faith and God’s power working through it. It is wonderful that these Jews from the region of Galilee believe; but they would not unless Jesus performed signs, and they were slow to believe even then.

 These Jewish Galileans pale in comparison to the despised Samaritans who believed on Jesus without a sign – they believed at His word (John 4:39-42).

 Luke 4 – Jesus in Nazareth

The early Galilean ministry and Jesus is rejected at Nazareth.

Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. (Luke 4:14-15)

 Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit: Jesus came from His time of testing stronger than ever. Though He was already filled with the Spirit (Luke 4:1), He continued to walk in the power of the Spirit after demonstrating victory over temptation.

 “He who, through the grace of God, resists and overcomes temptation, is always bettered by it. This is one of the wonders of God’s grace, that those very things which are designed for our utter ruin he makes the instruments of our greatest good. Thus Satan is ever duped by his own proceeding, and caught in his own craft.” (Clarke)

To Galilee…the surrounding region: The region of Galilee was a fertile, progressive, highly populated region. According to figures from the Jewish historian Josephus, there were some 3 million people populating Galilee, an area smaller than the state of Connecticut. Even allowing for typical exaggeration from Josephus, it was a highly populated area.

 Josephus – who was at one time a governor of Galilee – wrote that there were 240 villages and cities in Galilee (Life 235), each with a population of at least 15,000 people.

He taught in their synagogues: Jesus’ focus in ministry was teaching, and at this early point in His ministry He had no organized opposition (being glorified by all).

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: (Luke 4:16-17)

 He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up: Since this was early in the ministry of Jesus, it was not long from the time when He lived and worked in Nazareth. The people of that village knew Him, and He had probably done work as a carpenter or builder for many of them.

 And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day: Jesus made it His custom to get together with God’s people for worship and the Word of God. If anyone didn’t need to go to church, it was Jesus – yet, it was His custom to do so.

And stood up to read: The usual order of service in a synagogue began with an opening prayer and praise; then a reading from the Law; then a reading from the prophets and then a sermon, perhaps from a learned visitor. On this occasion Jesus was the learned visitor. Since this synagogue was in Nazareth, Jesus would have attended it often before, and now He would read and teach in His hometown synagogue.

 Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me: The one speaking in this Isaiah passage is the Anointed One; the Messiah, the Christ.

 Anointed Me: The word “anoint” means to rub or sprinkle onPersons in the Old Testament were often literally anointed with oil. For example, priests were anointed for their special service to the Lord (Exodus 28:41). Literal oil was applied as a sign of the Holy Spirit upon their life and service. The oil on the head was only the outward representation of the real, spiritual work going on inside them.

He has anointed Me to…: In this prophecy, the Messiah announced that He came to heal the fivefold damage that sin brings. Sin does great damage, so there must be a great work of redemption.

 · To preach the gospel to the poor: Sin impoverishes, and the Messiah brings good news to the poor.

 · To heal the brokenhearted: Sin breaks hearts, and the Messiah has good news for brokenhearted.

 · To proclaim liberty to the captives: Sin makes people captive and enslaves them, and the Messiah comes to set them free.

 · Recovery of sight to the blind: Sin blinds us, and the Messiah comes to heal our spiritual and moral blindness.

· To set at liberty those who are oppressed: Sin oppresses its victims, and the Messiah comes to bring liberty to the oppressed.

 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord: This seems to describe the Old Testament concept of the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:9-15 and following). In the year of Jubilee slaves were set free, debts cancelled, and things set to a new start. Based upon the calendar, this was a Jubilee year.

 Jesus teaches on Isaiah 61:1-2.

Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:20-22)

 And sat down: As Jesus sat, He prepared to teach instead of returning to His seat among the congregation. Everyone wondered how He would explain what He had just read. With these words Jesus answered two questions.

 · “Whom did Isaiah write of?” Jesus answered, “Isaiah wrote of Me.”

 · “When will this come to pass?” Jesus answered, “Isaiah wrote of now.”

 Marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth: This seems to mean that Jesus continued to speak on the theme just mentioned, and He did it with words that were literally full of grace. They sensed the goodness and grace of God in the announcement that the ministry of the Messiah was now present.

 Is this not Joseph’s son? After their initial amazement, they then began to resent that someone so familiar (Joseph’s son) could speak with such grace and claim to be the fulfillment of such remarkable prophecies.

 He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’“ Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:23-27)

 Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country: Luke doesn’t directly tell us that the people said this; perhaps they did and Jesus quoted their words back to them. Or, it is just as likely that Jesus understood and explained their objection. The people of Nazareth wanted to see the same kind of thing, demanding the miraculous as a show or a sign.

 No prophet is accepted in his own country: Jesus understood that it is easy to doubt the power and work of God among those most familiar to us. It was easier for those in Nazareth to doubt or reject Jesus because He seemed so normal and familiar to them.

 “I learn, from this incident in our Lord’s life, that it is not the preacher’s business to seek to please his congregation. If he labors for that end, he will in all probability not attain it; but, if he should succeed in gaining it, what a miserable success it would be!” (Spurgeon) The same is true of parents whose goal is to be the best friends of their children.

 To none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon…none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian: Jesus’ audience wanted special favors because He was in His hometown. Jesus pointed out that this doesn’t matter to God, using God’s work among the Gentiles in the days of Elijah and Elisha as examples.

 Jesus made at least two points. First, the fact that they did not receive Jesus had nothing to do with Jesus, but everything to do with them. He was truly from God, but they would not receive Him. Their rejection said more about them than it did about Jesus.

Second, it showed that God’s miraculous power operates in unexpected and sovereign ways. People that we often consider undeserving and perhaps strange are many times recipients of God’s miraculous power.

Jesus walks away from a murderous mob.

So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way. (Luke 4:28-30)

 When they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city: This was quite a response to a sermon. They were angry to be told that there was something wrong with them, that their request for a miracle was denied, and that Jesus implied that God also loved the Gentiles.

 Jesus didn’t primarily seek to please His audience and He didn’t use their approval as the measure of His success. What a lesson for us. We should not seek to primarily please our audience and we should not use approval as the measure of our worth. This example tells us to ignore peer pressure and maintain self esteem.

 How many preachers weaken God by avoiding subjects they fear might be unenjoyable to their audience? Presbyterians and Episcopalians come to mind. I laughed at some of the comments, between services, when Wes did his sermon on sex and his sermon on money a few weeks ago. Some of the people were like 5 year olds talking about a dirty word, “oooh, Wes said sex”. People were talking about how difficult it is to preach on these topics. I don‘t get it. In secular America, sex and money are the two biggest driving social factors. We are surrounded by sex and money. We live with them but we are embarrassed to talk about them. Even Wes was uncomfortable talking about sex. After that message I texted him and said, “This morning, you told me to enjoy breasts so, right after the service, I went straight to Church’s chicken. I know that wasn’t the intent of the message but it was lunchtime and I couldn’t fight the power of suggestion.”

 That they might throw Him down over the cliff: Pushing someone off a small cliff was often the first step in the process of stoning. Once the victim fell down, they were pelted with rocks until dead. Luke sets the tone for the whole story of Jesus’ life: Jesus came, sinless and doing nothing but good for all – and they wanted to kill Him.

 Passing through the midst of them: They wanted a miracle, and Jesus did an unexpected one right in front of them, he simply walked through them while they were trying to kill Him. This wasn’t like me walking past the panhandlers in East End. This was mob, intent on muder.

Now, let’s shift over to Matthew 4:12 where, in fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus brings light to the region of Galilee.

Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death, Light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:12-16)

 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee: We’ve seen that Jesus’ early ministry was a baptizing ministry at the Jordan. This early Judean ministry included the earliest call of the disciples and the wedding at Cana, and the first cleansing of the temple followed by His interview with Nicodemus. Then He traveled north to Galilee through Samaria and met a Samaritan woman at a well. Sometime after that and after the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus went to Galilee to begin His itinerant ministry in that region. Galilee was the tetrarchy of Herod, who had imprisoned John.

 Galilee was predominately Gentile but with a large number of Jewish cities and citizens. Also, Galilee was known as an incredibly fertile region with many successful farms.

 Leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum: This was because the people rejected Jesus in His own hometown so Jesus made His home in Capernaum and not in Nazareth. Matthew may have been particularly interested in Capernaum because it was where he himself lived. Peter also had a house in Capernaum. Going to Jerusalem would seem to be the smarter career plan for Messiah, but Jesus dwelt in Capernaum.

 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet: Matthew sees Jesus’ ministry in Galilee as a fulfillment of prophecy. Light has come to this region, largely populated by Gentiles, and Isaiah 9:1-2 predicted this. “In despised Galilee, the place where people live in darkness (i.e., without the religious and cultic advantages of Jerusalem and Judea) . . . here the light has dawned.” (Carson)

We have the foundation of the message of Jesus in Matthew 4:17:

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

Jesus began to preach: He did heal and minister to many miraculously; but on the whole, Jesus was a preacher and teacher who healed, more than He was a healer who also preached. This is the priority of Jesus’ ministry as stated in Matthew 4:23.

Preach: “The word in Greek is kerussein, which is the word for a herald’s proclamation from a king. Kerux is the Greek word for herald, and the herald was the man who brought a message direct from the king.” (Barclay)

Herold, spelled with an “O”, is also the name of many angels as the Christmas song proclaims, “Hark, Harold the angel sings.” Likewise, God is often called “Howard” : “our Father who art in heaven, Howard be thy name.”

 Repent: The gospel Jesus preached began the same place that John’s did – with a call to repentance. But Jesus would go further than John ever did, because John announced the coming of the Messiah, and Jesus is the Messiah.

 For the kingdom of heaven is at hand: Some people make elaborate distinctions between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. They are the same place, especially in light of the Jewish custom of often not even naming God directly, but referring to Him by the place where He lives – heaven – a custom that Matthew, a Jew writing to Jews, often employs.

 Four men are called as disciples.

And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

Saw two brothers . . . casting a net into the sea: This was not the first time Jesus met these men and other gospels describe previous encounters (John 1:35-42 and Luke 5:3). But this is when Jesus called them to leave their professions and follow Him with a full-time commitment.

 “Its fishing industry was prosperous, and its fishermen not necessarily poor (Zebedee’s family employed workers, Mark 1:20).” (France)

 God usually calls people while they are busy doing something. Jesus called the apostles when they were casting a net into the sea or mending their nets.

 · Saul was looking for his father’s donkeys.

 · David was keeping his father’s sheep.

 · The shepherds were guarding their flocks.

 · Amos was farming in Tekoa.

 · Matthew was working at the tax collector’s table.

 · Moses was tending his father’s in-law’s flock.

 · Gideon was threshing wheat.

 Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men: In that day, it was customary for a rabbi to have disciples; there was nothing cult-like about Jesus asking these men to be with Him constantly and to learn from Him. In some aspects Jesus offered them a traditional education at the feet of a rabbi and it was normal for them to accept; in other aspects this was very different from a normal rabbinical education.

 They immediately left their nets . . . And immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him: The immediate response of these disciples is a great example to us. They followed without hesitation and the left something behind. Following Jesus means leaving some things behind. The Samaritan woman left her pitcher, Matthew left his tax table, and blind Bartimaeus left his cloak when they followed Jesus. We take off the old man, put on the new man, and leave something things behind.

 I like to fish and there are several analogies between fishing and salvation. You can say that the fish are like men: we catch them and He cleans them.

 Whether or not a person chooses to follow God depends upon their desires. Whether or not we catch a fish depends upon the desires of the fish. Some days a fish may like squid, or ballyhoo, and another day, they may like pescado volante. All these baits would fill their stomachs but they are looking for something specific. God knows what type of bait is needed by each fish. That explains why passing out salvation tracts on the street corner is so unproductive: it’s the wrong bait. A hotel guest brought the room Bible down to the front desk for the lost and found and said, “Gideon checked out and left this book.” People are not interested in just any bait. These things are not without value. They can sow a seed that others may reap. How many unbelievers have been put off by pushy, oppressive Christians trying to force feed them the wrong bait? In business, we call this burning leads. Not only do you miss the sale but, you turn the consumer against the product and make future sales much more difficult. We should expect to meet people who have chosen not to follow Christ. But, we should never encounter anyone who was put off by the presentation.

 We often use a dredge when we fish. This is a wire frame with several baits attached to leaders. These baits don’t have hooks. They mimic a small school of bait that attracts the big fish. A short distance behind the dredge, we pull the real bait so that it looks like a weaker, more needy bait that can’t quite keep up with the school. That is the bait our desired fish will take. It goes after the weak, easy fish. Who do our missions target? The weak stragglers? Or the leaders? Why does neighborhood outreach always seem to be targeting poor neighborhoods? Harlem vs. Hollywood. Why are we so preoccupied with the easiest bait? We go to the far reaches of the world over our own backyard and then wonder why our country’s values are slipping. Is there anything that makes a man in Ecuador more important than the man next door. I have an unchurched man right across the street from me. Have I every shown him the glory, and power, and the adventure of a relationship with God?

 Tom Cruze, Greta Van Susteren, Nicole Kidman, and John Travolta are all intelligent, rational people seeking a spiritual relationship. Why are they all Scientologists instead of Baptists? The Christian community, in their missionary efforts, has failed these people. We don’t use the right bait and our resources are in Rwanda instead of on Rodeo Drive.

 We are talking about fishing with a line but this verse is about men fishing with nets, throwing them from the bank. We are all fishermen and the Bible is our net. A net is indiscriminate, it catches whatever it falls on: the good and the bad. A net is very hard work and it takes perseverance. Success comes with knowledge. You have to know the fish, where they will be, the effect of weather, what they eat, and when they feed. Running a net takes constant maintenance. Fishing with a line means deceiving the fish. Fishing with a net means confronting the fish.

 Are churches fishing with a line, or with a net? Many churches have discovered they can convince people to come to their churches IF they deceive them by hiding the “church hook” in culturally relevant stage shows. They market Christianity. Instead of repentance and forgiveness, they market a less stressful life, financial freedom, and even situational ethics that makes everything acceptable. Christ does not offer or promise any of these things. Many times, it’s just the opposite.

Now we have seen the foundation of His message. Next week,we get a description of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.


Walk Closer 8

John 3:17-36

John 4: 1-48

Last week: big wedding, no wine, first miracle, temperance made sense at the time, temple corruption, Jesus chases out money changers, Nicodemus questions, we must be born again of water and the spirit, for God so loved the world.

John the Baptist’s final testimony about Jesus. John puts Jesus in the preeminent place.

After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. For John had not yet been thrown into prison. Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified; behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:22-30)

 All are coming to Him! John’s disciples seem alarmed, but it didn’t bother John one bit. John would not allow envy or the fickle crowds make him forget his mission: to announce that the Messiah had come, and then to step back.

 The friend of the bridegroom: John is the “best man” at the “wedding” between Jesus and Jesus’ followers. In the Jewish wedding customs of that day, the friend of the bridegroom arranged many of the details of the wedding and brought the bride to the groom.

 Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled: John the Baptist lost his congregation – and he was happy about it! John was happy because he lost his congregation to Jesus.

 He must increase, but I must decrease: This should be the motto of every Christian, especially leaders among God’s people. Jesus should become greater and more visible, and the servant should become less and less visible.

John’s testimony about Jesus.

“He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:31-36)

 He who comes from above: John wants everyone to know where Jesus came from. Jesus is different from everyone else because He came from heaven. Not only is Jesus different, but He who comes from heaven is above all – Jesus is greater than everyone else.

  No one receives his testimony – “No one” means few. Though his doctrine is pure, plain, sublime, yet “few,” comparatively, received it in faith. Though multitudes came to him, drawn by various motives, “few” became his “real” disciples

 He whom God has sent speaks the words of God: Jesus is a uniquely reliable revelation, because He has the Holy Spirit without measure, in contrast to the previous prophets.

 He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him: Because Jesus is the man from heaven, there is a heavy price to pay for rejecting Him. If you reject the Son, then you receive the wrath.

 The wrath of God: “The word does not mean a sudden gust of passion or a burst of temper. It is the settled displeasure of God against sin. It is the divine allergy to moral evil, the reaction of righteousness to unrighteousness.” (Tenney)

 The wrath of God abides: It abides in this world, because there is there is no “statute of limitations” on sin. It abides into the next world, because those who reject Jesus cannot offer a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God. The wrath of God abides until it is satisfied by receiving the perfect payment Jesus made on the cross.

 John 3 is a “must read” chapter of the Bible. There are four prominent “musts” in John 3.

                       The Sinner’s must: you must be born again (John 3:7).

                       The Savior’s must: so must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14).

                       The Sovereign’s must: He must increase (John 3:30).

                       The Servant’s must: I must decrease (John 3:30).

John 4 – A Samaritan Woman and a Nobleman Meet Jesus

The Samaritan woman as Jesus travels from Judea to Galilee, passing though Samaria.

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. (John 4:1-4)

 When the Lord knew . . . He left Judea: The time was not yet right for a confrontation in Jerusalem, so Jesus returned to Galilee.

 He needed to go through Samaria: Although the road through Samaria was the shortest route to Galilee, pious Jews avoided it. They avoided it because there was a deep distrust and dislike between Jews and Samaritans.

 When the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians, they took almost everyone captive, exiling them to the Babylonian Empire. All they left behind were the lowest classes of society, because they didn’t want “that type” in Babylonia. These that were left behind intermarried with other peoples who slowly came into the region, and the Samaritans emerged as an ethnic and religious group.

 Because the Samaritans had a historical connection to the people of Israel, their faith was a combination of law and ritual from the Law of Moses, and various superstitions. Most Jews in Jesus’ time despised the Samaritans, even more than Gentiles – because they were, religiously speaking, “half-breeds” who had a eclectic, mongrel faith.

So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. (John 4:5-9)

 Being wearied from His journey: John records Jesus’ weariness. He had our human physical limitations.

 Remember Lawrence of Arabia? The wells each owned by a bedouin tribe? That is really how it was. There may be a small oasis or it may just be a hole in the desert.

 It was about the sixth hour: This woman came for water at an unusual hour, and alone. Typically, women came for water earlier in the day and in groups. This woman could have had a sudden need, or she could have been a social outcast.

 Jesus said to her: By tradition, a rabbi would not speak with a woman in public, even his own wife. It was also very unusual for a Jewish person of that time to ask a favor or accept a drink from a Samaritan’s cup. Jesus’ request genuinely surprised the woman.

  How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me: Immediately, the woman was impressed by the friendliness of Jesus. This was probably the first time she had ever heard a kind greeting from a Jewish man.

Jesus interests the woman in living water.

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” (John 4:10-15)

 If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink”: Jesus draws the woman into conversation, making her curious about the things of God (the gift of God), about who Jesus is (who it is who says to you), and about what He can give her (He would have given you living water).

 Living water: In ancient times, they called spring water living water because it seemed “alive” as it bubbled up from the ground. At first glance, it might seem that Jesus tells this woman about a nearby active spring. But Jesus makes a play on words with the phrase “living water,” because He means the spiritual water that quenches our spiritual thirst and gives life.

 Are you greater than our father Jacob: It is hard to tell if the woman asks a sincere question, or if she is cynical. All depends on the tone of her voice; but she does come to belief at the end.

Jesus directs her from her sinful life to true worship.

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” (John 4:16-26)

 You have had five husbands: Jesus used supernatural knowledge in ministering to this woman.

 And the one whom you now have is not your husband: Why did Jesus bring up such an embarrassing issue? Because the issue of her sinful life must be confronted. This woman had to decide what she loved more: her sin or the Messiah?

Our fathers worshiped on this mountain: In bringing this issue up, it seems that the woman is evading the issue with her reply. She offered an argument here, Jesus didn’t take the bait. Jesus was more interested in winning a soul than in winning an argument. Good advice for us.

 You worship what you do not know: The Samaritans believed that Moses commissioned an altar on Mount Gerazim, the mountain of blessing – this was their justification of their system of worship on that mountain. But like all faitsh that try to combine elements of different religions, they worshiped what they do not know.

 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth: Jesus establishes the basis for true worship: it is not of places and possessions, but of spirit and in truth. To worship in spirit means you are concerned with the spiritual realities, not outward sacrifices, cleansings and trappings.

And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?” The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Then they went out of the city and came to Him. In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.” (John 4:27-38)

My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me: Jesus was right. There is nothing more satisfying than doing the work of God.

 Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! The disciples can now reap a harvest immediately, and they reap it from seeds they didn’t sow.

Jesus sowed the seeds, and they had the opportunity to reap. Many times, this is how the work of God happens – one sows, and another reaps (1 Corinthians 3:6-8).

 We tend to think our mission is to be reapers: to be there at someone’s moment of salvation. Much more often, and continuously, we are sowers; planting seeds everywhere we go.

 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39-42)

 He told me all that I ever did: The woman was amazed not only that Jesus knew the facts of her life, but that He loved her knowing those facts. We sometimes fear that if someone knew all that we ever did, they would not love us. Lyle Lovett was a college classmate of mine and has a song called “God will”. His girlfriend is cheating, lying, spending nights on the town. Then he asks, “who keeps on loving you?” “God does, but I don’t and that’s the difference between God and me.” Jesus knew all about the past of the woman at the well and He still loved her.

 We know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world: The people of this Samaritan village came to faith in Jesus as the Christ. John’s implied question to the reader is, “So what do you think of Jesus?”

This little verse is amazing. Many believed because of what He said. What did He say? We know the message. But, there was something about his presence and the way He spoke that convinced people to radically, immediately, change their entire life. What made these Samaritans believe Jesus as opposed to many others who also claimed divine insight and performed miracles? Many others could have done that psychic reading at the well.

Psychics and charlatans were common in Jesus’ day. If you knew a few tricks, you might could be a very well paid spiritual advisor to a Roman leader or, at least able to feed yourself performing psychic tricks on the street. Today, how many millions of dollars are raked in by psychic hotlines? Psychic reading is deception and Satan is the great deceiver so it might be useful, as well as interesting, to know how psychics do their deed.

 Step one: have a sign that says “psychic”. This greatly enhances your success by filtering your subjects. Hard core skeptics are going to walk on by while only people actually seeking a psychic experience are going to come in. Street ministries and community evangelism exists partially because our church sign filters out unbelievers. If our sign said “free money” instead of “church”, we’d have a very different congregation. Far fetched? How do you account for Joel Osteen’s numbers? He preaches what he calls “prosperity gospel” and he’s hanging a sign on Lakewood Church that says “come here and you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams”. He is teaching deception and we know where that comes from. And, he has his sign and it filters his subjects just like a psychic sign on Bourbon Street.

 Step two: Set the stage. Have a comfortable, intimate place with charts and books to establish your psychic authority. Satan is excellent at creating an environment for deception. He uses worldly things to create a mental picture of the wonderful results of his deception. For example, advertising tells us that we’ll be smart and beautiful if we eat at Arby’s. Satan thinks big when he sets the stage. Let’s take an entire nation and deceive them into hyper consumerism so that they are so busy buying and earning that they have less time for worship, study, and evangelism. Let’s take Christmas and make it the most stressful time of year instead of the most enjoyable. Let’s relegate Jesus to a small creche and make it so you pay a whole lot of money buying it so your friends will stroke your ego complimenting you about it. Do you notice that faith healers do not go to hospitals? Wrong stage for them. The stage is part of the deception.

 How does a psychic actually home in on predictions that actually apply to you?

 Shotgun statements: “A female relative of yours has had a brush with breast cancer; it could be an aunt, a mother, a sister, or a grandmother.” This applies to virtually everyone! These statements are made while watching the person for any visible reaction, taking wider and wider shots until they react. If the subject doesn’t react to a relative with breast cancer, the psychic says, “maybe a very close friend?”

 Rainbow statements: These statements carry the entire range of the behavior spectrum: “You try to be a hard worker, but if you admit it to yourself, you often delay work longer than you should, and sometimes you can even be very lazy.” By the end of the statement. anyone in the world can identify with it.

 Trivia statistics use the common ground that everyone shares, to come up with things that feel personal to the subject. “You have an item of clothing at home. It was expensive, but you’ve never worn it once. Why is that?” Another example is to tell people they’ve played a musical instrument when they were younger, or that if they tried to diet, and so on.

 Vanishing negatives are an ever-popular technique. “You don’t happen to work with computers, do you?” This phrasing can allow a psychic to nod their head and either say, “I thought not,” or “I thought so,” no matter what a person answers. Another example, “do you know an Emily? A mother, a sister, or a friend?” If you say yes, the psychic predicted it. If you say no, the psychic says, “You will. When you meet her, you’ll probably need to set aside the fact that you usually tend to be stand-offish to people you meet. At times, I think, you can be very outgoing, but most of the time you hold back more than you should, am I right?” Then you say, “Yes, that’s me.” And then the psychic goes on, “When you meet Emily, I think you should mention that box of old clothes that you haven’t gotten a chance to give to Goodwill yet. I’m sensing that you have one of those. Or maybe it’s old electronics equipment. You don’t happen to have a lot of that, do you?” And you say, “Yeah, I do.” Then the psychic says, “I thought so. You’ll meet an Emily before you donate that stuff, and you will want to mention it to her. She’ll probably know a place.” The psychic keeps shifting until there is common ground.

 P.T. Barnum, of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame, had a set of responses he taught his circus psychics. You pay your dime and you are told the exact same thing as everyone else. All generic enough to include everyone but you naturally made a personal connection that made you think the psychic was specifically talking about you.

 From the general stuff, the psychic gets into specific things such as jewelry from a deceased family member, old medicine, childhood toys, watch or clock that no longer works, out of date note on the fridge or by the phone, books about a hobby no longer pursued, keys that you don’t remember what they go to, a drawer that is stuck or doesn’t slide right, financial strains – very specific actual things in your life but common to just about everyone. It can even get physically specific like a childhood accident involving water, a scar on a knee, clothing never worn, or photos of loved ones in a purse. Still very specific to us but also shared by just about everyone.

 Last, but not least; cheat. The whole thing is a deception. How foolish to believer the deceiver is being honest. A faith-healer would get people to fill out prayer cards before coming to his events, had his wife feeding him the information by radio, and then simply act like he was able to divine their afflictions when they were in the crowd. Before that, healers would have ushers or plain-clothes associates outside events, engaging the people in line in conversation — and then rushing the information to the healer. Now, with online ticket purchases, it’s even easier. A healer can find out who is in each seat and what their history is the moment they buy their ticket. A registration questionnaire can provide a ton of information or, they can Facebook the registrants and learn most everything about them.

 Whatever the scam, the thing most people need to make it work is in the mind of the person being read. It’s not stupidity. It’s cooperation. The same thing that gets you through a conversation with regular people also helps to build up a plausible psychic vision. A person has to be willing to volunteer information about themselves, to make empathetic leaps in order to identify with certain broad facts, and to quietly brush past points of contention in order to build on common ground. Exactly the way Satan deceives: it starts with a willing mind.

 There would arise, Christ warned, “false Christ, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders. . .” (Matthew 24:24). Servants of Satan would be able to display “power, and signs and lying wonders” (II Thess. 2:9). Paul explained that we should not be astonished that such false teachers would appear, “for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14).

 There was something about the person of Jesus that false prophets like Simon the Sorcerer of Acts 8 and Bar Jesus of Acts 13 could not match.

 False prophets have been around since the Old Testament and are still here today. Don’t miss Benny Hinn’s latest video of Jesus, in person, on stage in Kenya. Let’s look at Benny. He first hangs a big sign “Trinity Broadcast Network”. Then he carefully sets a stage. Then, with that credibility, he begins his divine psychic revelations.

The 700 Club does the same thing. Sign, stage, psychic reading.

On the show, Gordon Robertson and Terry Meeuwsen regularly join hands in a prayer segment, which is then followed by a psychic reading, where they specify details of who is being healed in TV land. On one show’s transcript, Gordon and Terry prayed while holding hands, and then claimed that the following healings had taken place as a result of their prayers on TV …

           Someone with an “abscessed right tooth,” has just now been healed.

           Someone with “twisted intestines” has just been healed.

 Then Terry said there was a person with a “strange condition,” a burning in the legs, who has just been healed.

 Then Gordon said there’s a man with swelling of the sinuses in his right cheek, with much pain behind the right eye, but he is now healed.

            Someone with a painful right elbow joint no longer has any pain.

           Someone with a problematic right hip, limited mobility from a stroke, is now able to walk.

 A man with a plate in his skull is having continual problems, and the doctors just don’t know what to do. Terry said she saw the bone reforming around the plate and the man’s pain was gone, he was now healed.

 These are the crazy and absurd claims. How can they claim to see such healings? This is CLAIRVOYANCE (i.e., Apparent power to perceive things that are not present to the senses), and is exactly what the Satanic psychics do. How in the world would Gordon Robertson and Terry Meeuwsen know who is being healed? How can you see someone’s bone reforming inside their head? The Word of God never teaches any such thing.

A charlatan’s bottom line is always, “send more money.” Being a false prophet is a business. The holy trinity is a tax-free entrepreneurial spirit, a convenient confusion of “praying on” with “preying upon” and a devout belief that devout belief is a God-given market opportunity. They rise to fame, fall to shame, and bounce right back. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Jim gets out of prison after serving 5 years of a 45 year sentence for multiple counts of fraud and writes a new book to re-gather a flock. It is titled “I Was Wrong” and he tells us his prosperity gospel message was not in line with scripture. Two years later, he writes “Prosperity and the Apocalypse” which launches is line of Apocalypse survival kits. For a love gift of $3,000 he will send you the “time of trouble” kit: buckets of dehydrated food. And, he’s back on the air with daily shows and people are still deceived.

Healing of the nobleman’s son: the second sign. Jesus comes to Galilee and is greeted by a request.

Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast. So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” (John 4:43-48)

A prophet has no honor in his own country: Galilee was Jesus’ country – where He grew up. Because these people felt so familiar with Him, they did not honor Him the way they should have. In this we recognize that they were not really familiar with Jesus; if they were, they would have honored Him all the more.

 It’s like trying to teach your own son a skill. You can teach and teach but sometimes it doesn’t seem to click until a total stranger casually mentions the same thing and it’s suddenly an epiphany just because someone other than dad said it.

 Having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast: It was customary for the Jews in Galilee to go to Jerusalem for the feasts (fulfilling Exodus 23:14-17). This particular time they remembered all that Jesus had done in Jerusalem.

 What did Jesus do that they remembered? His turning of the merchant’s tables in the outer courts of the temple (John 2:13-27). Jesus predicted His own miraculous resurrection (John 2:18-22). Also, Jesus performed many other unspecified signs during this time in Jerusalem (John 2:23-25).

Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe: Jesus rebukes those who depend on signs and wonders before they will believe. It might seem that Jesus was harsh towards this man who wanted his son healed, but He encountered many in Galilee who were only interested in His miracles – He therefore questions this man accordingly.

Signs and wonders can lead a person to belief in God, and can validate a heavenly messenger – but they can also have no effect on a person, and Satan can also use lying signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9).

 Signs and wonders from God are obviously good things, but they should not form the foundation of our faith. We should not depend on them to “prove” God to us. We’ve already seen how Christ is proven more certainly than any other fact in the universe – without signs. In themselves, signs and wonders don’t change the heart; Israel saw incredible signs at Mount Sinai and even heard the very voice of God (Exodus 19:16-20:1), yet a short time later they worshipped a gold calf (Exodus 32:1-6).

 Human signs can be a lot of fun.

 Sign at airport toilet hand dryer – do not activate with wet hands.

 Peanuts – open bag, eat peanuts.

 Westbrook Texas is such a small town that the city limit signs are on opposite sides of the same pole.

 Unattended children will be given a double espresso and a free kitten.

 What about spiritual signs? When I was a baby believer, I wanted a sign. Something to convince me that I was on the right path and that this spiritual life was real. I just committed my life to an invisible being from outer space and I was having doubts. God was being entirely too quiet and I figured a sign was just what I needed. Didn’t need a plaque, or the sun standing still, ax heads floating, burning shubbery, or anything terribly dramatic. I was a big teenage boy who could eat a whole box of cereal for breakfast so I figured manna would be appropriate.

 I never got my sign. And I thank God I didn’t. If I had a sign, I would have relied on the sign. Instead, I had to build my faith. Faith is the premise of the whole experience! I wanted evidence – God wanted faith. I’m so glad I did not get a sign. Just as flesh is stronger than steel, faith is much stronger than tangible evidence. A miraculous sign would have taken the adventure out my spiritual journey. This new testament trip is about faith, not evidence. There is an astounding amount of evidence but the concept is about faith.

 Signs were an occurrence that happened before Christ’s church was established. Now, in the Church age, we don’t get those signs. We have something infinitely better! The indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the instruction book. You want a sign? The Bible is your sign.

 In the old testament, signs were God’s tool to communicate with believers. They conveyed power, covenant, authority, and his instructions. In the New Testament, signs were given to authenticate the gospel until the church was established. Signs, manifested through Jesus, the apostles and prophets, were foundational to the church. Once the foundation had been built, there was no need for signs. Just as there was no further need for the offices of apostle and prophet. In the church age, we don’t have signs.

 Next week, Jesus heals the nobleman’s son, is rejected at Nazareth, teaches from Isaiah, walks away from a murderous mob, and we enter the Galilean ministry of Jesus.


Kids can teach you a lot

If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they ignite.

A 3 year old’s voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant.

If you tie little, green, plastic army men to the ceiling fan, it is fun.  If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to spin a 40 pound kid in a Spiderman cape.  If you tie a paint can to a ceiling fan, the motor IS strong enough to put paint on all 4 walls.

If you toss a tennis ball into a ceiling fan, it can take several tries to get a hit.  A ceiling fan can hit a tennis ball a long way.  Window glass does not stop a tennis ball hit by a ceiling fan.

When you hear the toilet flush and hear the words, “Uh oh”‘, it’s already too late.

Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke.  Lot’s of it.

A magnifying glass can start a fire even on a cloudy day.

Play Doh + microwave = very bad idea.

Certain LEGOs will pass through the digestive tract of a 4 year old.

No matter how much Jello you put in the pool, you still can’t walk on water.

Garbage bags do not make good parachutes.  Neither do new sheets.

Marbles in gas tanks make a lot of noise when driving.

Always look in the oven before you turn it on.  Plastic toys don’t like ovens.

The spin cycle on a washing machine will not make a worm dizzy.  It will make a cat dizzy.  Cats throw up three times their body weight when dizzy.




Walk Closer 7

John 2:1-25

John 3:1-16

The world would be more awesome if _________________.

Last week: John speaks, give to him who has none, collect no more than what is due, do not intimidate, do not accuse falsely, be content with your wages, mightier one is coming with Holy Spirit and Fire, Jesus baptized, heaven opens, spirit descends, God speaks, ministry starts, Andrew joins, Peter joins, Philip joins, Can anything good come from Nazareth, Nathanael joins, Jesus fasts, tempted for selfish purposes, tempted for a spectacular act of God, tempted for power and glory, Jesus wins, satan leaves, angels come.

John 2 – Conversion and Cleansing

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:1-5)

 Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding: This is the first of many stories suggesting that Jesus was always welcome among those having a good time. Jesus didn’t spoil the good time.

 They ran out of wine: This was a major social faux pas. “To fail in providing adequately for the guests would involve social disgrace. In the closely knit communities of Jesus’ day such an error would never be forgotten, and would haunt the newly married couple all their lives.” (Tenney) Additionally, wine was a rabbinical symbol of joy. Therefore “to run out of wine would almost have been the equivalent of admitting that neither the guests nor the bride and groom were happy.” (Boice)

They have no wine: Why did Mary ask Jesus to do something? Mary was no doubt earnestly anticipating Jesus’ day of demonstration, for it would be a day of vindication for her. Yet she would not force the issue, leaving the matter with Jesus.

Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? Jesus refers to His mother with a term of respect, but He does not call her “mother.” Jesus emphasized that there was a different relationship with her now.

 Whatever He says to you, do it: The recorded words of Mary are few. However, it is good to pay attention to her words that are recorded, because they consistently glorify Jesus, not Mary herself. If only we would obey Mary’s direction, whatever He says to you, do it.

Mormons take this event an absurd step further declaring this is Jesus’ wedding. Of course, this against the obvious meaning and all of the gospel records of Jesus.

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days. (John 2:6-12)

 Six waterpots of stone: Jesus began this miracle by using what was at hand. He could have supplied more wine any number of ways, but He started with what was there.

According to the manner of purification of the Jews: The waterpots are connected with the system of Law, because they were used in ceremonial purification.

 Fill the waterpots with water: The servants under the direction of Jesus were in a unique place of blessing for this miracle. Jesus wanted the cooperation of men in this miracle. He could have filled the pots Himself, or just as easily created the liquid in the pots. But He knew that if the servants shared in the work, then they also shared in the blessing.

Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast: This took faith on behalf of the servants. Imagine how angry the master of the feast would be if they brought him water to taste! Yet in faith, they obeyed the word of Jesus.

Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. The reputation of modern Jews of being tight wads and cheap skates goes way back. Let’s get them lit with the good stuff to impress them and then switch to the cheap stuff when they won’t notice.

You have kept the good wine until now! Some go to great lengths to claim that what Jesus made here was really grape juice. Good wine is good wine, not good grape juice. It is true that wine in that day, as commonly served, had a lower alcohol content than modern wine. But it was still wine.

 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee: This beginning of signs in the Gospel of John is a miracle of conversion, from the old ways of law, ceremony and purification to the new life of Jesus.

How did Jesus actually do miracles? He did them in many different ways. Here, Jesus did not say a word or blink an eye. He merely exercised His will and the miracle was done.

Moses turned water into blood, showing that the Law results in death (Exodus 7:17-21). But Jesus’ first miracle turned water into wine, showing the gladness and joy of His new work. This acts out what John said in John 1:17: For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

We could say that the water is like a relationship with God under the Old Covenant, and the wine is like a relationship with God under the New Covenant.

The wine was after the water, the New Covenant is after the Old Covenant.

The wine was from the water, the New Covenant is from the Old Covenant

 The wine was and better than the water; the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant.

 Manifested His glory: According to John 2:1, this miracle happened on the third day. John is hinting at the idea that Jesus shows forth His glory on the third day, and that His disciples believe in Him when they see His glory.

 His disciples believed in Him: Of course they believed before, but now their belief was deepened and re-expressed. This is typical in our Christian lives. God does something great in our lives, and we believe in Him all over again. His action reinforces our faith.

 Many churches, not just Baptist, require deacons to sign an agreement affirming that they have not, and will not, drink. Jesus could not qualify as a deacon in many modern churches. Alcohol has potential dangers and the Bible warns about abusing alcohol and all people have seen the effects of drunkenness. Still, Jesus, and Christians, saw alcohol as an enjoyable part of life. God created us with the consumption of alcohol in mind. We now know that our bodies work better with alcohol. A drink a day can add a few years to your life and reduce your risk of heart attack and vascular disease. But, people in Jesus’ day didn’t drink for longevity: they drank to prevent dysentery. Drinking water was untreated. Sewage was untreated. The water would make you sick. So, they drank beer and wine which was purified by the fermentation process.

 Show me four Baptists and I’ll show you a fifth. How did we get from drinking more wine than water, to legal prohibition, to current social prohibition? The Bible praises alcohol. It is a gift from God, given to man for our enjoyment. God blessed men with a bountiful harvest of grapes. Those whose vineyards were bare, were being judged. Alcohol was as an offering to God in the Old Testament, and a symbol of salvation in the New Testament. Biblical writers recorded that wine brought joy, and was used in celebrations. This was true in America, until the social Temperance movement gained power in the 1780’s. Americans drank lightly alcoholic ciders “from the crack of dawn to the crack of dawn”. All was fine until they began drinking far more alcoholic cheap rums and whiskeys. We became a nation of drunks. In 1789, 200 Connecticut farmers formed a temperance association to ban whiskey making. The movement spread and the church joined the fight in 1825 and formed the American Temperance Society with well over a million members and 18 different journals by 1839. The Civil War killed the Society because much of the war effort, both north and south, was funded by distiller’s profits.

 The Society fired back up after the war. Like the ancient Jews, we had muddy, ill-tasting water so we drank fermented beverages for health purposes. In 1874, the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union began a nation wide campaign to erect public drinking fountains to provide fresh, cool, clean water to discourage males from entering bars for refreshment. They sold cast stone statues of Hebe which dispensed water. Hebe was the cupbearer on mount Olympus, daughter of Zeus, and later wife of Hercules. Some of these stone statues are still in existence today.

 In 1896, the Baptists passed a resolution to excommunicate anyone who drank or sold alcohol. The logic was that drunkenness caused all sorts of problems and was shameful so the only safe course was to avoid it altogether. Today, alcohol is related to half of all car accidents, 30% of all birth defects, and 67% of all homicides. It is a legitimate problem. In 1980, $300 million was spent on alcohol advertising. By 1991, Anheuser-Busch spent $144 million advertising during televised sports events alone. So, those who are persuaded by advertising think beer makes them attractive, active, exciting, and strong. Americans spend more on alcohol than household electricity.

 A fundamental tenant of the Baptist faith is the priesthood of believers. We have direct access to God and an individual relationship with God. We don’t have to go through a priest or the Virgin Mary for prayer or scripture interpretation. We have a hot line, through the Holy Spirit, directly to God. According to scripture, we have the choice to drink, or not drink. The Baptists created extrabiblical rules governing prohibition. In the Southern Baptist Convention, the frenzy over prohibition became so powerful that it swept aside the doctrine of priesthood and the doctrine of individual liberty. Churches no longer permitted men to interpret the Bible for themselves. While Baptist churches still claimed individual freedom, in practice, members either accepted church teachings, disobeyed in secret, or left their church. Requiring abstinence is a direct violation of scripture. Jesus was a drinker, a producer, and distributor.

 In 1955, John Gillespie, a Baptist author, wrote, “Included in the who’s who of the condemned are those who make, advertise, sell, buy, and use intoxicating or alcoholic beverages. They range from moderate or limited users to excessive and unscrupulous abusers. Their distinction lies in the fact that they are the enemies of God….” When we condemn what Jesus did, it ought to be a clue that our train has left track.

I once took a Catholic to a Baptist church which reminds me of a Priest who was stopped on his way home after mass. The Catholics believe in transmutation: the communion wine actually becomes blood when you drink it and the communion wafer actually becomes flesh when you eat it. You can’t just pour left over communion wine down the drain because it has been blessed and is holy. So, the priest must drink it. This priest was driving home and still had half a bottle in his front seat. A cop pulled him over for driving erratically and running a red light. He asked the priest if he had been drinking and the priest said no. He asked the priest what was in the bottle and the priest said “holy water, officer, just holy water.” The officer smelled the bottle and said, “this is wine.” The priest jumped out of the car and yelled, “Praise Jesus, He’s done it again!”

 In the early 60’s, on our very limited two TV channels, we had to watch the likes of Lawrence Welk with his bubble machines and, on Saturday afternoon, on the rare occasion that we were not outside playing, we watched wrestling. One of the stars was Killer Carl Krupp who spoke in a fake German accent. He swiped the little soap bars from hotels and threw them out to the crowd because he was on a mission to “clean up wrestling”. Wrestling had become corrupt.

The temple had also become corrupt.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” (John 2:13-17)

The Passover of the Jews was at hand: Jerusalem would be crowded with thousands of visitors coming at Passover. The temple mount would be particularly crowded, and Jesus saw many doing business in the outer courts of the temple.

 When He had made a whip of cords: When Jesus drove those doing business out of the temple courts, He did not do it in a flash of anger. He carefully took the time to make a whip of cords, and thought carefully about what He would do.

He drove them all out . . . poured out the changers’ money and overturned tables: Why did this offend Jesus so much? The outer courts of the temple were the only place where Gentiles could come and worship. This area (the court of the Gentiles) was made into a house of merchandise.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each describe another cleansing of the temple Jesus performed, towards the end of His earthly ministry. In both cases, the presence of these merchants in the temple courts spoiled the only place Gentiles could pray. In addition, their dishonesty made their presence all the worse.

 John began with a miracle of conversion (changing water into wine). Then he shows Jesus with a work of cleansing (the cleansing of the temple). This is always how Jesus works in His people: conversion, then cleansing.

 We were in Portugal and went to Fatima. Catholics believe, in 1916, the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children on three separate occasions at Fatima and taught them prayers, ordered them to do penance, and gave them three secrets: a vision of hell, instructions on how to save souls, and visions of the death of the Pope and other religious figures. It is an amazing place and an amazing story. In 1917, there was a solar miracle seen by over 70,000 people at Fatima, not counting the surrounding countryside. There is now a huge cathedral there and on May 13 and October 13, there may be more than 1 million pilgrims there. The first thing that strikes you is what Jesus would call “money changers”. Outside the cathedral is a whole village of vendors selling every imaginable candle and Virgin Mary effigy from tiny earring danglers to larger than life size statues. Imagine a super WalMart size area over flowing with Virgin Mary stuff.

So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. (John 2:18-22)

What sign do You show to us, since You do these things? This wasn’t necessarily a bad question. Anyone who drove out the merchants from the temple courts claimed the authority to do it. The Jews wanted to know if Jesus really had this authority. The problem is that they demanded a sign from Jesus to prove it.

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up: Jesus speaks here of the temple of His body. You can imagine Him gesturing to Himself as He said this. Jesus knew that these religious leaders would attempt to destroy His body, but He also knew that they would not succeed.

I will raise it up: Who raised Jesus from the dead? Jesus says that He will raise Himself, despite the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and some others. This was a claim no mere man could make, a claim repeated dramatically in John 10:18.

(John 2:23-25) Jesus does not entrust Himself to the adoring crowds.

Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.

 Many believed in His name when they saw the signs: Jesus knew that this was thin, superficial belief. It wasn’t based on anything other than an admiration of the spectacular. Knowing this, Jesus did not commit Himself to them. “If belief is nothing more than admiration for the spectacular, it will create in multitudes applause; but the Son of God cannot commit Himself to that kind of faith.” (Morgan)

 He knew what was in man: Jesus still loved the multitudes, though he would not commit Himself to them. We can love people without entrusting ourselves to them. Even though God knows exactly what is in us, He still loves us powerfully.

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3)

Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: Nicodemus was one of those impressed by Jesus’ signs (John 2:23), and a member of the ruling Sanhedrin. He was religious (of the Pharisees), educated (Nicodemus is a Greek name), and influential (a ruler). Nicodemus comes to Jesus as a representative of all men (John 2:23-25), and he represents what is high and best in men.

 This man came to Jesus by night: Why did Nicodemus come by night? Maybe he was afraid of criticism or maybe he just wanted an uninterrupted interview with Jesus.

No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him: Is this statement of Nicodemus true? Can someone not from God do miraculous signs? The answer is “Yes,” according to 2 Thessalonians 2:9 and Revelation 13:13-14. Also, Pharaoh’s sorcerers changed water to blood and made frogs.

Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God: Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus shatters the Jewish assumption that their racial identity – Abraham – assured them a place in God’s Kingdom. Jesus makes it plain that a man’s first birth does not assure him of the kingdom – only being born again gives this assurance.

 It was taught widely among the Jews at that time that since they descended from Abraham, they were automatically assured of heaven. In fact, some Rabbis taught that Abraham stood watch at the gate of hell, just to make sure that none of his descendants accidentally wandered in there.

 Most Jews of that time looked for the Messiah to bring in a new world, in which the Jews would be preeminent. But Jesus came to bring new life, in which He would be preeminent.

 Born again: The Greek word translated again (anothen) can be also translated “from above.” This is the sense in which John used this word in John 3:31 and in John 19:11 and 19:23. Either way, the meaning is essentially the same. To be born from above is to be born again.

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)

 How can a man be born when he is old? Being born again ia an entirely new concept at this time. Nicodemus’ reply may not be out of ignorance, but from thinking that Jesus means “turning over a new leaf.” His question may be “How can you teach an old dog new tricks?” One way or another, Nicodemus does not understand Jesus or the truth about the new birth.

 In His description of new birth, Jesus recalls a familiar theme from Old Testament promises of the New Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:1-6, Jeremiah 23:1-8, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Jeremiah 32:37-41, Ezekiel 11:16-20, Ezekiel 36:16-28, Ezekiel 37:11-14, 37:21-28). These passages make three promises in the New Covenant:

 The regathering of Israel.

 The cleansing and spiritual transformation of God’s people.

The reign of the Messiah over Israel and the whole world.

 In Jesus’ day, the common teaching among the Jewish people was that the first two aspects of the New Covenant had been fulfilled. They saw Israel regathered – at least in part – after the Babylonian exile. They saw strong spiritual movements like the Pharisees, which they believed fulfilled the promise of spiritual transformation. All they waited for was the reign of the Messiah.

 That’s why Jesus’ statement about the new birth was so strange to Nicodemus. He thought that the Jewish people already had it; they certainly weren’t looking for it. They only looked for a triumphant Messiah.

 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

Most assuredly . . . you must be born again: Jesus is emphatic in saying that man does not need reformation, but a radical conversion by the Spirit of God. We must be born of water and the Spirit.

What does it mean to be born of water? We have to assume that it is baptism because there is no specific Old Testament foundation for this.

It may mean to receive the water of cleansing prophesied in Ezekiel 36:25-28 as part of the New Covenant. This is the approach has the most weight because of its firm connections to Old Testament prophecy – which Jesus says Nicodemus should have know to understand these things.

 That which is born of the flesh is flesh: Without the new birth of the Spirit, all works of righteousness are tainted by the flesh. Yet, everything that a Spirit-led man does can be pleasing to God.

Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again”: Again, Nicodemus did marvel at this statement, because he – like most all Jews of his time – believed they already had the inner transformation promised in the New Covenant. Jesus wants him to take hold of the fact that he does not have it, and must be born again.

 We should not forget whom Jesus said this to. Nicodemus was a religious leader and a Pharisee. By all outward appearance, he was already transformed unto God. If Nicodemus must be born again, what about you and I?

The wind blows where it wishes: Jesus’ idea to Nicodemus is “You don’t understand everything about the wind, but you see its effects. That is just how it is with the birth of the Spirit.” Jesus wanted Nicodemus to know that he didn’t have to understand everything about the new birth before he experienced it.

Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” (John 3:9-13)

How can these things be? Nicodemus is confused. He is so set in his thinking that the new birth has already happened to him and all of faithful Israel, that he has a hard time thinking out of that “box.” Jesus needs to keep explaining.

Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Jesus chides Nicodemus for not being aware of the need and the promise of the new birth, because these are plainly laid out in the Old Testament. Nicodemus knew these passages well, but believed that they had been fulfilled in regard to the new birth. But he should have known better!

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? A simple look at earthly things – like the illustrations Jesus used, and even a look at his own life – should have made Jesus’ point plain to Nicodemus. If he can’t see that he needs this spiritual transformation, what more can Jesus tell him?

No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven: Jesus “makes it clear that He can speak authoritatively about things in heaven, though no one else can.” (Morris)

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness: How can the serpent of Numbers 21:4-9 be a picture of the holy Jesus? In Numbers, The Jews became discouraged and spoke against God complaining about the food and water. God sends snakes which bite the people and many die. The people go to Moses and confess their sin and ask him to pray that the Lord take the snakes away. God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so that anyone who is bitten can merely look at it and not die.

Serpents are often used as pictures of evil in the Bible (Genesis 3:1-5 and Revelation 12:9). However, Moses’ serpent in Numbers 21 was made of bronze, and bronze is a metal associated with judgment in the Bible, because bronze must be made by passing through the “fires” of judgment.

 So, a bronze serpent does speak of sin, but of sin judged. In the same way Jesus, who knew no sin became sin for us on the cross, and our sin was judged in Him. A bronze serpent is a picture of sin judged and dealt with.

 If the serpent lay horizontally on the vertical pole, it is easy to see how this also was a visual representation of the cross. However, many traditions show the serpent being wrapped around the pole, and this is the source for the ancient figure of healing and medicine – a serpent, wrapped around a pole.

 In the Numbers 21:4-9 account, the people were saved not by doing anything, but by simply looking to the bronze serpent. They had to trust that something as seemingly foolish as looking at such a thing would be sufficient to save them, and surely, some perished because they thought it too foolish to do such a thing.

 As it says in Isaiah 45:22: Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. We might be willing to do a hundred things to earn our salvation, but God commands us to only trust in Him – to look to Him.

 Remember that even though Jesus bore our sins, He never became a sinner. Even His becoming sin for us was a holy, righteous, act of love. Jesus remained the Holy One throughout the entire ordeal of the cross.

 Lifted up is a term later used to describe both Jesus’ crucifixion (John 12:32) and His ascension (Acts 2:33). Both meanings are in view, His suffering and exaltation. Jesus was lifted up in both ways.

 Should not perish but have eternal life: The idea behind eternal life means much more than a long or never ending life. Eternal life does not mean that we live the life of fallen humanity but we just live it forever. Instead, eternal life also has the idea of a certain quality of life, of God’s kind of life. It is the kind of life enjoyed in eternity.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:16-21)

For God so loved the world: John 3:16 has long been celebrated as a powerful, succinct, declaration of the gospel. Of the 31,373 verses in the Bible, it may be the most popular single verse used in evangelism.

We learn the object of God’s love: For God so loved the world. God did not wait for the world to turn to Him before He loved the world. He loved and gave His only begotten Son to the world when it was still the world!

 We learn the expression and the gift of God’s love: He gave His only begotten Son. God’s love didn’t just feel for the plight of a fallen world. God did something about it, and He gave the most precious thing to give: His only begotten Son.

We learn the recipient of God’s love: Whoever believes in Him. God loves the world, but the world does not receive or benefit from that love until it believes in Jesus, the gift that the Father gave. Believes in means much more than intellectual awareness or agreement. It means to trust in, to rely on, and to cling to.

            We learn the intention of God’s love: Should not perish. God’s love actually saves man from eternal destruction. God looks at fallen humanity, does not want it to perish, and so in His love He extends the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

 We learn the duration of God’s love: Everlasting life. The love we receive among people may fade or turn, but God’s love will never change. He will never stop loving His people, even unto the furthest distance of eternity.

 The Seven Wonders of John 3:16.

                        God                                                               The Almighty Authority

                       So loved the world                                         The Mightiest Motive

                       That He gave His only begotten Son             The Greatest Gift

                       That whoever                                                 The Widest Welcome

                       Believes in Him                                              The Easiest Escape

                        Should not perish                                          The Divine Deliverance

                       But have everlasting life                                The Priceless Possession

What Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:7 (You must be born again) refuted the popular Jewish idea of the way to salvation. Now Jesus refutes the popular Jewish idea of the scope of salvation: for God so loved the world.

The Jews of that day rarely thought that God loved the world. They thought that God only loved them. The universal offer of salvation and life in Jesus was absolutely revolutionary.

This is the condemnation: Jesus came to bring salvation, but those who reject that salvation condemn themselves. We never need to leave the reason for anyone’s condemnation at God’s door. The responsibility is ours alone.

Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil: What keeps people from belief in Jesus and salvation? It is sin, or is it unbelief? Really it is both, because people will not believe because they love their sin.

This cuts right through many of the “intellectual” excuses or dishonest doubts some proclaim. Many opponents of Christianity have a vested interested in fighting against the truth of Jesus, because they love their sin and don’t want to face it, or face a God who will judge their sin.

When we think of the love of sin that sends people to hell, we often other think of notorious sin. But the simple demand to be lord of my own life is enough of a sin to deserve condemnation before God.

 Everyone practicing evil hates the light: How do people hate the light of God’s truth? Some express their hatred by actively fighting against it, and others express their hatred by ignoring God’s truth – by saying to Jesus “You are not worth my time.”

Next week, John’s final testimony, a Samaritan woman, and a nobleman.