Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lust, Adultery and Divorce

Jesus continues his commentary on the law defeating self-righteousness, pointing to law-keepers who do not reflect the holiness of God, and calling us all to repentance.


When we first started the Sermon on the Mount, this was the passage where my mind immediately went. We will talk about marriage, adultery, and divorce; these are very personal topics that touch a raw nerve with many people. Quite honestly some modern-day Pharisees have used these and other passages against people with a less-than-ideal marriage experiences; and if that is their take-away from this sermon, they have flatly missed the point. Nevertheless it is as awkward for me to tell as it will be for you to hear, and even this week I was having my garden-of-gethsemane moment with God, asking him if there was any way for me to avoid this topic. But we are committed to teach the full council of God's Word, so hang on tight and we'll get through this together.


Matthew 5:27-30

27 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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. 30 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.

The SAT College entrance exam is infamous for its similes, and you could almost teach this passage in Matthew 5 simply by drawing a simile between the two. Anger is to murder as Lust is to Adultery. As we continue Jesus' commentary on the Law He is showing examples where self-righteous people claim to keep the Law, while harboring thoughts and attitudes that do not reflect the holiness of God.

Just as we were shown that harboring anger sows the kind hatred and bitterness that leads to violence, so we will see how lustful looking leads to adultery. This week we will touch on the marriage relationship, what it means to God, what it should mean us, and the dangers that threaten our homes.

While everyone is familiar with the law against adultery, how many really take seriously the warning in verse 28 that adultery begins in a lustful heart? We have a tragic illustration of this principle in 2 Samuel 11.

2 Samuel 11

Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king's house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.

Due to boredom or a sense of entitlement one of the great warrior kings in history goes for a stroll and becomes a voyeur, from the palace rooftop he sees Bathsheba bathing. She is beautiful so he allows himself to lust for her. And even after he discovers that she is his servant's wife, the lust is already settled in his mind, so he uses the power of his position to have sex with her. This sets in motion the judgment of God and a chain of violence that would not leave David's house for a generation. There is no sense in which David could have thought his lust was harmless, after all the law against coveting your neighbor's wife is one of the 10 commandments.

Now a Pharisee legalist might think it is OK to lust after single women but turn it off when you find out they are married, but the mind simply doesn't work that way. So the general rule against covetousness, reminds us to worship only God, and the obsession of coveting really challenges our affections, and what we truly worship.

Just this month David Loveless the lead pastor of Discovery Church, a 4 campus mega-church in Orlando Florida, resigned after admitting to a past affair (adultery). The article I read in the Christian Post also mentioned that two other Orlando area pastors of large churches had resigned in the last 6 months because of extra-marital affairs. It is clear to me that Satan can easily use lust and adultery to attack the Christian churches, and leave them leaderless, discouraged and confused. We need to guard our hearts and minds, and that begins with guarding our eyes. Do not think that lustful looking is a harmless fantasy, because the evidence tells a different story.

The most common form of lustful looking is Pornography. Internet statistics reveal that more people visit pornographic web sites than visit and Ebay combined. Estimates rank the porn industry as an 8 billion dollar business, with the same revenue as the bottled water industry. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary has written several articles on the dangers of pornography and one of them quoted researchers with the following:

"A man's brain is a sexual mosaic influenced by hormone levels in the womb and in puberty and molded by his psychological experience." Over time, exposure to pornography takes a man or boy deeper along "a one-way neurological superhighway where a man's mental life is over-sexualized and narrowed. This superhighway has countless on-ramps but very few off-ramps.

Ricky Chelette director of a sexual-sin recovery ministry in Arlington, says that when men come to him and say they don't have the same passion for their wives that they once did, the first thing he asks them is "have they been viewing pornography"? He said more often than not, pornography is the origin of sexual dissatisfaction in married men, comparing their wives to imaginary women with no other purpose than sexual pleasure. This sin is harmful to your marriage, and Jesus identifies as a sin (lust) leading to a worse sin (adultery).

Matthew 5:31-32

31 "Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 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.

In the Movie "Juno" about a teenage girl who gets pregnant, she has a conversation with her Father and says "I need to know if two people can really be happy together forever?" If your daughter asked you this, would you answer hopefully? Or would your answer include a warning of the temptations, and sins that tear marriages apart?

Statistics show that in the U.S. 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second, and 73% of third marriages end divorce. Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains from his analysis of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, that 60 % of these have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 % have been divorced.

Jesus presents a challenging view of marriage that the world still rejects. His most comprehensive teaching on marriage is in Matthew 19 where the Pharisees ask "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" Jesus, replies in the strongest possible terms explaining God's ideal of marriage as heterosexual (man and wife), monogamous (no longer two but one flesh), and permanent (what God has joined, let not man separate).

If you have a reference Bible Matthew 5:31 will point you to one part of the Law in Deuteronomy 24. Now in fairness I cannot give you a comprehensive study of OT marriage laws in one week. From Genesis to Deuteronomy there are many verses and about 5 complete chapters dedicated to marriage; but we will concentrate on the ones Jesus mentioned.

Deuteronomy 24:1 "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house"

I see this passage as a newlywed law, to protect a man from a wedding night surprise. The word translated uncleanness means nakedness, but with the connotation of something unprotected or unguarded. The idea is clear that a man should not be deceived by a woman with a longer sexual history than he imagined.

We see this demonstrated in the marriage of Mary and Joseph when she was found with child before they had been intimate. Before the Angel spoke to Joseph his intent was to "put away" Mary as the law allowed. She would not be accused of adultery because she and Joseph had not yet been united as "one flesh", but she could have been guilty of sexual uncleanness; except her conception was not by any man. Joseph was called a "just man" for his understanding of the law, and his willingness to show grace by handling the divorce in private.

Among the Jews, there were two schools of interpretation regarding the Mosaic teaching on divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1): the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel. The school of Shammai followed a strict reading of this passage, as I have explained it. Hillel's school, on the other hand, was liberal in the extreme. They taught that a man could divorce his wife for almost anything he found displeasing in her; a woman had no rights at all.

A woman could not divorce a man, so it's easy for this law to become oppressive to women unless it is limited in its usage. And this unlimited divorce taught by Hillel, is what Jesus opposes in Matthew 5 & 19. A woman's highest standing would be to marry an honorable man a raise good children in a loving home. Unlimited divorce means that could be taken from her at any time for any reason; that is not God's ideal of marriage.

The "sexual immorality" in Matthew 5:32 is the Greek word "pornea", or sexual uncleanness, which is perfectly consistent with Deuteronomy 24:1 being read as a newlywed law. Can a man really be a law-keeper if he takes a wife in his youth, only to replace her with a trophy-wife when they are older? A Hillel Pharisee would say yes, but this is a reading of the law that does not reflect the holiness of God. Jesus is calling us to a higher standard. Remember in creation woman, was made of flesh taken out of man. In Biblical marriage husband and wife are reunited as one flesh. This concept permeates the OT and our civil laws today. Any vow or promise made by the wife was binding against her husband. Even today if one spouse borrows money, or cheats on their taxes the money owed is equally binding against husband and wife.

Jesus fulfills the law of marriage as the bridegroom who gave himself for his bride, the church. And he has promised that those who come to him in faith will never be "put away", or cast out. If the ideas of lustful-looking or Biblical marriage are challenging to you; that is their purpose, Jesus is calling us to repent. If your marriage experience is less-than-ideal, the take-away for all of us is that I need Jesus in my marriage. Our standard of righteousness is the holiness of God, and He has chosen marriage to teach us about his own grace, in choosing and loving us "for better or worse". What a beautiful example to follow, and a challenging standard to keep. God, give us the grace to practice marriage the way Jesus taught.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Christians and the Call

19 May 2013


Being a part of Hallmark Baptist Church means that, at some point, we are a part of sending out those who have answered a call from God to go to the uttermost to take people the gospel. This month in particular we have the opportunity to send off three families that have answered this call. We know of many more families that we have sent out and continue to support as well. It is an important part of church life to send out people to others for the furtherance of God's kingdom. From the beginning God has called out people for specific tasks to accomplish specific goals. As we take time today to honor these that are going out let us also take time to discern our own calling in the Christian Life.

It may seem odd to compare the calling of the missionary to the calling of the average member of the local church, but nevertheless we need to do so. It is true that the decision to go across the globe is different than the decision to move down the street, but both are called to "go." It is true that it is financial difficult, at times, to be dependent on the offerings of other people rather than a regular type of pay check, but nevertheless it still is true that Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (Jas 1:17). It may be true that we are not educated like missionaries or pastors, yet we all use the same Bible given to us from God.

The truth of the Christian Life is that we all have a calling. We all have a purpose in the kingdom of God. We all must find our place in the great commission (Matt 28 or Acts 1:8) and we all must discern the giftings we have been given to aid us in this calling (see 1 Cor 12ff). For all have been called, and the Bible tells us to consider that call: For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor 1:26ff)

This morning we are going to take a few moments to look at calling in the Bible and see how God is still calling us even today.

Our Calling is God Ordained

In the first chapter of the book of Jeremiah we have one of the most famous passages about calling in the Bible. It is the calling of Jeremiah the prophet:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

and before you were born I consecrated you;

I appointed you a prophet to the nations." (Jer 1:5)

There are few things we need to notice about this passage. The first thing to notice is that a calling from God is just that: a calling from God. For us to consider our calling we must remember that God is the one who called us in the first place. We cannot respond to God unless he first called to us. A great example of that is the life of Samuel, whose mother we studied last week. As a child Samuel grew up in the Temple and one night he thought he heard Eli calling to him, but in fact it was the Lord. God initiated the work that he was going to have Samuel do in his life.

God ordains the calling that we have in our life and will see us through that calling. The passage in 1 Samuel concludes with this verse: "And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground." (1 Sam 3:19) God indeed called out this boy, but as the boy kept to that calling God never left him. That means that God sustains the calling He gives. We also see this in Jeremiah's life. A few verses down we have the Lord responding to a Jeremiah in protest:

Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth." But the Lord said to me,

"Do not say, 'I am only a youth';

for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,

and whatever I command you, you shall speak.

Do not be afraid of them,

for I am with you to deliver you,

declares the Lord."


    Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,

    "Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.

    See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,

    to pluck up and to break down,

    to destroy and to overthrow,

    to build and to plant." (Jer 1:6-10)

Jeremiah was afraid to go through with the calling of God, but God answered Him, as He answered all of us, that He, God, was the one to empower, the one to fear, the one that would provide him the capacity to complete the call. It is the same for us, even though we are not prophets like Jeremiah, we have been placed in certain places to accomplish a calling from God that only we can accomplish. Therefore, we must trust in the one who calls us that He knows better than we do of what we are capable.

Our Calling Requires our Response

However divine the call is in our lives God still allows us to be obedient to Him or to be disobedient. Whether this call is for a lifetime or the everyday callings we have moment by moment, we all can choose to obey or disobey them. What we must do is try to respond as the prophet Isaiah did in Isaiah 6:8 "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then I said, 'Here I am! Send me.'"

The response of Isaiah should be the response of all of us. When God calls us to a specific purpose (which He does more than we are willing to acknowledge) are answer should be a resounding: "Yes Lord" or "Send Me." In the presence of God, and understanding his sinful and forgiven nature at that place, Isaiah heard the call of God and knew there was not other choice, he must tell God he is the man for the job. He did not wait for the outline of the call, which might discourage him considering his life. He did not phone a friend to see what they thought. He did not research all the other callings to find the best fit for him. He heard the call and he responded.

Our own reality is that we live in a society that preaches self above all else. We say, "Watch out for no.1," but in reality we totally forget that the number one in our life is not ourselves, but God. Christ cannot merely be our savior without also being our Lord and when the Lord calls we have to answer. It is the only responsible thing to do. We must have the tenacity of Isaiah and Jeremiah we see here as well as the resolve of Peter and John, who in Acts 4:19-20 say, "But Peter and John answered them, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.'"

These men all responded to the call of God in their lives. We must listen to the divine call in our lives and follow the example of these men and follow it at all costs.

Our Calling is Affirmed by the Church

A necessary question may be arising in your mind at this point. We may concede that all calls come from God and that it is our responsibility to follow that call. This is all well and good as long as you have discerned that God has indeed called. So how do we determine the calling of God? This is an important question for many have attempted the work of God apart from His calling and have found dire results.

Though prayer is the main way to know of the calling God has on our lives, it is also the church that aids in discerning our calling. God has chosen to work through His church throughout history. It is the church that gathers in Acts 15 in Jerusalem to hold a council about circumcision. Here the church, the elders, and the apostles work together to discern God's will in this matter. God also utilizes the church in discerning and accomplishing his call upon people's lives.

Acts 13:1-3 exhibits this:

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

We see this affirmation of the church of the call on Barnabas and Saul for some of the greatest missionary endeavors of all time. God could have pulled Paul and Barnabas aside and told them to go, he had done it with Paul before (see Acts 9). However, he chose to work through the local church to affirm their call and to send them out.

God has not changed how he affirms this calling. When we come to answer the call of God alongside the church, we find that God has been working in other's lives to help us know our calling. If we have questions about our calling we can take it to the church to find help and answers. It may very well be that God has been speaking to someone in the body about another who needs to do a particular work. He often works in this way. Let the church be the body that affirms, guides, and aids in completing one's calling

Our Calling Must Be Fulfilled

In conclusion, we must see that God does call us to action in this life, but He allows us the ability to obey or disobey that calling. What we must resolve is to make sure we're completing the call God has for us. 2 Peter 1:10 says, "Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble" Though this passage is saying quite a bit about salvation it also helps us understand that we must ever be seeking to confirm the calling God has in our lives.

"Calling and election" may sound redundant but it's actually a very detailed thought. Election, as we know, means to be chosen, and to be called or named among the elect is exactly what it means to be redeemed. Revelation 20:15 tells us that those who are not "named" in the Book of Life, are cast into the lake of fire, the second death.

But what confirms our election? Go back a few verses in 2 Peter 1, beginning in verse 5.

2 Peter 1

5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

Some people read about making your election sure, or "working out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12), begin to believe you must earn your salvation. But our study in Romans and other passages clearly refute this idea. As Ephesians 2:8-9 tell us salvation is by grace through faith, rather than works; so verse 10 reminds that we are created in Christ Jesus "for good works".

Likewise here in 2 Peter 1, verse 5 refers to a reason for our works, and that is given in verse 4 it is because we have received the "divine nature", the Holy Spirit which is ours through Christ. For this cause we do not work "for" our salvation, but we work "out" our salvation; allowing our lives to confirm the work of grace that faith has performed in our hearts.

So verse 5 begins the "works" that "confirm" our calling and election. To your faith add "virtue", usually meaning moral works but from a root word meaning "good children". He's saying our faith should produce children, good children, and he names our children for us Knowledge, Discipline, Perseverance, Godliness (which means holiness or purity), Kindness, and Love; these are the children of our faith. These are the works that confirm God's calling, in the life of the redeemed.

Verse 8 says that if our faith has these children, we won't be barren or unfruitful, keeping with the reproductive theme. But that a person that lacks these things is shortsighted, even blind, forgetting that he has been redeemed. So these works confirm our salvation, in our own hearts and minds. They remind us of the grace of God, and how we came to faith. Without the children of faith, we stumble in doubt and fear, shrinking from every challenge of Satan with the question, "Am I really saved"? Without confirming works, we forget what God has done for us.

The call of God is a precious thing; it should always be confirmed and followed in our lives. It should never be forsaken, forgotten, and neglected. For those who confirm the call of God with our lives, we have the promise of verse 10, "you will never stumble". 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Make your calling and election sure. Let your life and works confirm the work that God has done in your heart.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Holy Hannah: A Model for Motherhood

1 Samuel 1:1-2:11


In a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Calvin is standing by his Mom's bed when he says, "Hey, Mom! Wake up. I made you a Mother's Day card." His mother was pleasantly surprised and started to read it out loud.


"I was going to buy a card with hearts of pink and red.

But then I thought I'd rather spend the money instead.

It's awfully hard to buy things when one's allowance is so small.

So I guess you're plenty lucky I got you anything at all.

'Happy Mother's Day!' there, I've said it. Now I'm done.

So how about getting out of bed and fixing breakfast for your son."


It's not easy to be a mom! A mother was talking to an old college friend and said, "I remember before I was married that I had three theories about raising children. Now I have three children and no theories."


In our English translations of the Bible, the Book of Ruth comes after Judges, but in the Hebrew Bible, 1 Samuel follows immediately after Judges. The situation is bleak. The nation of Israel is torn apart by a lack of leadership and lawlessness. According to Judges 21:25, "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit." The nation of Israel was often oppressed by the surrounding nations. God would appoint a judge to lead His people, but their freedom generally lasted only as long as the judge was alive. On top of that, many of the judges, like Samson, had some fatal flaws. Their spiritual decay was linked to the absence of a king. When we come to 1 Samuel, we're introduced to Hannah, who is the mother of the prophet who will designate Israel's chosen king.


As we look at the first two chapters of 1 Samuel, we'll see 5 defining traits that make Hannah a model for motherhood. The first one may surprise you.


1. Hannah's Problems (1:1-8). It's easy to think that the heroes in the Bible were somehow different than we are. We might think that it's tough to relate to them because their lives were so perfect and their culture was so different than ours. Actually, the Bible is filled with real people who have real problems; who then face those problems with real faith.


In 1 Samuel 1, we're introduced to a man named Elkanah. Verse 2 tells us that "He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Penninah. Penninah had children, but Hannah had none." The wife's chief role in those days was to provide children. A barren womb was considered a curse and Hannah would have been looked down upon. She was spiritually disturbed, socially disgraced, and emotionally depressed. She joins a long line of other women of faith who battled barrenness: Sarah (Abraham's wife), Rebekah (Isaac's wife), Rachel (Jacob's wife), Ruth (Boaz's wife), and Elizabeth (John the Baptist's mother). In fact, the Bible describes most of the childless women as righteous women, matriarchs of the faith. This shows us that the cultures' perception of our condition does not always match God's.


Verse 3 tells us that Elkanah and his two wives made a yearly visit to Shiloh, about a twenty-mile journey, to worship the Lord. This shows us something about his devout spirituality. When the whole culture was headed south spiritually, Elkanah swam against the tide of apathy, and took his family to worship. The last part of verse 3 indicates that Hophni and Phineas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. These two boys were hypocrites at best and evil at worst.


Verses 4-5 show us something about his devoted heart. He gave portions of the sacrificial meat to Penninah and her children, "But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her…" This sacrifice was a thank offering, which allowed the worshipers to eat the part that was not offered to God. This "double" portion literally means, "to show the face." He showed his face to her, indicating that she was worthy and that he cared deeply for her. In that culture, honored guests were given a "super-sized" meal. It had to be difficult for Hannah to eat the food that was associated with the "thank offering," when she probably wasn't all that thankful. Having a husband who expressed his love probably helped a lot.


Even though these two wives did not get along, the most difficult thing that Hannah faced is the phrase that is repeated twice, once at the end of verse 5 and again at the beginning of verse 6: "And the Lord had closed her womb." The problem that she was having was allowed by the Lord. This is one of the hardest lessons we will ever learn, our problems are allowed by the Lord Himself. It is God who is behind the circumstances of life. We don't really want to believe this. We'd rather blame it all on Satan, or on someone else. But it is God who allows good things and bad things to come into our lives. God is in charge and as such we should echo Job's faith in Job 2:10: "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"
Ecclesiastes 7:14 puts it well: "When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other."


2. Hannah's Prayers (1:9-18). Hannah had some problems but she didn't shut down or lash out at those around her. She expressed her faith in prayer. God uses our problems to get our attention and to teach us according to Psalm 119: 71: "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees." Our problems should drive us to prayer. Look at verses 10-11: "In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, 'O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.'"


As part of her prayer, she is making a vow that if she's given a son, he will be dedicated to the Lord for his entire life. Her son would become a Levitical priest, serving in the temple and a Nazirite. A Nazirite was bound by a vow to be set apart to the Lord's service and had to abstain from the fruit of the vine, was forbidden to cut his hair, and was not allowed to get near any dead body. Samson was another Old Testament character who had taken the Nazirite vow.


It's significant that verse 12 says, "she kept on praying to the Lord." This wasn't just a quick popcorn prayer. This was a repeated request, bathed in tears. Notice also that she prayed this prayer in her heart, not audibly like most Hebrews prayed. She prayed secretly, not wanting to draw any attention to herself. We don't have to always pray out loud, but simply pray from our heart because our thoughts are as words to God. Her quiet prayer had an unfortunate consequence when Eli, the priest, accused her of being drunk. That says a lot about the culture at that time ­ there were probably drunken people around the temple and Eli thought she was one of them.


When she had the opportunity to explain herself, Eli answered in verse 17: "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him." This benediction was a huge blessing to Hannah. He didn't know what she was praying about, but as high priest, gave his "amen" to her request. Her whole countenance changed in verse 18 when we read that "…she went away and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast." This is really cool. After spending time in prayer, her face was no longer sad. She had left her concerns with the Lord and now she's experiencing the "peace that passes all understanding."


Hannah had real problems and expressed vibrant prayers. That leads to a third defining trait…


3. Hannah's (God's) Provision (1:19-20). Verse 19 tells us that once again they got up early the next morning and worshipped before the Lord. This was their practice, not something they did just once in awhile. Then they went back home. A short time later, Hannah conceived and give birth to a son, naming him Samuel. His name sounds like the Hebrew for "heard of God." Every time she said his name she was reminded of his origin and destiny.


4. Hannah's Promise (1:21-28). After Samuel was born, Elkanah went once again to Shiloh in order to worship. Hannah decided to not go until Samuel was weaned, which would have been at around three-years-old. She dedicated herself to her child, nursing and nurturing him, knowing that when he is able to eat on his own, she "…will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always." Many people make promises to God, only to forget them in time. Not so with Hannah. She fully intended to keep her promise because she knew that Samuel did not really belong to her anyway.

Hannah not only dedicated herself to her child, she dedicated her child to the Lord. She then brings Samuel to the house of the Lord and says in verse 28: "So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD…" She repeated this twice as if to cement her commitment, knowing that she will never revoke it. While she gave Samuel to her Savior, she never bailed on her responsibility. Look at 2:19: "Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice."


Verse 28 ends with a glimpse into young Samuel's heart: "And he worshiped the LORD there." Even at three-years-old, he was able to worship. How do you think he learned how to do this? Hannah no doubt took the exhortation of Deuteronomy 6:6-7 seriously: "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." It's one thing to say that our children are dedicated to the Lord; it's another thing altogether to give them to the Lord.


5. Hannah's Praise (2:1-11). We don't have time this morning to walk through the details of Hannah's beautiful psalm of praise, but I do want to point out that there is no element of sadness here at all. She has just dropped off Samuel at the temple and now she breaks out into praise. She was thrilled to be able to parent a prophet! Listen to verses 1-2: "My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God." Notice that she doesn't brag about how handsome Samuel is, or how smart he is, or how neat it is that he can say prayers at his young age. She overlooks the gift and gives praise to the Giver. There is no one else who is holy like the Lord and no one else who will be her Rock through the storms of life.


In verse 3 she focuses on God's wisdom and knowledge, recognizing that He's the one who weighs the actions of men and women. We shouldn't brag about we have or what we do, because God knows our hearts. In verse 6, she acknowledges God's ability to bring death and to make alive. In verse 7, God is the one who sends poverty and wealth; He humbles and exalts.


Hannah is an example of a woman of faith. She endures years of silent suffering because of her barrenness and the cruel harassment at the hand of her rival, Penninah. She goes to the place of worship, knowing how painful it is. She faithfully worships, pouring out her tears and petitions. And when God answers her prayers, she not only keeps her promise, she explodes with praise.


Some Closing Thoughts


1. Women, you are of great worth in God's sight whether you have a child or not. Lift up your head and realize that God loves you for who you are, not for what you do. He understands your sorrow and your pain and He'll meet you right where you are.


2. Mothers, make it your mission to give your children to the Lord for a lifetime of dedicated service. There's no greater purpose, and no higher honor, than to have your children give their lives in surrendered service to the Lord.


One Sunday, after dedicating their baby to the Lord during a baby dedication service, a young family was driving home from church. Little Johnny, the older brother, cried all the way home in the back seat of the car. His mother asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, "That pastor said he wanted us to be brought up in a Christian home…and I want to stay with you guys!"


Evolutionist will tell you your only purpose is to pass on your DNA to the next generation, but Hanna shows us a different purpose, to live a life with God at the center of our family.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Anger, Murder, and the Heart

Matthew 5:21-26

5 May 2013

21 "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.' 22 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. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 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. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)



This week we continue with Jesus commentary on the law, that we began last week. He will address six subjects found in every day life: Anger, Adultery, Divorce, Lying, etc.


Before we discuss the passage before us, let us briefly see the context in which these verses are placed. In Matthew 5:17 We saw that Jesus was claiming to fulfill the Law in His teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven. That Kingdom is inaccessible to anyone who does not have a righteousness greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Ultimately, as we saw, the only way to obtain that righteousness is through Jesus himself.


We could look at previous verses just by themselves and be quite satisfied. However, they are placed in the Sermon at this point as an introduction to what is to come. Jesus is about to redefine for His Jewish audience what the Law really means. In the following passages we have a similar grammatical construct of "You have heard it said . . . but I say to you . . ." This construct presents a part of the Law as God intended. In other words he will destroy the Pharisees feelings of self-righteousness, while illustrating the holiness of God that should be reflected in the Law. When Jesus claims He has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets he is prefacing the teaching that is about to come in the Sermon. It is to say, "You know the words of the Law but I am about teach you the heart of the Law." What follows are some difficult passages and Jesus is making it clear clear that His teaching is in accordance with the Old Testament, with God's Law, over against the teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees.


So what is important to see in these passages over the next few weeks are issues of the heart. God is not solely concerned about our external actions; but the motivation and temptation that drive those actions.


The Heart is where Anger is Harbored


For most of us we were introduced to the Law of God through the Ten Commandments. In them we find the command to not murder, or kill (Exod 20:13). This seems basic not only to good Christian behavior but it is basic to society at large. For the most part society looks upon murder as a very bad thing (though the growth of abortion and euthanasia are troubling trends). So the introduction of the passage in the Sermon is not seen as Jesus' means of affirming that murder is bad. He knows it is bad, his disciples know it is bad, even the Scribes and Pharisees he is correcting know that murder is bad. But murder is an intentional act fed by anger and hatred; before you learn to kill your heart and mind must first learn to rage, to burn in anger until it explodes into violence.


The soon to be familiar phrase of "you have beard it said…" sets off the beginning of this passage. Verse 21 presents to the topic of concern: murder. This is the topic taught by the Scribes and Pharisees who say that all murderers will be "liable to judgment." However, it is not until verse 22 that we are introduced to what Jesus wants to say about murder. Taking up the theme of liability of judgment, Jesus presents to us two scenarios, or pictures, of what it looks like to be truly liable of judgment. He is not saying the Scribes and Pharisees are completely wrong, rather He is bringing greater clarification to the phrase, "liable to judgment."


The first scenario he presents to us is the case of anger, But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. It is always best in reading the Bible to begin with the simplest reading of the text before trying to find an alternate interpretation. It is ever true here. Those who are angry with a brother (sister, cousin, etc.) will be liable for judgment. That is the simple reading. It is placed within the context of what the audience has heard, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' Therefore the simple reading says, "one who is angry with his brother is liable to the judgment that a murderer should receive." (Some versions of the Bible add in "without cause" after "angry with his brother." This is a variant text that most versions now omit.)


The second scenario presents something similar, whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of hell fire. Here we are presented with the case of an insult, a case of abuse, wherein the result is judgment, but this time it shows it as eternal judgment—hell fire.


With these simple, and perhaps shocking, readings of the text we must then ask the question: what does it mean here to be angry or to insult someone? Concerning anger we must keep in mind that it in itself is not unrighteous, that means, there is a time for anger and, as such, an anger that is not liable to judgment. We know this because God himself has anger, "Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book, and the Lord uprooted them from their land in anger and fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as they are this day." (Deut 29:27-28) This is just one example of God showing His anger. The Bible also speaks of Christians being angry, "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger" (Eph 4:26). There seems to be a possibility for man to have sinless anger, like God's. There are times when it is ok to be angry, but in those times we must remain sinless in our anger and we must rid ourselves of that anger quickly, for the Bible also says, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice." (Eph 4:31) and "for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." (James 1:20). The anger in mind here is of a different sort.


Ephesians 4 give us a good hint, "put away malice", malice is evil intent to where you want to do harm to someone. Likewise it says anger must be short lived. What do you do with your anger?


In a similar way, this passage is not inferring that every insult that we make has the liability of judgment attached to it. Though it is definitely unwise to be flippant with our words and call people "morons" and "idiots." The simple recitation of those words or phrases does not bring about the fires of hell. There is a connection of those words to our hearts.


The anger and insults mentioned here are those thoughts of the heart that manifest into hate. For every murder has some motive attached to it. It has some level of hatred for the person that is murdered. So the judgment is not only in the activity of the murderer but in the murder already committed in his heart. For the conclusion that we can come to from Jesus' teaching is that when we harbor hatred towards someone else we are in effect learning to murder. This thought is no less difficult now to comprehend than it was for the first century followers of Jesus who soon turned away after hearing his teaching (see John 6:66-68). However, we must remember that the kingdom of heaven is offered to those whose righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, so we must be aware of the condemnation as murderers coming to all who harbor hate for a brother in their hearts. This is an interpretation of the Law that reflects the holiness of God.


The Heart must Seek Reconciliation


There is no doubt that the point Jesus is making here is difficult to confront since it cuts at the heart of everyone and highlights the perpetual problem of sin we all have. However, this passage does not leave us without a word of hope and grace. We must not walk away feeling completely down by this affirmation of the sin in our heart, rather Jesus' purpose in all His preaching is to bring us to repentance and fellowship with God, under the promise that Jesus himself will fulfill the LAW. So it is in this passage as well.


Moreover here we are offered a model of reconciliation; Jesus says, "So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Though the reality of our sin is an encumbrance to all aspects of our life; this knowledge of sin reminds of our duty to seek repentance. In this passage that is exactly what is occurring. The person, who has not repented, is hindered from worship and left with only one true choice: reconciliation. Jesus tells us that we are to leave what we are doing immediately and find reconciliation. We are to seek out the person we have offended, and ask for their forgiveness.


This is the teaching of Jesus throughout the Bible. In John 20:23 we come across a similar statement: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." As Christians we have been given forgiveness for all our sins and in the practice of the Christian Life we are to live a life of forgiveness to others. 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 highlight this connection well.


17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)


The message is quite simple: ask for forgiveness. Yet for many of us this may be a harder message than "we may become murders because of the anger we harbor in our hearts." It is hard because of our sinful pride; because we do not want to admit to others we are wrong, especially if they have no idea of our anger. But grace only comes through humility; forgiveness only is offered through repentance. Most of all, God treasures reconciliation so much that Jesus died for it.


The Reconciled Heart is the one Who truly Worships


The final part of this section of the Sermon on the Mount contains an image of the unrepentant heart: 25 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. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. The image is of the one who waited too late to find reconciliation and is truly liable to judgment. It is the picture of one who did not see that anger affected every area of life. For what we must not miss is that our anger and bitterness keeps us from truly living life, in particular it keeps us from worship.


In verse 24 we are told to leave our gift at the altar and seek reconciliation. Implicitly we can see that Jesus is saying, "unless you find reconciliation with your brother you cannot worship." Week in and week out Christians gather at churches for the purpose of worshiping God. Too often these buildings and meeting places have persons who cannot worship. Their hindrance to worship is not because the music is not right; it is not because the sound was too soft or too loud; it is not because the temperature in the building was too cold or too hot. None of these keep these people from worshiping. What keeps them from worshiping is the anger and bitterness they harbor in their hearts. They may think, what do my relationships, have to do with me being able to worship? The answer is everything.


There is a direct correlation between how we live our life with God and how we live our life with others. We cannot be two faced lest we be like the man in James 1:8, "he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." Our faith in God must change us from the inside out so that as we are salt and light in this world the world God is glorified. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matt 5:16)


In conclusion, we must live out lives that are constantly seeking the grace of reconciliation that is available through repentance. We need to repent to God for our sins and repent to others we have offended usually because of pride. Many can testify to the truth in this practice for once where anger and bitterness were harbored and consuming, now the grace and joy of the Lord takes up residence and true worship of God occurs. We must be people who put away all anger and insults and constantly seek repentance and reconciliation.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Jesus is Lord of the Law

Matthew 5:17-20

"17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 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. 19 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. 20 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" (Matt. 5:17-20 NKJV).

  1. The Law's Fulfillment (v.17)

You cannot understand the Law of God in purely materialistic terms. It is a Muslim belief that bringing the earth into order under God's law is all God really wants. But if that is all God wanted then why doesn't an all-powerful all-knowing God, simply enforce His law Himself? There is a deep philosophical question that Islam cannot answer, that holds our key to understanding the LAW. "What does God intend, and what does it say about us? If God is not constrained by the temporal material world, then God must be a part of a higher order than naturalism, and that order cannot terminate on material things.

Whether a Jew born under the Law or a gentile without the Law, there is a desire in man to escape corruption in a real sense, not to just turn back to dust, but to persist in some form of immortality; and that desire leads us away from our material desires. In that desire for immortality is the opportunity for the soul of man to find his purpose in God himself and there transcend the temporal world. So the LAW cannot be just about rules with no bearing beyond the natural world. The LAW rightly understood must always be focused on God and His purpose for mankind.

Here Jesus in one passage rejects the two prevailing views of God's law among theist. 1) That the LAW is just about natural order, and God is good and knows what is best for man, so he makes those good things his LAW, and we keep that LAW for our own good. 2) The Gnostic/New Age/Spiritual view that the LAW doesn't matter because it is only about temporary material things and once you have knowledge about the eternal, the temporary doesn't matter.

Jesus gives us a 3rd alternative, that the LAW is about God and His holiness, that all material things must be sanctified to enter God's presence; therefore man must be sanctified, made clean, and dedicated to God's purpose to have any hope of entering into His presence. But that LAW perfectly followed only made temporary atonement where one man the priest entered God's presence but for a moment once a year. Furthermore Jesus was about to break down how imperfectly man had been keeping God's LAW, and that will sound hopeless for man except for verse 17 where Jesus cracks open the door to heaven and says "I will fulfill the LAW". Don't you relax it, modify or soften the LAW, because the LAW is about God's holiness, and in Jesus sinless self we will see God. Not once a year, but day by day Jesus will live out not only the letter of the LAW in a physical sense, but the purpose of the LAW to see holiness, and our chance to be sanctified by Him escaping corruption.

  1. Jesus fulfilled the moral demands of the law with His amazing life.

When the Lord spoke to Moses regarding the Passover requirement to offer a Lamb, he said in Exodus 12:5 "Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats."

2 Corinthians 5:21 "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

We learned in our study through Hebrews in chapter 4 verse 15 "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, YET WITHOUT SIN" (NKJV).

The apostle Peter, who was in Jesus' inner circle for 3 ½ years of ministry said of his close friend and Savior in 1 Peter 2:22 "Who [Jesus] COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH" (NKJV).


Jesus Himself even challenged the fault-finding Pharisees (the masters of Mosaic law) in John 8:46 by saying, "Which of you convicts Me of sin?" And no one came up with anything. He was SINLESS; Jesus fulfilled the moral demands of the law with His amazing life.


  1. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial demands of the law by His atoning death.

When Jesus died He fulfilled the details of the ceremonial law concerning sacrifices and offerings.

Jesus was the unleavened bread of the Passover, and He was the Paschal lamb, and His was the blood that was shed for sin. Because of this, Jesus could say, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to FULFILL" (Matt. 5:17).

Isaiah 53:4-5

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows;

Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.


Jesus' life and death leave no doubt about the law's fulfillment, but what about…

  1. The Law's Future (v.18)

Jesus assures His hearers in verse 18 of chapter 5, "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 until all is fulfilled" (NKJV).

The jot was the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the tittle was the smallest part of any letter. As Hebrew had no vowels the sounds were indicated by small marks above and below the consonant letters, sometimes no more than a single dot.

As we will learn later in chapter, the Pharisees had sometimes relaxed or changed the Law to suit their own purpose, Jesus will not only keep the letter of the Law but the God glorifying intent as well.

There will be changes in heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1), but not until their present purpose is fulfilled, and so it is with the Law of God. To show how the substance of the material world can be sanctified for the exclusive use of a Holy God.

"'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40 NKJV).

To emphasize that the law should be taken seriously as a standard, Jesus spoke about the consequences of violating it in verse 19.

  1. The Law's Force (v.19)

"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, shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19 NKJV).

Jesus exposed the foolishness of the Pharisees who spent their time dividing the Mosaic Law into what they called "great commandments" and "least commandments". Before we judge the Pharisees, we need to recognize that we often do that too. Think about it for a minute. Do you think that someone keeping the Sabbath holy is as big of a deal as not killing someone? How about desiring your neighbors stuff compared with committing adultery? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Remember the Law is about holiness; God does not treat His commandments casually, and neither should we.

  1. The Law's Insufficiency (v.20)

In one simple statement, Jesus dismantles "works salvation" by saying, "unless your righteousness EXCEEDS that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20 NKJV). This was quite a statement to those hearing our Lord because they knew full well the reputation of the Scribes and Pharisees.

The Scribes were those whose lives were dedicated to the copying and interpretation of God's law; know one knew it better. They were the religious elite, the brilliant scholars of the day. Scribes were the authority on KNOWING what the law said. Our modern day American equivalent would be the PhD's found in the ivory towers of our Seminaries.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were the religious zealots who were better known for DOING what the law said (and then some). They multiplied minute precepts and distinctions to such an extent that the whole life of Israel was hemmed in and burdened by instructions so numerous and hairsplitting that the law was almost lost sight of (Matt. 12:1-13; 23:23; Mark 3:1-6; 7:2-4; Luke 13:10-17; 18:12).

Our modern day American equivalent would be the legalistic Christian whose "holy appearance" takes priority above everything else in life.

Verse 20 is our challenge "unless your righteousness is better than the Pharisees", you will not be sanctified, you will not be holy, you will not enter God's kingdom, you will not escape corruption, and you will not see God.

Jesus FULFILLED the moral demands of the law with His amazing life; and He FULFILLED the ceremonial demands of the law with His atoning death! By faith in Him, we are "dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne"! Not only that, but we are also indwelt by His powerful Holy Spirit; who now guides us and instructs us in keeping the standard of God's law by loving Him with all our heart and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The Lord of the law know lives in us and through us!

Romans 8

1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.