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29. Problems with The Sermon on the Mount

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Before we start addressing the text itself, I want to spend some time on the Sermon as a whole. It’s Jesus’ longest recorded sermon and, in my humble opinion, chock full o’ good stuff. However some people disagree with the validity of this portion of Scripture. There are several arguments but two of the biggest are:

  1. Jesus seems to be changing the Old Testament law.
  2. This seems to be a list of things to do to find life.

Let’s take the first statement: Jesus seems to be changing the Old Testament law. Jesus uses the phrase formula, “You have heard x but I tell you y,” six times (Matthew 5:21-48). The x being something that was considered law in the old testament and the y being Jesus’ new commandment. And if you take this section out of the Bible and read it alone and not in context with anything else, I could see where some people could be critical. It does appear that Jesus is changing the law BUT this is not what Jesus is doing here. In fact, right before this passage of Scripture he says,

 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20, NIV)

In light that Jesus introduces that section with this disclaimer, if you will, I believe that we are to see him not as changing the law but instead expounding on it. Some Jews, the Pharisees and teachers of the law especially, had made it so important that people keep the law exactly the way it was written that they forgot the spirit with which it was given. I’ll unpack this more when we get to this section of the Sermon but suffice it to say that following the letter of the law without being mindful of the intent behind it is not honoring to God. Here we see Jesus taking the laws and not changing them, but revealing that intent.

The other “problem” some people criticize the Sermon for is that it is a list of works that must be done to gain eternal life. This is problematic because Paul teaches against a works-based faith. Just read the third chapter of Romans and you will quickly learn that works are not a means to eternal life. But I suggest that Jesus isn’t listing a bunch of stuff to do to be saved, rather a person who has been saved does these things out of love for God.  No, Jesus does not intend to provide a list of things to perform to get into heaven, rather he describes what a person who has eternal life looks like. So things like praying, fasting, and not worrying aren’t things to do to receive eternal life. It’s what you do because you have eternal life. It would be like me volunteering in a homeless shelter. Doing that isn’t going to get me into the Kingdom of God, but because I am already a citizen of the Kingdom, I want to love on those who are important to God.

So what does all of this mean to me? There will always be someone who disagrees with the validity of Scripture or challenge you on what it says. That is why it is important to educate yourself about these things. Even Satan knows the Bible and what it says. And, btw, God did not give us  brains and the capability to reason and think just to throw it aside and accept whatever people tell you. Read the Bible, and study for yourself! Don’t accept the lie that we have to have faith or reason and not both! One of the reasons I love writing this blog is because it forces me to read, research, reread, and think about what I believe!  Not everyone needs to write a blog but you should be studying some stuff on your own, just saying’.

Next time we will focus in on the first part of the Sermon itself, the section known as The Beatitudes. I am looking forward to sharing with you what I have learned, which was a lot. Until next time this is…

The End

27. Jesus the Servant

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So the last time we left Jesus, the Pharisees were plotting to kill him because he had healed, once again, on the Sabbath. Because of this Jesus was quick to get out of Dodge. Not because he didn’t want to die, but because it wasn’t time for him to die yet. After he left he was followed by a large crowd and Jesus healed everyone who was ill. Not just some, the text actually says all. This account is also found in Mark but we will be reading the account found in Matthew because it includes a bit of Messianic prophesy that is worth checking out:

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”

(Matthew 12:15-21)

I specifically want to look at the bit of prophesy that is given to us. It comes from Isaiah 42:1-4. This particular passage is about someone God calls, “my servant”. This title, “my servant” is a special title of honor that was used to describe the likes of Moses, Joshua and David. It was also used in Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:1-7;50:4-11; and 52:13-53:12. Now Israelites always assumed that they were the servant described but because of their wayward actions and blatant refusal to follow God and instead turn towards idols, they lost this honor of being God’s servants. Instead, these verses describe one person in whom God would find no fault- a perfect prototype of what a follower of God should look like. They are describing the Messiah, himself! The reason that Matthew, whose readership was mostly Jewish, often includes prophesy about the Messiah is to show them how Jesus is the 100% fulfillment of these prophesies. In other words, they didn’t have to keep looking for the promised Messiah because he was here as evidenced by their own Scriptures.

There are three times when Jesus is described by God as, “the one I love, in whom I delight.” The two other times occurred at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17) and at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).

Here’s a little rabbit trail for us to go down. No where in the Bible does it explicitly say that God is triune, or 3-in-1. This is a concept that was presented by early church fathers. One of the verses they use to support this idea (which for the record, I believe in) is verse 18 from our passage today, ” I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.” Here we see the Father conferring the Holy Spirit on the Son. 3-in-1. Three persons of God, in one deity; somehow each unique, yet joined together.

Verse 18, and also 21, is interesting because God is clearly concerned about “the nations”. He is concerned about all peoples, not just the nation of Israel. He came to them first because he wanted them to be his people of promise but because they rejected him time and time again, he opened salvation to the world. This was a foreign idea to the Jews even though it was right there in Scripture. It’s like they picked and chose which descriptions of the Messiah they liked and conveniently forgot about the parts they didn’t. God clearly cares for Gentiles, or non-Jews… which is very good news for me!

The next part, “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets,” refers to his silence during his trial before the crucifixion. Jesus remained silent despite his accusers and their false accusations, despite the fact that he could have said one word and thousands of angels would have been there in an instant to rescue him. He was silent except for a few answers to questions.

Verse 20 is one of great mercy and grace,

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

One of the things the Pharisees never got was Jesus’ unending grace toward sinners. We can learn a lot from Jesus here. His job until he returns is to be gentle and love the sinner. I think here of the Westboro Baptist church. These people are not doing God’s work. God’s work, until Jesus returns, is to love on people. That doesn’t mean we overlook the sin. What Jesus did was look beyond the sin and saw the hurting person underneath. Hurting people are like a reed that is already bent from life’s windstorms or a candle struggling to stay lit. In mercy Jesus sat with these people, took the time to hear and really understand these people. And when I say “these people” what I really mean is you and me. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It doesn’t matter if we’ve wrongly gotten angry or if we’ve killed someone. We deserve a traitor’s death. We are no better or worse than anyone else and to assume otherwise is to fall into the trap of self-righteousness. Thank God, for his mercy and love! Thank God, for his patience with us! This is how he deals with us and this is how we are to deal with each other. Now there is a time when Jesus will come again and reign victorious over Satan and Evil. At that point it will be Jesus’ job to dole out justice to non-belivers and believers alike. It is never our job. It is never our responsibility to judge others. Period.

I’ll step down off my soap box for now. Until next time when we look at the commissioning of the the twelve apostles…

The End.

26. Stretch out your hand

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Sorry there was a break between postings. My laptop power cord was fried in a thunderstorm and we were without a computer for a few days. Fortunately it was just the power supply and not the whole laptop. Praise God! As a reminder, last time we found the disciples picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Those pesky Pharisees were there to give them a hard time about “working” on the Sabbath and Jesus promptly rebukes them. This time we will learn about another healing on the Sabbath. I have to tell you that I knew Jesus did this stuff on the Sabbath but I didn’t realize how often he did it before this study. I think almost every time we read about Jesus healing, he is doing so on the Sabbath. Think maybe he is trying to drive home a point with the Pharisees? Too bad they never get it! This time we find Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath. Matthew makes it sound like it is later the same day as they were in the grain fields while Mark and Luke both say it occurred on a different day. To me it’s one of those details that don’t really matter if they all agree or not; it’s the story that follows that is important. Let’s read:

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. (Matthew 12:9-14)

Last time we saw the focus was on the disciples breaking the law. This time we see Jesus as the “law-breaker”. They are in the synagogue and there is a man there with a bad hand. If you read the Gospel of Hebrews, an apocryphal book, the man is described as being a mason and it being his right hand that was injured. Whether that is true or not is up in the air although the way the original language is written it implies that the man’s hand was not an injury from birth. Being a mason it is quite possible that he hurt himself on the job.

Regardless, the guy had a bum hand. And the Pharisees saw this as a perfect trap for Jesus. They ask him a loaded question intended to trip up Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Their laws said that healing was only allowed in life or death situations, otherwise the patient needed to wait until Sunday for help (Jewish Sabbath was Saturday). Instead of answering their question. Jesus asks his own question about their own laws, “If any of you has a sheep that falls in a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?” His question is just as loaded as the Pharisees. Even though the sheep was in no danger in the pit, just stuck, they all would have rescued the sheep. Jesus’ point is this: If God would overlook you breaking the Sabbath to save a sheep, how much more so is would he accept healing a person, a child of God, on the Sabbath? Jesus uses their own laws against them.

I’m not sure if we’ve covered this before or not so I’ll take a minute to explain something here. You may be wondering what was the big deal about the Sabbath? Exodus 31:13-17 says,

“Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.

“‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”

Anyone who doesn’t keep the Sabbath was worthy of death. The big problem is what does “keeping the Sabbath holy” mean. God clearly says not to do any work on the Sabbath but he doesn’t make stipulations as to what that includes. The Pharisees had comprised an oral tradition called The Talmud that had a bunch of things that they considered work. Things like healing on the Sabbath except under life or death situations was against the law. The Pharisees considered that breaking the Sabbath law, but God never said that. He just says not to do work. Right before our Matthew passage from today we see Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6 which says, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” This clearly captures the heart of God. Yes, he wants the Sabbath kept holy but if there is a chance for a man to be restored to health then, for the love of mercy, heal him!

So for the love of mercy, Jesus heals him. He tells the man to stretch out his hand and when he did it was completely restored. This was pretty much the last straw for the Pharisees. If you notice it says they went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. From now on Jesus is a marked man.

Legalism is more than just keeping the law, although that is a big part of it. Legalism occurs when the keeping of the law causes an attitude of self-righteousness. If you think that keeping God’s laws or even just being a good person is enough to get you into heaven you are going to be in for a rude awakening at judgement day. It’s not that law keeping is bad. It’s actually a good thing but when you depend on that as a means of salvation then you are missing the boat! Salvation comes through faith alone.  Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” There is no other way to God than through faith in Jesus Christ. We keep the laws because we love him, not because it is a requirement for salvation.

The End.

How to Measure Love: Going Beyond What You Feel

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Great Prospective On Marriage And Love!

CROSS-SHAPED STUFF

Acts of Love
PHOTO CREDIT

Love is not just an emotion. It’s not simply some uncontrollable feeling you fall in and out of. It doesn’t have to be here today and gone tomorrow. Nor does it ever have to leave you, in any relational context, if you don’t want it to.

And that’s because love is measured and maintained primarily by what you give, not what you receive. According to scripture, that’s the love metric: what you give to him, what you sacrifice for her, not necessarily what you feel.

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24. The Healing of the Man at Bethesda- part 3

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And so we reach the last part of this passage. If you remember the first part focused on the healing of the man, himself. The second part had to do with the Pharisees wanting to kill Jesus because he said he was God. And now this final installment reads like a courtroom transcript; Jesus is giving defense testimony as to why people should believe he is who he says he is. Let’s read together:

 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true.

“You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.

“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

“I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

“But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:31-47)

Back in Jesus’ day the testimony of two people were needed to corroborate a story in a court of law. Jesus starts off by saying, “Look, I get it if you don’t want to take my own word that I’m the Son of God, but let’s look at 5 other sources of testimony that testifies to the fact.”

  1. His Father. I’ll admit that when Jesus says, “There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true,” (verse 32) I thought he was talking about John the Baptizer. However, the word “another” in Greek is the word allos which means “another of the same kind” so we can assume that Jesus is talking about God, the Father. If he were talking about a human the word would probably be heteros which means “another of a different kind.” He says more about the Father’s testimony in verses 37 and 38, “And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.” I’m not sure but he could be referring to the time he was baptized and the Spirit descended and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:17). He is also probably referring to all the prophesy that had been written about him.
  2. John the Baptizer. If they wanted a human’s word, then they had to look no farther than John the Baptizer. He was born to prepare the hearts of the people for the Son of God (Luke 1:16-17). And this was to fulfill prophesy about one who would come before the Messiah (Isaiah 40:3). For a while they didn’t have a problem with John. In fact, the Bible says, “John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light,” (verse 35). My guess is because John followed the Pharisaical laws and was preaching a coming Messiah like any good Jew should. As long as he was preaching about a Messiah that fit their mold and not Jesus, they were fine with him.
  3. Jesus’ own works. So I get that they won’t take his own testimony but what about all the good stuff he was doing? He was healing the sick, the blind, the deaf and the dumb. He was casting out demons and teaching the Word of God. He wasn’t just talking the talk, he was walking the walk. His life was exemplary and without sin. He says in verse 36, ” For the works that the Father has given me to finish- the very works that I am doing- testify that the Father has sent me.”
  4. Scripture. One of the most convincing pieces of evidence for me that Jesus is who he says he is is all the prophesies he fulfilled. Scripture, time and time again, points toward Jesus- who he was to be, the things that he would do, where he was to be from, how he was to die… Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Look, you say you know the Scriptures so well, if this is true then why don’t you get what it is saying about me?”
  5. Moses. I love how he wraps up his defense. The Pharisees held Moses in very high regard. He was their acting Savior from Egypt, he talked directly with God, he was the recipient of the ten commandments, etc. etc. etc. They were so concerned with Moses and the law, they were so wrapped up in the rules and regulations that they missed the Messiah. Moses himself prophesied about the Jesus in Deuteronomy 18:15-22. You would think that since they were so wrapped up in Moses that they would’ve known about this passage. They were too busy maintaining the rules that they missed the Ruler. If they want to trust in the law, then the law will be their judge. He will allow the Pharisees to condemn themselves by the law because the law points to Jesus. If they miss that part of the law, then by that part they will be judged.

All the testimony boils down to this: You can know about Jesus. You can know a lot about Jesus, actually. You can even be an expert- but if you don’t know Jesus personally you don’t know squat. Jesus tells the Pharisees in verse 38, “nor does his word dwell in you.” The word “dwell” has an underlying meaning of abiding or implying an intimate relationship with. Think about it: Satan knows a lot about Jesus but will never have a loving relationship with him. What is the status of your knowledge about God today? Do you know Jesus as the Lord of your life? or Do you rest in the facts that you know about him? Back when I was younger, I loved New Kids on the Block. I knew their birthdays, where they were from, what color their eyes were, and what was their favorite things to do. With as much as I learned about them I never knew them and they never knew me. Knowing all those facts made me feel closer to them, but the fact of the matter is that I never once hung out with them or talked to them on the phone. I was even a president of their fan club and that status didn’t get me anywhere either. So I ask you again, Do you know Jesus as the Lord of your life? or Do you rest in the the facts that you know about him?

The End.

24. The Healing of the Man at Bethesda- part 2

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Let’s refresh a little from last time. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. Not only did he break the Pharisaical Sabbath laws, he told the man to break them when Jesus instructed him to carry his mat. The Pharisees didn’t like this one bit. Now we see that “because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him,” (verse 16). The verb “was doing” indicates that this is not the first time that Jesus has healed on the Sabbath. Perhaps the Pharisees could have overlooked one infraction but the verb shows that this was something that had happened before and had been happening on a regular basis. This is why the Pharisees are incensed- he continually shows disregard for their laws. Let’s read:

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:16-30)

So because Jesus was breaking the law, the leaders began to persecute him. Now we don’t know exactly what that entailed but they were trying to kill him. Instead of rejoicing over the healing power of God, they would rather pout and complain that their laws were being broken… their laws! We aren’t talking about laws of God, we are talking about laws of man. These were part of the oral traditions, or Talmud, that had been handed down throughout the ages. They are not found in the Torah, or the written Jewish law.

There is coming a time, during his trial, when Jesus will remain silent before his accusers but for right now we see Jesus defending himself. The ironic thing is that his defense infuriates the leaders all the more. Jesus starts by saying, “My father.” Jews had long accepted that God was the Father of all things. But Jesus here shows an intimacy with God that had not been previously known. In fact, by saying that God is his father, he is implying that he is the Son of God, not just a son of God like a regular person. That would make Jesus God himself. “Blasphemy!” cry the leaders. They can’t see that Jesus’ miraculous powers come from God. They don’t understand that Jesus can heal only because he gets his power from the father. They can’t get that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and therefore has the right to do whatever he pleases on it. Instead they have blinders on. They can only see what they have chosen to put right in front of their faces. They were so mad it says they not only wanted to kill him… they tried to kill him!

Jesus says that because God is always working, he, too, must always work. Can you imagine if God took a day off? Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue? With all of the craziness going on in the world, it would be a bazillion times worse if God took a vaca. Even the Jews acknowledged that God was always at work. So if God is always at work and Jesus is God then Jesus is always at work, too. It is a natural progression of thought, if you accept Jesus as God. If you don’t accept that premise then the conclusion is invalid. The Pharisees did not see Jesus as God so in their mind Jesus’ argument was fallacy.

Jesus tries to help them understand that if he wasn’t God’s own Son, then he wouldn’t be able to do the things he does. Jesus says, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does,” (verse 19). Jesus can’t act on his own accord because he would have to act outside of God, and since he is God that is impossible. Jesus can’t separate himself from himself- it’s just impossible. He is God whether they accept it or not. So often in today’s culture we face this: “It may be true for you but it’s not true for me.” Some things are accepted universally as true such as “murder is wrong” though their may be certain instances when people disagree over what murder verses killing is. But other things enter more of a gray area. Because people can not see a physical entity of God, many reject him as real. That doesn’t mean that he’s not real, it just means that they don’t accept him as real. That doesn’t make God any less real though. To put this another way, someone could have discovered a purple people eater in Malaysia. I may not believe them but that doesn’t change the fact that the purple people eater exists. The purple people eater’s existence is not dependent on whether or not I believe in it. Neither is God’s realness dependent upon whether his people accept him as real. God’s realness depends upon himself; he exists because he exists.

Let’s move onto another reason the Pharisees were ticked… this whole idea that Jesus will be their judge. Boy did that cause problems! Let’s reread that section:

Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

If people get nothing else out of this post, I hope they understand this: It doesn’t matter whether or not you accept Jesus as God, the Father as God, or the Holy Spirit as God… what matters is that Jesus will be your judge whether you want him to be or not. I have a friend who doesn’t accept God as God or at the very least accepts that there is a God but that God doesn’t apply to him. The sad fact of the matter is this- Jesus will be his judge and he will be judged according to whether or not he believes that Jesus is God. This man, as of right now, is judging himself straight to hell. You see, it doesn’t matter if he thinks truth is a lie. Truth is still truth. You don’t have to like how God does business, as in the case of the Pharisees, you still need to accept the truth because it is by the Truth you will be judged. Nothing you believe will change that fact.

Now Jews believed that God, the Father, alone would be the judge. So this idea that Jesus was to be the judge was heretical or wrong to them. They knew God was the judge and up to that point all they knew was God as Father. Therefore they assumed that the Father would be the judge. Here comes Jesus, who the most Pharisees don’t accept as God coming to say that he will be their judge. It was all too much for them to handle. I just imagine their heads getting bright red and starting to spin with steam coming out of their ears when Jesus says this, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him,” (verse 23). That statement right there is enough to judge the Pharisees on. They certainly did not honor the Son, so they were definitely not honoring the Father, in other words, by not honoring Jesus, they were not honoring God and that is sin.

There is good news though in all this: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” Amen! Amen! Amen! This is the Good News of the Bible! “A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” This is the joy that is set before us regardless of our struggles now- that we will hear the sweet voice of Jesus and live with him forever and ever! What ecstacy! What euphoria! This is what it is all about! Does this mean we won’t be judged? No. We will be judged and sentenced to die but Jesus has already fulfilled our death penalty. In this way we will be found righteous despite our sin, “God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification,” (Romans 4:24-25). In other words, in the final courtroom of God when we sit in the defendants chair and see all of the evidence presented before us… When we sit in utter disgust because there is no denying the charges or the evidence presented against us… When we are called to stand to hear the verdict… When the judge reads, “GUILTY, ON ALL COUNTS!” When we hang our head knowing that the death penalty is mandatory for anyone found guilty… THEN! then Jesus, the mighty and righteous judge… then he will slowly stand… then he will show his nail pierced hands and feet… then he will come out of the judge’s seat and come over and lift our heads and say, “This one’s debt to God is paid. This one is mine.” The prosecution will squeal with torment as the demons protest, “That’s not fair! That’s a sinner! That one is ours!” Then Jesus will turn and say, “You’re right. It’s not fair. This person is a sinner but grace is not fair.” Grace is an undeserved stay of execution. It is something we can’t earn or buy. It’s not something we can steal or gain illegitimately. It’s something that has to be freely given to us despite our unworthiness of the gift. This is what Christ has done for us. This is why he died on the cross.

The End.

24. The Healing of the Man at Bethesda- part 1

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This is a striking passage about a rather dull man. I don’t mean he was boring,.. I mean dull as in not smart. He’s just not the sharpest tool in the shed, if you ask me. Let’s read about Captain Wonderful. The passage is found in John:

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. (John 5:1-15)

This is actually part of a much larger section, 47 verses to be exact. I am going to break it up into two or three studies so as not to overwhelm anyone, myself included. Now if you notice I left the verse numbers in for you to read. I normally take them out so you can read it without the distraction of verse markers but there is a reason I left them in this time. Reread verse 4. Go on, I dare you! Can’t find it, can you? Ah, and we come to our first observation of the text and a point of controversy.

The reason there is a place marking for verse 4 is because there used to be a verse 4 but more recent translations have edited it out. Why? Excellent question. First we need a basic understanding of how Scripture became accepted as God’s word and how the Bible as we know came to be. The best answer I can give you about the validity of the books in the Old Testament is that Jesus accepted them as truth… and so should we. There is very little disagreement among scholars as to the authenticity of the Old Testament books. But the New Testament was written after Jesus so we can’t rely on Jesus’ stamp of approval on these books. How then did these books become canon and who said so. The easiest answer I can give is that over time and by way of several meetings, holy men decided which books were thought to be the inspired Word of God. The more complicated answer requires noting that different faiths accept different books as inspired because not everyone could agree on everything. For example Roman Catholics accept an additional 7 books over the ones that protestants accept and they also include additions to the books of Esther and Daniel.

In general there were three main standards that had to be met when deciding if a New Testament book was to be Scripture. Number one, it had to be inspired by God. “Now how do you know that?” you may ask. It must not compete or deny anything else that is accepted as Scripture. In other words the Bible can’t argue with itself. Nor can it be contrary to any of Christ’s teachings. Number two: It had to be written by either someone who had been with Jesus or by someone who was close to his apostles. Number Three: the book had to be widely accepted and used for teaching by a wide number of churches. The old “strength in numbers” adage applies here. The idea being that if a bunch of teachers had accepted it as inspired and useful for teaching then it was probably inspired and useful for teaching. Now remember this is just a very basic overview of how books became Scripture, there are whole books written about this topic and I encourage you to read some if this is interesting to you.

Back to our discrepancy over verse 4. Some of the texts that were originally used included a verse 4 that read “—and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.” They were the only copies of this text that early translators had to go on so they translated verse 4. But as archeologist uncovered other earlier copies of this text, they didn’t have this line included. And these newly found copies of Scripture were believed to be older in origin than the copies that did have a verse 4. So what are we to make of this? Somewhere along the line as ancient people copied these stories, someone inserted verse 4 to help make sense of verse 7 which says, “I have no one to hep me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Most likely this idea that angel’s wings stirred the pool waters and the first person to get in would be healed was a Jewish wive’s tail. And this is why more modern translations of the Bible leave this phrase out, though they usually mark it with a little [4] so you know that it used to be there. Some people would use something like this to invalidate the Bible. But I think it just goes to show the commitment of scholars to refine the Bible as new and better evidence comes to light. It is something that could easily have been swept under the rug, but no one is trying to hide this. If it were hidden, then I would suspect shady dealings but this is out there for the world to see- it was there and now it is not. Big deal.

Alrighty then, let’s get back to the text itself. Jesus was in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the main city for Jews. It was the site of the great Temple in which sacrifices and rituals occurred. In fact, Jesus was there for one of the Jewish festivals. Jewish men were required to trek to Jerusalem for 3 annual feasts: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. I forget the reason why but scholars believe it was the feast of Pentecost. The feast of Pentecost was celebrated 50 days after the feast of Passover. It was a time of thanksgiving for the harvest and was also believed to be the day on which God gave Moses the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

I don’t know much about the Sheep Gate other than it was located near the Temple. I found a video you can watch that shows an excavation site of which they think they found this Sheep Gate. The actual site is between :55 and 1:29 on the video if you don’t want to watch the whole thing. It is also called the pool of Bethesda or the pool of St. Anne so don’t let the title of the video confuse you. Basically the pools were trapezoids with steps descending into the water at the 4 corners.

Laying by the pool was an invalid. We don’t know what his malady was exactly but we know he had a hard time getting around and he had been this way for 38 years. That’s a long time to be impaired. Jesus picked him out of a crowd- there were apparently a bunch of other people there with ailments. Jesus, upon learning how long he had been impaired asks him a simple question, “Do you want to get well?” The correct answer to the simple question is a simple, “Yes.” But this guy starts giving excuses as to why he can’t get well. He has obviously put his faith into the wive’s tale about the waters and says that he can’t get in fast enough and that’s why he’s not well. In all of that he never answerers Jesus’ question. Yet, even though this man apparently does not have faith in Jesus- heck, he doesn’t even know it is Jesus- Jesus heals him. Up until now, all of the people we see Jesus healing have been healed by their faith. This guy can’t even answer a question right yet Jesus heals him. I think it was probably the faith of a family member or friend that enabled Jesus to heal him. This brings us to an application. Sometimes, the prayers of the faithful cover the unfaithful. Have you ever prayed for an unbelieving friend or family member? It’s the same idea here. Sometimes God blesses the unfaithful because of the faithful.

So Jesus heals the man and does it by telling the man to, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Now all this occurred on the Sabbath and remember, the Pharisees had very strict rules about what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. Carrying a mat was considered doing work by the Pharisees. Working on the Sabbath was prohibited, therefore this newly healed man was breaking the Sabbath laws. Instead of focusing on the healing miracle he had just been a part of, he sells out Jesus. I mean, come on! I don’t think he did this to be nasty, I think he is just that dumb. Then later, after he finds out who it was that healed him, he went back to the Pharisees and told on Jesus. Again, I don’t think he realized what he was doing. He didn’t even know it was Jesus who healed him at first (verse 13). In fact it was Jesus who sought him out, “Later Jesus found him at the temple…” (verse 14). All I can say about this guys is, “Duh!”

When Jesus found him in the temple, he gave him a stern warning, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Once again, I think the man was dense and needed Jesus to tell him this. I don’t think he would’ve made this connection on his own. Obviously this man’s sinful life caused his invalidity but I don’t think Jesus is saying to stop sinning or you could be even more physically hurt or even die. I think he is saying, “Listen, man- straighten up or your soul is in danger of hell.” This brings be to a couple of points. One, We can not escape the consequences of our sins, except by the grace of God. I’m not talking about going to heaven. Yes, the biggest consequences of our sin is eternal separation from God. However, I’m talking about the consequences we experience in this life. For example, the consequences of divorce or the consequences of stealing or the consequences of driving drunk or the consequences of speeding… etc. etc.  These sins have very serious consequences here on this earth even if we don’t “get caught.” It is within God’s prerogative to remove or keep the consequences for these and other sins. I don’t know how he picks and chooses. I just know that he does. Two, if we receive God’s favor and he removes the consequences and we still choose to remain in sin… well, something worse may happen.

Wow, this was quite long. I’m glad we are breaking this section up, aren’t you?

The End.