There was a knock at the door. It might just as well have been the door heaven for one lost soul that night. The visitor making such a late call was at the very gates to God's Kingdom, and just like Jacob at Bethel, he knew it not. Nichodemus, the old teacher came to visit the new. The old Pharisee was drawn partly by curiosity and partly by sense of a deeper personal need. There was something about this unlettered man from Galilee.
"We know that thou art a teacher come from God," he said. He spoke a truth, but he had no idea of the depth of his observation. Like some farm boy from Iowa that had only heard about the ocean, (but had never actually seen one) Nichodemus was standing on the beach for the first time. Geography lessons are no substitute to actually being there. Books of theology are empty when compared to standing in the presence of the incarnate word.
Nichodemus had studied the Word all his life and his sincere and seeking heart was drawn like a magnet to this one who was strangely familiar. Seeing the Pacific for the first time takes your breath away. Words are feeble things when it comes to explaining the awesome sight of that great body of water. Seeing it for the first time caused Balboa, the Spanish explorer, to fall to his knees. The first view of such a sight usually produces a moment of inexpressible wonder as the mind searches and gropes in silence for something to say. Most are humbled by its vastness and feel incredibly small as eyes trace the horizon. Such it must have been for this Pharisee as he stood before the one of whom it was said "never a man spake like this man before."
Nichodemus knew greatness when he saw it, and he was impressed. Yet Nichodemus only saw the surface and not the depth. Few realize that huge mountain ranges lie beneath the waters of the Pacific. Man has yet to fully map the ocean floor, tap the resources, or unlock the secrets of the sea. So it was with the ancient Pharisee as he stood before Jesus that night. He stood upon the shores of discovery and like every other natural man before him, he could not understand the things of the Spirit. Yes, Nichodemus, Jesus was a teacher come from God; and with all your years of training and experience in searching the Scriptures, little did you realize that night that the Word of God had become flesh and stood before you. Yes, Nichodemus you were right, but you had no idea, how right you were.
He spoke pleasant and polite words which were offered as some kind of diplomatic token and gesture of gracefullness, not uncommon when one great authority meets another for the very first time. He spoke of the miracles, the news of which the winds of gossip were blowing all over Jerusalem. Flattery needs a sinful heart upon which to land and Jesus would have none of it.
Almost as if he never heard the words, Jesus went straight for the heart. "You must be born from above," he said. It was night and so he got right to the point. Nichodemus had questions which he would not dare ask during the day. While the streets of the city were choked with pilgrims, it being Passover. While multitudes thronged around this young Rabbi, there was either little opportunity to inquire, or it was just too dangerous to risk asking such sincere questions within hearing of his peers.
The Pharisees were the guardians of an authoritarian religious aristocracy dating back to the days of the Maccabees. They had a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof.
Immediately Jesus took charge. God always takes the initiative in soul winning. Even the coming in the night was of God. Nichodemous was drawn, for Jesus himself said, "no man cometh unless the Father draw him." Something greater than himself drew him through the crowded streets and alleys until he found himself at the door to the home where this young teacher was staying. God was calling. God always takes the initiative as he did in the garden when he went looking for a fallen Adam, calling out as he went, "Adam, where art thou?"
This ruler tried to regain control by taking charge of the conversation. "How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter as second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Surely this would allow him to seize the high ground again. Jesus continued his assault on darkness. "Unless a man is born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God." Were the gates of heaven closed to such a respected leader of Israel? Nichodemus must have been flabbergasted. Jesus did not exchange pleasantries or make remarks about how honored he was to enjoy a visit from such a distinguished guest.
"The wind blows where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit," said Jesus. Nichodemus could only reply with a question, "how can these things be?"
The tale of that dramatic interview has been told more than any other story in history. It was from that incident that we learn that "God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him, should not perish, but have everlasting life." It is from that interview that the world is warned unequivocally, that men must be born again. It is from this interview that every religious person is advised as to the inability of the flesh to ever become anything more than flesh without a second birth.
How strange and uncomfortable must have Nichodemus had been when he turned from this young teacher at the end of an awkward conversation and walked into the night. The words must have played upon his heart. "And this is the condemnation that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." What deeds were stirred up by that conversation only Nichodemus could tell. "But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God."
The day would come when Nichodemus would speak for Christ in the light, but not yet, for he himself was yet in the dark. How dark it must have been as he walked through the dimly lit streets of the city.
Nichodemus, what did you learn from that teacher come from God that night? Did you learn your geography and come any closer to the Kingdom of God? Perhaps you pondered the wonders and mysteries of biology and puzzled at this being born-again? Did you learn that the wind blows where it listeth, and did you feel the breath of heaven upon your soul or perhaps the rush of air from angel's wings? We can only wonder what you learned from that teacher "come from God" that night. You were for a few moments the only student in his class. You had all the attention and all the love of he who had come "to seek and to save that which is lost."
Perhaps you tried to understand his words about Moses and the serpent lifted up. Little did you realize that night that another would soon be lifted up and your own tear-filled eyes would look upon the one you had pierced.
Perhaps if you had been younger with far less to lose you would have followed his small company of students and disciples. But it was not to be. You were a man of wealth and power and prestige. It is the young men who are impulsive and reckless. You would go home troubled that night to pray and ponder. You would listen to every whisper about this man of Galilee. You would hide your interest and your excitement as you waited to see which way this wind [which] "bloweth where it listeth" would blow.
Praise God, many of the Pharisees would come to see the light, even if they worshipped from afar. We rejoiced when you at last broke your silence and spoke in defense of this teacher (Jn. 7:50). We are jubilant when we saw you coming to the tomb with your myrrh and aloes (Jn.19:39) We interpret those spices as a token of your faith and hope to see you on that great day when all those who have experienced the second birth gather around the light.
One cannot truly understand the teachings of Jesus until they have been "born of the Spirit." One cannot hope to appropriate, and live the principles of His teaching without first being converted, yet it is the teaching of Christ that defines Christianity. Christianity is not the sum of the creeds of the Church. We must go back beyond these and famous Synods, as important as they may be. We must go back beyond the writings of the early church fathers, as profound as their declarations may have been. A person can memorize the Apostle's Creed and believe that he believes it, and still remain untouched by the Spirit of the Man of Galilee. The new birth is not of "blood, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" Jn. 1:13.
The "blood" is biology. Biology, blood or lineage in not the way to heaven. Although Nichodemus could trace his pedigree back to Jacob himself he would learn that "that which is flesh is flesh." Being born in the right family or tribe is not the ticket to heaven. Neither does the "will of the flesh" offer any hope of salvation. That is psychology. The will of the flesh is the Jewish equivalent to our "will power." Of all the powers known to man it is the most difficult to harness. The wind is more predictable than that thing known as our will. Modern psychology is nothing more than a kind of witchcraft that attempts to manage the whims of the human will. If the blood and the will of the flesh are not the answer, perhaps the will of good men will do. Never. The science of the will of man is known as Sociology. All its efforts are but a futile attempt to build another tower of Babel in order to lift men to a Utopia. Any influence exerted upon man from without, be it with threats or with encouragement leaves the inner man unchanged. That is why the New Birth is "of God" Jn. 1:13.
Truly Jesus was a teacher come from God. He came to teach us and he said "learn of me" (Matt. 11:29. It was between classes that Jesus performed miracles and rebuked darkness. After all the classes were over and school was out, the teacher was taken out and crucified. Even then his students remember the words "I am the resurrection and the life."
It is the teachings of Jesus that arrest and arouses us. It was the words from his lips that mesmerized and moved multitudes. Even after two thousand years have passed those who listen to his words today still say "never a man spake like this man." While most sermons today have their emphasis on what a Christian does. Our interest is in the Teacher's words, for they tell us what a Christian is.
Jesus answered to many names. Master and Lord are two that quickly come to mind. He called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus is our Savior and our God. However, the title he most often answered to while he ministered to people in this world was "teacher." The King James Bible usually translated the Greek word didaskalos as "master." What it really means is "teacher."
A legalist could go home at night feeling quite proud and self-satisfied that he had succeeded in either his keeping the law or avoiding worldly pollution. He might even have stepped over some wounded soul on the way to religious services and be unconcerned about that stranger as those in the story of the Good Samaritan did.
Love however, will not allow us to get away so easily. Love is without boundaries or limits. Love will either stoop down to bind up the wounds of the suffering, or forbid us to sleep until we return and help. The law can allow the legalist to stand in the temple and say "I am glad that I am not as other men." Love makes it impossible to be self-righteous. The law was designed, not only to regulate society and behavior, (which it did) it also was to condemn and demonstrate man's hopeless condition, and encourage him to call out to God for salvation. The religious population missed both the meaning and the message of the law. Many convinced themselves that they were somehow living up to the demands of the law. They saw the letter, but knew not the spirit. It is impossible to keep the law. The law can have its final commandment, but love knows no limits.
Every Jew knew that the Messiah was coming. Every pious Jew was looking for his appearing. The Messiah could have come as some mighty prophet like an Elijah, or Elisha. Many were ready to make John the Baptist the champion of the people if he would lead them in battle against Gentile occupation. The Savior could have come in priestly robes and laid down his life as the God-man and still been the object of our faith and the satisfaction of every prophetic fulfillment. The Second Person of the Trinity could have come as a mighty warrior servant to lead the people to victory and still have satisfied the requirements of Scripture. Christ did not come in any of these ways. It is not insignificant that the most often used title for Jesus was not Savior (although he was that first of all) , or Prophet ( and never was there a greater than he), or King (and what a king he was); it was "Teacher."
No greater compliment could be paid to the ministry of Christ than for his followers to call him "Teacher." In the ancient Jewish world the teacher was higher than the priest. As a matter of fact, the Talmud teaches that if a Jew should come across his own father and his teacher and both were carrying heavy loads, he should help carry the load of his teacher before that of his father. A teacher in ancient Israel was on the top rung of the ladder of religious society.
Jesus was the master teacher. He was the teacher come from God. If he is a teacher come from God, we would do well to become his students. His students have not only been changed by his teaching, they have with his teachings changed the world.
Jesus came to fulfil the law and its demands, but Jesus came to do more than that. Jesus came to bring us the words of God. Jesus himself was called the Word and was indeed the living word. In the past the only word from God was that originally written in stone, carefully copied on parchments, and stored in "arks" (caskets used to store rolled scrolls). Now the word became flesh and lived among men. He that has ears to hear, let him hear.
We are saved by the grace of God. We are saved by "grace through faith." Jesus did for sinners what they could not do for themselves. He died on the cross as the substitute and the sacrifice for their sins. By believing in the Lord Jesus and his payment for our sins we become children of God. We are not saved by Jesus' example, nor are we saved by his teaching. We are saved by his death, burial, and resurrection.
As a reaction to liberal theology and a rejection of what is often referred to as the "Social Gospel," fundamentalists (those who hold to the historic fundamentals of the faith) are prone to pass over the teachings of Jesus too quickly and superficially. This is a grave mistake. The church is heavy on preaching "What a Christian Does" or should be doing, and is light on "What a Christian Is." The teachings of Jesus are more than a collection of stories and ancient anecdotes. They are the very words of God.
It has been said that one cannot study the words of Jesus apart from the works of Jesus. That is only partly true. As born-again believers who have experienced the greatest work of Jesus: the New Birth, we are thoroughly equipped and qualified to enroll in his class and learn important lessons about life eternal, and life abundant.
Are an Important Possession. Jesus prayed to the Father just before he entered into the passion of the cross. He spoke to the Father of another aspect of his mission that had to do with the content of his sayings. "For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me. . ." Jesus gave us eternal life, but he also gave us something that is necessary in order for us to enjoy the abundant life as well. He gave us his words. We often fail to realize how wonderful a possession we have in the words of Jesus.
Are Eternal. All the material possessions we enjoy are temporary. They are here today, gone tomorrow. The words of Jesus are eternal. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words will not pass away." Certain things become old fashioned, but not the sayings of Jesus. The Roman toga is "out of date," but the sayings of Jesus are just as pertinent today as when they were first uttered. They are timeless; that is, they are eternal.
Are Spiritual. A good word can encourage. A hard word can hurt. It requires spiritual words to transform and convert a soul. When many turned away from following the Lord Jesus, failing to comprehend the meaning of his message, and just before Peter pledged his allegiance to the Lord, Jesus said, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life."
Are God's Words. Unlike the liberal and the modernist who fail to hear the ring of deity in Jesus' words, we recognize both the humanity and the deity of the God-Man. Some see the teaching of Jesus as the teaching of a good man. Jesus said to Philip "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." He could just as well have said "He who has heard me, has heard the Father." Every word uttered by Jesus was the very word of God.
Are Able to Assist in Making Choices. In John 15:7 Jesus said "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." When the meaning of the words of Jesus fill our minds, our minds will be converted. When our minds are converted, we will know how to pray in the will of God.
Are Worthy to be Memorized. The Psalmist said "Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee." How much more do the life giving words of Jesus guard, guide and protect us. In Luke 24, the discouraged and frightened disciples lost sight of the way because they forgot the words and teachings of Jesus. Everything changed when they "remembered." We all too often are like those discouraged disciples heading off in a wrong direction because we too have forgotten the words of our Savior.
Are a Testimony to our Faith. The words of Jesus are so contrary to the methods and morals of the world that Christians are often silent when outnumbered by ungodly and humanistic ideas. Jesus said in Mark 8:38 "Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." After listening to the multitude and worldly opinions we should respond with the preface of "Jesus said . . . "
Are a Test of our Love. Most Americans lay claim to being Christian. Only God knows the heart of men; however, there is a test that quickly settles the question of whether or not we love Christ. Jesus said, "If any man love me he will keep my words" John 14:23
Are the Atoms of the Abundant Life. God desires that we have and experience a complete and successful life. We call that the "abundant life." The person who builds his life with the words of Jesus will be like a wise man who builds upon a rock.
The Old Testament had its great teachers. One of the greatest was Solomon.
And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore.
And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt . . . And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from kings of the earth, which heard of his wisdom" 1Kings 4:29ff.
Luke tells us that a "greater than Solomon is here" Lk 11:31. However, it was not the kings that came to hear this teacher. It was the poor, the lowly, and the down cast. They all went away saying "Never a man, spake like this man" Jn. 7:46. Here we shall attempt to study the words of the Master. We believe that in his words are found life and power.
Some men are experts when it comes to making mechanical repairs. We admire those who can lift the hood of an automobile and with confidence adjust, tighten, and repair an engine. They are able to make a motor spring to life and hum like a contented kitten. While some have a gift and unique aptitude for such work, most of us could be taught auto repair if we had the motivation and the time.
Yet more important than understanding the operation and repair of an internal combustion engine is the understanding of, and being able to repair, the human spirit. There is more horsepower in the human spirit than in any engine made by man. Working properly, the human spirit can overcome great obstacles, accomplish unbelievable tasks, and demonstrate an incredible ability to adapt or endure. The human spirit has the potential to fly higher than any bird, travel faster than any animal, and pull a greater load than any draft horse. The spirit of man is capable of climbing higher, digging deeper, and holding up longer against adversity than any other creature in God's creation.
Unfortunately, the human spirit is off course like a misguided missile. Something terrible has gone wrong with man. This malady of man is called sin. God himself has come to repair malfunctioning man. This coming is known, theologically, as the incarnation. The capturing of this wayward and run-a-way creature is called salvation. The repair and renewal of the human spirit is called sanctification.
Have you ever seen the wondrous sight of Canadian geese flying in tight formation like an arrowhead in the sky as they answer some mysterious call of nature? Have you ever seen a flock of Pelicans take to the air with a rush of wings that sounds like a symphony of feathers playing some composition written by a divine composer? These hundreds of creatures move like one being with one mind. There are no mid-air collisions although the skies are as crowded as Coney Island on the fourth of July. Wing tip to wing tip, the flock stays together, respecting the space and independence of each other yet, moving as a congregation sharing the joy of the wind.
Even while under the curse and consequences of the fall of Adam, within a species there is a harmony and a unity and oneness. Man has fallen further and is wounded more. Because the human spirit had such great potential, the consequences of the fall were more severe. Because man was made in the image of God, his wounds are more grievous and his redemption more urgent.
Because of the fall, man is incapable of flying in tight formations of cooperation of family, race and nation. His own heart is in a state of confusion and turmoil. Like an aircraft without a radio or transponder, he flies in a fog unable to find his way. His sin darkened heart not only collides with the movement, motives and ambitions of others, he is at war with God and with himself.
Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace who came to establish a new order and a new kingdom. The teachings of Jesus describe this new order. One of the very first lessons taught has been often referred to as "The Sermon on the Mount." The first subject of this great discourse is about the renewal of the human spirit.
It is as if Jesus lifts the hood to expose the engine of man, and then with the skill of a wise master craftsman teaches the mechanics, motives, and meaning of man.
Some call it "Salvation" others the "New Birth." It is both. One looks from heaven the other from earth. One looks from above the other from below. There is another perspective, and that is from within. We call this the "Renewal of the Human Spirit." Christianity is God getting man back on track. Christianity is the high tide of Grace that gently lifts the ship of man from the sandbar of sin. The renewal of the human spirit is the wonder of God's new creation. It is more important than the igniting of the sun to illuminate the heavens, more important than the filling of the oceans or elevation of the hills (for all these things were made for man). The renewal of the human spirit takes place one by one. It is just as sacred and wonderful as when God stooped down to fashion Adam from Eden's clay.
Man is mistaken when he attempts to change himself and others from the outside in, instead of from the inside out. Thomas Edison said that the purpose of the body is to carry the brain around. He was almost on target. The body is merely the house in which the spirit of man lives. The body carries around the soul. It is a grievous mistake to paint, pamper, and appease the body and neglect the soul. Man cannot be saved or changed from without. That is why the law, even the law of God cannot save.
The Jewish nation of Israel had the law and tried to live up to the law's demands. The law changed them on the outside in apparel and behavior, but left unchanged on the inside, they, like all worldly religious people, became hypocrites. Jesus came to change us on the inside.
There are certain things a good mechanic looks for as he trouble shoots a defective engine. The Lord Jesus goes directly to the difficulty and the instrument most severely damaged by sin: our attitude. The human spirit cannot function as it was designed to with the wrong attitudes. The Psalmist asked God in Psalm 51 to "renew a right Spirit within" him. Not only is our attitude changed when we become a Christian, the Holy Spirit must continually keep working in adjusting our attitudes until we are at last finished with this world and enter the eternal state.
Suppose a new convert reported to the church rectory on Monday morning, after the excitement and enthusiasm of the Sunday night meeting was over, to inquire not " What must I do to be saved?" but rather "What must I do now that I am saved?" What should we tell this new believer? Most pastors would tell him that he should be baptized, join the church, begin tithing, and encourage him to witness to make others Christian also. But what is a Christian? What our new convert often finds is that he has stepped on a religious treadmill that not only goes no where, but eventually reduces enthusiasm to drudgery. When these weary converts become cold and complacent, they are then cajoled or chastised for lack of faithfulness and made to feel guilty that they are not out recruiting others for the "cause of Christ." Explaining just what is the "Cause of Christ" is often neglected, however.
Jesus said "I am come that you might have life and have it more abundantly." Unfortunately an endless succession of meetings, services, and seminars is all some people get. Many are given certain "creeds" to memorize and told that they are now Christians. The problem with all of this is that a person could memorize the greatest of all creeds, the Apostle's Creed, and believe that they believe every jot and tittle and remain unchanged in their inner self and life.
Giving our converts creeds or lists of new laws to follow is putting new wine in old bottles. Christianity is a Salvation of the soul and the life. The first thing Jesus says to those who would believe in him is "learn of me." To our new faith we must add virtue (2Pet.1:5). We find virtue (which is moral excellence) in the spirit of our Savior. We must allow his Spirit to teach our spirit the principles, the power and the purpose of the new life.
Eight attitudes are mentioned in the opening remarks of Christ's Sermon on the Mount. They are commonly referred to as the "Beatitudes." This lesson would be more easily understood if we just called them "Attitudes." They can also be seen as steps into the kingdom. This kingdom is not the millennium kingdom, but rather the spirit kingdom that has bowed the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ and sees him seated upon the throne of a surrendered heart. These beatitudes also describe the heart of someone one millisecond after they are converted. At the moment of salvation a sinner is changed into a saint. These words of Jesus describe someone who stands in simple faith at the foot of the cross. Such a person is first
Poor in Spirit
This first characteristic deals with the attitude we should have about our self. It is so contrary, and out of step with the fallen mind of man that he would never have discovered it by himself. In this world, those most religious are often those most proud. Nothing is more deadly or destructive than such an attitude of pride. Here is the first step into Christ's kingdom. A proper view of self is to recognize the great potential and possibilities that are ours, but to realize the meaning of Jesus' words in John 15 "without me ye can do nothing."
A saw may have great potential, but not of itself. It is the carpenter that animates the instrument and makes the tool come to life. The master builder has many uses for the saw, and the hammer, and the plane. Jesus spent his early days in the home of Joseph the carpenter. He knew the potential of his father's tool box.
A man with a right estimate of self realizes that he offers nothing to God that he might glory in. The saw did nothing to become a saw, and the hammer is what it is because of the design and will of another. That God should have a purpose or a plan for us causes us to marvel. We know that unless God chooses to pick us up we have no life.
To carry the analogy further, we see ourselves as damaged and realize that there is no reason that God should ever want us. In sin, we are rusted, dulled, chipped and broken. Even if God were to reach into his tool box of humanity, He certainly would not choose me. I am a sinner.
Recognizing sin in our lives is poverty of spirit. Having a Biblical viewpoint of humanity, and especially ourselves, causes us to realize that although man was created by a brilliant mind we are not what we were intended to be and therefore are disqualified and are of no use to the master.
To be poor in spirit is to say with the Apostle Paul "I have sinned and come short of the glory of God," and to say with Isaiah "Woe is me for, I am undone."
It is the poor who are most likely to admit their need. It is the poor in spirit who will recognize their need for God. A person who believes he has no need, believes he has no need for God. Such a man cannot be saved. In another place Jesus said, "the sick are in need of a physician." If a person does not know he is sick, he is most likely to remain sick. If a person does not know he is poor, he will be satisfied with his poverty.
The poor in spirit, realizes that he has nothing to offer God. God is the giver and man is the dependent. The first step towards God is a declaration of poverty. It is also having a spirit or an attitude of dependence upon God. This attitude is the opposite of pride.
The second step to the kingdom is summed up in the word "mourn." It is one thing to know you have a problem, and quite another to want to do something about it. Many will admit that they are sinners, but that is not salvation. Some people admit they are sinners and are quite proud that they are. Paul described them as those "Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."(Rom. 1:32).
It is not until a person desires to be delivered from the power of sin and the tyranny self that God is willing to step in. Before the Lord healed the lame man by the pool of Bethesda he asked a question, "Wilt thou be made whole?" If he had responded in the negative, he never would have been healed. Many a beggar is satisfied with his begging and with the status quo.
While the first maxim deals with our attitude about our self, the second deals with our attitude about sin. A man on the brink of conversion mourns over his sin. He cries out with the Apostle Paul "Oh, wretched man that I am" Rom. 7:24.
The first three of these "attitudes" are the steps to salvation. The first recognizes the need. The second desires the change. But to desire to change is not the ability to change. The third step is one of yielding and one of surrender. This is having a new attitude about God. It is almost impossible to dissect salvation into its component parts. It is difficult to see where repentance ends and faith begins. Which of the two comes first has been the grist of grinding debates of theology. However, from the human point of view it seems clear that after the diagnosis and the prognosis must come the treatment. Jesus was the great physician. Those who came to him yielded and submitted to him as well as trusted him.
If the pain you felt from some sickness was severe enough you would commit your life to the doctor and allow him to do whatever he deemed necessary. You would not supervise your own operation, but with faith and trust hand your life over to the surgeon. So it is with salvation. A person has a new attitude about self, a new attitude about sin, and a new attitude about God. This attitude of meekness is one that trusts and commits itself without reservation.
Only the skilled surgeon can determine how serious our condition is. The truly repentant person understands the words of the teacher and says "if my right hand offends thee, Lord cut it off." This is an expansion of the actual words of Christ, but the spirit is the same. The believing, repenting, and trusting sinner will allow no pet sin to prevent him from entering the kingdom of heaven.
Sinners have all the wrong attitudes and all the wrong appetites. They hunger for the dainties and sweets of the world. The taste buds of a converted life hungers for different things. David said, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good." Once a person is converted, his tastes are converted.
Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness..." This is the first evidence of the new life. We know a sick person is getting well when they ask for food. We know a spiritually sick person is getting well when they regain their hunger for righteousness. Spiritually dead people have no spiritual hunger for righteousness.
Another way of saying "righteousness" is just saying "right." A converted man or woman has a craving for that which is right. Before they were saved they either hungered for that which was wrong, or were indifferent to that which was right. Now their heart cries out for truth.
The believer discovers the words of God and eats them as Ezekiel ate the scroll of God (Ezk.3). The believer repeats the sentiments of our Savior when doing battle with the tempter "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" Matt. 4:4.
The Christian's passion for righteousness must be balanced with a compassion for sinners. A zeal for righteousness without a broken heart for the lost is a cold and callous thing. Love is the hallmark of a genuine spiritual conversion. The rescued and repentant sinner has no appetite to burn anyone at the stake or nail anyone to a cross.
A religion that is indifferent to sin is a false religion; but at the same time, a religion that is insensitive to the needs and feelings of others is not from heaven.
Another evidence of a conversion is singleness of heart. Man is a amalgam of mixed motives and disguised intentions. The pure heart does not speak of "sinless perfection." It speaks of not being double minded. Jesus said, "you can not serve God and mammon." The pure in heart desires to give God the Glory.
The final attitude of a converted soul and a renewed spirit is one of reconciliation. As servants of the Prince of Peace, we seek to mediate differences, eliminate misunderstandings, and mend relationships. The devil is the one who came to steal, and to kill and to destroy (Jn. 10), Jesus Christ came to mend, heal, and to bind up (Isa. 61:1).
In the first three attitudes we see the entrance of the Christian into the Kingdom. In the next four attitudes we see the evidence of the Christian having entered the Kingdom. In the last attitude we see the experience of the Christian who is an inhabitant of one world and a citizen of another: persecution. At the same time, we are told to rejoice for the servant is not greater that his Lord and that the world will hate the followers of the one they crucified (Jn. 15:18). We are still "in" the world, but we are not "of" the world.
Many times people think their problems will be solved if they "pull up stakes" and move. They try a new location or latitude. What they need is not a new latitude, but a new attitude. Conversion creates a new outlook and a new attitude in us. We have a new attitude about self, sin, and the Sovereignty of God.
The Psalmist prayed "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" Ps. 51:10. This clean heart is a new heart which has a new outlook or a new attitude. If one is to follow Jesus Christ, if one is to understand his other-worldly ways, if one is to appreciate abiding in his presence, one must have a right attitude.
While the first lesson of the Sermon on the Mount teaches us how men come to the Kingdom, the second lesson teaches us how the Kingdom comes to men.TOC
Through the new birth the poor can know a spiritual affluence and go on to be a spiritual "influence."
It is one of the grave mistakes of Christianity to retreat into the monastery or convent. There must be a balance of meditation and ministry. The Dead Sea is dead, not because it is dry but because it has no outlet. Water flows from the Jordan and other tributaries into this sea. The water that enters is good, but because it has no outlet it cannot support life.
A church or a Christian without outlets through which to influence the world soon becomes useless. The Christian is not an end but, a means to an end. He is supposed to be a channel through which the knowledge and blessings of God should flow. The balanced life of the believer is seen in Mark 3:14 "And he ordained twelve that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach." The chemistry of a balanced Christian life is giving out as much as you take in.
Sometimes Christians try to give out what they don't have, and they don't have because they have failed to receive, and they fail to receive because they fail to "be with him."
An unbalanced Christian can err in the direction of monasticism or mysticism and in liberalism or socialism. Each are extreme positions. Each is spiritually inept and ineffective. Balance is not something we are physically conscious of. When functioning normally, the inner ear of the human body keeps us upright and on course. A disorder in the inner ear causes us to lose our balance and become dizzy and nauseous. When we are aware of the need to be balanced like when trying to walk on a tightrope, then we must concentrate to keep from falling. Concentration, by the way, is as much ignoring distracting stimuli as it is focusing on certain things.
The teaching of Jesus will tell us what to focus on and what to ignore in order to have a balanced Christian life. But after the lesson on the "Beatitudes" or as we have called them the "Attitudes," which are something internal, there is a balance of something external added to the equation. These are commonly known as the "Similitudes." We could say the attitude is balanced by an action.
Ye are the Salt of the Earth.
Ye are the Light of the World.
Both salt and light influence and effect their environment. One subtly and the other dramatically. One is obvious the other works quietly. The Church affects society as sun and salt.
Salt has a preserving, permeating, purifying influence. Salt is a crystal that combines two elements that, when taken by themselves, are poison: Na, Cl. Sodium is a metal and Chlorine is a gas. Both can kill and destroy. God, the Great Almighty Chemist, has taken two elements of death and made life. In like manner we were both dead and dying before the "new creation." Our body was dying and our spirit dead to God. When God the Holy Spirit came to dwell within our hearts and we were converted we became something new. A converted man is the salt of the earth.
Salt prevents and retards decay. Before refrigeration, fish and meat could be packed and preserved in salt. The Christian and the Church has a preserving influence upon the world that holds back the corruption of sin that would otherwise cause this evil world to consume itself. The world is insane with sin and has an innate tendency toward evil. The presence of God's people is enough to temper and check the forces of evil. When Christians live in the power of their renewed spirit, God's presence is felt in the world. Pride is checked by humility. Vice is blocked by virtue. Rebellious arrogance is befuddled and confused by controlled compliance. Hatred is defeated by love, duplicity by simplicity, and the lie is overcome by the truth.
The eight attitudes not only govern and control our inner life, they cannot help but influence our outward actions. Our spirit (Renew a right spirit within me) or attitude is silent, but effective and active. Our attitude is exposed when we "react" more than when we act. Our attitudes are also being tested and tempered as we come in contact with the evils of the world.
Salt also has a purifying influence. Salt was used in the ancient world as a cleansing agent. It could be used to scour and disinfect. Even though germs were not yet discovered or understood, salt was always associated with that which was clean. It was used in worship and in sealing of contracts.
Salt has its own distinct flavor. It plays an important role in the culinary arts. It can awaken the sense of taste and enhance flavor. Salt not only creates thirst, it triggers certain glands that aid in eating enjoyment. A Christian's life and attitude should help create an interest and curiosity for the things of God and his kingdom.
Salt works quietly. It appears very weak and simple yet it is very effective. The ministry of salt is not glamorous or spectacular. The ministry of salt is mostly negative in that it is defensive against the evils and corruption of the world. It might be said that salt is an answer to the "foulness" of the world. On the other hand, light is in answer to the "falseness."
While salt is defensive, light is offensive and brilliant. Light is an energy of its own and attacks its antithesis: darkness. Jesus said of his disciples, "ye are the light of the world." This suggests the vital role God has given his church, for vision is impossible without light. Light has a way of exposing and revealing. John the Baptist was a light. He so lit up the world around him, that people either were drawn like a plant is drawn to the light of the sun, or they flew like bats deeper into the dark caves of unbelief. (John 5:35)
Herod thought he could sin with impunity. He was living with his brother Philip's wife Herodias. John the Baptist was salt in that his heart burned with a zeal for the kingdom of God, but he was also light.
When the church is in harmony with God it is light and salt. It influences its surroundings by its character and its conduct. It influences the world with its values and its voice. God has given us a ministry.TOC
The Jew was to be God's representative on earth. From the day God called Abraham and promised he would be the father of a nation, this special and chosen group of people were to be the vehicle through which God would speak, and the channel through which the Messiah would come into the world.
The Jew was well aware of his privileged position, but had somehow missed the mark in understanding the responsibility and purpose. That the world was in spiritual darkness and decay was without question among Jewish society; and that the Jew was to be separate from the Gentiles and the heathen was without dispute. The world was a sea of self indulgence, evil, vice, violence, and vanity. The world was lost and far from God.
God's plan for the world went much farther than the Jew realized. Somehow this truth escaped these chosen ones. While the Christian's mission was one of world wide evangelism, the Jewish goal was survival.
When worldly and Helenistic tendencies began to infiltrate Judaism, there arose a sect to challenge the change and defend the ancient and holy heritage. The Pharisees were born. The aims and purposes of this group were honorable and noble. They were to become the "defenders of the faith." The word Pharisee means "separate." They were the separatists or fundamentalists of their day. One, however, may defend the fundamentals of the faith with right spirit or a wrong spirit. Unfortunately, they had gone wrong and became the greatest enemies of the God they claimed to defend. The greatest obstacle to the ministry and message of Jesus Christ were these "separatists," the Pharisees.
They began as the great champions of the faith two centuries before Christ and had become, by the time of the incarnation, the greatest of charlatans. The twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is a scathing condemnation of these self righteous adversaries.
They held an important office. (v2)
Jesus recognized that they sat in the seat of Moses. They had a high and holy position that was to be respected. We must be careful not to defame the office even when the holder does not live up to the calling. Jesus was no rebel or revolutionary. He understood authority and submitted himself to it, even when it was wrong and unjust.
They were a poor example. (v.3) They should have been the model and example of godliness and spiritual living. They were not. Jesus warned his disciples to distinguish between the words of Moses and the conduct and spirit of the Pharisee. He said "don't do as they do."
They made religious life a tedious burden.(v.4) The life of real religion should have been a joy and a bit of heaven on earth. Instead it became grievous and oppressive.
They loved attention. (v.5) "All their works they do to be seen of men." They were playing a part. They were on stage. They were putting on a performance. Actors are addicted to applause. Applause is a narcotic of narcissism.
They loved the prestige. (v.6) Some go into the ministry today because they love attention, others because they love the prestige. "They loved the chief seats in the synagogue." There is no prestige to the ones who hold the true mantle of Christian ministry. The true disciples of Jesus Christ can expect no more than the Master received from the world; and within the church, the "greatest are to be the least."
They loved titles.(v.7) "and greeting in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi." One can have a title without the power or the ministry. Christendom is filled with men with degrees and titles. There is nothing wrong with respect and recognition. The danger comes with loving the honor and failing to give glory to God.
They were obstructions.( v. 13) "Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in." It is a sad situation when a poor sinner must climb over a hypocrite to get into heaven, but the road to the kingdom is filled with such obstructions. To those who turn back because of a hypocrite standing in their way, we can only encourage them to go around the hypocrisy and keep their eye on the goal.
They were insincere. (14) Of all the awful sins of religion this is the blackest: insincerity. Sincerity will never earn a halo, but honesty is essential to eternal life. Many Pharisees used their position to take advantage of others. "Ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer . . . " People trust the minister. People open themselves and allow themselves to become vulnerable. They often let down their guard and defenses. Woe to the minister who abuses that trust. Jesus said the insincere minister will "receive the greater damnation." Even the world is disappointed when they find a pastor with his hand in the till, or morally flawed, and not practicing what he has preached.
They were proselytizers. (v. 15) A proselyte is someone who changes from one religion to another. We know that religion is not salvation. The Pharisee sect had become a political party by the time of Christ. The Pharisee was more desirous to win a point than to win a soul. "Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte . . ." Sometimes we are more concerned with building churches than with winning souls. Many compromises and concessions are made to advance our program and projects. There is often a competitive spirit between mission boards, schools, and churches. This should not be.
They were devious. (v.16) Jesus condemned their sliding scale of honesty. The Pharisee believed that swearing upon the temple or the gold of the temple or the altar of the temple offered varied degrees of obligation. This is similar to our saying that we swear "on a stack of Bibles." Jesus saw this for what it was. It was a means of bending the truth and violating a vow. His remedy to this ridiculous practice was to avoid swearing and hold a man to his word.
They were petty. (v.23) A Pharisee was always a small person. They were not necessarily small physically, but small in spirit. The person with the spirit of the Pharisee is obsessed with insignificant and unimportant details of rites, rituals, and ceremonies, while missing their meaning, importance and significance. In other words, they cannot see the forest for the trees. "Ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
They were shallow and cosmetic. (v.25) Jesus accused them of washing only the outside of the cup. It is a very unhealthy practice to wash only the outside of the cup. The Pharisees were like the false fronted facades of a cowboy town. Single story buildings were made to look like two stories by adding a frame to the front that faced main street. A close inspection would have revealed that things were not what they seemed.
They were dishonest. (v.27,28) They went beyond shallowness. They went on to fakery. They applied the rouge, and mascara to the face of dead religion to make it look alive. They appeared "beautiful outward, but [were] full of dead men's bones."
They were deceived. (v.30-32) "And [ye] say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets." They failed to see the responsibility for the actions of their forefathers. They failed to see the failures of their heritage. They failed to learn from their father's mistakes. They failed to admit to the deceitfulness of the human heart that was exposed by Jeremiah (17:3)
They were deadly. (v. 33) Jesus called them serpents and vipers. The Bible would later teach us that the letter kills but the Spirit brings life. These were masters of the letter.
They were destructive. (v. 34) These would not only work to destroy the Messiah, but also the disciples of the early church.
They were damned. (33,36) "How can ye escape the damnation of hell." When they crucified the Lord Jesus, they destroyed their only hope. They signed their own death warrant. Jesus said, "no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." Jn. 14:6.tc
Jesus and the Law
Jesus made two startling statements with regard to the Law. First, he assured his hearers that he had not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. When one nation overthrew another nation the laws of the victor replaced the laws of the conquered. Jesus was proclaiming another kingdom. This would amount to a new order and government. The sinners, harlots, tax collectors had little trouble understanding the spiritual significance of the Kingdom of God. The enemies of Christ completely misunderstood the nature of the kingdom. Jesus made it clear that he did not intend to destroy or remove the laws of God. He came to fulfill, that is, to obey the laws as they were intended to be obeyed.
One of the most serious mistakes of modern evangelical Christianity is to relegate the law to the Old Testament antiquity. Many will insist that the law has done its work, and now it is time for grace to act. Others insist that we are in a new dispensation, and that God is no longer applying the laws of the Old Testament to Church and that it has little to do with us.
There are several problems with these views. First of all, it should be pointed out that the ministry of the law is to convict men of their sin. The law was never intended to save. People have always been saved by grace and not by works; but where no law is, there is no guiltiness or conviction of sin. Church movements that have dismantled the law as if it were some useless relic of an ancient time are denying God his most valuable tool for the conviction of sinners. Without the law man can go about indifferent to all standards but his own. With the law as a tool, John the Baptist could proclaim "It is not lawful..." He spoke on the basis of the eternal standards of God's law. It was on the basis of an absolute standard by which God shall judge the ages, John was able to preach :"Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Jesus did not come to destroy, dismantle or defuse the law. He came to fulfill it.
The second statement that caused his hearers to wonder with astonishment was: "except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." How could that be possible?
The Pharisees were the champions of the law. They were the experts of the law. They were the example of the epitome of Judaism. How could the common ordinary person hope to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees? The answer was simple. The Pharisees were protecting the "letter of the law" without understanding the "spirit" of the law.
Compliance with the law can be calculated and superficial. It can appear that one is complying with the rules, while at the same time violating them through cunning and manipulation. One can "go through the motions" while never changing his "notions" or "emotions." When Jesus said our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees he meant that outward compliance was not enough. Our motives must be in harmony with the intent of the law as well.
Some have said that Jesus was raising the standard so high that it would be apparent that it was impossible to keep the law and that all were sinners. This is partly true in that the ministry of the law was never to merit us salvation by obedience, but rather to reveal the nature and character of God.
If Christianity could be reduced to a list of do's and don'ts we would somehow think that compliance qualified us as worthy. Jesus challenged the conceited assurance of the Pharisees by comparing the outward compliance to the letter of the law with the inward acceptance of the spirit of the law.
It is not enough that we do not actually murder someone. Jesus raised the standard by saying we can not hate a brother without cause without being guilty of murder in our heart. In other words, sins are committed in our hearts before they are completed in the world. Jesus did not mean that hating your brother was equal with actually killing him. He was not teaching that all sins are equally sinful. I would much rather you hated me than killed me. One is too final, too awful. If you hate me, I can still go on living. Hate is the first step to murder just as the first drink is the first step to alcoholism. No one ever became an alcoholic without taking that first drink. We are to attempt to live in harmony with those around us.
Do not commit adultery says the law. Jesus went beyond that by warning a man that lust is the first step to adultery. Here Jesus calls us to a thought life of purity. He who has pure thoughts about his sisters, and the fairer sex around him is not in danger of outwardly violating the laws of morality.
Jesus pointed to the bill of divorcement that Moses allowed the hard hearted Jews of his day. Moses permitted divorce to protect the woman from abuse. Moses never encouraged a violation of our vows. Divorce is at best failure. A failure of promises, a betrayal of trust, and a disappointment to dreams. Jesus lifted up a high standard for marriage and calls his hearers to that standard of integrity.
While people were arguing about the validity of certain oaths and sincerity of certain promises depending on whether or not one swore on the temple or the gold of the temple, Jesus simply said, "let your yes mean yes, and your no, no." We are to be honest in all our dealings.
The law said it was legal to "get even," an eye for an eye. Jesus warned about exacting revenge upon those who oppress and misuse you. He showed us a marvelous method for preventing bitterness in the face of unfairness, or oppression. "If you are compelled to go one mile, go two." The genius of his advice has never been surpassed. If I refuse to go the mile, I might be considered rebellious or incorrigible. If I go the mile, I comply, but could become bitter. If I submit, go the mile, and add another, I avoid the danger of bitterness with its emotionally toxic consequences, and overthrow by oppressor.
If I go the one mile I am the slave. When I go the extra mile by my choice, I am the master. When I go the one mile because I have to, I am in chains. When I go the second because I want to, I am in charge.
It is easy to love your friend and hate your enemies. Jesus instructs his followers to love even their enemies. This went so far beyond the realm of human reason and practice that it brings us to an un-earthly kingdom: The kingdom of God.
Any attempt to keep the letter of the law without keeping the spirit of the law will make us legalists. We must discover the deeper purpose of law by embracing its spirit.TOC
Getting from the Kingdom of Satan and into the Kingdom of God is a Spiritual and supernatural journey and event. Those of each kingdom share the same physical space. Two individuals can hold hands and yet be on opposite ends of the Spectrum.
One does not enter the Kingdom of God without a struggle. God will assist and help the sincere, contrite and broken. There are three obstacles and enemies to the Kingdom of God.
They are the world, the flesh, and the Devil. These not only oppose us at conversion, but all through our Christian lives they must be dealt with.
The first parable of the Kingdom in Matt. 13 introduces us to the hostility the spiritual must overcome. The Devil is seen in the fowls of the air. The weakness of the flesh wilts under the heat of adversity, and the thorns represent the cares of the world.
The Believer fights a war on all three fronts. First the Devil will do everything within his power to keep a man from seriously considering the Word of God. Even after conversion Satan attempts to divert our attention from this all important element of successful Christian living. The first obstacle Jesus encountered was the Devil himself. He came pretending to be concerned and offered suggestions for living. He twisted his words around his intended victim only to have them cut away with the sharpness of the Words of God.
Second, Jesus had to overcome the weakness of the flesh. He chose to fight the battle against evil and offer himself as a human sacrifice upon the cross. When he took upon himself the frame of our humanity he took the frailness and weakness of mortality. He could feel the chilly blast of the cold of night. He felt the heat of the Palestine sun beat upon his house of clay. He wearied in his long journey and knew the cries of thirst as he sat by the well of Sychar. On the mount of Temptation he felt the weakness of the fast and the pang of hunger. His body voted with Satan to break the fast and feast on miracle bread made from stones. What harm would it be to others for the future preacher from Galilee to eat a little bread? Jesus must put the flesh in its proper place before he could begin his ministry to the world.
The third battle was one of the most subtle. The kingdoms of the world were paraded before his eyes from the lofty perch. Satan has the keys to every city. Mayors often honor those who excel and are accomplished in the things of this world with the keys to their city. The recipients often display these keys with great pride. The Key to the Kingdom of God is the only key that the Christ was interested in and the only one we should desire to hold.
Satan claimed he had authority and could give the glory and power of the earthly kingdoms to those whom he would. A look around on worldly kingdoms and an understanding of the compromises, deals , and concessions that many made to hold the reigns of government lead us to well believe that Satan was not simply making idle boasts. One must sip much wine, and court many a foe in order to win a vote.
Yet this third enemy to the things of God is usually not as blatantly obvious as the outright offer made to our Savior. Satan usually parcels out his delights piece meal. Satan buys a mans soul a shekel at a time until he clearly becomes the major share holder. Jesus spoke of the "deceitfulness of riches" as being the thorns that choke any spiritual notions or ambitions. Unfortunately the unsuspecting soul only smells the roses and never sees the thorns until it is too late and too painful to attempt to extricate himself from the thicket.
The parable of the sower also teaches us about the difficulty God's word encounters in finding root in the human heart. Four types of ground and soil are depicted. Each represents and pictures a human heart. The seed is always called the "good seed" when it comes from the hand of the faithful sower, God's servant. This good seed (which we are told is the Word of God) has in itself all the potentials and possibilities of the Kingdom.
The first example is that of the hard-heart. The good seed falls on the hard crust of the earth and never penetrates or makes an impression. It is finally carried away and devoured by the fowls of the air. Many closed minded people are likewise uninfluenced by the most emphatic and enthusiastic preaching of the Word of God. They either brush it away of ignore it and go about their business. These are all those who fail to respond to the appeals of God. An Old Testament example of such a heart is the one that beat in Pharaoh's breast. Another example in the New Testament is that of Felix. The name Felix itself means "happy." No man who is "happy" with the way things are is ever saved. It is only the man who is unhappy with himself, his sin, and the wickedness of the world, who is wanting to change. The word of God sat on the service of this heart only to be forgotten while attentions were given to more pressing and immediate matters. Spiritual things would have to wait for a more convenient season. Unfortunately, when that convenient season came the word would already been taken away.
The second heart put on display is the "Hollow- heart". This is the impulsive soul that jumps at the invitation without considering the cost. This is the heart that is superficial. This is the heart that wears a thin veneer of enthusiasm for the things of God, but it is only a veneer. A simple scratch of adversity reveals that the heart is essentially unchanged underneath. Jesus described how the heat of the sun wilted any zeal that bloomed in the comfort of the morning. Like the morning glory, this heart is like the flower that melts by mid-day. Many people have rushed down a church aisle and joined the church, without realizing the cost of joining Jesus. These jump out as fast as they jumped in. One cannot launch a ship in shallow waters. Salvation does not come to the hollow-heart which lacks depth of conviction.
The seed in this scenario springs up, but is baked by the sun and dies. The rich young ruler is one who had a shallow or hollow heart. The Woman at the well is another. " "Give me this water," she said, "that I might not thirst again." Jesus realized that there was not yet a depth of understanding or conviction to plant the seed. "Go get your husband," drove the spade of the sower deep into her personal life of sin and failure. That question began to break up the fallow ground of her heart until it was broken and ready.
The third example of the heart was that which was covered with thorns. The thorns are explained to be the cares of this world and deceitful riches. They compete for the affections of the heart. They are most serpentine in their nature and embrace before they smother. They can have the most beautiful of this world's flowers yet they are covered with thorns. No one surrounded with their painful needles dare escape except they pay a bloody price. This heart is the half heart. Interest is divided between their beauty and the beauty of heaven.
The final example is called "good ground" by our Lord. This good ground is that honest or humble heart. This is the person who allows the Word of God his serious attention. This is the person who allows the word to break through the crust of indifference in into the depths of conscience. This is the heart that is broken to such a depth that the things of the world pale compared to the things of heaven. This heart is deep enough for the word of God to germinate, take root and penetrate beyond the superficial cares of this life. This heart will yield an eternal harvest: some 30, some 60, some 100 fold.
Everyone has a secret life and a private world. Both sinner and saint have an inner self that constitutes the real person. This real person may be adorned or unadorned with fashion, given to bravado or self incriminations. This real self might apply the heavy make-up of delusion or wear no cosmetic at all. It matters not, for God sees each person as they really are. "All things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do" Heb. 4:13.
Our private world consists of attitudes, ideas and aspirations. It is an act of intimacy to allow another to enter the gates of our inner life. We have learned there are few worthy of such a closeness.
When we become Christians we throw open the doors and let God come into the private kingdom of our inner-being and take his place upon the throne where self once reigned. Self now becomes a faithful subject in what is called the Kingdom of God.
We still have a secret self and a secret realm of being; but conversion begins a process of transformation and a new order of life. Christ calls our attention to this private and personal world of ours and calls us to a higher standard of being.
The recriminations and condemnations of Christ upon the Pharisees resulted from an internal inspection that betrayed the outward pretensions and exposed the hypocrisy of their religion.
The private, secret lives of sinners is one of anarchy and rebellion against God. Self, sits pompously and arrogantly upon the throne of the heart. Thoughts and imaginations run through the streets of their mind and heart like the citizenry of any large and crowded city. Confusion often blows in like a storm front and emotions change like the weather. Fears, like ugly trolls live under its bridges and in the forests lurk the terrors of the night.
Self never removes its crown, but often slips from its throne to engage in amusements and temporal pleasures. Conscience is tolerated to varying degrees by individual monarchs, but often ignored and sometimes relegated to the deepest dungeons of the kingdom; not unlike Herod's incarceration of the Baptist who cried out "it is not lawful, it is not lawful."
Jesus came to deliver us from the tyranny of self and bring peace and order to each believer. The Christian life is played out in the larger temporal world. That temporal world and life is a continual pulse of actions and reactions and a steady stream of declarations which spring from the deep internal aquifer of character.
A colonial divine named Wigglesworth put it profoundly when he said, "My inner man is a thousand times larger than my outer man." If that is true (and I think it is) we should be paying close attention to the inner life Jesus spoke of when he said "the kingdom is within you." Lk. 17:20.
As each temporal nation has its own institutions of government and order, so the individual believer has certain internal disciplines. As a society at large is driven by various branches and authorities, the congress of Christianity is always in session legislating values, programs, and addressing problems. Our inner-life or our secret life generates actions that not only contribute to the larger divine agenda for humanity, but constitute the elements of a personal history for which we will be held accountable.
Jesus said, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" Jn. 16:33. We also can overcome the world if we employ the strength available to us from an internal life divinely governed by Jesus Christ the Lord. This kingdom involves a secret life that can be a foretaste of heaven on earth and a citadel against evil and all enemies of the soul. Jesus spoke of the secret life.
The Secret life of Prayer (Matt. 6:6)
What we are in secret is what we are. What a person is in public may or may not be what they really are. If we had been among the band of men who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry we would have noticed a consistent behavioral pattern of praying in his life. Jesus would often slip away alone and engage in an activity that was essential to "overcoming" the world. And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed" Mk. 1:35
Sometimes he took his students (a disciple is a student) along, but usually his prayer life was in secret. Jesus said in another place, "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" Mt. 6:6. Before he faced the world with all its troubles and difficulties, he faced the Father and drank in the power of his presence.
How long should we pray? Is there a certain amount of time that satisfies this spiritual need in the Christian's life? Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is God. He was also, through the miracle of the incarnation, the son of man. It was in this capacity of being "son of man" that he spoke of he and his Father being one. In that sense we too can be one with God. "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us . . ." Jn. 17:23. Another verse that can shed light on the meaning of this prayer "that they also may be one in us" is Matthew 18:19 "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven." If agreement among men can produce such powerful results, how much more when we "agree" with God. We should pray until we "agree" with God. When we agree with God we are conformed to the purpose of his will, and with that comes the confirmation of his power.
A word of caution should be given here. Some would pray until they think God has "agreed" with them. These people have already made up their mind (ie. God does not want me sick) and then wrestle the devil ( or more probably, their doubts) until they are assured that heaven and hell must agree with them. That is misguided and presumptuous. We are the ones who must be refashioned into God's image, not God hammered into ours.
We need to pay attention to our secret prayer life. "And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone" Matt. 14:23 What you are when you are alone is what you really are. Some would be ashamed to have their secret life exposed (Eph. 5:12). When the closet of the secret life of Jesus is thrown open we find him in prayer.
Men often yearn for popularity and praise from men. Many aspire to become the center of the crowd whether in politics, business, or playing field. Many long for a place in the board room, throne room, or their place in the sun. Many share the Secret lives of Walter Mitty in their secret imaginations. Many would jump at the opportunity to attend their own coronation, or receive the adulation of man. Not Jesus. When he was surrounded by throngs that desired to make him king he slipped away to the solitude of a mountain top that was his prayer room and company with the Father. "When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone" (Matthew 14:22 tells us what he did on the mountain) and prayed. This first element of the secret life is fellowship with God.
The Secret life of Self Denial (Matt. 6:17-18)
Jesus not only told his followers to pray in secret he told them to fast in secret. "Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
What is fasting if it is not the essence of self-denial. " If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself and follow me." The ability to say no to self is perhaps one of the greatest powers. Samson was a weakling, although he carried the gates of a city, he was unable to say "no" to the carnal appetites of the flesh.
When the disciples gave up in frustration after failure to heal a poor man's son and witnessed the ease with which the Master chased the demon that posesses the boy away, they were instructed in the art of spiritual warfare. "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."
The Apostle Paul was a little man with great power. One of the elements of his Christian life was fasting which is the most obvious ways of denying self. (2Cor. 6:5; 2Cor. 11:27
Jesus said if anyone would follow him they would have to learn to say no to self. A disciple's life is a disciplined life.
The Secret life of Charity (Mat. 6:1-4)
God is the great giver. He is the giver of life and all that is necessary to sustain and support that life. He is also the giver of eternal life which was made possible by the giving of the Son. Giving is good. Giving in secret is godly. Jesus taught his followers to give alms in secret and the Father would reward openly.
Tithing is an accepted axiom for successful living. Giving back ten percent of the one hundred percent is not heroic. It is a basic expected requirement of Biblical financial management. Giving of alms is going the second mile of economics. If our giving is confined to the letter of the law we have done no more than is expected of us. There is even an incentive to give our tithes due to certain tax laws. The government requires the tither to keep records of our giving. Likewise, we require the church to keep records and be financially accountable for the disbursement of funds. On the other hand, God expects us to give alms to those in need and instead of requiring us to keep records of the gift, encourages us to forget we even gave.
A Word to Tithers
There are expenses involved in operating the visible and local church. There are practical needs. It is a good idea to have electric lights and a phone. If records must be kept someone is usually paid to do it. If the building is to be swept someone is usually paid to do that as well. We have no argument with the fact that there are operating expenses involved with church ministries. As a church grows people expect more comfortable conditions such as climate control, padded pews, gymnasiums, and parking lots. All these things can be earnestly justified and we will not even quibble over these amenities and comforts. The point is this: All these things are usually paid for with the tithe. The tithe is usually used to meet our own needs or accommodate our desires. We are not giving to God at all. We are giving to ourselves. We may argue that the padded pew is ultimately for God, but it is we who sit on the pew. We can argue that we can have a greater outreach to the lost if we have a well equipped gymnasium, but the truth of the matter is it is a gift we give ourselves.
The giving that impresses God is secret giving. It is the twenty dollar bill we anonymously slip under a needy family's door, or the bag of groceries left on someone's door step. This is the giving Jesus spoke of in Matthew 25. "He that hath pity [gives] unto the poor lendeth unto the Lord" Prov. 19:17. This giving to the poor is in fact giving to God. Here is a secret law of reciprocity that rewards the cheerful and generous secret ministry of giving to the poor.We would all do well to have a secret ministry of giving.
The Secret life of Self-talk (Mat. 6:25)
Jesus knows our thoughts. There is a steady conversation of self-talk going on in our mind. We are continually (and hopefully silently) talking to ourselves. "Boy would I like to have that." Who are we talking to? We are talking to ourselves. "You can do it, choke up on the bat. Remember what you learned. Keep your eye on the ball," and so it goes. We talk to ourselves.
More often than not we say unkind and destructive things to ourselves. "What a clutz you are, you can't do anything right." "Boy you must have really looked like a fool, how embarrassing." Such self-talk makes for a very self conscious and insecure personality.
Jesus drew attention to the elements and attitudes of the secret thought life and taught the importance of thinking properly. "Don't worry (take no thought) about your life: what you shall eat or what you should wear." "Don't be afraid, you believe in God, believe also in me." "Have faith in God and He can do anything." These are all examples of good thoughts.
A Christian must remember that he or she can never be greater that their thoughts. If you have small, negative, destructive, and toxic thoughts, you will be a small, negative, destructive and toxic person. Think good thoughts.
There is another aspect about the secret life of self-talk that should be considered. Remember that God is listening in on your conversation with yourself. Imagine yourself in an animated phone conversation with your best friend. Imagine that someone has picked up an extension and is listening to every word you say. Would that un-nerve you? Would that temper your speech? Remember that God is on the extension and is listening to your self-talk. "Should I tell the truth or should I mislead this individual," you might momentarily ask yourself? Then you remember that God is on the extension so you direct the question to him and receive the obvious answer even before you finish asking. This is what it means to pray without ceasing.
Nicodemus, like all pious Jews was hoping for and expecting a Messianic Kingdom. Nicodemus cautiously came to Jesus by night to inquire about its installment. It never dawned on Nicodemus that he would not be part of the kingdom. Each Jew completely and fully expected to be a citizen of the kingdom in which the laws of Moses would be zealously enforced and God would rule: a theocracy. The Pharisees were confident that they would hold the seats of power and authority and be leaders and governors. Surely the Messiah would solicit the support of this pious body of Judaism.
Jesus brushed aside the compliments of the Pharisee and fired an arrow at Nicodemus' heart. God's arrows are sure and always hit their mark. Nicodemus was startled by the suggestion that being a Jew and more importantly, being a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin was not enough to warrant a place in the kingdom. Jesus made it clear, "Except a man be born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God." Jesus immediately challenged conventional tradition. He was engaged in what Paul admonished every warrior of God to do: "Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God."
The first lesson about Salvation is that religion is not enough. Nicodemus was the devout of the devout. He was a member of the ruling body of Judaism and a defender of the faith. The modern day "defenders of the faith" might do well to take warning in this lesson. Whatever Nicodemus and the Pharisees might have been defending, God was not in it. The Pharisees had a siege mentality. They had shut out humanity and raised around them the battlements of prejudice, and pride. They fought to defend a heritage and tradition of two thousand years. They had girded themselves in a cumbersome armor of rites, rituals, and ceremonies. They fired their recriminations at all that were unlike themselves had only contempt for those creatures that lived outside the law.
The error of the Pharisee was in failing to admit to the reality of their sin and short comings and that in spite of their best religious efforts, there was as much of the world inside their heart as there was without. Judaism had shut and bolted the doors, stacked all the furniture against them thinking that this was sufficient protection from evil and all the while the evil of sinful self filled the very hiding place. Jesus pointed out what the honest Pharisee secretly feared in his darkest nights of doubt and suspicion: Religion is not enough. Even years of brain washing and self indoctrination could not convince the most devout that he was devout enough.
Nicodemus, "ye must be born again." How much water must come down from the mountains and rush into the ocean to make it unsalty? How much pure rain must fall from the sky to cleanse the saline sea? The answer is obvious. No matter how much fresh water we pour into the ocean it will never be enough. So it is with religion and good works. As good as good works might be, they will never be enough. No, something else must happen if the salty sea is to be changed, something spectacular and supernatural, something completely new and different. So too, Jesus said to Nicodemus you "must be born again." All of your prayers, fastings, tithing, goods works, and abstinence will not gain you entrance into the kingdom of God, "you must be born again."
The second lesson learned through this encounter is that knowledge and intellect are not enough to insure entrance into the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus, as a doctor of the law knew the scriptures like his own hand. He had committed much of the Hebrew text to memory. Here is another lesson for the modern day scholar. Knowing the Hebrew and the Greek does not insure any greater degree of closeness to God that might be enjoyed by the most uneducated and unschooled saint. The language that Bible students struggle with was second nature to this Pharisee and yet he was far from the Kingdom of God. He was standing in the presence of the incarnated Word of God and knew it not. Lexicons, dictionaries, and commentaries are no substitute for a personal relationship with the Almighty.
Nicodemus was a teacher of others (3:10), but he himself had much to learn. One of the sad qualities of the Pharisees was that with all their knowledge they had little room for learning as they demonstrated on another occasion: "They answered and said unto him, Thou was altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out." Many a teacher of truth has been cast out by those who would not learn.
Unfortunately, many a good Pastor-teacher has come up against a wall of ignorance when congregational leaders are convinced by their titles and positions of authority that they have graduated from the school of Christianity and have nothing else to learn. They say to God's imperfect messengers "thou was born in sins, dost thou teach us," and unceremoniously cast out the very one they need to hear.
God warns us in another place (1Cor. 8:1) that knowledge without love is a dangerous thing. "Knowledge puffs up, while love builds up." Jesus let the air out of Nicodemus' tires that night. "Nicodemus, you must be born again."
The third lesson about salvation is that it is a work of God. Man can no more take credit for the wind than he can for the New Birth. "The wind bloweth where it listeth." Where it comes from and where it goes is not for us to know. The wise mariner will catch the wind in his sails and ride for free on its strength. Likewise the willing soul will catch the wind and know the power of God's grace in Salvation. Salvation is not the result of the will of man. He who would be saved must catch the tide when it comes. The harbor of human efforts is much too shallow for the draft of any sinner's ship. All attempts to escape against nature will utterly fail. Salvation's opportunity comes to every soul but it is never guaranteed to come with such a depth tomorrow. That is why the Apostle admonished all to seize the day. "Now is the accepted time, today is the day of Salvation."
The forth lesson of Salvation while simple enough has been made ambiguous by those looking for hidden mysteries. Jesus was attempting to make things simple, not complex. He was assaying to make things clear not cloudy. "Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (3:5).
Many attempts have been made to explain the meaning of the word water. Some efforts have strained the contemporary boundaries of discretion suggesting that Jesus was referring to certain elements of child birth. Even if the Master and author of life were to refer to something so personal and private, it would be wasted on the old Pharisee who would certainly be embarrassed to speak of such things. The standards of modesty must rule out such a socially awkward interpretation.
Another explanation given has strained to reach for an allegorical blanket to hold this baby and have attempted to wrap the word in the swaddling clothes of metaphor. These say that the word "water" means the scriptures. Unless a man is born of the Scriptures and of the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God, they say. It might very well be true that "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God" but this could not be what Jesus had meant for several reasons. First of all, he was being plain, blunt, and direct with Nicodemus. Second, few knew the scriptures as well as this Pharisee. He claimed to love the word; he lived and breathed it. Third, if Jesus wanted to say "scriptures" why did he not just say so? The forth reason has to do with an inconsistent use of metaphors. If "water" is the metaphor for something then "spirit" must be a metaphor for something else. If "spirit" means spirit, then "water" must mean water.
This puts some in an uncomfortable theological position for there is only one explanation left. The word water is referring to baptism. In our desire to distance ourselves from the Roman church and any of it's sacraments we have refused to accept the simplest explanation of this verse. Water refers to baptism.
But just as "spirit" is a word with enormous implications "baptism" is more than a rite or ritual. Jesus is speaking in language Nicodemus would understand. The act of baptism was not only an act of initiation, it was an act of public confession of sin and identification with a cause. A delegation had been sent to investigate the behavior of John the Baptist. He was baptizing converts and calling for a public acknowledgement of repentance for the remission of sins. He said this was all necessary as a precursor to the entrance of the coming Kingdom. The water refers to "repentance" and the spirit to "faith." Both are necessary for the New Birth. Repentance is something I must do. Faith is something God must Give. One is flesh and the other is spirit.
The fifth lesson about salvation is that it is not without great cost. The Son of man must be "lifted up" as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. Every Jew knew the story well. The judgment of God fell on the people of Israel and their only hope was to look to judgment of the serpent of bronze in faith for deliverance. The judgment must fall, but it was transferred to the serpent to all who would allow it to be so by faith and obedience. Those who looked to the standard held high in the wilderness were spared. Those who did not look were bitten by fiery serpents and perished. Jesus would be "lifted up" in the crucifixion and deliver all who look to him in faith. Salvation cost God dearly.
The sixth lesson of salvation is about its urgency. "He that believeth not is condemned already" (3:18). Salvation is not an optional, "take it or leave it" amusement for the religiously inclined. Salvation is the stay of execution for the guilty sinner. All of sinful mankind is living on death row. Salvation is something everyone must have or perish.
Salvation is coming out of darkness into light. The world loves darkness because it hides its evil. Men love darkness because it covers their deeds. To love light is to leave the deeds of darkness. Salvation is a transformation.
The eighth lesson is that Jesus is the Savior. Only placing complete trust in him, his work, and his word can allow one to enter the Kingdom. Instead of Jesus soliciting the support and cooperation of Nicodemus and the Sanhedren, they would have to surrender and submit to him. Jesus Saves.
Nicodemus went home that night very disturbed and shaken. He would
consider the lesson from the "teacher sent from God." Fortunately,
Nicodemus would have other nights and other opportunities to believe and
be saved. No one is promised that. No time is a better time than Now to
cast your lot with the Lord of Eternity. No time is better for the New
Birth than this time.
The final lessons before the cross are intended to prepare the followers of Christ for the culmination of the ages. Jesus taught that he had come in order that men might have "life and have it more abundantly." Man has an appointment with God. A day of judgment is coming, not only for the world but for each individual.
For man without God, life is a puzzle. Philosophers and the religious have forever been trying to explain its meaning and its purpose. Jesus Christ came as the perfect revelation of God to show us the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His teaching dealt with the practical, the ethical, and the eternal. His teaching turned on the light of divine illumination and opened the doors of understanding to all who would humble themselves and enter in.
The teaching of Jesus involved the basic principles of time and eternity revealing the mind and will of God and his life was a paradigm and example of the curriculum he taught. His death and sacrifice were central and essential, but we must not forget what he came to save and redeem.
The knee jerk answer to the question, "What did Jesus come to save" is either "sinners" or "souls." No man has ever seen a soul. Is it large or small, square or round, soft or hard? I speak as a fool. The church has a responsibility to "save souls" yet many have no idea what that really is any more than they are at liberty to explain the Trinity or the dualness of Christ as the God-man. Jesus came to save men's lives. A soul is a life. A life is something that can be measured. In as much as it is now encased in time it may be brief or long. While we have little to do with life's length we do have some control over it's depth and width. The evaluation of life is not based on longevity alone, it is measured by its capacity to know God and do his will. The world has its own tape measure and metric system. God has another standard. "Take heed, and beware of covetousness, for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" Lk. 12:15. On hundreds of occasions Jesus spoke of "life," what it was, what it could be, and how men might find it.
Because of original sin, life in not only flawed, but it is also incomplete. Jesus came that "we might have life, and have it more abundantly." He came to save our souls (lives) for all eternity, but he also came to show us how to live now and get the most out of life.
The Olivet discourse is one of the last lessons of the Master. It is the warning bell to not only announce that school is almost over, but that all must prepare for the final exam of judgment day. Some shall graduate and enter the eternal state beyond the threshold of time, others will fail and face the reality of that failure. The Olivet discourse is one last lecture on life. Every student should pay attention for we shall all have to give an account.
The Ten Virgins
This a story about ten bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to come to the wedding. Five are called "wise" and five are called "foolish." A parable has one main point to make. Sometimes a story like a meal is garnished with enough ornamentation to make the dish look interesting. We need to be careful we don't eat the parsley and leave the steak.
All ten seemed excited in their anticipation of the coming groom. The oriental marriage usually involved processions, with acclamations, and celebrations as a large entourage of family and friends escorted the bridal couple from the house of the parents to the house of the bridegroom or bride or to the new place of residence. If the bridegroom were a person of prestige and importance, and came from a distant place it would be normal for many to have gathered together to await his arrival. As news of his approach were known, it would also be normal for the wedding party or attendants to go out to meet him. Such is the background for this parable.
The ten brides maids were suddenly awakened at midnight with a "cry" that the bridegroom was coming. Five young ladies lit their lamps to go out to meet him, five young ladies had to admit they were not prepared. When the embarrassed virgins went out to try to purchase oil for their lamps at midnight, the wise virgins joined the joyous company of the wedding party and entered the house before the door was closed. The foolish returned only to find out that it was now too late revealing just how foolish they had been.
Without attempting to spiritualize and squeeze meaning out of every atom of this story several clear and simple lessons can be deduced and applied. 1) Many claim to be believers and appear to be believers outwardly, but only the coming of the Lord will reveal the validity of those claims. Of the ten, one looked as much a brides maid as the other. 2) Many have a superficial faith and unprepared for the coming of the Lord. Like those virgins they had garments and lamps and outwardly looked the part. An attempt to light the lamps exposed an emptiness that was tragic. Church membership, outward appearance, and company were no substitute when it came to call upon that which was to be internal and powerful. We would not be straining the truth to point out that oil has traditionally been associated with the Holy Spirit. Of the outwardly religious and inwardly devoid, Paul said they had "a form of godliness, denying the power thereof" 2Tim. 3:5. 3) Christ's return shall be sudden. Although the church has been anxiously awaiting that return for nearly two thousand years it shall be as startled by the cry of his coming as were those slumbering in our story at midnight. 4) Salvation is personal. We cannot share our salvation with another. We may, by witnessing, attempt to share our faith, but no one can be saved through our salvation. Each virgin must have oil in her own lamp. Here it is important to make the point that no matter how great the Pastor's faith, his Christianity is of no use to another on judgment day. Each and every individual must have their own personal salvation experience and faith in Jesus Christ, which is witnessed, sealed and indwelt by the Spirit of God. 5) Those caught unprepared get no second chance. The story does not suggest where five virgins might go in the midnight hour to secure oil. Whether they succeeded or not can only be hypothesized. The fact is they were not admitted. The fact is they were too late. The lesson is that "now is the accepted time, today is the day of salvation." The person who does not prepare before Christ's coming will find it too late when he returns. 6) The converted have the Holy Spirit the unconverted do not. Good intentions shall be no substitute for salvation and nothing shall justify neglect in receiving what is freely offered while it is yet day. The main message in this first parable is plain: be ready. Be ready the Lord is coming.
The Ten Talents
Like the sick woman who came to Jesus, this second parable has suffered at the hand of many physicians. Like with the oriental art of Origami or paper folding many preachers have so folded this text into odd and awkward shapes. We do no one a service by turning a simple truth into a cute little amusing ornament or complicated creation. The lesson of this story are plain and simple enough. A talent, historically was a measure of weight. In this story it is money. This money does not represent what we know today to be talents or abilities. "every man [was given] according to his ability." Men are not given ability according to their ability. Men are given "opportunities" according to their ability. The talents in this story are opportunities. Once this has become understood, the moral of this story is apparent. 1) Each is given opportunity. Life itself is an opportunity. What we do with our lives is the subject of the day of judgment. 2) Our life is borrowed. Like the talents given to each servant in the story we are entrusted with life on loan. The owner of our lives will one day come for what is his. How foolish for someone to talk about "my life" as if it were something they owned. 3) Each opportunity must be seized and used to the best advantage. "Use it or lose it" is the axiom of life found here. 4) We are accountable for our lives. What we do with our minutes, hours, and days will be examined by the great judge of life. Jesus said the dead within their graves shall be called forth on the day of judgment to give an account of the deeds done in their bodies (John 5). That men should ignore the idea of accountability will not hinder God from calling each to the judgment hall. 5) All excuses will be lame. The false charges against the master in the story do not stand up against cross examination. They are hollow, hypocritical, and untrue. If this unfaithful servant really thought the master to be "hard" (v.24) he would have worked all the harder to avoid recrimination and condemnation. That fear would cause one to attempt to hide from God is something that is futile has been documented in the case of Adam and Eve. Like a man who panics when his clothing is ablaze, he is only burned the more as he runs away. The man with presence of mind does not run, but allows others to smother the flames and save his life. Fear, by the way, is the opposite of faith. Fear runs from God and is lost. Faith runs to God and is saved. 6) Beware the sins of omission. This unfaithful man is condemned, not for what he did, but for what he did not do. He did nothing. He dug a hole and buried his talent (opportunity). Opportunities can not be imprisoned, entombed, saved or hoarded. Opportunities must be used or they disappear. The poor fool of this story is lost because of what he failed to do, not because of what he did do. This parable is just one more nail in the sinners coffin. Man is condemned because of the federal sin of Adam and the inheritance of the sin nature. Man is condemned because of willful acts of disobedience, transgressions, and violations of God's laws. Man is condemned also for his failure to appropriate God's salvation according to the conditions set forth in the Gospel. Each person in the Parable of the Talents had at least one opportunity. The one opportunity that is given to all and buried by most is the opportunity to receive Christ and be saved. 7) Notice that each of the faithful servants gave back twice as much as they originally received. Twice as much is an additional 100%. There is a lesson here about giving 100% in life in order to get 100% out of life for those who want to please God. The story of the Ten Virgins is about being Ready. The story about the Ten talents is about being Responsible. The third parable of Jesus in the Olivet discourse is about being Responsive to the needs of those around you.TOC
Each life has its own heart beat. Each life has its own judgment day, but life is not lived in a vacuum. Our life touches other lives from the day we are born to the day we die. A soul in not like a brick in a wall, unaware and insensitive to the bricks that surround it. Life is fluid and dynamic as chemistry, one element effecting the other. No two lives can touch without being changed for the better or the worse. Sometimes we gently brush up against each other, sometimes we collide, sometimes we add and sometimes we take away. So it was meant to be. To be insensitive, selfish and indifferent to the other inhabitants of this planet betrays a broken human nature, a nature broken by sin.
This third parable of Jesus speaks of a kind of litmus test of Christianity. How we treat others reveals what we really feel about God. We can sing all the hymns of the faith, memorize all the creeds of the church. We can even preach the Gospel and do many mighty deeds to impress and even startle, but the bottom line is how we treat the needy is how we treat God. 1) We can measure our closeness to God by our compassion for others especially those of the world's underclasses. Those in prison, those who are sick, those who are hungry might appear to be simply the socially disenfranchised when they are in reality our "bar exam" or "college boards." This is not to say that doing deeds of charity will earn salvation, it is to say that doing deeds of charity will prove salvation. 2) The test is a surprise. This makes it clear that Christ is not advocating what some have labeled the "Social Gospel." The Social Gospelers are very much aware of their good deeds and even glory in them. Those commendated and those condemned are both surprised. It is when we unconsciously respond to the needs of others with acts of kindness and charity that God takes notice. We may feed one hundred hungry souls down on skid row congratulating ourselves for our compassion with each sandwich we hand out and fail the unconscious test of visiting someone who is waiting in vain for a visit, a call, or a card from us. In other words, one can not cram for this exam. Neither can one fool the Almighty with a burst of religious activity. It is only by the unconscious response to cries for help that we validate our profession of faith and demonstrate our closeness to the heart of God.
The two greatest commandments always go together. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might, and the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. In this are all the law and the prophets.
A good teacher does not teach lessons as much as he teaches people. There is a difference. Jesus stepped into the middle of a person's life and taught them how to live. Jesus was more than "a teacher, come from God." Jesus was God come down into the world which is one large classroom to show us how to "have life, and have it more abundantly."
The best teachers teach by example. The Lord demonstrated every lesson with his life. The Book of Acts describes this, the greatest teacher the world has ever known. Luke wrote of this one who began both "to do and to teach." He taught it, but he also did it. He taught us to love and he loved. He taught us to forgive and he forgave. He taught us to give and no one ever gave more than he did.
How exciting is everyday we come to class. What will he teach me today? What will he show me along the way? The best students always sit up front. Get close. Get closer. May we listen. May we learn. May we learn from the Master who said, "learn of me."