What Is the Meaning of the Sermon on the Mount?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matt. 5:3 ESV

What is the Sermon the Mount really about? Is the Sermon a new set of commandments for Christians? Or just a re-interpretation of the Ten Commandments? Or as some say, a Divine directive for U. S. government policy? Or, nice teaching from the Great Teacher?

In reality, the Sermon on the Mount is about the interior life of the Christian. The Sermon on the Mount is what our lives will look like when the Holy Spirit is having his way in us.

Beware of placing our Lord as Teacher first instead of Saviour. That tendency is prevalent to-day, and it is a dangerous tendency. We must know Him first as Saviour before His teaching can have any meaning for us, or before it can have any meaning other than that of an ideal which leads to despair. Fancy coming to men and women with defective lives and defiled hearts and wrong mainsprings, and telling them to be pure in heart! What is the use of giving us an ideal we cannot possibly attain? We are happier without it.

If Jesus is a Teacher only, then all He can do is to tantalise us by erecting a standard we cannot come anywhere near. But if by being “born again from above” we know Him first as Saviour, we know that He did not come to teach us only: He came to make us what He teaches we should be. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is having His way with us (emphasis mine).

Oswald Chambers, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Hants, UK: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1960).

Listen to Him; learn of Him; be like Him; receive Him into thine heart; let Him be revealed within thee, so shalt thou also be conformed to these qualities, and participate in this bliss.

F. B. Meyer, Blessed Are Ye: Talks on the Beatitudes

Palm Sunday’s Choice (Updated)

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!

Luke 19:38

On Sunday of Holy Week, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey, in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophetic word (Zech. 9:9-12). This unique day will be called Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar and is often referred by commentators as Jesus’ triumphal entry (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-1; Luke 19:29-40). Archbishop Craig Bates of the Charismatic Episcopal Church (C.E.C.) wrote, “The triumph however is not because the crowds declared Him King but because He was to take upon Himself the sin and suffering of the people and win the victory when God raised Him from the dead.” Jesus’ entry was a triumph not because all of Jerusalem turned out for the parade giving him the red carpet treatment, but because his death, burial, and resurrection in Jerusalem would defeat our greatest foes: the world, the flesh, sin, death, and the devil.

On that fateful day, and during the coming week, the inhabitants of Jerusalem would face a choice: demand that Jesus be Israel’s earthly king elevating the country to renewed worldly glory, or repent recognizing that their real problem was a heart problem. Israel’s real need was not deliverance from the Roman oppression, but a deliverance from themselves. Their selfishness, sin, and pride was bringing about the destruction of Israel’s life in God, not the hated Romans. The resurrection of Israel’s glory under King David and Solomon would not bring salvation, only the work of the Holy Spirit could restore Israel’s hope in God (Ezek. 36:26-27).

Holy Week reminds us once again that our problem is not others’ sin, weaknesses, and frailties. Our biggest problem is us and only by turning to Jesus can our lives be transformed.

We must recognize that our essential problem is not our parents, our economic background, our upbringing, our circumstances, or our bosses, etc. No, our greatest problem is us that great trinity of me, myself and I. Our selfishness, our self-absorption, our self-concern, and our self-conceit reap utter destruction. Sin is selfishness evidenced through our willful thoughts, words, or actions involving a choice in which we consider ourselves as more important than God or anyone else. The foundation of sin is our selfishness.

Jesus rode that colt over the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem for the purpose of dying on the Cross. He died that we might be freed from ourselves (2 Cor. 5:14-15; Phil. 2:5-11). He came to conquer out deepest need: selfish, greedy and prideful hearts. Jesus’ death on the cross transforms our lives: he bears our sin, shame, and guilt away.

The Palm Sunday choice:

1. Do we want a Jesus who comes to fix our problems or do we want a Saviour to change our hearts? “Hosanna, save us” (v. 10). What we need most is not a deliverance from our circumstances (i.e., enemies, problems, relationships, etc.), but a salvation from ourselves (i.e., our selfishness, pride, demands, etc.) We tend to play the victim when what we need is repentance and a change of heart.

2. Do we worship Jesus even when the crowd does not understand? We live in a secular culture that is becoming increasing hostile to the Gospel, our culture wants to make Jesus into a postmodern, super-tolerant, pluralistic image of themselves. What happens when Jesus demands to be Lord, when he declared himself to be the exclusive savior of the world, what happens when he bids us to come and die to ourselves and follow him?

3. Do we or will we only follow Jesus when life is going well? Where will we be on Good Friday when it seems that all that Jesus has taught and said is evaporating before our eyes? Will we trust him even when our world is crashing down around us. Will we trust his words and promises that death will not hold him down.

4. Do we understand that only political fights will not resolve out greatest needs? Our culture needs changed hearts in order to value marriage, sexual morality, and religious freedom.

Conclusion: Will we accept the challenge? Allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives or go the way of the offended, angry world. The same world of expectation, resentment and fear that placed Jesus on the Cross.

Jesus went to Jerusalem to announce the Good News to the people of that city. And Jesus knew that he was going to put a choice before them: Will you be my disciple, or will you be my executioner? There is no middle ground here. Jesus went to Jerusalem to put people in a situation where they had to say yes or no. That is the great drama of Jesus’ passion: He had to wait upon how people were going to respond.

Henri J. M. Nouwen, “A Spirituality of Waiting,” The Weavings Reader

Whereas I Was Blind, Now I See!

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On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

John 14:20

The secret to living the Christian life is no secret at all, it is the mystery of Christ in you (Col. 1:27). The indwelling Christ is our hope of intimacy with the Father, he is our joy and forgiveness in the Son, and he is our holiness in the Spirit. As we trust Christ by faith, he gives us the power to love the unlovely, the freedom to walk apart from sin, and grace to experience God’s presence moment-by-moment (Gal. 2:20). The indwelling Christ is joy, liberty, and fullness in the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:20).

J. Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), founder of the China Inland Mission, reads a letter from John McCarthy on September 4, 1869. McCarthy is a fellow missionary in China and a man who hungers for a deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ. Upon reading McCarthy’s letter, Hudson Taylor declares that he has entered into the “exchanged life.”

McCarthy wrote to Taylor:

I do wish I could have a talk with you now about the way of holiness. At the time you were speaking to me about it, it was the subject of all others occupying my thoughts, not from anything I had read . . . so much as from a consciousness of failure—a constant falling short of that which I felt should be aimed at; an unrest; a perpetual striving . . . .

Then, while reading that same letter, the Holy Spirit reveals the truth of the indwelling Christ to J. Hudson Taylor. Taylor describes the experience:

Abiding, not striving or struggling; looking off unto Him; trusting Him for present power . . . resting in the love of an almighty Saviour, in the joy of a complete salvation, “from all sin”—this is not new, and yet ‘tis new to me. I feel as though the dawning of a glorious day had risen upon me. I hail it with trembling, yet with trust. I seem to have got to the edge only, but of a boundless sea; to have sipped only, but of that which fully satisfies. Christ literally all seems to me, now, the power, the only power for service, the only ground for unchanging joy . . . Not a striving to have faith . . . but a looking off to the Faithful One seems all we need; a resting in the Loved One entirely, for time and for eternity.

After reading McCarthy’s letter of September 4, 1869, Taylor tells a Mr. Judd,

Oh, Mr. Judd, God has made me a new man! God has made me a new man! Wonderful was the experience that had come in answer to prayer, yet so simple as almost to baffle description. It was just as it was long ago [at his conversion], “Whereas I was blind, now I see!”

Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (Chicago: Moody Press, 2009), 156.

Your Problems, His Concern

But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

Heb. 7:24–25 NLT

Jesus Christ is our continuously praying intercessor (Rom. 8:8:34; Heb. 7:24-25). He is always praying for you and me. Jesus’ prayer life reflects his priorities: Jesus is personally concerned about your personal concerns (1 Peter 5:7). He is not like an earthly priest who tires, lacks knowledge, fails occasionally (or numerously), and can only bear a few burdens. Our high priest, Jesus Christ, never wearies in praying for us, he knows all, never sinned, and can carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Jesus is praying for us and our concerns: without hesitation he is praying that we will make it. Every prayer that Jesus has ever prayed has always been answered by the Father. Therefore, the prayers of Jesus that you will persevere to the end will be answered. You will make through all your struggles while glorifying God the Father. How? Christ is praying for you every day, every hour, every minute. Your problems are his concern.

But I see the basic, wonderful truth here, that day by day the Lord Jesus Christ is ministering in heaven on my behalf, and yours. . . . May I put it pointedly: all the aspects of your Christian life are His concern. Your great high priest is concerned about your prayer life: He knows all about it; He is concerned about it, and His loving concern is that your prayer life might be rich and full.

He is concerned about your spiritual babyhood, if that is true of you. He is also lovingly concerned that you should go on to maturity. . . .

He is concerned about your particular problems. Maybe you think nobody is concerned about your problem: it is too difficult to share with anybody. I say that the Lord Jesus Christ all about it, and He is concerned about it.

He most lovingly wants that problem dealt with; and His whole ministry in heaven concerns you, in all the loneliness of your spiritual problem, which you can share with nobody. You have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Doesn’t that encourage you? Open your heart to Him.

K. A. A. Weston, “Our Great High Priest,” Daily Thoughts from Keswick: A Years’s Daily Readings, ed. Herbert F. Stevenson (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980), 94.

Loving What Jesus Loves (Part One)

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Eph. 5:25-28 ESV

If we are in love with Jesus, then we will love what Jesus loves. What does Jesus love? He loves his church. No matter how ugly she acts, how sinful she behaves, or how hurtful her attitude, Jesus still loves his church. The Bible gives us no other option, if we desire to grow in Christ, then we must attend, serve, and worship in his church.

We may want to leave out of disappointment, distance ourselves out of embarrassment, and retaliate out of anger. However, we are called to stay and walk in the Spirit no matter our frustration or disillusionment. In the 1920’s, a young German theologian discovered the church and learned to love Christ and his church.

During April of 1924, a young aspiring theologian visited Rome for the first time. With his brother, he visited the ancient ruins and toured the great cathedrals and parish churches. Unplanned, his visit fell during Holy Week and guided by a young knowledgeable Roman Catholic priest from Bologna, they attended the great Holy Week services of the Roman church. The depth, gravity, and beauty of the ancient rites affected his spirit drawing him into the beauty of ancient catholicity.

As a state church German Protestant, he had experienced very little of the Roman Catholic Church: its people, its ancient liturgy, and its spirituality. This young man was greatly impressed by the sincere devotion and heart-felt conviction of the laity as they stood in line to partake of the sacrament of reconciliation. After receiving the sin-cleansing absolution of the young priests, guilt and shame was noticeably removed from their faces as they walked away. This young theologian continued with his Protestant objections to Roman Catholic doctrine, but was forever affected by the Roman Catholic laity’s deep and abiding love for the Church.

Edwin Robertson, The Shame and Sacrifice: The Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York. MacMillan, 1988), 41.

Begotten Not Made

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

John 1:18 NASB

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 NASB

Begotten means that Jesus is the unique one and only son, not created, eternally existent with the Father. With the word, “begotten,” the Nicene Creed was countering Arius’ error that Jesus was at one time created, “There was a time when the Son was not.” Begotten does mean uniqueness, but also is a way of saying that Jesus, God’s Son, was not created. Jesus was eternally existent with the Father, there was not a before and after “begotten” moment. These quotes from Wayne Grudem, Fred Sanders, and B.B. Warfield explain:

As for the texts that say that Christ was God’s “only begotten Son,” the early church felt so strongly the force of many other texts showing that Christ was fully and completely God, that it concluded that, whatever “only begotten” meant, it did not mean “created.” Therefore the Nicene Creed in 325 affirmed that Christ was “begotten, not made”:

‘We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father….’

This same phrase was reaffirmed at the Council of Constantinople in 381. In addition, the phrase “before all ages” was added after “begotten of the Father,” to show that this “begetting” was eternal. It never began to happen, but is something that has been eternally true of the relationship between the Father and the Son. However, the nature of that “begetting” has never been defined very clearly, other than to say that it has to do with the relationship between the Father and the Son, and that in some sense the Father has eternally had a primacy in that relationship.

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, pg. 244 (original edition).

If we call it eternal begetting or eternal generation, we are only guarding ourselves against possible misunderstandings. It is not that once upon a time the Father begat the Son, having previously not begotten the Son. No, the eternal Father and the eternal Son have always existed together, the Son always standing in this relationship of from-ness or begottenness from the Father.”

Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (pp. 91-92). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

Warfield notes that “only begotten” stands without the article, which points up the idea of quality rather than individuality. He reminds us further that “only begotten” does not convey the idea of subordination or derivation but of uniqueness and consubstantiality: “Jesus is all that God is, and He alone is this.”

Fred G. Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Kindle Locations 5460-5463). Crossway.

It’s About a Person!

 

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”

1 Cor. 1:30-31 NKJV

Duh, Christianity is a person–that is obvious! Or is it? How often we forget that Christianity is about a love relationship with Jesus. We get involved in every discussion of liturgy, theology, and ethics, but we forget that Christianity is about being in love with Jesus. Liturgy, theology, and ethics are valuable in their own right, but they cannot be a substitute for an experiential love relationship with Jesus.

Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person. If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, ‘What do you believe in?’ they would not have stopped to go round about with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, ‘We believe him.’ ‘

But what are your doctrines?’ ‘There they stand incarnate.’ ‘But what is your practice?’ ‘There stands our practice. He is our example.’ ‘What then do you believe?’ Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, ‘We preach Christ crucified.’ Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus.

C. H. Spurgeon, “De Propaganda Fide,” in Lectures Delivered before the Young Men’s Christian Association in Exeter Hall 1858-1859, pages 159-160.

HT: The Gospel Coalition

A Balm for Every Wound

Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

Jer. 8:22 KJV

Life takes its toil: loss of a loved one, chronic pain and sickness, broken relationships, and financial struggles. Yet during all this confusion, hurt, and disappointment, every believer has the balm of Gilead, the healer of our souls: Jesus Christ. In prayer and worship, the Holy Spirit comes and makes Christ known to us in all his grace and glory. Jesus Christ loves, heals, soothes, and renews us in the midst of the toils and struggles of this life. Jesus’ cross carries our sorrows, his resurrection lifts up out of the pit, and the Spirit’s presence takes away our loneliness.

Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose yourself in sorrow? Would you drown in your cares?

Then go plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in His immensity; and you shall come forth as from the couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the billowing of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.

Charles Spurgeon, “The Immutability of God,” January 7, 1855, quoted in J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 14.

Only One Thing Can Give True Joy

For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Rom. 14:17 NKJV

Joy is that deep, supernatural fulfillment that comes in knowing that we are experiencing and expressing the one who is true satisfaction, Jesus Christ. Joy begins with acknowledging that we are unconditionally loved, graciously forgiven, and eternally kept in Christ. Joy is released in our lives when we cultivate Christ’s conscious, constant presence.

Joy is not produced by emotional highs: supernatural fulfillment is imparted by obedience to God’s commands. Joy is not dependent on pleasant circumstances, but it is the fruit of finding and meeting Christ in the midst of all our trials both pleasant and painful. Joy is renewed by worshiping the risen Jesus and by sharing him with others. Jesus Christ is the one person who can bring true joy.

Joy is something very deep and profound, something that affects the whole and entire personality. In other words it comes to this; there is only one thing that can give true joy and that is a contemplation of the Lord Jesus Christ. He satisfies my mind; He satisfies my emotions; He satisfies my every desire. He and His great salvation include the whole personality and nothing less, and in Him I am complete. Joy, in other words, is the response and the reaction of the soul to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Fellowship with God (Crossway Books, 1992).

Precious Christ in the Midst of Precious Trials

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

1 Pet. 5:10

We live in the midst of the fallout of the fall: sin affects every area of creation and all aspects of our lives. As a result, disappointment, problems, and trouble are significant ingredients of our everyday existence. Ill-timed, unexpected tragedies can shape our lives for the better or make our hearts hard through bitterness.

Our choice: trust that God is sovereignly working or become angry that life is not going as expected. Can we trust a precious Christ who disciplines us for our good or complain that life is not fair? It is important to recognize in our trials not whether we are suffering, but whether we know the Suffering Servant who has come into the world to meet us in our pain. Because of the Cross of Christ, we can trust that God has something bigger and better and more precious planned through our being ill-treated, misunderstood, hurt, and disappointed.

The Lord is working his purposes in and through our circumstances: the molding of our character, the testing of our faith, and the ministry of Christ’s life. Christ is precious for he makes every trial valuable by transforming for character and revealing himself in the midst of our suffering and trials.

Oh, let your heart and Christ’s heart be one heart! Receive as precious everything that flows from the government of Jesus. A precious Christ can give you nothing but what is precious. Welcome the rebuke—it may be humiliating; welcome the trial—it may be painful; welcome the lesson—it may be difficult; welcome the cup—it may be bitter; welcome everything that comes from Christ in your individual history. Everything is costly, salutary, and precious that Jesus sends.

Octavius Winslow, The Precious Things of God