Meekness, Not Weakness

Matthew 5:5
On a television series of British comedy, a rich widow is very used to getting her own way, much to the discomfort of the local pastor. So he says to her, “As I never cease to remind you, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Upon which, she says, “And as I never cease to remind you, rector, the meek don’t want it.” The old joke is that the meek will inherit the earth, if that’s okay with the rest of you. Now we laugh and find this funny precisely because we believe that meekness is weakness. First, we will explore what meekness is not, and then we will explore what it is.

Meakness is not weakness. It is not true that a truly meek person can be pushed over by a hard slap in the face from a wet noodle. Meekness is not spinelessness. The two best examples of meekness in the Bible are Moses and Jesus, neither of which could possibly be said to be spineless.

The world thinks of its hope as being in the strong men of the earth. The world thinks of meekness as being a doormat. The world thinks that it is okay to render evil for evil, as long as the other person started it. The world tells us to stick up for ourselves, because no one else will. Anyone who does not stick up for himself is automatically called a mouse. The world (and us, to a great extent) thinks that meekness means that the strong will get the best part of the pie, and the meek will get nothing at all. The world only has one problem with its way of thinking: they have left God out of the picture. If this is truly a dog-eat-dog kind of world, and there is no divine retribution waiting for the world at the end of time, then there is no reason to be meek. We should all claw our way to the top, stomping on everyone below us, and making sure that they cannot get up again, lest they do the same thing to us. We might as well see ourselves as the center of the universe. Never mind that 6 billion other people are suffering from the same delusion. That wouldn’t make communication difficult, now, would it? “One center of the universe calling another center of the universe…” This is a fairly complete description of what meekness is not. It is not what the world thinks it is.

Meekness can be defined as seeing ourselves truly and seeing God truly, and behaving in the light of that knowledge. If we saw ourselves truly, what would we see? We would see sinners. We would know who we truly are because we would see ourselves in the light of God’s Word. We were originally created to be like God, knowing good and evil. But we threw away that knowledge when we ate of the tree. We are wicked people now. Truly meek people know that they are far more wicked in their hearts than they ever dared to imagine. For instance, we would much rather hear God’s name taken in vain than our own. We might even say of ourselves that we are not perfect. But if someone else were to come along and say that, we would punch them in the nose! But if we saw ourselves truly, we would be on our knees. As John Bunyan says, “He who is already down does not need to be afraid of falling down.” The meek person can therefore accept criticism without getting defensive. I know that I especially have a problem with this. Anytime someone criticizes me, I am instantly on the defensive. But I should not be like that. A meek person knows that he deserves far more criticism than he ever gets. A truly meek person will then take what is true in such criticism and even thank the person who criticized him. A meek person sees himself truly.

The reason a truly meek person sees himself truly is that he sees God truly. What does he see? A God who is infinitely holy. A God who executes punishment on all those who disobey God’s law. A God who is angry with sinners. Some people think that God is only angry with sin, not with sinners. That may be a good way for us to act, but God does not send sin to hell, but sinners. It is with sinners that God is righteously angry. But a meek person will also see God’s grace. God had mercy on the world, when He sent His Son to be born of a woman. Jesus was the very meekest person on earth. When reviled, He did not revile in turn. When insulted, He did not respond in kind. Instead, Jesus loved His enemies by dying for them. The meek person realizes that Jesus is the answer for the wrath of God. God the Father loved us so much that He sent His meek Son. Truly meek people know that they are far more wicked in their hearts than they ever dared to imagine, but also they know that they are far more loved than they ever dared to hope. Meekness sees ourselves truly, because meekness sees God truly. This is a good place to read Psalm 37:1-13. Notice here that God is in the habit of vindicated the meek. The meek person realizes that this life is not the end. There is a salvation from the very presence of sin awaiting him at the end. Therefore, he does not fret himself over the evildoer. What a remarkable comfort that is to us. We cannot retaliate, because God is in the business of revenge. That is right, God will revenge us.

If we know this truth, then we will not need to be angry in our own defense ever again. If we are irritated at every little thing that bugs us, if we explode at every little injury done to us, then we will be at everyone’s mercy who wants to turn our crank. As someone said, “Anger is not the strongest thing there is. What controls anger; that is stronger.” If that is true, then we can receive criticism without getting defensive. Matthew Henry says that the person is truly meek who would rather forgive twenty injuries than revenge a single one. Meekness then implies a teachable spirit. We are to be led by the Holy Spirit into all truth. Meekness is a jewel polished by grace.

Meekness certainly does not come to us by nature. But as Thomas Watson says, “to render evil for evil is like the animals, to render evil for good is devilish, but to render good for evil is Christian.” This is not possible for fallen man to do. Even if we forgive some offences, there are just a few that we want to hang onto. We can forgive our brother some things, but not all. That is just like nature, too, isn’t it. We even justify holding onto some grudges, since we have forgiven all the other ones. That is a half-way forgiveness. Is that how you want God to remember your sin? Do you want God to say, “Well, I will forgive your greed most of the time, but when you stole that bubble gum, I will remember that.” You might think to yourself, “That wouldn’t be so bad. At least only my little sins would be remembered.” The problem is that the least little sin can land us in hell, because God is infinitely holy and cannot tolerate the presence of the smallest sin in heaven. We are not safe from hell unless every last one of our sins has been forgiven, and our sinful nature changed. So do you want God to forgive you half-way? Then forgive your brother all the way.

The hidden fear we all have about being meek is that the meek will lose at the last. We saw that fear dealt with in Psalm 37. But Jesus, the meekest man who ever lived, says that the meek will win in the end. They will inherit the earth. The problem for us that we have no faith. We don’t believe that God will reverse the decision that the world made. The world decided that might was right. God will decide that blessed are the meek, for they, and only they, will inherit the earth.

What does it mean to inherit the earth? It means that the meek will not take it by force, will not invade the land, and will not earn it by their own efforts. They will inherit the land. The land will be deeded to them. God will give it to them. It means that we have to put off our expectation that God will reward us now. We have to be patient and kind to all. It does not mean that we will never be angry. There is such a thing as righteous anger.

Interestingly, the world denounces such anger as misplaced. For instance, if we protest the killing of innocent children in the womb, we are called fanatics. But if they needed to stick up for themselves, they will do it. See how inconsistent the world is? For the world, anger is only rightly placed when it for oneself. But for Jesus, we are only rightly to be angry when someone else’s right is at stake. It is a sad fact that most of the babies that we have tried to save since 1973 would have grown up to be worldly minded. We are trying to save the world’s babies. That is labeled fanaticism. But we call it righteous anger. The secret here is always to be angry at the right moment, and never to be angry at the wrong moment. What is the wrong moment? It is disciplining the children while you are angry. That should never happen. We need to ask the Lord to give us meekness to deal with that situation as it comes up.

The promise for us is that God will take vengeance on the world. God will reverse the world’s decision about meekness. Jesus, the meekest man who ever lived is also the world’s judge. It is for that reason that we can forbear to punish others. Before you let that snappy comment come out of your lips, consider whether you are being meek. What will that snappy comment gain you, except a guilty satisfaction? Forbear. It is much better to forgive twenty offenses against you, than to take revenge for a single one. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

That means the rights of the first-born. The only people who get to inherit the entire land of their fathers are those who are first-born. Jesus was the first-born from the dead. He, the meekest man who ever lived, inherits the nations. But somehow, we will all have that right as well, because we are united to Jesus Christ, the first-born, and so we will share in what Jesus has. That means the entire heavens and earth will be ours. Think of that the next time you are tempted to lash out in anger at someone. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

God’s Law

The law of God has its origin not in the Mosaic economy, but in the Covenant of Works. In fact, theWCF says that the law was given as a covenant of works (19.1). This is completely contrary to most proponents of the Federal Vision, who, if they acknowledge the covenant of works at all, will not say that the law is part of the covenant of works as the stipulations. They have this completely erroneous notion that because God condescended to make a covenant with Adam, that the inheritance of eternal life could not have been on the basis of merit. What these authors fail time and time again to realize is that there are more definitions of merit than absolute condign merit. Absolute, condign merit is not possible for any mere human to achieve, not even Adam. However, Christ, the God-man, did achieve this kind of merit, since He did not have to achieve it for Himself, but achieved it vicariously. But it is never this kind of merit that could be predicated of Adam. Instead, it is merit according to a pact. That is, God condescended to bind Himself to the fulfillment of the promises of the Covenant of Works, if Adam obeyed. Another vital point to consider here is the definition of grace. Grace is usually defined as unmerited favor given by God to sinful people. As a matter of fact, we have not merely “unmerited” God’s favor, but we have positively “demerited” God’s favor. That is, we have not merely been neutral with regard to God’s favor. We have actively spurned it, and in thus doing, we have made ourselves worthy of nothing but judgment.

So, Adam can be said to have merited eternal life, if it is understood that the merit being spoken of is the merit of obedience to the pact to which God bound Himself by condescension.

The WCF says that it is this very law that is republished in the Sinai Covenant. It continued to be the perfect rule of righteousness, even if mankind was no longer going to inherit eternal life by doing the works of the law. What this means is that in the Sinai Covenant, though certainly part of the covenant of grace, the covenant of works still plays a part. There is an element of the covenant of works in the Mosaic economy. The one who does these things may live by them. But cursed is the one who does not continue in all the works of the law, to do them. If one performs circumcision with a view toward law-keeping and eternal life, then one is obligated to perform the whole law.

All this leads us to the divines’ interpretation of the law, which can be found in LC 99.4. This passage explains why it is that the divines interpret the law given to Adam as indicating that life was promised upon obedience, even if that promise is not explicitly stated. The flip side of any command or negation is implied. So, in the statement “Do not eat of the tree,” what is implied there is trusting in the commandment of God, that God has defined good and evil, and that God is the ultimate authority in their lives. The opposite promise of life (to the threat of death) is also promised, according to the divines’ interpretation in LC 99.4.

The law of God as given at Mount Sinai can be divided into three parts: the moral law, the civil law, and the ceremonial law. Only the first part, the moral law (as comprehended in the Ten Commandments) is still binding on the Christian (though not for salvation, since we are no longer subject to the covenant of works. We are subject to it as a rule or guide for the Christian life). The second and third parts of the law are now expired.

There are three uses of the law. The first use is to show us our sin and to point us to Christ. The second use is to restrain unbelievers from being as bad as they could be. The third use of the law is as a guide to the Christian life.

Happy are the Unhappy

Matthew 5:4
The child sees a horse and says, “That horse must be a Christian, because he has such a long face!” There are many misconceptions about what true mourning is. You can be a mourner, and yet not receive comfort. What does the world say? Be happy. If it feels good, do it. Seek pleasure, not sorrow. Jesus says differently. It is not true, however, that Jesus is counseling us here to be miserable. Jesus counsels mourning, not moping. Nor is true mourning merely a weeping over sin’s consequences. There is the case of the child who gets caught with the hand in the cookie jar. The child screams out his penitence, but only because he is sorry that he got caught, and wants to try to avoid the consequence. So what is true mourning? True mourning is a God-given sorrow over one’s own sin, and over the sin of other people.
First, we must mourn over our own sin. It is important to realize that there is a progression in the Beatitudes. The first Beatitude tells us that we have no righteousness of our own. Being poor in spirit means that we have to rely wholly on God. When we empty ourselves of our own righteousness, then we will come to realize that we are sinners. Once the blinders of our own sel-righteousness come off, we will recognize that the only thing we have to offer is our own sin. Being poor in spirit leads to mourning over one’s own sin.
David mentions that his sin is ever before him. We do not mourn only for sin’s consequences. We are tempted to do that often, however. We are tempted to think that we are sorry over our sin, when we are really only sorry that we got caught, or that we are sorry because of what happened after. That kind of mourning is really only mourning for oneself. It is mourning that is directed at me. True mourning, on the other hand, is directed toward God. We are sorry that we have offended our heavenly Father. We are sorry that we have broken God’s law. We are sorry that we have caused a rift in the relationship with God.
It is not mere generalities for which we must mourn. We need to mourn in general for sin, but that is not enough. We must also mourn because of specific sins. If we only mourn for sin in general, then we will automatically try to rationalize our sin away. We will try to excuse ourselves, because it is really only one small sin, after all. “Just one little sin.” That could be the motto for the road to hell: “just one little unrepented sin.”
Mourning means a turning away from that particular sin. Augustine once said, “He truly mourns the sins he has committed, who never again commits the sins he has mourned.” Mourning must be joined with a hatred of sin. We must hate and turn from that sin that keeps us from fellowship with God.
There is a sense in which we must mourn once for all. We must turn from sin to our Savior. There is a turning, a repenting that must take place. We must mourn here on earth temporarily, if we do not want to mourn eternally in hell.
The world says exactly the opposite of Jesus. The world tells us to be well, be happy, just do it, especially if it feels good. The world turns a blind eye to sin. But we must not be blind. Instead we must turn not a blind eye to sin, but turn away from sin. We must believe in what Jesus tells us here. We must believe in Jesus. Mourning over sin is appropriate. We must mourn the fact that we lost our place in the garden of Eden. We must mourn all the evil that has come into the world on account of sin. The world does not see this aspect of humanity. Conservatives will condemn sin, and liberals will excuse sin, but neither will mourn for sin unless God changes the heart.
If we do believe in Jesus, then we must mourn daily for sin. It does not mean that we always literally weep. That is not what mourning is. Mourning is an attitude of the heart that hates sin, and wants to do anything it can to prevent sin from taking more territory. Mourning is a good antidote to daily sin. It is hard to fall into the fire of temptation, when the fountain of the heart keeps the heart moist and wet. Mourning is a water to extinguish the fiery darts of the Evil One. This kind of mourning is not bitter. There is a sweetness to this kind of mourning. Compassion is born from it. That leads us to the second kind of mourning. The first was to weep for our own sin.

The second kind of mourning is to mourn for the sin of other people. These two kinds of mourning are connected. If we mourn over the sin of others, we are less likely to have sins of our own to mourn. But those who do not mourn the sins of others are probably not aware of their own sins. Do we mourn over other people’s sin? Or do we only mourn over another’s sin when it affects us? For instance, does it bother us when we hear foul language? Do we inwardly grieve, or do we think that that kind of language is somehow eloquent? This is especially true when someone uses the Lord’s name in vain. But if we do not mourn over someone else’s taking the Lord’s name in vain, are we honoring God’s name ourselves? To honor God’s name means more than not taking it in vain ourselves, it means that we want all people to honor it.
To take another example, what about greed? Suppose you see a shady business deal take place, or you see someone greedily snatch property. Does it grieve you to see it? Do you always remain silent, or will you say something? There is a time to remain silent, namely, when the injustice is done to us. But when injustice is done to others, woe to us if we remain silent! Are we to have a prophetic voice in this culture? Then we must denounce greed when we see it. If we do not, are we really concerned about the property of other people? If we see greed, we must mourn over it; we must speak the truth in love. All too often, we remain silent, because we fear rejection. We fear that the other person will never speak to us again. There is a way, however, to do this. That way is to speak the truth in love. Identify with the person by saying something like, “You know, I would tempted to do the very same thing.” Then you can say that you don’t believe that what the person is doing is right.
If we mourn truly over our own sin, and over the sin of others, then there is a precious promise waiting for us. We will receive comfort. Mourning is made on purpose to give comfort. Now, some people think that mourning causes joy. It is not the cause of joy, but rather the way to joy, just as the road is not the cause of my taking a trip, but is the way to get there. It is the only way to get there. Jesus tells us that only those who mourn for sin will receive this comfort. Those who treat sin lightly, or dismiss it by rationalizing, or by excusing, or by making fun of God’s law, or any number of other ways to lessen sin; those people will never receive the comfort about which Jesus is talking. One must dig deep in order to build high. Jesus is saying, “Happy are the unhappy.” That is how weird it might sound to our ears. But it is the only way to true happiness. Happiness is dependent on our relationship to God. That relationship is severed. Only by truly repenting of sin can we come into a right relationship with God.
Only by realizing that our sin put Jesus on the cross can we ever expect to receive the benefits of His death. It was our hand that nailed Jesus’ wrist to the cross-bar. It was our hand that nailed Jesus’ feet to the bottom of the cross.
If we know this, then we cannot love sin. Someone said that it is worse to love sin than to commit it. Remember that repentance must be accompanied by hatred for sin. If we have that hatred for sin, then we will be comforted.
Notice that the comfort will come. That means two things: it is certain that it will come, and it is in the future that it will come. This is talking primarily about the comfort that we will receive in the new heavens and the new earth. It is true that we receive comfort in this life as well. However, the most important thing to remember is that ultimately, every tear will be wiped from our eye. There is no mourning of crying in the new Jerusalem. There is no more separation, no more sorrow, no more sin, no more death. We have the down payment of that comfort now in the person of the Holy Spirit. We do not have all misery. We have the joy of the Holy Spirit. It is not true that those who truly mourn are those who mope around the house in utter misery all the time. There are many who weep who will not be comforted, because they do not truly mourn. They will not receive comfort. No, the Holy Spirit enters our lives, and gives us a certain hope that all will be made right, all wrongs will be righted, all sin punished. Those people who have the most joy are those people who truly mourn for sin. Let us not be satisfied with anything less than true mourning. It is not comfortable now, but it will be. We will have comfort. So often, however, we are satisfied with having as much comfort as possible now, not realizing that this life is not home to us. We are aliens and strangers here on this old earth. We need to wait for the new heavens and the new earth in order to receive the true comfort. As Abraham said to the rich man, “In this life you received your comforts, while Lazarus received only bad things. But now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” Which person do we want to be? Do we want to mourn now, or later? We will do one or the other. The world wants to escape pain altogether. It is not possible. Do not make an idol out of comfort. The way to comfort is almost entirely in the opposite direction. It is like Alice in Alice in Wonderland. She wanted to get to the garden. However, the more she tried to get there, the further away she got. It was only when she tried to go in the opposite direction, that she made her way to the garden. If we make an idol out of comfort, and pursue it for its own sake, we will never find it. It is impossible. However, if we seek holiness rather than happiness, if we seek God rather than man, if we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, then and only then will all these other things be added to us as well. That is the true meaning of mourning. Happy are the unhappy, for they will be happy.

Two Dangers in Evangelism

There are two main dangers to be avoided in evangelism. The first is that, in sharing the Gospel, we do not love people enough. Beating someone over his head with the Bible is not especially helpful. Telling the truth is important. However, it must be done in love. There is a balance here that takes away every extraneous obstacle to the Gospel, and simply allows the Gospel to speak.

The other danger is to water down the message of the Gospel to the point where there is no offense left in the Gospel. Scripture itself says that the cross is a stumbling block to Jews, and simply foolishness to the Gentiles. In fact, unbelievers don’t like the Gospel. Mark Dever wisely warns us of the dangers here. I really appreciated his emphasis on clarity. Peter was very clear in Acts 2, a passage that Mark explains very well. Acts 2:36 “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Blaming those who are listening for the crucifixion of Christ is not exactly the thing most calculated to win the approbation of the masses. However, what happens? The Gospel cuts them to the very heart. In fact, 3,000 were added to their number that day.

In short, there must no extra offense to the Gospel, whether it be that we are wierd, or unloving, or not good listeners, or whatever else there might be. How can we be sufficient for such things? Only by the grace of God. But we cannot take the edge out of evangelism. The Gospel has all the comfort for non-believers that a surgeon’s scalpel does. It cuts. But the Gospel doesn’t leave us there in a state of open-heart surgery. It also closes the wound with the healing balm of sins forgiven. Only by such surgery can the heart be made clean and fresh again.

Assurance

Cardinal Bellarmine, the main theological foil to the Reformation, once said of the Reformation that its fundamental sin was…assurance! That anyone could possibly know that they are saved was a gross sin, according to Bellarmine.

The Reformation thought quite differently about the matter. They saw assurance as quite possible, though they put careful qualifications onto their statements. Chapter 18 of the WCF is a model of care about this very topic.

Unbelievers may have some notion of salvation, but it will fall away eventually. They can have no assurance of salvation. It is quite possible for the believer to have a certain assurance that they are saved. What is the ground for such an assurance? You may be assured (!) that the ground of our assurance is mostly outside of us. It is made up of various elements: the promises of salvation given in Scripture, the testimony of the Holy Spirit working in us, the inward evidence of grace operating in our lives, the cross and resurrection of our Lord, and the other means of grace all work together to provide assurance.

The most important qualification that can be made about assurance is that even if one does not have assurance, one can still be saved. It is not so much of the essence of faith, but that many Christians struggle long and hard to attain it. It does not take a special revelation from God over and above Scripture to attain to assurance. Rather, it comes through the normal means of grace. The fruits of assurance (contrary to the Roman Catholic Church) are not licence to do whatever we want, but rather thankfulness and gratitude to God, peace and joy, strength and cheerfulness, and above all obedience.

Assurance waxes and wanes, depending on whether the believer is making full and diligent use of the means of grace. Sin also attacks our assurance. But even in the midst of falling into temptation, we can be helped. If we struggle, then that very fact is evidence of grace. The unbeliever has no struggle with the sin principle in his life. There is no need. But in the Christian life, it is different. There is a peace there that starts the war between the sinful nature that we possess and the grace of God. These are at war with each other. It is part and parcel of the battle between the two ages, of which I spoke here.

Notice clearly how many different things filter into assurance. prayer, Scripture reading, Holy Spirit testimony, election, the promises of Scripture, the sacraments, fellowship with other believers; all of these things feed into assurance. This is one of the problems with the Federal Vision: there is an over-emphasis on the sacraments in assurance to the detriment (not exclusion) of the other means of grace. Yes, baptism is a means of grace. But it is not the only means of grace, nor the most important. There is in the Federal Vision an almost complete aversion to any kind of self-examination with regard to grace. It is usually called “navel-gazing.” However, as Scripture says, the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God.

That being said, the dangers of immoderate self-examination are not to be underestimated. Robert Murray M’Cheyne had it about right when he said, “For every time you look inside yourself, look ten times at Christ.” If we look primarily to ourselves, we will sink, as Peter did when he was walking on the sea. But when he looked at Christ, then he was able to walk. Let us look primarily to Christ for our assurance.

Spiritual Humility

Matthew 5:1-3
The great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones once went to preach at a certain town. A man met him at the station, and asked for his bag immediately, and almost took it from him by force. The man said, “I am a deacon in the church; I am a mere nobody, a very unimportant man, really. I do not count; I am not a great man in the church; I am just one of those men who carry the bag for the minister.” He is like the pastor who got an badge from his congregation for his humility. The congregation immediately took it away from him, because he wore it! Well, that is a very good illustration of the opposite of what Jesus is saying here.

At the end of chapter four, we see that Jesus’ ministry consisted of three things: teaching, preaching, and healing. We see then that people must be healed before they will listen. They must be healed before they will obey.
Then we see what Jesus does at the beginning of this Sermon. There are two important things to notice about these first two verses. The first is that Jesus went up a mountain. We are meant to think here that Jesus is that prophet that Moses spoke about in Deuteronomy 18: “another prophet like me shall arise among you, and you shall listen to him.” Just as Moses received the law on a mountain, so also Jesus interprets that law on a mountain. Jesus sits down, which is what rabbis usually did when they taught. The second thing we need to see is that Jesus is the real point of the Sermon on the Mount. Notice all the things that Jesus did in just these two verses. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that this Sermon is about Jesus. We think often that the sole purpose of this Sermon is to teach us how to live. It does do that, but the way in which it does that is to teach us something about Jesus. We are going to see that Jesus is the best example of all of these beatitudes, as well as the best example of everything else in the Sermon.

Jesus here starts the first of what will eventually be five sermons. He begins His first sermon with blessings, and ends His last sermon with curses. This is in Matthew 23. You will remember that in Deuteronomy, half of the people sat on Mount Gerezim, and the other half sat on Mount Ebal, and they recited the blessings and the curses one to another. That is reflected here in the structure of the five sermons. Furthermore, the OT ends with the word “curse.” And the first sermon that Jesus preaches in the NT starts out with “blessing.” this means that, in comparison with the OT, the NT is a blessing. However, there are still blessings and curses. Those who obey Jesus’ voice and follow Him will have the blessings. But those who will not hear and obey Jesus’ voice will receive curses.

The Sermon on the Mount is most likely a summary of what Jesus said on the mountain, and probably many other times and places as well as here on the mountain. That helps to explain why there is not a contradiction between Matthew and Luke. Luke says that this sermon happened on a plain, whereas Matthew says that it happened on a mountain. The fact is that they are both right. Jesus taught the same things over and over again. Repetition is key when one is teaching something. There are significant differences in the wording of Luke’s version, enough to confirm our opinion that Jesus taught these things on more than one occasion.

What did Jesus teach? He taught about the kingdom of heaven. That is the central message of the Sermon on the Mount. We can see that because the first and last beatitude have as the consequence the possession of the kingdom of heaven. And we can see that what Jesus says about the kingdom of heaven goes directly against everything that the world says about values. Jesus turns the world’s values upside down. In fact, nowhere else in Scripture is the difference between the world and the Christian so clearly shown as in this Sermon. The world says, “blessed are the rich, blessed are the happy-go-lucky people, blessed are those who stick up for themselves, blessed are those who are not hungry for anything, blessed are those who triumph over their enemies, etc.” Everythig the world says is directly opposed by what Jesus says. We are to give up worldly values, and follow Jesus instead.

It is important also to recognize, as we approach the beatitudes, that Jesus is not describing here some kind of elite group of Christians. Nor is Jesus saying that we can each have one of these characteristics. They all come together, and they are all to come to all Christians. It is not like Benjamin Franklin’s little experiment. He tried to master one virtue at a time. Then when he mastered that virtue, he would move on another virtue. But what he found was that the experiment was a pathetic failure. As soon as he moved on to another virtue, he found that the first virtue would somehow decay. That is not the idea here. There is a progression in the Beatitudes, as we will see. However, they are all to be there, and they are all to grow together as well.

What is “blessedness?” As one writer says, this word is a refrain that is like great bells of heaven, ringing down into this unblessed world from the cathedral spires of heaven inviting all men to enter. Fundamentally, it means that God approves. This is where ultimate happiness lies, because these beatitudes indicate what God wants for His children.

What we have here is a fulfillment of prophecy. Isaiah 61:1-3 says this: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”

This first beatitude is the foundation of all those that will follow. So what does it men to be poor in spirit? We must first examine that word “poor.” It is a strong word. It does not mean merely that one has a shortage, as in someone saying, “I am a little short on money right now.” The word rather indicates abject poverty. It means that, spiritually speaking, the person has not had any capital at all for quite some time.

Matthew here does not mean material poverty, since he adds the words “in spirit.” Probably the best illustration of the definition of spiritual poverty is the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14: He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The Pharisee thought that he had it all together. He was spiritually rich. He thought that God would look on him with favor, since he did all the right things. The tax collector, on the other hand, did not even look up to heaven, because he knew that there was absolutely no reason that God should look on him with favor. As the Puritan Thomas Watson says, “If the hand be full of pebbles, it cannot receive gold. The glass must first be emptied before one pours in wine.” It is the person who realizes that his righteousness before God is filthy rags. As the poet said, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” Another poet said, “Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy law’s demands.” We often think that because we are pretty good people, or least we are better than that poor dumb sinner over there, that we can claim heaven’s rewards. Notice here that the beatitude is exclusive. The opposite is true: those who are spiritually rich are cursed. The only people who can inherit the kingdom of God are the poor in spirit. Spiritually rich need not apply. It is to realize that only God is spiritually rich. Only He can fill us. If we are already full of our own righteousness, then there is no room for God’s righteousness.

Jesus is the best example of being poor. The poet says, “Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor who for our sakes becamest poor.” He left the sapphire-paved courts for a stable floor. Christ knew what poverty was. He was not born into a rich condition. Paul says that He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant. That is our example. Albert Barnes wrote: “To be poor in spirit is to have a humble opinion of ourselves; to be sensible that we are sinners, and have no righteousness of our own; to be willing to be saved only by the rich grace and mercy of God; to be willing to be where God places us, to bear what he lays on us, to go where he bids us, and to die when he commands; to be willing to be in his hands, and to feel that we deserve no favour from him.” That is exactly what Christ did.

If that is what we have, then there is a rich promise awaiting us. The fulfillment of it awaits the consummation of the kingdom, but the joy of it is ours right now. We have the kingdom. It belongs to us. We are ironically poor and rich at the same time. We are poor by the world’s standards, but we are rich by God’s standards, when we rely on God’s righteousness to cover us, and His grace to save us.

This teaches us to be humble. Are we humble enough in how we deal with other people? We who are pioneers are very susceptible to this kind of thinking. We think that we are sufficient for the day’s tasks. We think that we do not need other Christians to spur us on to love and good deeds. The hand says to the foot, “I don’t need you. I can live life on my own.” The story that C.S. Lewis wrote about Prince Caspian illustrates this very well. Caspian is a very young prince who is trying to regain his throne, which has been wrongfully taken from him by his uncle. After a great battle is fought, Aslan (who is the Christ figure) says to Caspian, “Do you feel yourself ready to take upon yourself the rule of this country?” Caspian says, “I don’t think I am, sir.” Aslan says, “Good. If you had said you were, it would have been proof that you were not.” If we say that we are ready, it is proof that we do not yet understand the depth of our own sin and depravity.

Often we think about the wrong kind of heroes, and therefore we treat other people wrongly because of that. We think that the hero is strong in himself, has most of the desirable qualities that anyone could want. If someone else does not have them, we look down on them. But they just might be richer than we are, if you count riches spiritually. Dealing with someone else in a way that reveals our own low view of ourselves is true humility.

Humility is considering the other person to be better than ourselves. But often we do the comparison game. Who is better, me or me? Either way, I win. But if we want to do the comparison game, Jesus tells us, then we need to compare ourselves to God Himself. If anyone of us feels anything in the presence of God other than an utter poverty of spirit, it ultimately means that we have never faced him. To face the infinitely holy God is to realize how unholy we are, as Isaiah found out. So, if we dream about heroes, let us dream about Jesus. Let us dream about a hero who finds all his strength in God, who finds his righteousness in God, who finds true riches in heaven. That is the man who will be shouted from the rooftops of heaven to be a true hero. All those whom the world thinks are heroes will not even be remembered. Would we rather be remembered in this life, or would we rather have an eternal inheritance that does not fade or perish. Those who are poor in spirit are rich in the kingdom. That is what we are to be.

Perseverance

Perseverance is a beautiful thing in the Christian life. To know that God doesn’t just abandon us to fend for ourselves in the fight against sin, but that He actively engages us in the pursuit of holiness. The doctrine itself states that those whom God has truly saved will by no means lose their salvation. There certainly are counterfeit saved people out there who appear to be saved, but fall away. These people were never really saved in the first place. That is, they were never truly united to Christ.

This perseverance depends on the decree of God and the efficacy of election. It depends further on the efficacy of the merit of Christ who intercedes for us, and the abiding of the Holy Spirit in us (that seed of holiness planted in us).

Certainly, some who are truly saved will fall away for a time through grievous sins and the neglect of the means of the grace. But all those who are truly of God’s flock will indeed be brought back by Christ Himself. Philippians 1:6 says this: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

There are some out there who will argue that there is no ontological difference between the elect and the non-elect within the people of God, and that the only way to tell the difference is by perseverance. Some will persevere and some will not. However, this is based on a misinterpretation of John 15. John 15 says that those who do not abide in Christ will be taken out of the vine. But is the vine salvation, or is it simply the visible church? There is a difference between fruit-bearing branches, and non-fruit-bearing branches.

The warnings in Hebrews 6 and similar places are real warnings. But that does not mean that the elect can fall. it is precisely to keep the elect from falling that such warnings are given to us. In logic (of the Boolean variety), this is known as the null set. The sign “All trespassers will be prosecuted” is posted in order that there be NO trespassers. The home owner posts such a sign as a deterrent. So also the warnings in Scripture: all those who fall away are hopeless of remedy. This sign is posted so that there will be no members of the set “fallen away.” A failure to understand the nature of this function of the warnings has resulted in gross misunderstanding by the Arminians and by the Federal Vision.

Gone Fishing

Matthew 4:18-25

The greatest story about fishing ever told in literature is the story of the great white whale Moby Dick. It is a story about revenge. Captain Ahab, of the ship called Pequod, had had his leg bitten off by a great white whale. And he was going to have revenge no matter what the cost. It is a story of how revenge can blind a man to anything else. Now, I myself am embarrassed to say that I have only gone fishing about two or three times in my entire life. But I do remember that fishing is not about revenge. It is about patience most of all, perseverance, sometimes courage, an eye for the right moment, getting the right bait for the fish, and keeping out of sight as much as possible. These are also the qualities of those who would fish for men. Jesus calls the church to be fishers of men.

Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee. Many teachers of the day and many philosophers were what are called peripatetic teachers. That means that they taught as they walked about from place to place. “Peripatetic” literally means “walking around.” Jesus was one of those. And in his travels He comes across two of His disciples, though they don’t know it yet. We see an unusual thing happen: Jesus calls them. Most of the time, if a student wanted to study under a particular rabbi, he would seek the teacher out, and work out an arrangement. But here, Jesus follows a different pattern. He follows the pattern of Elijah calling his successor Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21: “So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. [20] And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” [21] And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.” The teacher called the student. Jesus does it to prove that He is Lord. Elijah is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ministry, a type. In fact, Elijah’s name means “The Lord is God.” That is exactly what Jesus is saying here. We can never call to God unless God has first called to us. In the book “The Silver Chair” by C.S. Lewis, two children are called away to the land of Narnia. They were calling out to Aslan, who is the Christ figure in the book. But when they get there, Aslan says to them, “You would not have been calling to me unless I had been calling to you.”

So the first two people whom Jesus calls are Peter and Andrew, who were brothers. They were fishermen. They had been going about doing their job when Jesus called them. They were casting a net into the sea. This net was a circular net with weights attached all around the outside edge to make the net sink. Then they would row the boat gently down the stream, pulling the net behind them by means of rope attached to the outside edges. Any fish wandering into that net would not be able to find their way out again, one hoped.

It is important to recognize that fishermen were not poor people in Galilee. We often think that they were poor. However, fish were in high demand in that society. They were probably lower middle class, rather than lower class. Often, they had workers hired to help. They even formed small companies, such as “Peter’s Pikes.” In short, discipleship for them was going to be costly. Jesus was demanding much more than the average rabbi did. Jesus was demanding that they leave everything, the whole business, including the family ties that were so important to the Galilean, and follow Him.

If someone were to tell us to follow him, we would have the right to ask the question, “Where are you going?” That is the question, isn’t it? The answer Jesus gives is, “I am going fishing. But it is not fish that I am after. I have bigger fish to fry. I want humanity.” As one writer has said, “It is no longer a question of taking fish from the lake, but of drawing men up out of the abyss of sin and death, catching them in the great net of God.”

Jesus gives a command and a promise. Not only will the disciples be commanded to obey Jesus, but also Jesus promises that they will be just as effective in catching men as they were in catching fish. They will exchange one fishing net for the better net of the Word of God, which catches all the fish that God wants caught. They are exchanging one set of fish for another. The fact is, Peter and Andrew were well-qualified to catch men. Jesus saw great potential in these fishermen. So Jesus calls them.

Now when Jesus calls, they answer. There is no hesitation, no disobedience. They jump to it. They renounce father, brother, house, lands, and they receive a hundred fold in this life and in the life to come, eternal life. Notice that Jesus does not call Zebedee. Zebedee is left to mind the store. This does not mean that Zebedee was an unbeliever. Rather it means that all kinds are needed for the kingdom work. Zebedee is left to bear witness to other fishermen. Not all are called to be specifically an evangelist. All are called to witness. Evangelists might not be as effective at reaching business people as a Christian businessman would be. I would not be as effective reaching out to farmers as you farmers would be. Jesus wants all types, all honorable professions, to be evangelical in how they work. The next time you take your grain in to the elevator and there is a man there you know doesn’t know Christ, talk to him about it. Who better than you? The next time you go to have some equipment replaced or repaired, talk to the man there about salvation, and what Christ has done. There is this pernicious idea floating around that only pastors are qualified to share the Gospel. That is a lie of Satan. Every Christian has the story of their own life to share. What has God done for you? That is the way to evangelize. You know what? Your testimony is unshakeable. You might be afraid that a smart unbeliever could take you apart when it comes to argumentation. That is not true. They cannot argue with your testimony. Your testimony is unshakeable. You might think, “With whom could I share the Gospel?” Open your eyes a bit, and you will see. Pray that the Lord will open your eyes and see. Why, there are people within a mile of each one of us, I dare say, who does not know Christ. You see them all the time. But you say to yourself, “Someone else will do it.” Jesus calls us to discipleship. That means that we are all evangelists. We all have the good news.

Some people think that they cannot have anyone over to their house until the house looks absolutely perfect. Some people think that they cannot share the Gospel until they are completely ready. But you know what? God uses the foolish things (what the world calls foolish) to shame the wise. Jesus did choose fishermen, after all. The world would have told Jesus to go to the rabbinical schools and recruit people who already knew the OT inside and out. Jesus picks perfectly ordinary people to do extraordinary things. That is the same way with us today. God gives words to people who ask Him to guide them in conversation. You might not see the fruit right away. You might think that what you said had no effect whatsoever. However, let us not be enslaved to a conversionistic mentality. The Word of God is like a seed. You plant it, and it doesn’t come up right away. It doesn’t have to. Are we farmers discouraged because our crops are not fully grown the second we plant them? No, that would be utter lunacy. We wait patiently for the crop to come up. Fishermen wait patiently for the fish to bite. It is God who brings the fish to the hook. You see, the church has always been tempted to be the keepers of the aquarium rather than fishers of men. We would rather tend to our own people, which is comfortable, rather than tend to the needs of people who are not like us, those people who are hurting. But Jesus calls us to be His disciples.

The second part of the passage, which is verses 23-25, tells us about Jesus’ ministry. Jesus does three things: He teaches, He preaches, and He heals people. Now, we should not separate teaching from preaching too much. They are not separated here in Matthew. Often we think that teaching involves only head knowledge, while preaching aims at the heart. That is simply not true. Both teaching and preaching should aim at the head and the heart. Let us not be overly concerned that one or the other be the most important: they are both important. Here, we see that Jesus came to defeat ignorance, misunderstanding, and pain.

It is not difficult to see why a doctor who gives no fees, heals instantaneously, no matter what the problem is, and who sees all comers, would be quite popular. His fame would spread. That is indeed what happened. This is quite a list of diseases in verse 24. Both spiritual and physical illnesses are healed. The term “epileptic” means literally “moon-struck.” The word is similar to the word “lunatic,” which comes from the Latin word “luna,” meaning “moon.” A “lunatic” is someone who is “moon-struck.” However, the word at this time does not mean a lunatic, but one who is struck by seizures. The moon was thought to have strange powers, including sending people into odd fits. So Jesus is the master of the moon, as well as of the disease. Jesus also heals paralytics. These are the people that nothing can heal except someone who is God Himself. Jesus proves that He is God by healing those whom no one else can heal.

The response was tremendous. Galilee is NW, the Decapolis (which means the area of ten cities) was NE, Judea is SW and the Transjordan is SE: all four points of the compass are represented in this list of cities. And Jerusalem is at the center. What Matthew is saying here is that the whole world will feel the effect of what Jesus is doing. God’s work is for the whole world. God is redeeming the world to Himself. No longer is God’s people limited to only the Jews. Now all people groups can come to God, and become the followers of Jesus. That s the call to us as well. We are to follow Jesus. We are to help others to follow Jesus.

On Good Works

Good works are defined by Scripture, not by us. They are the fruit of a faith that is alive. They play absolutely zero part in justification. Furthermore, the ability to do them comes from God, and not from us. It is the Holy Spirit that must work in us that we can do good works. We can never do more than God requires of us. Good works can never merit the forgiveness of sins. This is because our good works are always tainted with sin, even good works done as a Christian. Nevertheless, because of what Christ has done, our good works done as believers are accepted by God, and He will reward them.

So-called good works, done by unregenerate souls, cannot be actually good, since they are done with wrong motives, and for the wrong reason (anything other than the glory of God).

From Darkness to Light

Matthew 4:12-17

I remember once when my family was in Indiana for a wedding. We stayed at the house of a member of the church. They had a basement that had no windows at all. That is where we slept. I have never been in a place that was that dark. It was also a large basement with quite a few pieces of furniture and other things. If you did not have a flashlight with you, there was absolutely no way that you could find your way to anything. Darkness is completely disorienting. As Jesus said, “If a blind man leads another blind man, they will both fall into a pit.” What is needed is for light to come into our lives so that we can see. That is exactly what Jesus is. He is the light of the world.

Our passage starts out with Jesus hearing some news. He heard that John the Baptist had been arrested. Now, John had gotten into trouble for denouncing Herod. Herod had seduced his brother’s wife, after putting away the wife that he already had. And, of course, it is never safe to denounce an ancient near eastern tyrant, and so John found himself in prison. That was a signal for Christ to begin His ministry. It is as if John had handed over the baton when he had been handed over. John and Jesus are linked in the history of salvation. What happens to the one happens to the other in a broad way. Jesus also will be arrested and handed over, in His time. But when it happened to the fore-runner, John, that was the signal for Jesus to start His ministry.

Jesus’ first move was to move. The NIV is incorrect to translate the word as “returned,” since Jesus never lived in Galilee. The ESV has “withdrew.” From the next verse we learn that Jesus actually moved. It was a permanent thing. Jesus moved to Galilee. Galilee is in the north area of Palestine. It borders many Gentile nations. So why did He move to Galilee? Several reasons. First, Galilee had a lot of people among whom Jesus could minister. Galilee was a very fertile region, in more ways than one. It grew crops and ideas. Anyone with wild and wooly ideas who wanted to start some kind of rebellion would go to Galilee first. They were always being invaded by foreigners, and so new ideas would always be coming into the region. The great first-century Jewish historian Josephus says this, “They were ever fond of innovations, and by nature disposed to changes, and delighted in seditions.” If Judea was on the way to nowhere, Galilee was on the way to everywhere. It was an ideal place for Jesus to start His ministry. So Jesus left Nazareth, where He had grown up, and went to Capernaum. Capernaum was the most important city on the north shore of the sea of Galilee. It was in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali in the north part of Israel. That was to fulfill prophecy.

The prophecy was as follows (15-16). It is from Isaiah 9:1-2. In the Isaiah passage, the context has to do with the Assyrian invasion of the Northern kingdom that took place in 722 B.C. Isaiah answers the question: “Is there no hope for the lands of the north after they are invaded?” The answer is that there is hope in the form of the Messiah. Zebulun and Naphtali were the first of the tribes to be invaded. So also they will be the first of all the tribes to have salvation brought to them in Jesus. The little phrase “way of the sea” merely means that the territory is by the sea of Galilee. It is the coastlands. But the next phrase is somewhat difficult. The NIV wrongly translates here “along the Jordan.” The phrase really means “on the other side of the Jordan,” or “beyond the Jordan.” This creates a difficulty. If a person says “the picture is on the wall on the other side of the room,” then the person who said it must be on one side, while the picture is on the other side. So if Matthew says “beyond the Jordan,” then which side of the Jordan is Matthew on?

Zebulun and Naphtali are both on the west side of the Jordan. So Matthew would seem to be speaking from the east side of the Jordan. Why does Matthew speak this way? The key is in the Isaiah quotation itself. Isaiah is speaking from the point of view of the Assyrians when he says “beyond the Jordan.” That means that it is Israel which is sitting in darkness, not the nations around Israel. That way of speaking is typical of the way prophets spoke. They put themselves in someone else’s shoes to shock the people to whom they are speaking. It gives a new angle on whatever problem they are seeking to address. That is what Isaiah does. So what Matthew is trying to do is to include the Gentiles in salvation. The Gentiles are no longer “those people over there living in darkness.” Instead it is the Israelites who are living in darkness, and how great is that darkness since Jesus, the great light, has come!

The phrase “Galilee of the Gentiles” was originally a term of reproach, since Israelites did not associate with Gentiles. However, Matthew has filled the phrase with new meaning. No longer is Galilee a place where cursed Gentiles roam freely, speaking with clean Israelites. Now, Gentiles are clean, and they certainly are no longer living in darkness.

In verse 16, we come to a very interesting statement. It says that the people are dwelling, or living in darkness. That means not only that they are continually in darkness, but also that they are choosing to live in darkness. It is as if I chose to live in that dark basement for the rest of my life. Truly then, I would be loving darkness rather than light! If I did that, spiritually speaking, I would be someone who loves sin and does not want to come to Jesus to have my sins forgiven, because I love darkness more than light. But darkness is death. In the Hebrew language, especially in poetry, repetition abounds. In poetry, the first line is amplified by the second line. Often, the terms of the second line of poetry explain the first line. That is what is happening here. In the first line we see the word “darkness,” whereas in the second line in the same place in the line, we see the word “death.” Dwelling in darkness is dwelling in death. We can see that even in the phrase “shadow of death.” Death is dark and shadowy. If death and darkness are such close ideas to each other, then light is equal to life. So, if a light has dawned on people, that means that life has come to them. In Egypt during the plague of darkness, the whole land of Egypt was wrapped up in darkness. That was a fore-shadowing of the death of the first-born. But in the land of Goshen where the Israelites were, there was light and salvation. Egypt then is a symbol of death, and the Israelites are brought out of that land of death. God saves in the same way today. A person is dwelling in darkness of sin. God shines a light into their heart, and there is light. A new creation of light by God’s Word happens. Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians 4:6 “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

It is because Jesus is the Light of the world that Jesus preaches what He does in verse 17. Now we need to notice a few things about this verse. First, we see that Jesus preaches. Jesus preaches the Word of God. He is faithful to the message that God has given Him.

Notice, secondly, that Jesus preaches the exact same message that John the Baptist preached. Jesus is not an innovator when it comes to the content of His messages. So also, preachers today are not to be innovators in the substance of what they say. It is important to stress that in a culture where new is always better, and the old is always bad. Not so in Jesus’ case! He does not despise what has already been said. So it is not new doctrines that preachers are to preach, but the good old solid doctrines of Scripture which the preacher is to preach. Now, the preacher can preach the same old doctrines in new ways that communicate to each new generation. That’s fine. But too often, preachers confuse the one with the other. Do not listen to a preacher who says to you, “I have this great new doctrine to tell you that no one has ever heard before.” There is a name for that kind of novelty in preaching. It’s called “heresy.”

But what is it that Jesus preaches? He says that people should repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. What does this mean? First, let us look at repentance. To use a military term, repentance is an “about-face.” It is to turn away from sin to Jesus. Repentance is not remorse. We saw that this morning. Remorse is when you are sorry because you got caught, and are sorry for the consequences. Repentance is different. It means a turning away from sin, and a turning to the Savior. It means that a person realizes that he has offended the holy God, wants forgiveness and restoration of fellowship with God, and turns to God in faith, resolving not to do that sin anymore. Repentance is not a half-hearted thing. It does not mean that we leave some part of that sin lurking in our heart to resurface later and catch us. Now, that means that repentance is both a once-for-all event, and an on-going process. The once-for-all character of repentance is demonstrated by the fact that when we turn to Christ, we are no longer under the power of sin. It no longer condemns us, because Christ is our master now, not sin. As Thomas Brooks the Puritan says, “He that turns not from every sin, turns not aright from any one sin.” But repentance is also a process. Again, Thomas Brooks is helpful, “Repentance is a continued act of turning, a repentance never to be repented of, a turning never to turn again to folly.” He says a little later, “Repentance is the vomit of the soul.” That is why it is so hard to repent. It is about as pleasant as vomiting. However, if we are to expunge the poison from our soul, it is utterly necessary. Satan would want us to think that repentance is easy, and therefore worthy of delay. Repentance is so difficult that it is above our ability. Therefore, Jesus is commanding people here to do something which they cannot. With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.

In the last part of the verse, Jesus gives us the reason why we should repent. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The NIV would seem to imply that it is not here yet. “Being at hand” is a better translation, because it preserves the ambiguity of the Greek. Literally, the Greek says, “has approached.” Is it here, or is it not here? That is the question. The answer is “yes.” The kingdom is here in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the kingdom in bodily form. The kingdom is here. However, the kingdom has not yet reached its full potential. Therefore it is not here. It is here already, and it is not yet here. We live in such a time. We live in the wilderness period between the deliverance from Egypt and the entrance into the promised land. It is a time period that is to be characterized by repentance. The kingdom of heaven invades the kingdom of the world. Right now there is fighting going on between the two. We are all soldiers in this battle. But which side are we on? That is the great question. Know that if you still belong to the world, you have only the fire of hell to look forward to. Your only hope to escape is to repent and come into the kingdom of heaven. As the great early church father Tertullian said, “If you are backward in the thought of repentance, then be forward in your thoughts of hell, the flames of which can only be extinguished by the stream of tears flowing from the penitent’s eye.” Our only hope of escaping the punishment that our sins deserve is to repent and enter the kingdom of heaven. That is done by believing that Jesus Christ suffered that pain of hell for you, so that you would not have to. We enter the realm of light when that happens. We have stepped from darkness into light. Let us therefore walk as children of the light.

« Older entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 303 other followers