The Sabbath

The Sabbath is a creation ordinance. It is something that God put into this world at the very beginning. Therefore, it does not have the temporary character of the civil and ceremonial aspects of Israel’s law. It is much more abiding than that. It is most definitely not abrogated at the coming of Christ. It is changed, but not abrogated.

There are two reasons in Scripture given for keeping the Sabbath. They are found in the two passages dealing with the Sabbath observance: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. In Exodus, the reason given for keeping the Sabbath is creation. The pattern of God working six days and resting the seventh is to be the pattern for us as well. The reason given in Deuteronomy 5 is redemption. It is because God has brought His people out of the land of Egypt, and thus has given them rest from all the hard labor they had while being slaves under the Egyptians- it is for this reason that the Israelites are to observe the Sabbath day. So there are two reasons: creation and redemption.

In Jesus Christ, there is a new creation and a new redemption. That occurs on the first day of the week. Therefore, the day has changed from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week. For more detailed argumentation proving this exegetically, see this article.

The only remaining issue is the practical one of what is required/allowed on the Christian Sabbath. Primarily, this involves the idea of recreation. Is it allowed on the Sabbath? I would argue that it is not. The passage to go to here is Isaiah 58:13. So far, I have seen absolutely no exegesis of any kind from any Isaiah scholar that has dislodged the Puritan interpretation of that passage. J.A. Alexander is quite favorable to the Puritan interpretation there. The only remaining issue is whether this OT passage applies also to the NT situation. It must be remarked here that this is in the prophets, not in the Torah. Therefore, it cannot be said to be part of the civil or ceremonial law of Israel. To argue positively, there is warrant in the passage for holding the Puritan view, since the passage is eschatological in orientation (see vv. 6-11, which are full of promises for the future). So it applies to some time in the future, as well as to the Israelites to whom Isaiah is writing.

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Purity

Matthew 5:8

US News and World Report did a study about television. That study showed that children on average will spend more than 20,000 hours before the television set, which is far more time than he will ever spend in a classroom. What do they see? Violence, perversion, lying, cheating, stealing, blackmail, embezzlement and other delights of our age. Violence, for instance, is so common on TV that it occurs five to nine times in on hour of prime-time television, and as often as thirty times in one hour during Saturday morning cartoons and after-school cartoons. Researchers have found clear evidence that “heavy TV watchers” are no longer shocked or horrified by violence. The report concludes in this way, “It will be difficult for the children who are raised in this era when they reach adult life to be decision-makers about right and wrong, because they have been without guidelines. They will have no idea what moral concepts are all about.” The date of this study? 1975. Has the situation gotten better or worse since then? Has it gotten better or worse in our community? What is purity of heart?

Often we think that purity is unattainable. We think that purity of heart is for those “super-Christians” out there who have got their act together. But Jesus says that only the pure in heart will see God. That means that we all need purity of heart.

Purity in heart comes in two sizes. The first one is purity of conversion. That means that when we come to union with Jesus Christ, we are clothed with righteousness. That is, while we are still sinners, Christ takes out our heart of stone, gives us a heart of flesh in regeneration. We are then clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. When God looks at us He sees Jesus’ righteousness.

By the way, if you do not know Jesus, now is the time to recognize that you are not pure in heart. None of us are really pure in heart. We need someone else’s purity to clothe us.

The second kind of purity is the process of purity. That happens throughout our lives and that is what Christ is mainly talking about here. Purity means unmixed holiness. When we say “pure gold” we mean that there is only gold there, nothing else. So when Jesus tells us that we need a pure heart, it means that our hearts need to be righteous without anything else in there. Thomas Watson says this, “A Christian’s great care should be to keep the heart pure, as one would especially preserve the spring from being poisoned. In a duel, a man will chiefly guard and fence his heart, so a wise Christian should above all things keep his heart pure. Take heed that the love of sin does not get in there, lest it prove mortal.”

When Jesus spoke the woes in chapter 23 that are the negative version of the blessings given here, one of the woes was spoken to the Pharisees. Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” Jesus is talking about purity here. There needs to be purity not only on the outside, but also on the inside. It is not enough to say that we have not sinned outwardly. We also need to be sin-free on the inside, that part that no one can see.

But why? What reason is there to be pure in heart? First and foremost, because God will not tolerate impurity in His presence. What would God do with an unholy servant? Christ also says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Another reason for purity is that God dwells in us. You would not want to go live in a house that was incredibly unclean, with roaches, ants, termites, wasps, and filth all over the place, would you? Then why do we expect God to dwell in us, when we have such filth in our lives? Why would God want to come live inside a dirty, filthy, rotten hole like our hearts? If our body is to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, our heart is to be the Most Holy Place, where God Himself has set up His throne. Those are the reasons why we must be holy.

What purity of heart is not can be readily seen. We must not be content with outward purity. As Christ said, a person can be spick and span outside, but be full of murder, adultery, covetousness, and all manner of other sins on the inside. Christ said that out of the heart comes all these sins anyway. Let me just say a word here about behavior. Often we think that if a person changes their behavior, then they must be okay on the inside, too. That is a lot like a parable one of my professors told one day in class. His wife was upset that their apple tree was looking very ugly. It has brown ugly fruit on it, and wouldn’t the husband please do something about it. So the next Saturday, the wife looks out her window to see the husband with a ladder, a bushel of apples, and a staple-gun. About an hour later, she looks out again and sees a beautiful tree full of beautiful apples. How long will it last? As long as those apples last. Those apples, though, are not connected to the root. If they were connected to the root of that tree, then they wouldn’t be such beautiful apples. Those apples are just like our outward behavior, and the root of the tree is just like our heart. If the root of the tree is sound and healthy, then the apples that will be produced will be sound and healthy apples. However, if he root is rotten, then no amount of fresh apples will change that root. The problem will only be temporarily fixed. Eventually, those apples will shrivel up and drop off the tree. In this community especially, I see a focus on behavior. There is nothing wrong with that. We want to see behavior change and come into conformity with God’s Word. But without a pure heart, it will not ultimately change the behavior. Eventually, the “new behavior” will look just like the old behavior. We cannot be satisfied with outward change. We need to be concerned with issues of the heart.

Any issue of the heart that introduces impurity will always have an idolatry associated with it. You can think of any sin in the world, and I will tell you what idolatry is going along with it. For instance, covetousness, theft, and envy have a heart idolatry of wealth. Wealth is desired more than God, and so God is set aside in the heart. You cannot add anything to just God in the heart without an idolatry. Another example: adultery and lust have as their heart idolatry man itself, and finding pleasure and ultimate satisfaction in something other than God. There is no sin that is not idolatry. Idolatry is the very definition of impurity. Instead of being filled only with worship of God, we introduce a substitute, something impure. What Christ is really saying here is “Blessed are those who worship God alone, for they will see God.”

What are some things that contribute to heart idolatry? Ignorance is one. Sometimes we pride ourselves on saying something like this, “I may not know much, but my heart is pure.” That is a lot like saying, “I may be blind, but my eyes are doing well.” Ignorance of God and the Bible is opposite to love. You cannot love someone you do not know. Hollywood says something different, I know. They think it is possible to love at first sight. Hey still believe that after all these years. But the fact is that you cannot love someone you do not know. That means that the less we know of God, the less it is possible for us to love Him. Ignorant minds are impure minds. You cannot go to heaven in the dark.

Another thing that contributes to impurity is a sense of self-sufficiency. Those who say that they do not need purity are those very people who need it the most. If you have cancer, and you keep on saying that you do not have cancer, that denial is worse than the disease. Do not deny that you need purity. Do not deny that you are not there yet. Do not say that you have arrived, and those poor other people out there are much less holy than you are. That is proof of an impure heart.

Another impediment to purity of heart lies in sin itself. Sometimes we think that we can be pure while holding on to just one sin that we cannot let go. But Satan can hold on to a person by just one sin. Another way we do this is to plan sin in our lives. Sinners cater to their own desires. For instance, if you know that you have trouble wasting time on the TV, why do you not throw the TV away? Or if you know that a bad program is coming on the TV, why do you make sure that everything else is out of the way so that you can watch that bad program? If you eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. That is, if your TV causes you to sin, take out the plug of the TV and throw it away. There are far better things in life to do than to watch TV.

Instead of doing these things, desire purity. That is the first step. A good sign of a pure heart is that it desires purity. How much do we desire purity? Oftentimes we will avoid sin merely because we want to avoid sin’s consequences. In our community, how often do we avoid sin merely because our neighbor would catch us at it, and we would lose our standing in the community? Should we not rather desire purity for itself, and because God wants us to have it? Purity of heart means desiring purity of heart.

Purity of heart also means avoiding the appearance of evil. The reason we should be afraid to sin in front of other people is not because we will lose OUR standing, but because we might cause someone else to sin. Purity of heart then means selflessness, not selfishness. Peer pressure can be intense. “Everyone else is doing it” is a common plea to justify our sin. A pure heart looks at God’s Word, which is pure, and says, “This alone is my guide for right and wrong.”

With whom do you spend your time? Do you spend it with sinners or saints? Now I know, the first objection that will come out of your mouth to this is that because Jesus spent time with sinners wanting to make them pure, therefore we should do the same. However, we are not Jesus. It is true that we must evangelize. But in what setting? How much evangelization has ever happened in a bar, for instance? If you want to spend time with an unbeliever for the purposes of evangelization, then invite him into your home. Let him see what a difference Christ has made in your life. Rather, we should spend far more time with other believers than we do now. Those are the people who can encourage us. They can sharpen us. If we want to be pure, then we must walk with those who are pure.

What is the promise for those who are pure in heart? They shall see God. Do we even know what a privilege that is? That is what Moses wanted more than anything else. He said to the Lord, “Show me your glory.” The Lord said that no one could see God and live. But he showed Moses just the backside of His glory as he passed by. Just that one glimpse was enough to set Moses’ face glowing so much that the people down at the foot of the mountain were afraid. If we were to really examine our hearts, we would find that the thing we really want the most is to see God. For one thing, seeing God transforms us. It is pure joy to be a pure child of God seeing the pure God of the universe. When the thief was on the cross, Jesus said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. Paradise is seeing God. This will not be like some earthly pleasure that grows old. God will make us desire Him ever more fully, and yet He will fill us to the very last drop. He will increase our desire for Him, and keep that desire completely filled. Maybe at some point in your life, you have “seen God” with the eyes of faith. You have had one of those “mountain-top” experiences. It might have come at a very odd moment in your life. Maybe it was while you were combining on a crisp gorgeous fall day, like yesterday. Maybe you went on a vacation and saw beauty that pierced your heart. Maybe you had a dream that was so beautiful that you always wanted to get back to that dream and enjoy it again. Those desires that awakened in you are really desires for heaven and to see God. That is what you will receive immediately upon quitting this life, if you are pure in heart. Jesus says also, “Cursed are the impure in heart, for they will never see God, except as judge.” Do not put off the pursuit of holiness, and of purity. Get rid of your heart idols. Have fellowship with others who also desire purity of heart. Look to God, for then you will see Him.

 

Matthew 5:7
Have you ever played the game “mercy?” This is the most mis-named game on the face of the planet. Two players clasp hands and try to make the other person wince in pain by bending back their hands to the point that their wrists almost snap. This is not a very merciful game. The only reason it is called mercy is because that is what the defeated person is supposed to say after he has been defeated, so as to stop the other person from completely destroying their hands. So what is real mercy? What is compassion?

Let us begin by defining our terms. Mercy is defined in Webster’s dictionary like this: “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power.” In this we see two people. One of them owes something to someone else. The debtor cries out for mercy, and the other forgives. That is mercy. But it doesn’t have to show itself in that kind of a relationship either. The Good Samaritan showed mercy to the man on the side of the road. Jesus showed mercy to countless people by healing them and teaching them.
So in the Beatitudes, we must see where we are to understand what mercy is. The first four of the Beatitudes are God-focused. The sixth Beatitude is also God-focused (blessed are the pure in heart). The rest are man-focused. First, we see that we must be poor in spirit. That means that we rely on God for salvation. We rely on God for riches. That will lead us to mourn over our own sin, for the very reason that we have nothing of our own to offer God. If we mourn over sin, we will become meek, realizing that our sin is so prevalent in our lives, that there can be no pride at all in our dealings with God and with man. We must therefore hunger and thirst for the righteousness that God gives. When we do all of this, we will realize that the only way to treat other people properly is with mercy. This means a lot of different things in different situations.

First it means that we have compassion on people. Our motivation for this is that God has had mercy on us, though we do not deserve any of that mercy. If therefore, we have mercy, then it means that we are acting like God. God is a God who has mercy on people. First, He allows us to live. The great Puritan Thomas Brooks said that everything on this side of hell is mercy. Our very lives are God’s mercy. Secondly, He does not treat us as our sins deserve. Rather, He sends us a Savior to take care of our sin problem. God is like the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son. He is waiting for us to come home to Him. We have to come to our senses to realize this. We need to realize that we are eating among the pigs, and not even getting the quality of food that they got. We need to come to our senses, as the Prodigal Son did, and come back to our heavenly Father. When we come back to God, we realize that God is not the great cosmic kill-joy that we thought He was, but rather, the merciful Father waiting for us.

The reason that we can come back is because of God’s Son Jesus. Jesus Christ came to earth to be a merciful high-priest on our behalf. We needed mercy, not justice. Anyone who says that they want God to treat them with justice is absolutely crazy. I certainly would never want God to treat me that way. Rather, I throw myself at the knees of Jesus, begging forgiveness because of what Jesus has done. I throw myself on the mercy of the court when I do that. Because I am in Christ Jesus, God mercifully declares me not guilty.

So when we have compassion on others, we do that because that is how God treats us. So instead of exacting full payment every time, especially if someone is hard up, we let them pay back slower, or we cut back some of the interest, or forgive the interest entirely. It means that when we see a need, we go and meet it. We are a very can-do kind of congregation. That is, if there is something that needs to be done, we are quite capable of doing it. In fact, there are few churches of which I am aware that are as good as ours at this aspect of the church’s life. Our churches also give a fair amount of money to local and not-so-local charities. That is a great way to show mercy.

But there are other ways to show compassion on people than merely giving money. Having mercy on someone may mean forgiveness of wrongs committed against you. This is an area that our churches are not so good at. We tend to hold grudges. We are very touchy when it comes to our reputation. Instead of being offended at something, we should try to think god thoughts about what the other person said. Instead of assuming that the other person’s motives are entirely against you, make the assumption that the other person has your best interests at heart. If that means that you don’t respond when someone criticizes you, so be it. Maybe it means that you should try to look for what is true about what the other person said, instead of seizing on the one thing that might be an exaggeration, or even untrue. Instead, take what is good from the criticism and try to use it. Be open to criticism. I have experienced around here that people are very closed to being criticized for almost anything. But it is my duty to correct people who are going astray. It is also my duty to receive criticism well myself, and make what use of it I can. Put the best face on what someone else says. Some people are so suspicious. You could even call them paranoid about what other people think about them. We cannot be that way. We should only be concerned about what God thinks. Above all, do not make assumptions about what the other person meant. Often those assumptions are wrong. Stick to what people say, and how they say it. But do not look for assumptions. I believe that many people have been misunderstood in our congregations, because of this very problem. The way to avoid it is to assume the best possible motive behind what the person said. That shows them mercy. Sometimes people say things they don’t mean. Don’t assume that they meant to hurt you.
Another way to show compassion is to forgive long-standing grudges. I know that there are some among us. Maybe these go years back. Are you the one to punish that person? Would you like God to remember your sins forever? Has not God treated you with mercy? The Bible says that when we are forgiven, God throws away our sin and remembers it no more. Psalm 103 says this beautifully: “As far as the east is from the west, so far as he removed our transgressions from us.” Will you remove that hurt that the other person stung you with? Will you remove it as far as the east is from the west? Maybe they don’t even know that you have hurt them. Earlier in that Psalm, David says, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Is that not the very definition of mercy? So maybe your brother did sin against you. Have mercy on him. Maybe he deserves to be tarred and feathered. Maybe he deserves to be ridden out of town, never to be seen again. Maybe all that is true. Forgive him anyway. It really does not matter what that person has done. I guarantee you that he has not sinned against you more than you have sinned against God. Remember the parable of the Unforgiving Servant. He was forgiven 10,000 talents, which is millions of dollars, but could not forgive his fellow servant just a few days’ wages. If you have not forgiven your brother, why should God forgive you? If you are not forgiving, then isn’t that evidence that you are not forgiven? If we have been forgiven more than we could ever repay, then we ought to forgive someone of something that they could repay.

Woe to us if we are not merciful. The opposite of this beatitude is also true. If we are not merciful, then we are under a curse. Listen to these scathing words in Psalm 109: “Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another take his office! May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit! May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children! May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation! May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the Lord continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth! For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted, to put them to death.” The best example of someone who had no mercy was the man to whom this Psalm pointed: Judas Iscariot. You remember that when the woman broke the bottle of pure nard ointment and poured it over Jesus’ feet, Judas was indignant and asked why this was not sold and the money given to the poor. But Judas said that because he was a thief. He cared nothing for the poor, and therefore cared nothing about Jesus. Cruelty of this kind goes hand in hand with greed. If you are greedy, then you will have no compassion on those who need to keep their land. Instead, you will muscle in and take it.

Being merciful also means being fair. Instead of trying to get an unreasonably low price on the land, you should pay a fair price for the land. The same thing is true of anything you buy. That is part of being merciful. No one deserves to have justice in this way. No one deserves a fair life. Anytime we are abiding by the law, that is actually a time of mercy.

The promise is that mercy finds mercy. We who show mercy will be shown mercy. God exalts the humble, but humbles the exalted. If we are humble before the Lord, and acknowledge that we need mercy by our very giving of mercy to one another, then God will have mercy on us. If we are arrogant and proud, and refuse to give mercy to people, because we are better than they are, and because they don’t deserve it, then God will not have mercy on us. That is the choice before us. Blessing or cursing, mercy or no-mercy. Will you throw yourself on the mercy of the merciful heavens, namely, on God?