Priceless Words

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Matthew 5:3

Some begin their speaking with an illustration or a snappy title. Some find a way to ease their audience toward their point. Some talk and talk and never arrive at their destination. Jesus began the greatest sermon ever preached with a thunderclap. His opening volley was as counterculture then as it is now. And make no mistake, it is as counter to our culture as can be heard.

The kingdom does not belong to the ‘you can be anything you want,’ ‘everybody loves a winner,’ ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,’ ‘I’m OK you’re OK,’ ‘when the going gets tough the tough get going,’ ‘I believe I can fly,’ ‘just as long as you’re happy,’ crowd.

Rather, it is to the ‘I’ve never felt so empty,’ ‘will this misery ever end,’ ‘I just can’t go on,’ ‘how will I ever look HIM in the face,’ ‘Lord, have mercy on this sinner,’ crowd that he bestows the most massive of riches, admission to the kingdom of God.

That last crowd we are told are like the words of Jesus, rather few compared to others. Even Jesus’ stories were not wordy. It was as if he did not have a jot or a tittle to spare, as if every word was just so priceless and so significant that nothing else would do. No ornament need be added. No stroke dare be taken away. Priceless. Priceless, because they are his words, enduring, never shaken, always so.

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

What a Savior. What a Savior. Oh, what a Savior!

On a Snowy Day

He also went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day.
2 Samuel 23:20

I have loved this text for the longest time but I never knew what to do with it. It is the record of one of David’s mighty men named Benaiah. Among David’s mighty men there was a group called THE THREE and a group called THE THIRTY. Benaiah excelled among the Thirty but he never attained to the Three. He faced off with an armed and impressive Egyptian soldier only to steal the man’s sword and kill him with it. He was the Steven Seagal of three thousand years ago. King David made him captain of his personal guard.

So what do you do on a snowy day? Sit around and write blogs? Watch TV and hope the power doesn’t go out? Wash a few cloths and dream of Jamaica? Not Benaiah. He finds a pit with a lion in it. (By the way, what is the lion doing in the pit? Probably slipped in the snow.) Benaiah finds this unfortunate lion and, having nothing else to do on a snowy day, jumps in and kills him. They did not call them David’s mighty men for nothing.

So what do you say about such a biblical text? I have long wanted to preach a sermon from it, but there you are. I have already told you all I know.

I was once told of a missionary who labored in a place where Roman Catholicism was very strong. He was forever addressing the subject of infant baptism. Eventually he returned to his native land where he took up the pastorate of a local church. But he just couldn’t break the habit of preaching on infant baptism. Every sermon had something to say about infant baptism.

The deacons of his weary church came up with a plan to help the man or at least to have one sermon that didn’t mention infant baptism. They requested a sermon from a very specific passage of the Bible that they were sure could not be used to talk about infant baptism. Genesis 3. They asked him to preach on Adam and Eve hiding from God in the Garden of Eden.

The pastor was impressed that his congregation would ask him to preach on such a subject and he happily agreed. On Sunday morning he rose to preach and read the passage from Genesis. “My message this morning has three points,” he said. “Point number one: everybody is somewhere. Point number two: some of us are in places we ought not to be. And point number three: I would like to say just a few words about infant baptism.”

Perhaps I could do the same with 2 Samuel 23:20. Point number one: there is much good to be done every day. Point number two: but apparently some people just don’t have enough to do. And point number three: I would like to say just a few words about Jesus.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

And Jesus Stopped…

What do you want me to do for you? (Luke 18:41)

When Jesus stopped what he was doing to attend to the cry for mercy from a blind man, he called for the man to brought near. Then he asked a question. “What do you want me to do for you?” There was no doubt what Bartimaeus wanted and he asked straightway. “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Bartimaeus did recover his sight that day and he immediately employed it in following Jesus and glorifying God.

So, in your mind’s eye, Jesus is passing by you today. Like Bartimaeus you cry out to his mercy. He stops. You draw near. He is asking you “What do you want me to do for you?” What do you want Jesus to do for you? Bartimaeus did not make a list and check it twice. There was an urgency that brooked no delay. Do you have an urgency that brooks no delay? Is there something so needful, so important that you dare not miss this opportunity?

If you can identify that most urgent matter, is it something that you can and will use to follow Jesus and glorify God? Bartimaeus did. If God grants what you ask of him this day, will it make a difference in the life you are living?

Then consider that, unlike Bartimaeus, Jesus is not passing you by. He is always with the believer, always. That’s his promise, not mine. (Hebrews 13:5) You are free to bring your urgent requests to him daily, hourly if need be. It is, in fact, stronger than that. You are not just free to do so, you are commanded to do so. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Another question. What would you ask for your church? What is the great urgency that brooks no delay? What is the thing that your church dare not miss and, if granted, will propel her into a fresh encounter with the Lord and a renewed commitment to follow Jesus and glorify God?

And Jesus stopped… “What do you want me to do for you?”

What a Savior!

And Jesus Stopped

And Jesus stopped. Luke 18:40

Mark gave him a name, Bartimaeus. On the Jerusalem side of Jericho, he plied his trade, begging. Honest begging is hard work. And Bartimaeus was an honest beggar. He was blind. Yet, rather than have others bring him a piece of bread, he took such measures as he could. By the side of a well-traveled road, he made his own case for the charity he needed.

On a particular day, and aren’t they all particular, he heard the rumble of an unusually large crowd making its way toward him. If it was a religious crowd, it might well be fruitful for him. There was always one in such a crowd who needed to impress others with their compassion. A little competition among the self-righteous never hurt a beggar’s feelings at all.

Then Bartimaeus caught wind of a name. Jesus. And a place. Nazareth. Men who can’t see do well to learn to listen. Bartimaeus had been listening to the chatter about this Jesus. From north to south, the rumor of him had run the length of the land.

Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was the son of David. That wasn’t just any title. It was a title of the Messiah. Concerning him, they all knew that “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2)

“Have mercy on me.” It was the simplest of prayers from the most desperate of hearts. And it moves God like no other. And Jesus stopped…

To be continued…

What a Savior he is!

Vision

Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (ESV)

I have a vision problem. My right eye does not focus with my left eye. Unnoticed and uncorrected, this condition led to a curious act on the part of my brain. Faced with perpetual double vision, my brain favored the stronger signal from my left eye and began to ignore the weaker signal from my right eye.  By the time anyone noticed I was either too old or too ornery for correction.

Imagine my predicament if my brain could no longer sense which signal was stronger and processed both signals all the time! Two roads! Two trees! Four ditches! Two wives and twenty-four deacons! Vision matters.

Jesus said (Matthew 6:22-23), “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”  Jesus was speaking of a spiritual condition, not a physical one. The KJV strikingly translates “if thine eye be single.” Single, as in whole or clear, not confused by multiple signals.

The writer in Proverbs believed that God’s Word provides people with the kind of vision that guides them into his blessing. Without it, each one does what is right in his own eyes. It doesn’t take much vision to see that each one doing their own thing is bound for conflict and ends in tragedy.

Even so, our world’s rejection of God’s Word is bound for tragedy. But you don’t have to go with it. You have the prophetic vision called the Word of God. Don’t let the signals to your brain get confused. Let the ‘prophetic vision’ be first and strongest. The other signals will take their proper place or perhaps disappear altogether.  Then blessing will be your destiny.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

A Reading Lesson

 

Luke 6:9 – Have you not read…

Sometimes I read without comprehending because I am so distracted. At other times I am just too tired to comprehend. Whatever the cause, I have often looked up only to realize I had no clue what I just read.

But there is another way to miss what we read. It is possible to read in search of one thing and thereby to miss the thing that is truly there. The men to whom Jesus spoke in Luke 6:9 were of this last type. They searched the Scriptures to prove the rightness of their deeds. They looked for themselves and they found themselves. They looked into the divine mirror, not forgetting what they saw, but actually liking what they saw. They were not looking for God. Little surprise then that they did not find him.

Jesus asked an important question. Have you not read the Scriptures? And did you read them as another exercise in justifying yourself, a kind of celebration of your own holiness? Or were you hungry to find him who alone is holy? When we approach the Scriptures to hear rather than to prove or to tell, we begin to discover that he who alone is holy is also full of the most amazing grace.

I cannot know what those men saw when they read the passage about David eating the sacred bread reserved for the priests. But I do know what they did not see, what Jesus saw so plainly, that God’s compassion for his servant was far, far greater than man’s mistaken idea of what constitutes holiness.

God’s laws are designed to lead us to him, not to separate us from him. They do indeed shine the light on his holiness and our sin. They do so in order to drive us to the cross. There we may fall down in adoration of a heart so pure, a grace so complete, and a love so enduring that we may rise to think less of ourselves and more of him.

For what a wonderful Savior he is!

 

 

 

 

Ought

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness (2 Peter 3:11)

There are two worlds, the world that is and the world that ought to be.

Nearly every person on the planet believes there is right and there is wrong.  The handful of stragglers who claim not to believe in right and wrong will prove themselves liars as soon as their wallet is stolen.  Suddenly, as if be revelation, they will know what is right and who is wrong.  If we are nothing more than a collection of atoms, right and wrong are foolish notions.  Yet nothing could be clearer to most of us than the truth that there is right and there is wrong.  There is a world that ought to be, but is not.

Here, then, is the real dividing line of the world, not whether the world ought to be different, but what the difference ought to be.  Even the foolish one who claims there is no such thing as right and wrong believes the world ought to be different.  If nothing else, he believes the world ought to be rid of people like me who keep insisting that there is a God, that he has spoken, and that he and he alone defines what OUGHT ought to look like.

Who defines OUGHT?  That is the question.  The western world has spurned God as the one who defines right and wrong.  In so doing, it has undermined the very foundation that made it great.  If God is not allowed, then what is left to define what ought to be?  A vote?  Social media?  A handful of leaders whose guidance is the limits of their own minds?  Frightening, isn’t it, this life without God?

But God is not mocked.  We are already reaping the bitter harvest of the folly we have sown.  And we are not finished, for we have not turned back.  And did I mention that God is not mocked?

That little word ‘ought’ is one of the biggest signs you will ever see that there is a God.  How is it that people groan every day over what ought to be and yet cannot see him?  But in spite of our blindness, God looked upon these two worlds, the world that is and the world that ought to be, and God chose to make the two into one.  He sent his only begotten to do the job.  On the cross, what is and what ought to be came together.  Jesus, who was ever and always what ought to be, took the world as it truly is into his death.  Resurrected, he offers himself as the reconciliation of what is to what ought to be.  What no vote could accomplish, what no social media could shape, what no gaggle of leaders could coerce from the world, Jesus did in one mighty act of obedience to what ought to be.  For what ought to be is God.  Nothing less.  And certainly nothing more.

To God be the glory!  What a Savior!

The Lord’s Song

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?  Psalm 137:4

The exiles in Babylon hung their lyres on the willows. Their broken hearts could not sing the songs of Zion in a strange place. The taunts of their enemies only made their silence more certain and their resolve grow deeper. They would not forget and they would not sing.

The New Testament faith is built solidly upon the old, but here is one striking difference. Old Testament faith was attached to a specific piece of geography. When separated from that parcel of ground, hear how the heart mourns!

By contrast, stand outside a jail cell in Philippi and listen. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, (Act 16:25) Faith is alive and the servants of God are singing. The disciples’ hearts were not fixed on a city in this world. Rather, they were like Abraham whose heart was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)

And the prisoners were listening to them. Take your lyre down from the willows, O believer, and sing your song. You are not home and the prisoners are listening!

What a Savior!

Unless

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  Psalm 127:1

The Lord blesses that which is built upon his word.  There is a pressure no foundation can stand and an enemy no watchman can see.  Only the Lord can preserve us.  Only he can protect us.

For a generation that delights in being on “the right side of history,” we seem to know very little of it.  History is lavishly supplied with the tumbled houses and stunned watchmen of those who abandoned the ways of God.  Their number is not just plentiful but complete.  Apart from God, it is only a matter of who gets to the finish line first.

Unless…  Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. Matthew 7:24f

What a wonderful Savior he is!

From Thimbles to Vats

“…the pagan philosophers wretchedly blundered… some asserting the world’s eternity and self-existence, others ascribing it to a fortuitous concourse of atoms…”

I read these words and thought what a perfect description of the assumptions of twenty-first century humanity. You could rewrite the sentence in this way. “Modern philosophers… assert the spontaneous generation of the universe (Stephen Hawking), others ascribe it to evolution” (a fortuitous concourse of atoms if there ever was one!).

It is a perfect description of modern man. But it was written four hundred years ago about men who lived a thousand years before that. Incredible, isn’t it! The more things change, the more they stay the same. So, how does a person writing four hundred years ago get such far reaching insight? How does someone look back a thousand years with such clarity and unknowingly describe a world four hundred years down the road?

The beloved and pious Matthew Henry was contemplating the biblical account of creation in Genesis. He was living as the psalmist had directed. “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2) Pondering the word of God, he saw what was eternally true and therefore knew what was eternally false.

Modern man, on the other hand, takes a thimble full of science and makes a vat full of stupidity. Just five minutes ago, I watched a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ fly by the church with lights flashing and sirens blazing. I sent up a prayer for another ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ who was probably hurting and not feeling especially fortuitous. Perhaps they will make it to a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ called a hospital, where a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ called a doctor will help them.

Genesis 1:2 records that the earth was ‘formless and void’ or ‘a waste and emptiness.’ Here are two resounding Hebrew words: tohu and bohu, waste and emptiness. The mind of modern man has become tohu and bohu, waste and emptiness, a very unfortunate concourse of atoms.

Here is the real inconvenient truth of our age.

The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. (Psalm 24:1)

I’m so glad the owner is also a Savior! And what a Savior he is!