Christmastime 2016 at SCC

Another Christmas Season is upon us and SCC is continuing it’s holiday traditions:

  • Sundays at Christmastime: Sundays at 10 AM at the OC Lion’s Club building is our weekly worship service. At Christmastime, the subject of our sermons center upon the message of Christmas and our worship music is many of the traditional Christmas Carols and hymns. Classes for children up to age 12 are offered, but children are also welcomed to stay with their parents.
  • GBHP#5: Saturday, 12/10 from 5:30pm to 8:00pm is our 5th Annual Gingerbread House Party, which also takes place at the Lion’s Club building in West OC off of Airport Rd. Each year we plan a night for families to come and build gingerbread houses together. We provide all the needed materials, something simple for dinner, and we’ll even clean up afterward! We hope you participate with us in this great holiday tradition.
  • Christmas Brunch: After the service on Sunday, 12/18, we will share a meal together. “On What Grounds?” from Berlin will cater the main items, but if you would like to bring something simple as a side dish, there will be a sign-up sheet available the Sunday beforehand. You may also email pastor Kyle.
  • Christmas Eve: Saturday, 12/24, our Christmas Eve Family Candlelight Service will be from 430-530pm. We will sing, hear the Scriptures, and reflect on Christ’s coming. Children will stay in the service as we gather as families in the family of God’s church.
  • No Service on Christmas Day: We do not hold Sunday services on the last Sunday of the year, which is Christmas Day this year. You’re encouraged to worship as a family, or visit another church.

Merry Christmas!

Review and Reflect on Mark 14:27-52 – Jesus takes our place.

After Jesus shares the final Passover with his followers, they go out together to the Mount of Olives which overlooks the Temple area in Jerusalem. These are the final hours of Jesus’ life and he begins to speak to his disciples about what is going to soon happen in verses 27-31. Jesus quotes a passage from Zechariah 13 and tells his followers they are going to leave him, but he will gather them again in Galilee. The thought of rejecting him must have seemed impossible to the disciples and Peter voices this. He says, “I don’t know about these other jokers, but I won’t leave you.” Jesus replies to Peter giving him an even worse pronouncement. He tells Peter, “not only will you deny me, but you will deny me three times!” But Peter and all of the other disciples say that they are willing to die with Jesus in verse 31. After this conversation, Jesus takes his disciples to the place called Gethsemane in verses 32-42.

“Gethsemane” means “Oil Press” and John records it as a garden. Since it was on the Mount of Olives, it’s most likely this was an olive orchard. So, when you picture this in your mind, it’s probably less like a flower garden and more like an Apple Orchard. When they arrived at Gethsemane, Jesus told his disciples to have a seat while he went to pray. Then, he took, the 3 closest disciples (Peter, James, and John) with him. Verse 33 says after this Jesus began to be deeply distressed and troubled. He tells them in verse 34 that he is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He tells the three to keep watch, or to pray for him. This is something we haven’t seen in Jesus up to this point. He has stood before crowds and before the religious leaders and remained strong. But, at this moment, sorrow and suffering has overwhelmed him. He goes to pray and in verse 36 we are given a glimpse into Jesus’ intimacy with the Father. Jesus is God in the flesh and he is also human. So even though it’s impossible to explain fully how these two aspects of his personhood come together, we see Jesus’ humanity in his agony. In the midst of this struggle, Jesus declares “Everything is possible for you”. In other words, “Father, you are strong enough to do whatever you want, so since I’m going through this you must have a good reason that’s unknown to me.” Jesus sees the circumstances that are coming and he has the opportunity to respond in faith in the Father’s plan, so too, we have the opportunity to respond this way in our circumstances. Some religions and spiritual teachings say that we should suppress our desires because they are the source of our suffering. Jesus doesn’t say this or model this. His desire to live and work is great, but his desire to obey the Father is greater.

For most of us, when we face suffering, we want to escape it. Jesus possessed this desire also. He asks that the cup be taken from him in verse 36. His desire to escape the Cup of God’s wrath is not wrong, and he could have escaped it. But his greatest desire is not that the cup would be taken from him, but that it would be taken from us. So Jesus says, not what I will, but what you will. In other words, Jesus is saying, “Father if there is any other way to reconcile humanity to you, let’s do it, but if there isn’t, then I will drink this cup. If there’s any other way to reclaim humanity, let’s go that route, but if there isn’t, I want your will to be accomplished in my life, even if it crushes me.”

The Cup that Jesus refers to, represents God’s wrath poured out on Evil. The Cup can represent God’s blessing or God’s wrath and cursing. We see this connection between the Cup and God’s wrath in passages like Isaiah 51, Jeremiah 25, and in a few places in the Psalms such as 11:6. The cup represents God’s response those who attempt to undermine his rule and bring about evil. Jesus is in agony here in Gethsemane because he’s beginning to experience what it’s going to mean for him to drink the cup of God’s wrath.

A lot of people don’t like to think of God in these terms. We would much more prefer a God that expresses love rather than wrath. But, think with me please about how love works. Think about the person or people in this world who are most dear to you. Now consider your reaction if someone tries to harm them, or even if they try to harm themselves. Our response is anger precisely because we love that person. God’s wrath is one way that his love is expressed. God opposes evil and sin in his wrath because he knows how it harms his people whom he loves. God’s wrath is also an expression of his holiness. He displays his anger toward anything that might attempt violate his being. When we see evil happening in our world and we see evil people succeeding, we want a God who loves us enough to stop the evil we see. So, when the time comes for God to pour out the cup of his wrath upon sin and evil, Jesus takes the cup from us, and he drinks it himself. We have all opposed God, we have tried to run our own lives and do things our own way. This is sin and a rejection of God’s authority over our lives. It’s not only harmful to us personally, but to those around us, and all of the created order. We are deserving of God’s wrath. But God is not supremely wrathful, he is supremely loving. And in his love, he deals with sin in a way that doesn’t violate his holiness, and it properly exercises his wrath. Instead of me drinking the cup of God’s wrath, Jesus drinks it for me, for us. Because he takes God’s wrath in our place, God’s holiness is maintained and his love is adequately expressed. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 speaks of “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” We must not focus on the wrath to come and neglect the Jesus who delivers. God’s love, goodness, and holiness are at times exercised in wrath, but if we are in Jesus, we are rescued from that wrath.

In Mark 14, Jesus is about to drink this cup of God’s wrath to rescue us, and the physical, spiritual, and emotional weight of it is overwhelming to a degree that we cannot even imagine. Jesus is overwhelmed because he is feeling the weight of bearing God’s wrath and humanity’s sin. In verse 37 he goes back to his disciples and finds them sleeping; not praying. They all have just said that they won’t leave him and would even die for him, but he goes back to find them asleep. They say they won’t leave him, but they won’t even stay awake with him. He tells them in verse 38 to pray so they wouldn’t fall into temptation. He tells them temptation is coming, so pray for the strength to endure it. But their inability to join him in this part of his suffering is pointing to the fact that soon they will also leave him in the next part of his suffering. In verse 41 we see that he returns to them three times and finds them asleep each time. He has already told Peter that he would deny him three times, and in Gethsemane Peter fails him 3 times along with James and John. So, Jesus tells them to get up and meet his betrayer.

Right after Jesus gathers his disciples again, in verses 43-52, a mob led by Judas shows up. Verse 43 says the mob was sent by the chief priest, the teachers, and the elders. These are the people who Jesus has opposed in his teaching and now they finally get him back. Judas identifies Jesus by giving him the kiss of death and in verse 46 they arrest Jesus. One of the twelve, which in John’s Gospel is identified as Peter, lops off a guy’s ear. And Jesus puts a stop to the fight before it escalates. He asks, “Am I leading a rebellion?” in verse 48. His pattern was not one of violence, but one of healing and teaching. They didn’t arrest him when he gave them plenty of opportunities while he was in the Temple teaching over the last few days. But, the fact was, he was leading a rebellion, but not one with swords and clubs. His rebellion was of a much different sort. Judas didn’t understand this which is why his party had weapons. Even the other disciples didn’t get this, which is why one cuts off the guy’s ear. But do you remember Jesus’ message from the Beginning? The Kingdom is coming close enough to experience and the time is being fulfilled. Verse 49 alludes to this fulfillment again. The King is bringing his Kingdom through humility, suffering and death, not through rebellion and military might. God’s promise to rescue his people isn’t about their nationalistic circumstances, but about their hearts that are stuck in sin and destined for death. Jesus doesn’t resist when they arrest him, but he allows them to take him. In verse 50 everyone leaves him and we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ statement to his disciples in verse 27. 

There is an odd statement in verses 51-52 about a young man running away naked when they try to arrest him too. He is not identified as one of the disciples, so we have no idea who me may have been. Some say it was Mark himself who was with Jesus that night, even as a young man. There are several things to read on this passage, but they offer little help in understanding the significance of it. But, something so odd that doesn’t really advance the story or tell us much does have the mark of verifying the historical accuracy of the story. If this was a made-up story, no one would make up something like that and put it in the story, they would leave it out. It seems more plausible to see this story being included to point to the shamefulness of Jesus’ followers in abandoning him in his hour of greatest need. He told them many times that this would happen, and when it happened, no one went with him. The disciples display their shame, by failing to follow their Messiah. But what does Jesus, the Messiah do?

He is arrested, and as we’ll see soon he is treated shamefully, and ultimately killed by crucifixion. Jesus, the Messiah, willingly takes the shame of not only his own followers who abandon him, but the shame of every sinner who has ever lived. Jesus takes our shame upon himself, he bears our sin on himself, and it’s crucified along with him. Because of this, no longer do we have to run from God or try to hide our shame from God, but we can stand before him boldly, because Jesus’ blood has covered our shame. Revelation 7:14 says of God’s people “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This young man lost his robe, revealing his shame. But Jesus gives us a new robe, one dipped in his own blood that covers our sin. He covers us with his love and acceptance, and even in our hour of shame and weakness, he loves us enough to die for us.

If you’ve failed to follow God fully and whole heartedly because of who you have been, or what you have done, let Jesus take on your sin and shame, and give you his love. When sinful behavior or sinful thought patterns are practiced in our lives, let Jesus’ love and grace lead you to repentance. Don’t be afraid to turn from your sin, and turn to the Good News of Jesus.

Review and Reflect on Mark 13 – The Temple-Religion is being replaced by Jesus-Religion

Mark 13 is focused around Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question in verse 4 about when the Temple will be destroyed. In Jesus’ day, all of Jewish religion was focused on the Temple, but Jesus has been teaching throughout Mark’s Gospel that religion is changing because the time is fulfilled and God’s kingdom had come. As Israel’s situation became more and more desperate under Roman oppression in the 1st century, there was increasing expectation that God was coming to intervene and correct what was happening. Many Jewish people were awaiting a Messiah to come and overthrow Rome and bring in a golden age for Israel much like David had done. In this period of history there were many so-called messiahs who attempted to do this only to be violently defeated. But people continued to follow these types men who would arise with some measure of influence and military aptitude. The people thought God was coming at any moment to vindicate Israel.

In many ways, Mark 13 is a message contradicting this. Jesus is teaching against the man standing on the side of the street in a sandwich sign which reads “The End is Near!” In fact, Jesus is teaching that rather than being freed by military might, Israel is going to be overcome and the temple destroyed. Jesus is teaching that the time of this end is coming for Israel, but not as soon as they thought. He is telling them to get ready for the long struggle before them. 

Historically, people have interpreted Jesus’ answer here in Mark 13 in various ways. Some say that the entirety is referring to the Temple being destroyed in 70 AD during the First Jewish-Roman War. Others say that it is partially speaking about this and partially speaking about the end of all things or “End Times”. Still others interpret this passage with only the End Times in mind focusing on what it may or may not teach about the future.

There are some things that should guide us in our understanding of Mark 13. First, we should focus on what the passage clearly says before we move to speculation on future events. Allow the biblical text to drive our system of thinking rather than trying to fit a text into our system. The Bible is not a crystal ball so there’s no clear and decisive picture of how the future events are going to unfold. There are elements of future events recorded in the scriptures, but only enough to drive us to a proper response. That response is hope that God will bring justice and restoration to his world and proper fear of God that directs our behavior so we are ready to meet him at any moment. A second idea that should guide our understanding of Mark 13 is that we should consider how Jesus’ answer fits into the message of the Gospel of Mark before we think about how it fits into our understanding of unknown future events. And third, we should consider how this might impact us now and today rather than in some theoretical future. So our task is not to speculate about when the end of the world may be, but to consider what Jesus is teaching us about the Gospel, or Good News of God in Mark 13.

There are many passages to study when it comes to “End Times” studies, but the focus here is on Mark 13. This is not an attempt at an exhaustive discussion on Mark 13 (that would be exhausting!). In light of the three ideas proposed above, there will be two points argued in this approach to Mark 13:

  1. Here, the Bible is teaching that Temple religion is being replaced by Jesus religion.
  2. Applying what is read here out to teach us to live properly with watchfulness and expectation.

Jesus has spent the last few days in the Temple arguing with Israel’s religious teachers and leaders and teaching the crowds of people who had come to Jerusalem for Passover. In Mark 13:1-7, he now leaves the Temple with his disciples. As they are leaving one of the 12 remarks on the magnificence of the Temple structure. And in verse 2 Jesus says  the Temple is going to be completely destroyed. His disciples reply in verse 4 with a question about the timing of this destruction. The remainder of chapter 13 is primarily concerned with answering this question. There are two parts to their question: 1) When will this happen? And 2) what will be the sign of the destruction.

The disciples want to be prepared for this, so they ask Jesus to teach them about when the Temple will be destroyed. Whatever your view is of the Bible’s teaching of the End Times, it makes no sense to think of Jesus not answering the disciples question in Mark 13. Verse 4 frames the entire chapter around the subject of the Temple being destroyed. Mark 13 is not centered around the End Times, it is centered around answering this question. This is not to say that End Times elements are not found here, but they are not the center or focus of Jesus’ answer to this question.

Jesus warns them in verse 5 of those who would deceive them about these matters. In verses 6-7 he says false messiahs will come and there will constantly be news about wars local and throughout the Empire. He says the disciples are to respond to these things calmly because the end of the Temple will not have arrived quite yet. Verse 7 says, “do not be alarmed”. Why? Because “the end is still to come”. In other words, history will go on as always. There will be turmoil and problems. This doesn’t mean the end.

This would be the period in between Jesus’ resurrection and when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, around 37 years. A lot happened during that time and Jesus was telling his disciples not to worry about the political upheaval and false teachers that would arise during this time.

In Mark 13:8-13, Jesus teaches that all of the problems the disciples were going to face should be expected. There will always be nations jockeying for power. There will be earthquakes and famines just as there has always been. Verse 8  says these things are birth pains. There is no doubt that you are going to have a baby when you have birth pains, but just because you have them, doesn’t mean labor has begun. Jesus moves from political turmoil and natural disasters to speaking about the preaching of the Gospel. The task of preaching the Gospel to all nations wasn’t going to be an easy one, so when his disciples do it they should expect to be opposed. Jesus says there will continue to be turmoil and upheaval all around them. They will be persecuted and it is through this persecution that the Gospel will be preached to the nations. This is what happens with Paul in the book of Acts when he goes before a Governor named Felix, before certain rulers, and ultimately he goes to Caesar himself and shares the Gospel. Verse 10 refers back to the question of verse 4. “What are the signs that the Temple will be destroyed?” is the question of verse 4. And verse 10 says, First, or before that happens, the Gospel will be preached to all nations. The nature of Gospel includes a missionary component from the beginning. It’s automatic that those who believe it will teach it everywhere they go. In the generation of believers after the resurrection, the Gospel spreads like wildfire all over the world. This is seen in the book of Acts: Paul and his entourage takes it throughout the Roman Empire. Church history holds that Thomas went to India. Philip preaches to an Ethiopian who believes and takes the Gospel to Africa. That generation after the resurrection takes the Gospel to the whole world. So, why was this necessary before the Temple would be destroyed?

Glad you asked!

If you recall, at places in several previous posts on Mark’s Gospel, we have talked about how Jesus was changing the way God’s people would worship him. No longer do the people of God need to go to a Temple and approach God through sacrifices, but now they can come to God face-to-face and approach him boldly through Jesus’ sacrifice. In order for Temple to be fully replaced, the Gospel needed to be fully established. We can think of it another way too: in order for the former Temple-and-Law-Religion to be replaced, the new Jesus-religion had to be established. So after the resurrection, the disciples proclaim the Gospel all over the world. All the nations of the earth now see how they may approach God through Jesus. They are no longer required to travel to a temple to offer sacrifice, because Jesus is their sacrifice and their temple. Here verses 8-13 talk about this task of taking the Gospel to all nations. It is not an easy task but it is a task that remains with us today and all Christians are called to it. Verses 12 and 13 speak about betrayal and death being results of participating in this mission. This has undoubtedly been the case for many throughout history from the apostles until today.

Mark 13:14-23 make reference to Daniel 11-12 and verse 14 refers to the” Abomination that causes Desolation”. It also appears in Matthew 24. Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled around 167 BC when a Roman ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes set up a statue of Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar in Jerusalem. Jesus borrows this same imagery when he foretells the temple destruction in 70 AD. The Jews revolted against the Romans in 66 and three and a half years later the Roman General Titus destroys the Temple in 70 AD. Jesus is warning his followers to be prepared and ready when they see this happen. In verses 21-22, he says false messiahs will continue to try to gain followers and Jesus says in verse 23 that his elect needs to be on their guard.

After this the language changes in Mark 13:24-31. The language becomes more stylized and figurative. Jesus is likely quoting Isaiah 13:10, but there are other similar passages to verses 24-25. Whether this is referring to AD 70, future events, or both is difficult to tell. One reason to interpret it as referring to 70 AD is because of the term “This Generation” in verse 30. Jesus is referring to the disciples and those following him at this point. Many of them lived long enough to see the Gospel expand worldwide and also for the Temple to be destroyed. This passage says that there will be no debate when this time comes. Jesus uses the fig tree again as an illustration. He says in verse 28 that when you see the fig tree covered with leaves there is not a doubt that it is summertime. Like this, Jesus says when all of these things happen, the end will be near. In other words, by the time you can tell it’s that close, it will be too late to prepare for it.

Moving on to Mark 13:32-37, there is another shift in the wording. Verses 17, 19, 20, and 24 refer to “Days” when speaking about the time surrounding the destruction of the Temple. Then in verse 32 it switches to “day”. There is a change of language that points to a change of subject. I view this as a change from Jesus speaking about 70 AD to talking about future events because of the change of wording in the text. Jesus changes the subject from answering the question in verse 4 about the sign of the destruction of the Temple, to the last Day or what we call the Second Coming of Christ. In verse 32 he says that although he has knowledge about the coming “days” of trouble in verses 17, 19, 20, and 24, about “that day” in verse 32, only the Father has knowledge. So the “days” of trouble are different from the coming “day”. He uses the example of a man leaving his house in charge of his servants in verse 34. This is pointing to Jesus’ resurrection and return to his heavenly throne. And he ends his answer with a challenge in verses 35-37 to “Watch” or be prepared.

So, after taking all of our time this morning to offer a brief explanation of Mark 13, let’s return to the two ways we need to apply it:

1.  The Bible is teaching us that Temple religion is being replaced by Jesus religion. This first application is related to our thoughts and how we read the Bible and understand Jesus. Mark 13 continues to teach Jesus’ Gospel that the Kingdom has come and the time is fulfilled. Jesus says the Temple is going to be destroyed because he has fulfilled anything and everything the Temple was meant to do. We now go to Jesus and through Jesus for worship. We worship him and he makes worship possible by his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus fulfills the sacrificial system that was practiced in the Temple. Animal sacrifice could never take away man’s sin. So Jesus becomes man, lives perfectly, and gives his own life as the perfect sacrifice for the sin he never committed. This passage is about the period of time from when the Temple religion changed to the Jesus religion and the latter was decisively established when the Temple was destroyed. The book of Acts and much of the New Testament describes this in between time. There are lots of questions about how Jews who believed in Jesus are to live. Jesus speaks beforehand showing that once the Temple is destroyed a lot of their problems were going to be resolved. He also makes a way for the whole world to be brought into God’s plan of redemption. There was an outer court to the Temple so non-Jews or Gentiles could come to worship, but Jesus tears the innermost curtain of the Temple so that now there is no more separation between Jew and Gentile. All who come to Jesus are God’s people regardless of race. Verse 10 points to the inclusion of all races in the plan of God because everyone can come to God through the Good News of Jesus, or what we also call the Gospel. In light of this, if you are attempting to come to God on your own terms then you are mistaken. God doesn’t require us to clean up our act before he’ll accept us. In fact, even if we do that, it doesn’t mean he will. He will accept all who come to him believing in Jesus and repenting or aligning their life with him. Attempting to be reconciled to God in any other way is not enough. Only Jesus can make a way for us to come to God. Not only does Jesus fulfill and replace the Temple, but he demonstrates that any attempts to reach God on our own are deficient. Only Jesus gets us forgiveness and eternal life.

2. Living properly includes a watchfulness and expectation. This second application of Mark 13 is related to our thoughts and our actions. “Be on guard” is mentioned 4 times in v 5, 9, 23, 33. Verses 35-37 summarized the point of the whole passage with one word “Watch!” Jesus leaves his followers and us with a responsibility to prepare for whatever following him might invite into our lives. He says watch in such a way that you endure persecution, aren’t led astray, have hope, and do not fear his return. The Christian life is one of continual preparation. We are called to regularly evaluate the way we think about life and the way we conduct our lives and be sure they are honoring to God. The Christian church has always believed that Jesus could return at any moment and if we should meet the grave before he does, then for those who believe, we understand to be a peaceful sleep. We are to live our lives in light of this.

The Classic Christmas: the virgin birth, incarnation, and uniqueness of Christianity

As we watch the movies and celebrate the random traditions this Christmas, Let’s ask ourselves, “Why do we celebrate Christmas?” Year after year Christmas can play an important part in the process of growing in our knowledge of God. We teach our kids that we celebrate Christmas because we are celebrating Jesus being born. With all the cuteness of teaching kids about Christmas being Jesus’ birthday celebration, this the foundation for a healthy and vibrant faith in God. When we understand what Jesus being born actually means for us, it will increase our faith and lead us to worship him. Matthew 1:18-25 is one of the passages that teaches us about Jesus’ birth and how Jesus is both God and Man at the same time. Growing in our knowledge of what they Scripture says about how Jesus is God and Man, will lead us into this deep faith in him and worship of him.

Matthew 1:18-25 teaches us several things about the Birth of the Lord Jesus. First, Jesus was conceived supernaturally, not in the natural way. Verses 18 and 20 mention that Mary conceived because the Holy Spirit caused her to, not because of the natural way that we have children. Mary was a virgin. She was betrothed, which is similar to what we understand when we think of engagement, but its more serious than that. If a betrothal was ended, it was considered divorce. Well, since Joseph was betrothed to Mary and she got pregnant, he was going to divorce her. But, an Angel came to him telling him to marry her, so he took Mary as his wife even though her child was not his. Both Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus was conceived supernaturally and they obeyed God and named the boy Jesus.

A second thing we learn about Jesus from this passage is since he was born supernaturally, he is both man and God. The virgin birth is an essential doctrine of Christianity affirming that Jesus’ mother was Mary, but he didn’t have a  human father, but was conceived supernaturally. Joseph was his father legally, but not biologically. Since he is Mary’s Son, he is a man and since he is God’s Son he is God. The prerequisite for Jesus to do all the things the Bible claims he did and will do is that he has united humanity and divinity, man and God.

This leads us to another thing we learn from this passage. Jesus’ supernatural birth was a fulfillment of Scripture. Verse 23 is a quotation from Isaiah 7:14. There are many places in the OT that refer to aspects of what Jesus did or who he is, and this is one of them. The context of Isaiah 7 that is quoted here is talking about the coming Exile of Israel and the promise that God will be with them. Matthew quotes this verse about Jesus being born to a virgin, but implicit in this, is the idea that Jesus is also God present with his people in Exile. This is why he is called Immanuel, meaning “God with us” in verse 23. The Angels tell Joseph and Mary to name the boy Jesus, which means “the Lord saves”. The overarching idea here in Matthew 1 about Jesus, is that in Jesus, God dwells with his people and delivers his people from their sin. The exile of Israel was intended to point people to our exile in sin. The Jews were taken captive by the Babylonians in the early 6th century BC, and when though many Jews had returned to their land, they were never self-governed again.  At the time of Jesus’ birth in the 1st century, the Romans rule over them. So, many still believed that they were in a type of Exile even though they were in the land. Matthew is applying Isaiah’s prophecy about God being with his people in exile to Jesus. e is Emmanuel, God with us, and he is Jesus, the God who saves. We were all far from God and we need him to come and rescue us from our exile in Sin. Matthew begins his book by saying God has come to rescue his people from that exile.

So, to summarize what we learn here in Matthew 1, Jesus was conceived supernaturally in the womb of a virgin by the Holy Spirit, this was a fulfillment of prophecy, and in doing this, God and Man are joined together in one person named Jesus.

The doctrine that says Jesus is God and Man is called the Incarnation. Jesus is God incarnate, or God in the flesh. (Now you know a fancy theology word to impress people with.) In every aspect of life we have common language and technical language. Sometimes using technical language is unhelpful, but sometimes it is helpful. When we are talking about part of our eye, we don’t talk about the black dot, we talk about the retina. Technical language can help us be clear in what we are talking about.So, at times, its helpful to refer to Jesus’ incarnation because it includes much more than simply his birth. At Christmastime we celebrate the event of the incarnation, but every day we walk with the Lord we celebrate the doctrine of the incarnation.

When we understand how Jesus comes, and why Jesus comes, it will change our lives, it will increase our faith, and it will lead us to worship. Growing in our knowledge of Jesus’ coming, shapes the way we look at God, ourselves, the world, it affects the way we understand everything in life. This doctrine that says Jesus is God and man, affects us in at least four ways.

First, Because Jesus is God and Man, we can have relationship, not only religion. Most believers will say that Christianity is not just a religion, but also a relationship, but there is a theological reason to say this, not just because it sounds authentic. This relationship is made possible because in Jesus, we are united with God and him with us. In Colossians 3:3-4 it says, “your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” The Incarnation means we can be united with God and God with us. Jesus makes this relationship possible by uniting our humanity with God. So when we say, its relationship not religion, we are referring to this doctrine of the incarnation and how Jesus makes the relationship possible. If God doesn’t become man, then we cannot dwell with God. We cannot call him Father and we are not his children. Jesus is not our brother if he isn’t a man. But God becomes a man in Jesus and makes this possible for us.

Secondly, because Jesus is God and Man, we have someone who is capable of receiving the punishment of our sin as our substitute. To be our substitute, he had to be human like us, but he also had to be holy like God. Since Jesus is God and Man, it means that he can stand in our place when we dies on a cross for our sin, and it also means that he is holy so he doesn’t have sin of his own to pay for.

One of the ways I’ve heard this explained is that in order for our team to win, Jesus needed to be on our team. The Ravens got beat by the Steelers the other night. As much as I could have help them, I can’t do anything to affect their victory because I’m not on the team. But if I were to go to the field, and put on the pads, and get in the game then I could win the victory. It’s a silly example, but in order for Jesus to be our substitute and conquer our sin and the grave, he had to be on our team, God had to become a man. To show you just one place where this is mentioned in the Bible, look at 1 Timothy 2:5-6.Here Jesus is called the mediator between God and man and the one who gave himself as a ransom. Because of the incarnation, the perfect man, Jesus, has given himself as our substitute, taking on a punishment that we earned and deserved. In 1 Timothy it says he is our mediator, paying our ransom. Once there was sin standing between us and God and Jesus steps in representing God as God and representing man as man and gives his life for ours as our mediator and ransom. The Incarnation means our sins are paid for, atoned for, so we can receive forgiveness rather than judgment.

He makes a relationship with God possible, he is our substitute, and thirdly he calls us to believe something different from every other religion. Christianity is not just like all the other religions. Because Jesus is God and Man, Christianity is unlike all other religions.  The incarnation is one of the core doctrines of Christianity, and as such it separates Christianity as unique among world religions. Some religions like Mormonism may say we are all gods or can arise to the status of god, but this is different from the incarnation. Islam and Judaism are most closely identified with Christianity in the popular assessment of world religions because they worship only one God, but the incarnation of Jesus is blaspheme in Islam and Judaism. There is no personal claim to divinity in Buddhism or Hinduism. The incarnation separates Christianity from all other religions, so if a person says that all religions are essentially the same, the have to reduce Christianity to exclude the incarnation, and then it is no longer Christianity. A Christianity without the incarnation is not Christianity. Jesus is God and man, and this is what makes Christianity different from all other religions. This is also why Jesus can make the claims he made and teach the things he did. Other religious beliefs will deny Jesus outright, reduce Jesus to a teacher or prophet, or some will say that he is God, but he only appeared to have human flesh. This goes against the creeds of church history, but more importantly, it goes against the Word of God. Colossians 2:9, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. In Jesus God and man are joined together. God takes on human flesh. 2 John 7 says, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” Throughout history people have either denied Jesus’ divinity or his humanity and this is what all other world religions have to do with Jesus. Jesus is who he says he is, he’s not just a good teacher or prophet, he is God’s Son, he is our savior.

He gives us a relationship with God, he is our substitute, he causes separation between Christianity and all other religions, and Finally, because Jesus is God and Man, he fully and undoubtedly demonstrates God’s love for us. God is loving, and since he is loving, even suffering and sorrow somehow work into his plan. God’s love and compassion for us is demonstrated in the incarnation. It proves that God is not indifferent sitting back and watching, but he does something to rescue us from our plight of sin and death.

Hebrews 4:14-16 points to God’s identification with us in Jesus. God becomes man in Jesus and because of this, he knows what we deal with on a day-to-day basis not only from the outside as an observer, but he has been through it too. Jesus was betrayed, suffered, and died. He has experienced the worst of the human condition. And because he is God, he rose out the grave and sealing his work of forgiveness, and eternal life for us. So, we can come him confidently because he has demonstrated his love and care for us. He will show us mercy and give us grace.

Christmas is not something we only celebrate, it is something that happens to us. When the 26th comes, we can continue to celebrate because Jesus has come. Jesus comes for me, he comes for you. This is immensely personal. Because of Jesus, you are united with God and he with us. Jesus humbled himself as God taking on human flesh. He came and stayed amongst the animals and the filth. He slept in a dirty feeding trough and was wrapped in rags. There may be some resemblance between our hearts and the dark and dirty stable where Jesus was born, but even with that resemblance, he still desires to be born in us. Jesus still desires to come and dwell with us.

Small Group Recap for week of 10.28.2012

Last week we finished reading the book of 2 Thessalonians. Here is the summary of chapter 3 interacting with our 3 questions:

(1) What does this passage teach about God?

Verse 3 tells us that God is faithful. This specifically is talking about his answer to prayer for protection from the evil one when the work of God is opposed. But more generally, God is faithful to keep his promises. What he has said he will do. Whether in relation to prayer or salvation, God is faithful.

(2) What does it teach about me?

Verse one teaches that we need people to pray for us. There will be things that make it difficult for us to accomplish the work God has for us, but God is faithful to answer these prayers for his work to progress in us. If we are at a place in our lives spiritually where we seemed to be plateaued, prayer is a vital component of continual growth. And, this is not just us praying, but others praying for us. The same is true in the church, we will not see growth at SCC, spiritually, numerically, or otherwise, unless we are praying. Nothing of eternal significance is ever accomplished without prayer.

 

In our diligence to live for God we can grow weary in doing good (verse 13). We need to warn and encourage one another as brothers and sisters so that we do not grow weary. This is not a license to confront everyone we know about how we perceive sin in their lives, because this implies a deep and meaningful relationship, like between two family members. Without the context of a deep relationship, correction and sometimes even encouragement has the opposite effect and it offends. Without relationship, addressing sin in a person’s life is often “judging” rather than encouraging.

 

3) How must I believe or obey to align my life with God’s Word?

Verse 6 is a warning to keep away from a brother who has nothing to occupy his time. Everyone should work to earn a living, if anyone refuses to do this, then they should not be provided for. This isn’t talking about our modern welfare system although there may be some application here, this is talking about people within the church body Any who refuse to work should be encouraged to do so.

Some traditions have interpreted verses 13-15 in such a way that it leads to a practice called shunning. People will behave like the other person does not exist. Is this not treating such a person as an enemy though? Treating like brother means addressing the matters so that repentance is brought forth. Shame is to lead to repentance not hatred.

What insights do you have that are not mentioned in this summary?

Review and Reflect on Mark 10:1-12

Working through books of the Bible like this is a good thing. It helps us to understand broad passages of scripture and themes that run through scripture. Another thing it does is forces us to deal with some of the more difficult passages. Mark 10 brings us to one of those types of passages. Jesus talked about things that many people would rather not hear. But, if Jesus takes on a subject, it is certainly worthwhile for us to hear what he says about the matter. In Mark 10:1-12, Jesus teaches about divorce, but this passage is about more than divorce.

All of us are deficient in our relationships with other people. God designed us to live together, not isolated, and he designed us to love one another, not to look out for ourselves foremost. But, all of us eventually and inevitably will put ourselves first in some ways in our relationships with other people. One example of this fracture in our relational abilities has been divorce. Divorce has been a human problem across cultures and throughout history, and it’s no different in our day. Most studies will show that around %50 of marriages end in divorce. There’s a University of Connecticut sociology professor named Bradley Wright who published a book in 2010 called “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told”. In this book, he deals with how research is conducted and how statistics about Christianity are interpreted. He challenges his readers to view statistics about Christianity with critical eyes. One thing he discusses is the statistics of divorce amongst Christians. He takes on the stat that 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce. He analyzes it from a different perspective because a lot of how you interpret that statistic depends on who you understand to be a Christian for the purposes of the study. About 6 out of 10 Christians who rarely or never go to church have marriages that end in divorce. About 4 out of 10 Christians who attend church regularly have marriages that end in divorce. That means that you are %50 more likely to get divorced if you are a married Christian who doesn’t attend church. But, again, statistics are only as valuable as their accuracy and their interpretation. One example is that studies like this often count two people who are divorcing one another and this changes statistics as well. What this does show, is that regular church attendance makes a large difference in our marriages. So,  be encouraged because statistically speaking, all you have to do is show up!

Divorce is symptomatic of the larger human problem of sin. If husbands and wives weren’t sinful people, divorce wouldn’t be a problem. One of my favorite principles about relationships is “sinners react sinfully when sinned against”. This means that when people are sinned against, our reactions are often sinful. This is something that leads to divorces, but it also leads to sibling rivalry and severed friendships. In examining Mark 10:1-12, our task isn’t to figure out how to avoid getting divorced. This isn’t a “5 steps to a successful marriage” passage. Our task is to understand what Jesus says about divorce and how, by teaching about divorce, he is calling us (married or not) to believe the Gospel and align our lives with it.

There are four lessons that we can learn from this passage:

First, divorce is a case study in human sinfulness. In verse 1, it says he was teaching the crowd which was his custom. And verse 2 says, the Pharisees came to test him. Their custom was to try to undermine Jesus’ authority and ministry. Jesus was not teaching about divorce, he was teaching what he had always been teaching: the time being fulfilled and the Kingdom of God coming near. But the Pharisees’ bring up a tricky and obscure aspect of the law as a ploy to try to undermine Jesus’ authority and make him mess up in front of the crowd. So, when they ask him about divorce, he simply says in verse 3 “What did Moses say?” In verse 4 they say, Moses said there were rules that had to be observed if divorce was going to happen. Then Jesus does what he did over and over in verse 5. He explains why the Law says what it says and in doing this, he also explains why the Law is deficient to cure our hearts of their sinfulness. He explains the background to the laws just like he did with the dietary laws in Mark 7. He says Moses allowed a concession to the best way of living in Marriage because of the people’s sinfulness, because of their hard hearts. The reason there was a law about divorce, or murder, coveting, and bearing false testimony or dozens of other laws, is because people could not live properly in relationship to one another. Nothing about that has changed. Even if divorce never happened, our ability to live properly in relationship with one another would still need help. All the laws were given because people had hard hearts. God gave the Law to Moses to teach people boundaries that they couldn’t find themselves because of their sinfulness.

Jesus teaches that there is a better way. The better way is that we would love one another. If people loved one another as God intends, there wouldn’t need to be laws about murder or theft. If spouses loved one another, humbled themselves, and placed the other first every day and in every way, there wouldn’t be any need to talk about divorce. Jesus says there was an intention in marriage from the outset when God first brought man and woman together, but ever since then it has been corrupted. Our hard and sinful hearts have wrecked our ability to live properly with one another. This is why we see adultery, prostitution, and multiple spouses, among other deviations from what God intended for marriage. I’m not even talking about what can be seen on TV or in the Movies; this is what we see in the Bible. In verse 6 and following, Jesus describes what God intended in the beginning, but with sin came corruption. It corrupts every aspect of our environment and our being, so of course it affects our marital relationship. But this is certainly not limited to divorce.

In verse 7 Jesus speaks to the separation that comes from parents when two people are married. There are countless marriages that one spouse or another hasn’t figured out how to keep his or her parents from meddling. In verse 8 Jesus speaks to the unity that marriage brings and yet there are countless marriages where people resemble roommates more than they resemble God’s intention. Rather than unity in marriage, there is competition in marriage. This is seen when each spouse has to have their own identity separate from the other. The desire for their own friends, hobbies, and places is something seen in many marriages that is opposed to God’s ideal for marriage where there should be oneness and unity.

The Pharisees’ highlight the problem of divorce, but divorce is often the end result of two people who cannot figure out how to place the other before themselves. And again, this isn’t only a problem in marriages and divorces, but in any relationship that any of us have. We have to learn from Jesus by following him, how to put others before ourselves. The Pharisees’ highlight the problem of divorce, but they don’t really care about it. This is a question about Jesus’ authority more than on divorce. They aren’t asking if divorce is a desirable situation, they ask if it is lawful. They expect Jesus to oppose Moses, but Jesus affirms what Moses taught and in the process he reveals the sinfulness in the hearts of those who attempt to discredit him.

Secondly, even in passages like this we need to remember that Jesus is more concerned with our hearts than our ability to uphold a moral standard outwardly. The Pharisees feel free to ask questions about divorce, because none of them were divorced. This was a way for them to declare their moral superiority over other people who had been divorced. But Jesus won’t let them get away with that. We’ve probably all seen this in the church or other Christians too. Because I don’t sin the way you do, does that put me on a higher moral plane before God? Jesus says absolutely not. The Pharisees lived impeccable lives and were nearly flawless morally. Yet, Jesus continually takes issue with them, because many of them didn’t love God from their hearts. If you’ve never gone through divorce, you should thank God for that. But you should also guard your heart against thinking yourself better than anyone who has. There absolutely are outward moral standards that we need to live according to. But, simply because we uphold a moral standard, doesn’t mean God has our hearts. Just because a couple isn’t divorced doesn’t mean that their marriage reflects God’s ideal for marriage. Jesus says the problems people have in marriage arise from hard hearts. Instead of desiring God’s best for our lives and the lives of others, our hearts are inclined to demanding our preferences and placing ourselves first. In a marriage, this often leads to divorce, but even if it doesn’t lead there, it leads us away from God’s ideal for our lives.

Having a hard heart has nothing to do with whether or not we are married. If we allow our lives to be directed by our own preferences and ambitions rather than being directed by God’s love for us and our love for him, we are leading ourselves to destruction. The Law was given to a sinful people who couldn’t figure out how to love God and one another more than they loved themselves. This is the human predicament in our sin. It doesn’t mean that we always love ourselves more, but everyone will at some point place themselves before others in some way. This problem can’t be fixed by trying harder or by disciplining ourselves. We need rescued. We need forgiven. We need restored. We need new hearts. This is why Jesus comes. He comes to give us life in him where we grow in the church learning how to love God and others more than we love ourselves. He comes so that one day we can live together with him forever in the Kingdom of God where we all place one another before ourselves. Can you imagine what that would be like? It will be heaven, because of course, it will be heaven! God designed us to live a certain way, and when we deviate from that way, we are opposing his plan.

Third, Jesus taught that divorce is opposing the plan of God. This isn’t intended to lay a guilt-trip or to make anyone feel bad. We have all opposed God’s plan in some way and at certain times. But anyone who has gone through or been around divorce knows that although sometimes it’s necessary, and sometimes it’s unavoidable, it’s still terrible. It still leaves scars. There are still repercussions. Even if it was the best thing for the long-term, it still brings problems. God’s plan for our lives is for our best and when we oppose it we see the chaos and the pain that is brought about. This is illustrated over and over again as people go through divorce. This is why it’s important to look at divorce as an example of what all of our sin does. Whether, we’ve been divorced, or we are greedy, or we are angry, or we are selfish, or we are lustful, there are consequences and chaos that comes from our sin. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this so our flirtation with sin or our tolerance for sin in our own lives will bring us to repentance. Jesus deals with sin. He does so because it is not just wrong, it’s harmful, it brings chaos, it is the opposite of loving God and loving one another.

Last of all, Jesus deals with sin…period. He doesn’t exclude divorce, but he also doesn’t highlight it as the worst sin.Jesus shows in this passage that divorce is wrong for many reasons, but that having a hard heart is worse than being divorced. All sin is harmful, destructive, and painful. Healing only comes in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness can only be found in Jesus. This applies to unmarried people, to people with horrible marriages, and even to people with great marriages. Our sin causes us to have problems with one another. It also causes us to have problems with God. Jesus doesn’t sit on his throne in heaven pointing his finger, he steps out of heaven and takes on human flesh. He places himself amongst sinful people who misunderstand and mistreat, and who reject him and kill him. But in his holy perfection, he loves them in the midst of it. Because of our King’s great compassion on his people, he allows the rebels who nailed him to the cross to be forgiven and set right and he allows us to become citizens of his Kingdom. He forgives us and he renews us and one day he will complete his work in us. He calls us today to believe in what he has done to deal with our sin, and to repent, to align our lives with his way of living. So, whether you need to repent of the ways you are living in your marriage in relationship to your spouse, or the ways you are sinning against your family, your friends, your neighbors, or even yourself, Jesus invites us to come to him and deal with our sin. He bore the punishment of our sin in his death. In his resurrection, he displays the promise of the life he is bringing us to eternally.

 

 

Acknowledgements and Sources.

Review and Reflect on Mark 8:34-38

Read Mark 8:34-38.

Wherever Jesus went, crowds gathered to see him perform miracles and to hear him teach, but this time he explains to them, that following him is not a spectator sport. Jesus says if you want to follow me there are two things that need to be done: 1) deny yourself, 2) take up your cross. This is one of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. This discipleship Jesus calls people to, is not half-hearted or easy. Denying yourself is a refusal to be guided by your own interests and a decision to NOT attempt to control your own destiny. Jesus says, discipleship means you give up control of your life to him and it means that your destiny is not what makes you influential or great in this world, but our destiny is a cross.

Practically speaking, this may not cause all of us to live the same way, but it does call all of us to a radical manner of living. The comfort and prosperity of cultural Christianity in our age must constantly be compared to Jesus’ call for us to deny ourselves and set his sacrificial and humble death on a cross as our prize to attain. We cannot explain away the intensity and the seriousness of this call to discipleship. We’ll continually be tempted to placate this call and find balance or moderation, but this is not a message of moderation.

Most of the 12 disciples followed Jesus to their death literally. There are disciples all over the world who have followed Jesus to their deaths in recent history. Our situation in America may not lead us to martyrdom, but we cannot ease the sting of these words to our lifestyle, our motivations, and our goals. Jesus explains further what this means in a few different ways.

For clarity’s sake in this passage, the words “life” and “soul” are the same word translated two different ways. I don’t know why a translator would do that, but they did, so when you read this passage, reads the word “soul” as “life” because that’s what it says. He describes discipleship, or following Jesus, with three different concepts.

First, discipleship is related to what we lose and gain. We can lose our lives to this world and gain the next, or we can live for this world and lose the next. Secondly, discipleship is related to profit. We can invest ourselves in this world, and our return will be at most, gaining the things of this world. He asks in verse 37, “what can a man give in return for his life?” What can a person invest his or her life in and not lose their investment? The glaring answer that is unspoken is the same Kingdom of God that Jesus is ushering in, and will bring about through his death and resurrection. The third aspect of discipleship is where we place our pride and our identity. In verse 38 jesus tells us we can shrink back from identifying with him and his message or we can follow him. There are two roads before us. One leads to merely the potential for prosperity and success and comfort in this life but being rejected by the King in the next. In choosing the other road, you may lose prosperity or success, but you gain the Kingdom of God. Whichever road we choose, we experience hardship and injustice in this life. But by refusing to pursue the “ideal life” here, and instead pursue the Ideal Savior, we’ll have a constant companion in this life and a promise for the life to come. And if in God’s grace you do experience physical prosperity in this life, you will understand it’s temporary nature and you won’t place your how in those things, but your hope will remain in the Messiah. Jesus says in verse 38 that he will come in the Glory of the Father and with the Angels. The day will come when he will set everything right, but he calls us to begin to set our hearts and lives right today. Jesus’ call to discipleship in this passage is a description of what he means when he says the proper response to his message is belief and repentance.

This is what repentance looks like. It looks like denying ourselves and pursuing the life of the cross.

Lest we think this isn’t practical and applicable, let’s think about it. Are you denying yourself in your marriage or pursuing your own pleasure and your own rights? Are you denying yourself at work, at home, in your friendships, in your neighborhood? This may look different in each of our circumstances, but the Gospel is more practical than we like to admit. It’s easier to give 3 steps to a healthy marriage, or 5 ways to raise kids, or 2 ways to be successful at work. But Jesus says deny yourself and pursue the life of the cross.

Do you believe Jesus is the Messiah who came to die and will one day return to set everything right? If you do, then repentance is mandatory for we who call ourselves disciples, Jesus followers, or Christians. And that repentance looks like dying on a cross in every circumstance, decision, motivation, attitude, and relationship in our lives.

This is immensely difficult, but this is the life he’s leading us to, and when we believe and repent, it leads us to a life better than we can conceive in our minds. It leads us to heaven.

Review and Reflect on Mark 7:14-23

Last week, we looked at the first part of this story, found in Mark 7:1-13, where Jesus teaches that true religion isn’t only about what you do, but why you do it.

Read the remainder of the story in Mark 7:14-23.

In verse 14, we see Jesus take this private debate out into the crowd and the scribes are no longer mentioned. Jesus is through debating them. Jesus explains the reasoning behind his teaching on the cleanliness laws. He begins to discuss the principle of being unclean or defiled which underlies the purity laws of Leviticus 11 and 17 and the scribal tradition. Jesus moves the focus from the “how” to include the “why” because the scribes were only concerned with the outward “how” not the inward “why”. He takes this far beyond the issue of ritual hand washing. His main point is that defilement comes from the inside not from the outside. Sin isn’t only an external problem, it resides deep within us. This is why true religion isn’t only concerned with the “what” but also the “why”; not just the action but the motivation.

In verse 17 after this, Jesus retreats privately with his disciples. He calls this teaching a “Parable”. This is different from other parables, yet it is still a story with a cloaked meaning. In typical fashion, in verse 18 the disciples don’t understand what in the world Jesus is talking about. Then in verses 18-19, he explains to them in the simplest terms possible, you can almost feel the sarcasm as he explains the digestive system. “When you eat, it goes into your stomach, not your heart”. Verse 19 goes on to say “it is expelled”, which is the polite way of translating what it literally means, “It goes down into the latrine”. This is how we can be confident that Jesus is frustrated and getting annoyed with his disciples, his words are bordering on being crass.

Then there is a parenthetical application of Jesus’ words. “In saying this, he declared all foods clean.” This is important, because soon after Jesus rises from the dead, the Gospel spreads to lots of non-Jewish people who like to eat pork chops and lobster. This allowed these people to become followers of Jesus without being bound to the books of the Law or the subsequent customs that had been set up in an effort to protect Judaism. It is also a significant comparison with Moses. Moses said certain things about dietary laws in the Book of Leviticus. Here in verse 19, Jesus is now saying new things about the diet of the people of God which supplants Moses’ words. How can he do this? Because he is fulfilling these laws. The Laws don’t make a person clean, Jesus does.

The Law couldn’t remove a person’s moral defilement and it couldn’t cleanse our sinful hearts. Only Jesus can do this. There is something similar to the chicken/egg controversy going on here, but we cannot practice true religion unless our hearts have been changed. Also, if our hearts have been changed, there will be outward and external evidence of this.

Remember, Jesus is greater than Moses. He doesn’t just proclaim the Law; he gave the Law to Moses. He doesn’t just repeat the Law, he fulfills it. Jesus points out that the deficiencies of these laws and customs is that they do not deal with the person’s heart. “Heart” is a term used metaphorically to refer to one’s essential personality. Biblically speaking, it doesn’t refer only to emotions, but also to spiritual and intellectual process: the will. In our day, we speak of the heart in more soft and emotional terms, it is the place that we feel deeply. But biblically speaking it communicates much more than this. It is a person’s individuality, what makes them who they are. This is our primary aspect of personhood that is affected by a relationship with God. Jesus points out that our hearts are not affected by what we eat or drink. Food is of nutritional significance, but not spiritual. Gluttony and drunkenness are spiritual problems manifested in the vehicles of food and alcohol, but the objects themselves have no effect on our hearts. It is sin in our hearts that cause them to be abused. Many things may be “vehicles” for our sinfulness without actually causing our sinfulness.  Jesus expands this with a list of different sins which reside in our hearts in verses 21-22.

The way this list reads would lead you to think that “evil thoughts” is one of the sins, but the list is actually different examples of evil thoughts or you might even read it is as “evil plans” which reside in our hearts. The list is extensive, but not exhaustive. In other words, we all will certainly find one or more of these things in our hearts, yet, to our great encouragement, more sins than these probably can be found in our hearts. We see a list like this, and we say “Who, then, can approach God saying ‘I am clean!'”? Only those who have been made clean in Jesus, forgiven by his blood payment of our penalty.

Christianity is not an inner religion or an outer religion. It is both. There is no dualism; we are one person, body and soul. Those that practice Christianity only inwardly are prone to neglect dealing with the outward sins. Those that practice Christianity only outwardly are prone to be arrogant in their morality and judgmental, neglecting the sin which resides in the heart. We know both of these deficient practices of Christianity in a more proper term: hypocrisy. Christianity deals with the heart and the actions, neither to the exclusion of the other. Rather, the mature Christian will see how the two dance together. To truly cultivate a heart for God, our behavior must reflect the character of our King. And to truly live morally and properly, our hearts must be enamored by our King. When we read a list like this, we have to be careful not to allow our attention to drift to other people. The point of a list of attitudes and behaviors like this is to delineate specific areas where our hearts must be aligned to the way God intends for us to live. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but to be a point of reflection and repentance for each of us personally.

Some might easily check off sins like theft or murder, but slander and pride are not so easily dismissed. There is an interrelationship among these as well. Coveting leads to theft. Sensuality leads to sexual immorality. So there is a progressive nature to our sin as well that must be curtailed before we reap what we sow. The inward sins lead to the outward sins. The Pharisees added customs to prevent from breaking the laws. But Jesus says, your preventative measure should have been dealing with the sin in your heart, not adding outward duties to your religion. In this passage, Jesus is dealing with people who are prone to practicing the outer aspects of religion yet neglecting the inner aspects, the matters of the heart. Jesus shows that whether we commit these sins or they remain in our hearts, they cause us to be unclean. In the Old Testament, being unclean meant you had to be separated. Separated from other people and from the tabernacle or Temple. The physical uncleanness was taken seriously because it pointed to the spiritual uncleanliness. The outward sinfulness points to the nature of our sinful hearts. Measures we would consider drastic were taken when a law was violated. Stoning was proscribed. People had to leave town because of their uncleanness. This was to teach that spiritual uncleanliness, which we also call sin, causes us separation. Separation from God and from other people. Sin is the opposite of holiness which is one of the essential characteristics of God. No sin resides in him, nor is there evil in his motivation or meditation. So when men and women, who have sin in our hearts approach God, because of his character, he must reject us as unclean and as those who have committed rebellion and treason. The only proper place for someone like this is death and hell.

A person who commits treason and rebellion against the King has no way of rescue. Such a person has earned his punishment…unless the King extends his grace. So in his infinite love and providence, God ordained a way to accept men and women, and yet exact the death penalty for their rebellious sin in order to protect his holiness. For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.