Monday, January 19, 2015

Teachings of Jesus - Part VII


Matt.7: 13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

If you believe in eternal life but you do not believe you can know how it works than all discussions are mere chatter. Most of the religions of the world teach a good works ladder to heaven and eternal life. Almost none of them teach the antipode of heaven, or hell. But even though Jesus is caricatured as a kind teacher and a lover of children He was a liar if what He said is not true. The discussion of eternal life is as serious as it gets. And since everyone will die one day everyone sits in the same classroom.
Everything in our flesh resists these words. Are you telling me that a precious little girl in Indonesia who grows up to be a wonderful wife and mother but does not know Jesus will not inherit eternal life? What about the kind and generous Muslim? What about the religious Jew? What about the humanitarian who believes in God but not Jesus? You see, our fallen minds play tricks on us. Have you ever been in an argument and somewhere along the line you began to see the other guys point and your enthusiasm for your perspective begins to lose steam but you keep arguing? And even when inside you may be convinced your position is wrong your mind still finds creative ways to defend your position and if you are adept enough you may even win the argument with a flawed position.
Well that is how the carnal mind works. It uses logic and reason and creative argument and compassion to combat spiritual truth. If a baby crawls over a cliff would he fall to his death? Gravity would not be that cruel some would say. But there are eternal spiritual truths that do not demand God’s decision because the truth is already in place. And if you believe absolute truth exists then you must decide where it can be ascertained. But if there is no absolute reference for revealing that truth than all that is left is man’s opinion and man’s philosophy. But if there is a God, and if He has established absolute truth, then it would be inconceivable to think He would not provide a path for man to know those truths especially if they directly affect man’s eternal dwelling place. And that source is what is called colloquially the Bible.
And the New Testament revelation clearly teaches that the Word is Jesus and the written Scriptures are communicators of Jesus who IS truth. It is a great mystery but a glorious one to us who know Jesus and are seeking to know Him more. The New Testament is clear. All of us are born with a fallen nature and sin just comes naturally. And that means we are separated from a Holy God. And not only that just as the ant cannot know a man so we cannot know God unless He reveals Himself to us on a level we can understand. And God did that by two communicative methods. He gave us His Word and He gave us His Word. I hope you can understand the joint metaphors. He gave us the written revelation and He gave us the incarnate revelation.
And the question which divides the sheep from the goats will always be “Who was Jesus?” If Jesus was God the Creator in the flesh than what else must be said? His words then ARE absolute truth since He is the author and embodiment of that truth. “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. But we live in a day of great deception. And there is no greater deception than those who teach that sinners can get to heaven even if they do not believe in Jesus. That is the zenith of all deceptions as well as blasphemy.
And you may be surprised at the men and movements which teach this heresy. Men like Billy graham and others like him teach that if a man is born in a jungle and never hears about Jesus but believes there is one God he can be saved. The Pope teaches that if a Muslim is a good person he can be saved. And there are many who either openly or quietly hold to those views. But they are based upon our own opinions and our own brand of compassion, and they are clearly at odds with Christ’s teaching and the New Testament revelation. This is no fringe theological issue. This is pivotal to the gospel mission and to the souls of men. But what right do we have to create our own self serving scenarios and use them to prove our point when God’s Word gives no indication of that which we are saying? The answer is none.
Part of the reason men have come up with such falsehoods is because it makes us feel a little better. But part of the reason is because we do not have the unreasonable passion for lost souls and therefore our gospel efforts both personally and colectively are embarrassing. And if we knew for sure that only sinners who hear and believe the gospel will avoid eternal punishment (Rom.10) then we might witness more, and we might pray more, and we might fast more, and we might send and support many, many more missionaries than we do. But since all those suggestions indict us all personally and as the Body of Christ corporately we must run to false doctrinal constructs.

You must be born again. There is no other way. None.
Jn.4: Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour.
There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.
(For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.)
Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.

Jesus breaks so many manmade traditions here. There are reasons for the Old Testament law. Of course there is the knowledge of sin, and there is the knowledge of everyone’s inability to fully keep from sin and therefore the need of Christ. There was the preservation of God’s people Israel which would bring forth the Messiah. But perhaps the greatest reason was visual, tactile, and reoccurring blood sacrifice. Millions of animals died and millions of gallons of blood were shed. Israel came to understand fully the concept of blood atonement.
This law, this schoolmaster, was a divine gift which would one day disappear with the death of the Lamb of God. But during the life of Jesus before He had provided the sacrifice of His own blood He would gently but clearly begin the dismantling of the law. And of course we know that woven into the Law of Moses were any number of human additions and traditions. Jesus often said, “You have heard but I say unto you…” or “Moses said but I say…”. Sometimes He was subtle and sometimes He was not, but it was clear something was changing.
But the word “change” is demonstrably insufficient to describe what happened. The Law of Moses would vanish completely under the weight of Christ’s glory! Those that attempt to gather the dead bones of the law and make them live again do so in vain. In reality, to pick up the garments of spiritual death called the law and force them upon the Life Giver is a fool’s errand. Christ is the end of the law to all who believe. To embrace the law you must embrace all of it, and that is self righteousness all dressed up as moral conviction.
But Jesus once again breaks the human barrier in order to love and teach this Samaritan woman. The Samaritans were a mixed breed since they had intermarried with pagans and they did not worship in Jerusalem. They were considered outcasts by the Jews. So when Jesus has a conversation it was actually scandalous. And when He allowed the woman to serve Him it was a further scandal. To have interaction with a Samaritan was scandalous, but when it is a Samaritan woman it breaks every rule in the book. As was His custom Jesus obliterates accepted religious mores.
How many evangelical mores today are subtle forms of a modern type of law? Oh my dear friends there are many. The evangelical church in America has its own list of lepers with whom you should not associate. If you do not have the approved list of enemies then you are a compromiser and, God forbid, a liberal. The organized church in many ways has rejected the issues of the heart and clings to outward rules and morals and an allegiance to a fallen nation which by design pollutes the true faith. You can be politically and morally conservative and be a baptized church member in good standing and still be filled with dead men’s bones. And let us all come clean. To keep our hearts pure and seeking Christ requires relentless housekeeping so no one can boast of anything.
We will deal with the rest of the interchange soon, but I want to emphasize just how groundbreaking and instructional this narrative should be to us. If we were really following Jesus the gay community would understand what we believe but would experience uncommon love from followers of Jesus. The woman at the well was a whore and yet Jesus took her into His Sunday School class and taught her. Can you imagine a known whore or a known criminal or, God forbid, a known gay person coming into your Sunday School class? Ok, please do not try and put on some spiritual pretence here. How many in that class would feel love and mercy without a tinge of discomfort? How many would feel love and mercy but some discomfort? How many would feel a little love and mercy but a whole lot of discomfort? And how many would not feel any love and mercy but would feel severe discomfort and even outrage? We have been hoodwinked by a religious system loosely called the “church” until we do not think or feel or act like Jesus and yet we are blind to all of it. We have created our own manmade law even while calling it grace. We are liars.
But to be deprogrammed is no small task. I have been in that process for many years and yet still I find some dead men’s bones hiding within my heart which are the vestiges of a religious system to which I used to belong. But I am here to tell you that there is freedom in Jesus. Away with all our moral outrages! Away with our reputations! Away with our self serving insulations! Away with our ecclesiastical smugness! Let us embrace vulnerable mercy! Let us embrace vulnerable humility! Let us embrace vulnerable patience! Let us embrace vulnerable love!
And in the end let us embrace Jesus. And if you dare do that you may well find yourselves interacting with grace and redemption with members whose sin appears on the unaccepted list. No, that will not mean you condone anything, but it will mean you are speaking and feeling and loving like Jesus. Just when did we reject that as a goal?

Matt.17: 14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Here we find a divine hint concerning the power of fasting and prayer. It is an amazing insight about a spiritual practice and discipline which has long since gone out of style. The majority of people who fast do it for weight reasons. Those who fast for spiritual power and insight are very few. We are results oriented and quick results at that. Patience is on short supply. But I have found fasting to be of great spiritual value, not so much in casting out demons in others, but in crucifying the flesh in me.
Jesus spoke at great length about fasting, and he Himself went on a forty day fast before He was tested by the devil. Many times in the Old Testament there was a call for fasting. The Gentile Cornelius was fasting and praying just before God sent him a messenger. Fasting preceded the separation of Barnabas and Saul. Fasting and prayer were observed before they ordained elders. Paul directs married couples to pray and fast and then come together in intimacy afterward. Paul says “in fastings often” as he recounts his journey. It was said of the prophetess Anna who confirmed the words of Simeon over the infant Jesus that she “served God with fastings and prayers night and day”. So if fasting has been observed throughout the Scriptures, and since Jesus revealed its importance, why has its practice all but disappeared?
There are many reasons why the overwhelming majority of professing believers will never observe a spiritual fast. It is obvious that we are obsessed with food. And that obsession has been implanted deep within us. Miss one meal and it is almost a crisis. Are we truly interested in going deeper in Christ? Are we satisfied with a coming heaven or are we seeking to know Him and please Him in every way? If you were convinced by Scripture that fasting was a divine door to more truth, more understanding, and more Jesus would that make a difference in your life?

There is no secret and it is not complicated. If you set out to fast from food you must also spend the time you would normally eat in the Word and in prayer. At which point did we cease to practice things that are in the Scriptures and begin to practice things that are not in the Scriptures?

Is.53: He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

Matt.27: 11 And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
12 And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
13 Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
14 And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.

I guess Jesus had not heard about freedom of speech. Yes, that is sarcasm in a teaching mode. But there is a Jesus lesson here. When we respond to criticism or accusation we reveal a carnal embrace of our reputation. Let me first unmask us all. If our thought life was ever revealed openly and in every detail we all would have absolutely no grounds for self righteousness at all and our reputations would be sullied completely. And all of us would stand in utter and absolute need of mercy and grace. The most vehement legalist would be rendered just as hypocritical as the rest of us. The ground around sin is level and God has declared all of us in a literal tie as it pertains to guilt and sin. But thanks be to God! The ground around the cross is also level and whosever will can look and live completely by His unfathomable grace and through the immeasurable sacrifice which continues to prove its power in the lives of those redeemed miscreants like us.
Defending ourselves draws us away from Christ and His gospel. I have often said we are worse than some people think about us and better than others think. But in Christ we are perfect before Him. And why would we defend ourselves when we stand in His gracious perfection? The minute we open our mouths to speak glowingly or even defensively about ourselves we expose our fleshly pride. And pride is a monster which draws its strength from the spirit of antichrist. Our only hope, our only love, our only grace, our only redemption can only be found in Him. As Paul said there is no good thing that dwells within me. I have found that it disarms people when they accuse me about some sin or imperfection or anything when I say, “You know, you are right”. They look at me like they have just seen a ghost.
But so often we seek to fortify our status and refute falsehoods spoken about us. Well that is not the way of Jesus. And who else had the right to refute falsehoods? And yet he stood silent before His shearers. What a shining example for us to embrace and follow! Humility and self denial are essential elements of following in the footsteps of Christ. But they are difficult footsteps to be sure since we predisposed for self protection and self defense. It would not be hyperbole to suggest that in many cases self is an idol.
The world in which we live is consumed with talk. Talk shows and talk radio and sports talk and political debates and discussion forums are just a few of the constructs which provide human talk as entertainment. Listening without speaking is all but a lost art. And when you are unfairly confronted the quick and natural response is “the best defense is a good offense”. The flesh cannot take criticism lying down regardless of the validity of its perspective. And if that criticism comes from a deeply flawed source, well then the flesh becomes eager to return evil for evil. A humble and prayerful silence is not an option, and exhibiting love in the face of such insults is a fantasy.
In the abundance of words evil many times lurks. Spiritual words are like apples of gold in pictures of silver and their abundance is welcomed. But the back and forth which regularly occurs among people is worthless banter and is void of the Spirit. It is not enough just to place a door over your mouth. We must also cultivate a heart that follows Jesus even when we are silent. To be bitter and judgmental inside while hiding it by not verbally revealing it fools no one but ourselves.

So the next time enemies approach armed with shearers keep your mouth closed and your heart open.

Matt.17: And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.

According to Websters the word “transfigure” means “to change the appearance of something”. I was raised in a nominally Christian home. My father went to church about twice a year and I was sent to three years of catechism and then was made a member of the church and took my first communion. It was all so assembly line and I heard the name of Jesus many times. In fact the second year of catechism was called God the Son and it was all about Jesus. So in my mind’s eye I had a picture of Jesus and I understood Him on some level. But it didn’t change me because I only understood Him in the flesh and not the Spirit.
But many years later I climbed a small mountain and there His appearance was changed before me. I suddenly saw Him completely differently, and in fact it was the first time I even really looked at Him. He was transfigured in my mind from the good teacher into the Son of God and Savior of the world. There really are no words to fully convey what the Holy Spirit does within your heart when you have heard that name almost all your life and then in one moment of spiritual revelation He appears before you within your understanding and you are mesmerized and captivated as never before. You are not just interested at that moment, you are completely under the power of the Spirit and you cannot look away.
The disciples were frightened but I was not. I felt many emotions that night. Wonder, amazement, humility, smallness, awe, need, and waves of indescribable love. I saw Jesus as the answer for all my longings and questions. Not a church or a religion or some neat little doctrine, but I saw Him as Lord. I myself seemed to be transported into the realm of the eternal and yet I was still on this earth. And although I had the faith as small as a mustard seed and was a spiritual novice concerning the Word it was still a life changing event I cannot help but tell again and again. Jesus, in the spirit, was transfigured within my mind and within my heart. And the Father’s Words were so direct and so powerful and yet so simple. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him”.
I hope you see the connection between God’s voice of command and this study. The Father speaks audibly and tells us to hear Jesus. Do you think that should be emphasized or just a part of this narrative which is interesting? Or should the Father’s word reverberate throughout the community of faith again and again and again until that is our divine mandate, ever before us and ever eliciting our obedience and thirst for more? But here we are caught in an ecclesiastical web which sucks the life out of Christ and His Words while ordained men have become doctrinal taxidermists who stuff Jesus and hang Him on an orthodox wall. And as R. G. Lee once said about church folk, “they run a shallow stream of piety which runs a fresher course on Sunday mornings.”
This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” There we have solid doctrine and some proof of the mystery of the Trinity. But the next three words are not treated with the same doctrinal ferociousness as are the first words. Can you imagine a young kid who goes around pointing to his father and claiming some reward because he rightly professing that man as his father? He thinks himself a faithful child because he has correctly and a little forcefully identified his own father. But that same child has long since forgotten what his father has said to him and in so doing he is now living outside of his father’s direction. But still he proudly points to a piece of paper upon which he has written, “that man who stands six feet tall and has brown hair and who works as store manager is my father.” You see, that son claims he is faithful because he has identified his own father.
So what separates that son from another son who correctly points out his own father? The second son listens to what his father says and he obeys him. This is where so much of the church is today. Who diligently seeks the Words of Jesus anymore? I mean if you crack a Bible open for ten minutes five days of the week you are comparatively on fire for God! How self serving and embarrassing! And since the church does not seek the Words of Jesus how can we expect people to walk in obedience to them? But I also love the words, “ And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.  And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only”.
When you are truly touched by Jesus your entire life is changed and Jesus becomes your consuming vision. I would suggest that the way we should study and understand Scripture is to seek and ingest the teachings of Jesus and then to embrace the rest of Scripture as supporting those teachings in many unique ways. But the absolute core are the teachings of Jesus and the Person of Jesus. When have you heard that, my friends? I would suggest that seeing and understanding the Scriptures like that will place everything in its correct order and some questions we might have become miniscule and fringe. When Jesus and His teachings are seen as the foundation of our faith then all of Scripture makes sense.
The church desperately needs a repentance fueled return to the Lord Jesus. Can you imagine the implications and enormity of that statement? We have made the faith complicated, easy, and filled with the traditions of men. It was not so after the Day of Pentecost. In fact Jesus has told them that when the Spirit came He would speak of Jesus. Did you hear that? The driving force of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to speak of and reveal Jesus. Jesus even told the disciples that He had many things to teach them but until the Spirit came they could never understand. But today we claim to understand everything and we have all our ecclesiastical drawers neatly arraigned with organized doctrines, and we claim to be “orthodox” because we can correctly identify Jesus as the Savior.
Oh my dear friends Jesus must always be the bedrock of our faith. His words must be our commands and His teachings our doctrine. Our obedience must be the evidence of our discipleship. It is not enough to avoid certain sins. It is not enough to align yourself with the correct side on a moral issue. The teachings of Jesus are pro-active and obedience begins in the heart and works its way out from there. But you must be hungry and thirsty for His teachings. You cannot rely on the preacher to break the Bread to you. You must allow the Spirit to break that Bread without a middle man. And if you step into that sacred experience you will find out something majestic and glorious. In the midst of the hustle and bustle and all the cares of this world you will still see only Jesus. And when you see Him transfigured it will transfigure you as well. That, my friends, is a gift of grace that will last forever!

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