Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 4

We continue our consideration of whether Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was a “new” teaching. Were concepts like turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love your neighbor uniquely Christian concepts that were foreign to the Law of Moses? No.

Let’s look into this further.

In the Old Testament, was it okay to constantly fight and litigate every issue in court? (Matthew 5:25)

…do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret, lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end.
(Proverbs 25:8-10)

The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
(Proverbs 17:14)

A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.
(Proverbs 18:6)

In the Old Testament, was it okay to keep from turning the other cheek? Is turning the other cheek a uniquely Christian concept? (Matthew 5:38-39)

Several examples are in the Old Testament of those who turned the other cheek: Job (Job 16:10), Micaiah (1 Kings 22:24), and the prophecy of Jesus (Isaiah 50:6). David turned the other cheek with King Saul (1 Samuel 24:10-15), and was taught by Abigail to do so toward Nabal (1 Samuel 25:31-34).

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust– there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
(Lamentations 3:25-33)

You can see from the Old Testament passages, God (Jesus) expected the Jew to turn the other cheek and to be quick to resolve conflicts. Jesus was not introducing a new standard of conduct that He did not always expect from His people.

More to come later..

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 1

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 2

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 3

My Circumstances and My Heart

My attitude toward cold weather and snow really stinks the longer the winter drags on. I have to be honest. With prayer, including yours, I will hope to improve that attitude.

I bring this up because I was talking to one of our kids about how we can’t keep asking God to change our circumstances until we change our heart about the circumstances in which we find ourselves. While I was “preaching” to my offspring a light bulb went off in my head. Dad realized how many times he has vocally wished to be in a warmer climate. I’ve had enough of winter when March comes. But can the Lord change my heart about this? Yes, if I let Him. Instead of wishing to be elsewhere, I should take time to be thankful for snow and the cold weather. It does have a purpose (potholes, rising coat sales, slower commutes…oh, man, I did it again.). Really, there is a purpose and beauty in the snow and cold.

Our new puppy absolutely loves the snow. She doesn’t share my opinion. Her nose is constantly in the snow, and she just goes crazy jumping around in it. Watching her helps my general grumpiness.

Watching the kids play in the snow is another thing that brings joy to my heart. Going sledding with them has been a blast this winter.

There is the constant reminder in God’s word that our sins, which are like scarlet are made white as snow by God’s grace and Jesus’ blood (Isaiah 1).

So, do you find yourself in a circumstance where your attitude is crummy and unthankful? Are you trying harder to convince God to change your circumstance or to change your heart about it? There is nothing wrong with asking God to change our situation in life, but let’s not forget where the focus should be first and foremost.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Why Did Gabriel Come?

We were reading Daniel 9 this morning and considering the prayer of Daniel that he made at the end of the 70 year captivity in Babylon. So many great things to talk about and think about here. What strikes me is that “while” Daniel was speaking, in fact, at the beginning of his prayer, Gabriel was sent by the Lord. Think about this as you read Daniel 9: Why did Gabriel come to Daniel? Why was Daniel’s prayer answered by God?

Below are a few excerpts from Daniel 9.

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans–in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.
(Daniel 9:1-5)

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.
(Daniel 9:20-23)

Here are a few quick observations as to why Daniel’s prayer was answered and why Gabriel was sent to him.

  1. Daniel was greatly loved. Why does God answer prayer? Because He greatly loves us.
  2. Daniel’s heart was humble. You see his heart recognizing the sovereignty, the justice and the mercy of God. He also saw his own sinfulness in the presence of that holy God. Daniel didn’t just blame all the other people in Israel for the problem; he took personal responsibility for his own sin.
  3. Daniel read and understood the word. You see in Daniel’s prayer that he recognized the writings of Jeremiah and Moses as the words of God. He trusted in these words and understood from Moses that God’s law was broken and that punishment would follow. He also understood from Moses and Jeremiah that God was merciful and would forgive His people. Through the words of Jeremiah he understood that this captivity would last 70 years. Notice that Daniel wasn’t coming along at year 55 and asking for God’s deliverance. Daniel knew that when God said 70 years, He meant 70 years!
  4. Because God keeps His promises. Another reason Daniel’s prayer was heard was because God promised that when His people were taken captive and humbled themselves that He would forgive them and send them home (Leviticus 26:39-42; 1 Kings 8:33-34; Nehemiah 1:8-9).

Those same 4 things are true for you and me today. God answers the prayers of His people today because He loves them, because we are humble before Him and seek His word, and because He keeps his promises.

At the Same Time My Reason Returned to Me

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
(Daniel 4:34-37)

I just love that God allowed Nebuchadnezzar’s writings to be part of Scripture. Daniel 4 is the personal record of King Nebuchadnezzar and how he was humbled before Almighty God. Because of his arrogance, he was reduced to a dumb beast eating grass for seven periods of time. At the end of that period of time, his “reason returned to him.” He gave glory and honor to God instead of to himself.

This is so true for everyone. When we take the glory and honor away from God and keep it for ourselves, our reasoning is turned to madness. Look at Romans 1:18-32 to see how Paul describes the same process. When we are lifted up in our own pride, our thoughts lead ourselves and others into total darkness and destruction. But when we humble ourselves before God, our thinking becomes clear and enlightened. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, Proverbs teaches us.

I was listening to a sermon by Andy Cantrell about this very concept when he was preaching from Isaiah 55. God in that chapter is inviting us all to forsake our way of thinking and embrace His thoughts and His ways. And when we do, the result is life, joy and peace!

How well are your thoughts and your ways working out for you? Are you willing to become like King Nebuchadnezzar and humble yourself before God and forsake your ways of thinking? Are you willing to trade your thoughts for God’s thoughts? Then and only then will your “reason return to you.”

The Power of An Indestructible Life

who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.
(Hebrews 7:16)

We are studying Hebrews in our congregation, and we are currently looking at how Jesus’ priesthood is compared to that of Melchizedek’s. Lots to study and discuss, but today I just want to focus on the fact that Jesus’ priesthood is eternal. He has the power of an indestructible life.

He came to save us from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15), that through him we might live eternally after we die. But He also came, died, and rose from the dead so that we can live with full hope and confidence in this life (Hebrews 6:11). Jesus is indestructible, and the cord of our soul is securely tied to Him. He is a sure and steadfast anchor to our soul, because He is indestructible (Hebrews 6:19). Jesus isn’t going anywhere.

With all the change and decay around us and within us, we can lift up our spirits and be assured each moment that Jesus has the power of an endless life, and He promised to be with us always. If we are walking with Him and abiding in His word, then that indestructible life dwells within us and works in us.

but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.
(Hebrews 7:24)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
(Hebrews 13:8)

And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”
(Hebrews 1:10-12)

 

Daniel at Babylon U.

I was reading Daniel 1 this morning. Daniel and his three friends were taken into captivity to the King’s Palace and put through a 3-year program. At the end of that 3-year program they would stand before the king to be assessed.

We see that Daniel and his three friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) excelled far above all the rest. What I want to focus on is God’s hand through all of this.

God gave Daniel what he needed to be qualified for the position. In order for Daniel to even be considered as a candidate for being an adviser to the king he had to meet certain requirements. As you can see in Daniel 1, these young men of Israel had to be from the royalty or nobility. They had to be good-looking young men with no blemishes. Also, they had to be really smart and competent to learn the language and literature of the Chaldeans. God knew the positions where he would later place these young men, and He made sure that they had the tools and talents for that purpose. Daniel and his three friends were instruments of God, and God prepared the instruments just as He needed for this specific purpose. The same goes for every one of us. God gave us certain talents and opportunities, because He has a purpose for us to be His instruments in the places and positions He needs us to be.

God gave Daniel and his three friends favor. When it came time to stand for their faith, God stood with them, and He walked with them to help gain the favor of the King’s officials and eventually the King himself. Once again, this was all part of God’s working within the Babylonian kingdom to accomplish His purposes. If you have received a promotion or another opportunity to lead, is it possible that God is placing you in that position to accomplish His divine purpose? It helps for us to think about these things, because where we have gotten in life is not just because we are “all that and a bag of chips.” We are where we are in life because of the divine favor of God.

God gave Daniel and his three friends wisdom and understanding. They were at Babylon University learning the Chaldean ways, but God was the one blessing them with knowledge, competence and ability to understand. Those young men were bright and sharp, but in the end they knew their intelligence was a blessing and gift from God and they gave Him the glory.

There is no doubt why at the end of that 3-year period that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were found to be 10 times better than all the King’s magician’s and astrologers. Those other men were led by their own selfish ambition and/or a pursuit of false gods. In contrast, Daniel and his three friends were led by God and blessed by God because they gave their hearts fully to following God and His word.

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
(Psalm 119:97-100)

Committed Thomas

Doubting Thomas. We’ve probably all heard that term. Even people who aren’t Christians use that term to describe someone who is skeptical and needs evidence.

Thomas was not with the other 10 apostles when Jesus first appeared to them the day of His resurrection. It wasn’t till 8 days later that Jesus appeared to the 11 and turned Doubting Thomas into Believing Thomas (John 20:24-31). This is where we sometimes talk about “Absent Thomas” and what he missed out on because he wasn’t there.

But rather than talk about Doubting or Absent Thomas, I’d rather think about Committed Thomas today. Even when Thomas didn’t understand exactly what Jesus was doing, he was still willing to follow. Committed Thomas wanted to follow Jesus, but he just didn’t understand where Jesus was going.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

Committed Thomas wanted to follow Jesus, even if it meant dying for Jesus. When Jesus wanted to leave the safety of beyond the Jordan and travel to Bethany (near Jerusalem) in order to raise dead Lazarus, the disciples knew how dangerous that would be. Thomas led the group in support of going with Jesus.

So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)

Indeed, Thomas sought for affirmation and proof, and he wanted to understand, but Jesus gave him that evidence, didn’t He? Many other followers of God in Scripture come to mind that asked for confirmation and evidence, Gideon being the first one that comes to mind. Gideon was given reassurance and proof repeatedly by God. Gideon is highlighted in Hebrews 11 as one of the heroes of faith. We are no different from Gideon or Thomas, we all need that divine blessed reassurance once in awhile.

Jesus didn’t give this kind of evidence and affirmation to the Jewish leadership. They asked for a sign, and He told them they were a wicked and adulterous generation (Matthew 12). He may have rebuked His disciples for their unbelief (Mark 16), but He still gave them the evidence so they would believe. The hearts of the disciples, unlike the hearts of the Scribes and Pharisees, were committed to following Jesus.

Thomas most likely died a violent death for Jesus and the gospel. Yes, he was at times “doubting” and “absent,” but we see his true heart as fully committed to following Jesus.

He can deal gently

He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.
(Hebrews 5:2)

Since he himself is beset with weakness. I looked up the word that is translated “beset” here in Heb. 5:2. The mental picture I get from this word is something that surrounds us, hangs about us and binds us. That is a very accurate picture of sin, isn’t it?

Why could the priest “deal gently” with those who are weak and wayward? Because he understands at a very personal level the weight and power of sin that can overwhelm us. The result of his sinful struggles was not hardness and judgmental-ism, but rather compassion and mercy. He knows the struggle.

It is the same for us today as Christians. We are all priests of God in His royal priesthood (1 Peter 2). We all know the weight of sin and how it can hang about our necks, surround us, and bind us. What is (should be) the resulting attitude in our hearts toward others? Compassion. Dealing gently. Why? Because we understand. We get it.

…to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us..
(Titus 3:2-7)

Trust – Not Knowing

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
(Heb 11:8)

Trust. In order to trust another, it by definition means you don’t have all the answers and information. You don’t possess all the details and you are going on the word of someone else.

Abraham was told to take his family and his corporation and go. Go where? Go where God told him to go! That’s not a lot of information to go on, is it? But it was all the information Abraham needed.

Sometimes we really geek out on the details and have to know all the information. God doesn’t work that way with us. He wants us to trust in Him and His promises without having all the facts. You will not be able to know how everything is going to turn out in specificity. The Lord isn’t going to send us a spreadsheet with charts.

I’ll leave you with a short passage from Exodus that tells of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. They didn’t have all the information and details. Their job was to be silent and go forward. Trust God and let Him take care of the rest.

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.
(Exodus 14:13-15)

Yet You have brought us out

I want to share Psalm 66 with you today. Here the Psalmist talks about hardships and what God allows to happen, but what God does through those trials and after those trials.

The one phrase I really like here is, “Yet you brought us out into a place of abundance.” Regardless of the “abundance” part, He brought us out. We go through the trials, we pass through the fire and water, but God brings us out. That means He was with us all along in the trial walking with us and leading us through it.

Keep that in mind today, men.

Psalm 66:8-20

8  Bless our God, O peoples;
let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept our soul among the living
and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net;
you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
12 you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will perform my vows to you,
14 that which my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
17 I cried to him with my mouth,
and high praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

20 Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me!