Salvation

Mark 10v32-45, Walking with Jesus on the Way to the Cross

Santo road

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngSometimes Christians fantasize about what it would have been like to walk the roads of Israel with Jesus. What would it have been like to hear him teach? to witness the miraculous healings? to hand out the loaves and the fish to the crowd of 5,000 plus? What would it have been like to walk with Jesus? In Mark 10, we get a glimpse into what it was like to walk with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

In Mark 10, Jesus is making his last trip to Jerusalem. What awaited him in Jerusalem? Was it a Triumphal Entry of the King? Or would the King of the Jews be nailed to a cross? Both would happen. Jesus makes this final voyage to Jerusalem in the shadow of the cross. We read in…

Mark 10:32 NLT They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, and the people following behind were overwhelmed with fear…

Opposition against Jesus had been building. From the beginning of his ministry, the religious authorities had increasingly opposed him…

  • They opposed him when he forgave sins (Mk. 2:7).
  • They opposed him when he ate with sinners and tax collectors (Mk. 2:16).
  • They opposed him because his disciples did not fast (Mk. 2:18).
  • They opposed him because his disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath (Mk. 2:24).
  • They opposed him when he healed on the Sabbath (Mk. 3:2).
  • They accused him of using the power of Satan to cast out demons (Mk. 3:22).
  • They opposed him because his disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders (Mk. 7:5).

The opposition had become so intense that for a while, Jesus went into Gentile territory. There he healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, unstopped the ears and loosened the tongue of a deaf mute, opened the eyes of a blind man, and fed a crowd of 4,000 plus. The gospel was for the Jew first, but not for the Jews alone.

But now, Jesus had left Gentile territory. He had returned to Jewish territory and was, in fact…

1.      On the Road Again… to Jerusalem

Mark 10:32 ESV …they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid…

Jesus is walking head on to Jerusalem, the seat of the opposition. Jerusalem was the not only the seat of opposition; it was also the seat of political power. And Jesus is walking ahead of them, leading the way.

Luke 9:51 ESV …he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

He set his “face like a flint” to fulfill the purpose for which he came (Isaiah 50:7).

The Third Announcement of His Death

Mark 10:32-34 ESV …And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him…”

This is the third time that Jesus has told the Twelve that he would be killed and after three days, rise from the dead.

1.1.     The death of Christ was not an accident.

Jesus’ foreknowledge of his death shows that it was no accident. The death of Christ on the cross was not a tragedy. It was not a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus tells his disciples in detail exactly what is going to happen to him:

Mark 10:33-34 ESV saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

This is the third time that Jesus tells his disciples about his imminent death, but it is the first time that Jesus announces the place of his death. It would take place in Jerusalem.

He calls himself the Son of Man: “the Son of Man will be delivered…” “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite title. It refers to his incarnation and his mission. He is the Word that became flesh. He is the God in the flesh. He is the God-man.

Hebrews 10 tells us that the Son of God became a man in order to offer his own blood as a sacrifice for our sin.

1.2.     The Son of Man will be delivered.

Several times in the Gospels, the religious authorities tried to arrest him. They even tried to kill him, but it was not his time. On one hand, he would give his life:

John 10:17-18 ESV For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

On the other hand, he would be delivered: “the Son of Man will be delivered.” He would be delivered by God the Father. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached

Acts 2:23 ESV this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

This is what we mean when we quote John 3:16,

John 3:16 ESV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God gave his only Son. He delivered him up for us.

Romans 4:25 ESV who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Romans 8:32 ESV He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

The Father gave his Son, and the Son gave himself.

1.3.     Jesus has exact knowledge of what awaits him.

This third announcement of his death is the most detailed. Jesus announces that two groups of people will be involved in his death: the Jewish authorities and the Roman authorities:

  1. The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and
  2. they will condemn him to death and
  3. deliver him over to the Gentiles.
  4. And they will mock him and
  5. spit on him, and
  6. flog him and
  7. kill him.
  8. And after three days he will rise

“Jesus’s prophecy concerning ‘the things [that] were about to happen to him’… is not portrayed by Mark as coming via a revelation from God.”[1] No, Jesus has direct and precise knowledge of the various details of his death. Mark wants us to know that…

Jesus’s death was neither a tragedy nor an unfortunate turn of events. Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing full well that he would be put to death. He knew the precise details of what would be involved, but he nevertheless went because this was a divine necessity (8:31; cf. 14:21a), and he desired to fulfill his Father’s will (14:36).[2]

Mark 8:31 ESV …the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 14:21 ESV For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him…

He will pray in the garden,

Mark 14:36 ESV …”Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

The prophet Isaiah had said of Christ, 700 years before,

Isaiah 53:10 ESV Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

 

2.      The Jesus Holdup: Give Us What We Want!

The disciples still understand none of this. On the one hand, they follow Jesus with great fear and trepidation, not understanding what he is talking about. They are blinded by their own misunderstanding of what they expect and hope the Messiah to do, and by their own ambitions. They are blinded by their lust for power.

In Mark 9:31, when Jesus teaches the disciples a second time about his death and resurrection,

Mark 9:32 ESV But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Then Jesus asked them what they had been discussing on the way,

Mark 9:34 ESV But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

Arguing about who was the greatest? They are not arguing about theology or the best methods of healing. They are arguing about who is number one![3]

Who is the greatest? The answer is obvious. Jesus is the greatest. Now he must show them true greatness.

Mark 9:35 ESV And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

What do they know about greatness?

We fast-forward back to chapter 10 where Jesus has just told his disciples that he will be delivered in Jerusalem to be killed.

Mark 10:35 ESV And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

That’s quite a request! They want a guarantee from Jesus that he will give them whatever they ask. They are asking Jesus for a blank check.

Mark 10:36-37 ESV And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

James and John are asking for positions of power along side Jesus in his coming kingdom. They want to be number two and number three in the line of authority. They are asking for the best seats in the house.

Where was Peter in all this? You will remember that Peter and James and John were the closest of the 12 disciples. Those three disciples had accompanied Jesus when he raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus. Jesus had taken Peter and James and John with him on the Mount of Transfiguration. But Peter is not mentioned in their request. Where they trying to shut him out? Where they afraid that he might get in line before them?

It is no wonder that we fail to understand suffering and rejection and the cross when we are carried along by blind ambition, trying to be number one. We want to get ahead of everyone else in line. We want first place. Jesus’ determination to go to the cross is totally incomprehensible to us, and yet, he said,

Mark 8:34 ESV … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Jesus told James and John,

Mark 10:38 ESV … ”You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

2.1.     Leadership involves suffering.

“Are you able to drink the cup?” Jesus is not asking if they will become his wine-tasters. “Nor is the cup the cup of victory (Pss 23:5; 116:13), though the disciples might hope that it were so. They will not be drinking from a silver chalice.”[4]

In Scripture, the “cup” almost always refers to suffering. Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”

Closeness to Jesus means sharing his suffering and death, just as he has said that anyone who follows him must deny himself and take up his cross.

James and John gave a quick and easy response:

Mark 10:39 ESV And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized,

Suffer, they would. James would be beheaded (Acts 12:2), and John would be exiled.

Leadership involves suffering.

2.2.     Leadership involves a divine assignment.

Mark 10:40 ESV but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

We do not choose our positions or the conditions of our service. We deny ourselves and submit to the will of God.

We can and should prepare ourselves and offer ourselves for service.

Abraham Lincoln was the sixteen president of the United States of America. Over 150 years ago, before Lincoln became president, slavery was lawful in the United States.

Long before Abraham Lincoln was in public life, he saw a slave being traded at a public market in New Orleans. The sight, he said, went like “steel into my soul,” and he told himself that if he ever had a chance to do something about it he would. “I will prepare myself,” he resolved, “and some day my change will come.” And his time did come.[5]

It is one thing to prepare for service; it is another thing to seek for promotion.

Mark 10:41 NET Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John.

Who did James and John think they were? Did they think that they were better than the other disciples? Self-promotion breeds division. When people begin to grab power for themselves, trouble begins. But the reaction of the other 10 disciples was no better. They were upset “because James and John thought of the idea and got to Jesus first!”[6] They are “still clinging to the same values of the world in terms of power-seeking and self-assertion.”[7]

It is interesting to note that Jesus said that it was not his place to assign those positions. Though he was God, he was not the Father. He distinguishes between his position as Son and his Father’s position. The Scriptures everywhere affirm three things about God:

  1. There is only one God.
  2. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
  3. The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons within the one true God.

It is mystery, but it is not contradictory.

2.3.     Leadership involves servanthood.

Mark 10:42-44 ESV And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

Jesus describes leadership principles according to the world’s standards. The rulers of this world use power and authority to lord it over others. The so-called “great ones exercise authority over” others.

We do not force our views upon others. We do not force or coerce faith. That is actually impossible, for faith comes from the heart. We do not take up the sword to convince people to convert. When Peter took up his sword to defend Jesus, Jesus rebuked him, told him to put up his sword, warned him that those who take up the sword will die by the sword, and then Jesus healed the man that Peter had injured.

Sinful man exalts himself to the place of God. The serpent in the Garden of Eden promised that we could be like God. Man has displaced God and wants to be his own god and to lord it over others. We have turned everything upside down, so Jesus has come to turn things right side up.

There are great problems when we bring worldly methods into the church, when we run the church following the methods of the world. But when that happens, we are no longer the church! Jesus said, “But it shall not be so among you.” Jesus is not encouraging us to behave in a certain way. He is not telling us that his kingdom does not operate according to the world’s methods of leadership. Those who operate according to the world’s methods are not part of his kingdom; they are not following Jesus: “It shall not be so among you.”

Now, there are many who claim to follow Jesus but who lord it over others and exercise authority over others. The Apostle Peter tells us that pastors are not to lord it over the people assigned to their care but to lead them be their own good example (1 Peter 5:3).

James Edwards comments on this verse,

Thus, to fail in being a servant is not simply to fall short of an ideal condition but to stand outside of an existing condition that corresponds to the kingdom of God.[8]

The highest virtue in God’s kingdom is not power. It is not even freedom. The highest virtue in the kingdom of God is service. “Greatness belongs to the one who is not great.”[9] Greatness belongs to the one who serves.

This is not about me, and it is not about you. It’s about Christ in us serving others through us. “Service is love made tangible.”[10] Service is love in action.

The church does not exist for the benefit of the ministers and leaders. Pastors and congregational leaders exist for the sake of the people. The Christian leader is not above the congregation; he is part of it. “The congregation does not belong to him; rather he belongs to it.”[11]

3.      Why Jesus Came

Jesus has now told the disciples for the third time that he must die. Now, for the first time, he tells them why he must die.

Mark 10:45 ESV For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

First, Jesus came to serve. Those who follow Christ will not be driven by lust for power and authority. Rather, they will follow him to the cross, as Jesus explains: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…”

The Apostle Paul explains…

Philippians 2:5-8 NLT You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Again,

2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Those who follow Christ will seek to serve.

Second, Jesus explains that he came to give his life as a ransom for man. He did not come to grab power. He came to give his life.

John 10:11 ESV I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Romans 8:3-4 NLT The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Jesus offered his life as the ransom price for all.

As God’s own delegate, and through his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus freely and obediently offers his life as a substitute in behalf of humanity. Jesus is supremely conscious of offering a payment to God that can be offered by no one else… The death of the Son of Man on behalf of “the many” is a sacrifice of obedience to God’s will, a full expression of his love, and a full satisfaction of God’s justice.[12]

The Justice of God

God is a God of justice. As the Judge of all the earth, he cannot finally allow sin to go unpunished. There is a penalty for sin. A great price was paid for you to be set free from sin. God himself bore the penalty and paid the price for your freedom. Will you not walk with Him on the road to the cross?

[1] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 12427). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 12427-12433). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Ford, Leighton. Transforming Leadership. 145.

[4] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 424.

[5] Ford, Leighton. Transforming Leadership. 150.

[6] Op. cit.

[7] Garland, David E. quoting Lee-Pollard in A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 424

[8] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5973-5974). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[9] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). Mark (Kindle Locations 5976-5981).

[10] Op. cit.

[11] Op. cit.

[12] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). Mark (Kindle Locations 6008-6015).


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

 

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Mark 10v17-31, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

You lack

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngHave you ever felt like something was missing?

  • Let’s say that you are working on a project such fixing the engine on your truck, but one of the bolts that holds it together is missing?
  • Or you are reading a story in a book, and suddenly the story does not make sense — because a page is missing?

Life is like that. Most people live with the feeling that something is missing. They feel that there is a void, an emptiness. They keep trying to find the missing piece of their life, but just cannot seem to find it.

That’s why the nightclubs are full. That’s why people turn to alcohol. That’s why drug abuse is on the increase. People are looking for that missing something.

But this is true, not only of non religious people; it is also true of many religious people. Many religious people still feel that there is a void in their lives. They may be looking for

  • significance or
  • meaning or
  • peace or
  • assurance of salvation.

Sometimes people begin following a false religion because they feel that something is missing. They may begin following a false Christian cult out of fear. Or they may simply keep changing churches because there is a hole in their lives that has not yet been filled.

Others are the kind of people that we would say are “good.” They are good people. They follow all the rules. They obey the commandments. But still, they feel that something is lacking. Something is missing.

What is missing?

In the Gospel According to Mark, chapter 10, we read about a young man who has everything going for him, but he is desperate to find the answer to life’s most important question:

Mark 10:17 ESV And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

1.      He Asked the Right Question (10:17).

Here was a young man in the prime of life (Matthew 19:22). Everything seemed to be going his way. He had all the money that he needed (Luke 18:23; Mark 10:22). He no doubt had a good standing in the community. But something was missing. And he did not know the answer to life’s greatest question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

This is the most important question that you and I could possibly ask. What must we do to inherit eternal life? In our heart of hearts, we know that there is something more.

  • We know that something does not come from nothing.
  • We know that the universe did not create itself.
  • We know that order does not come out of chaos.
  • We know that life is not produced by non-life.
  • We know that the DNA of the human genome and of every other living creature did not produce itself.
  • We know that there is a Creator.
  • We know that there is meaning to life.
  • We know that there is more to this life than living and ***dying and trying to make it through the day.

 

2.      He came to the right person (10:17).

This young man came to the right person. He came to Jesus.

We want answers to life’s most important questions, but we must be careful where we get our answers. There are many voices in the world giving many different answers to life’s questions. There are people who have thought a lot about the meaning of life. They have meditated on life’s profoundest questions. Some claim to have had revelations. They have seen visions or heard voices. Some have claimed to be enlightened. These men and women have founded new religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism and Islam. Others have founded new cults and sects based on their teachings.

Where should we turn to get the answers to life’s most important question? We should turn to the one who came from heaven.

  • Only Jesus came down from heaven (John 3:13; 6:38, 41-42, 51; 1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 1:6; 10:5; 1 John 4:9; etc.).
  • Jesus was the only one whose birth was announced centuries before it happened (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2; etc.).
  • Only Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:23).
  • Only Jesus lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • Only Jesus died on the cross for our sins as the Scriptures had prophesied (1 Corinthians 15:3).
  • Only Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4).
  • Only Jesus ascended bodily into heaven 40 days after his resurrection to be seated at the right hand of God (Acts 1:11; 2:33; 5:31; etc.).

This rich young man came to the right person. He came to Jesus with his question. Jesus alone is qualified to answer life’s most important question: What must I do to inherit eternal life.”

This man is desperate for an answer. He runs up to Jesus. He kneels before him. He asks him,

Mark 10:17 ESV …”Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus’ answer is a bit surprising.

Mark 10:18 ESV And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

What is Jesus saying? Is he saying that he himself is not good? No. The Scriptures are clear that “in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). Jesus is doing at least two things with this question.

  1. He is asking why the man called him good. Does the man understand who Jesus is? Does he understand that God alone is good? It is entirely correct to call Jesus “good,” because he is God.
  2. Jesus is telling him that he uses the term “good” much too freely. The young man no doubt thinks that he himself is a good man, that he is good. Ask someone how they are today, and instead of responding, “Fine!” they will likely tell you that they are “Good!” But the Bible tells us that “None is righteous, no, not one… no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10, 12).

This man no doubt thinks that he is good, but there he has a nagging feeling that something is missing.

3.      He Got the Right Answers (10:18-21)

Mark 10:19 ESV You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

We tend to think of ourselves as pretty good people. We compare ourselves with others, and some of these commandments on the surface make us feel pretty good about ourselves. We don’t murder. We don’t commit adultery. Yeah, we’re pretty good.

Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever lied? Do you always honor your father and mother? Have you ever coveted something that was not yours?

These are probing questions. But Jesus reveals to us that lust is adultery. Hatred and anger are sinful. He tells us that external obedience to his commandments is not enough if there is evil in our hearts:

Mark 7:21-23 ESV For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

When Jesus reminds the young man about the commandments, he is not saying that we are saved by keeping the commandments. Rather, he is saying that keeping the commandments follows salvation.

Do you remember when the Law was given? Was it given before or after God delivered the Israelites from Egypt? The Law was given after God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt. God had brought the ten plagues upon Egypt. Before the tenth plague, the Israelites sacrificed lambs and painted the doorways of their houses with the blood of the lamb. The angel of death passed over them and spared the firstborn of every home where the blood of the lamb had been applied. The Israelites marched out of Egypt and miraculously crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground. God delivered them from Egypt. God had saved them, but the Law had not yet been given. They had not yet reached Mount Sinai. It was not until after their salvation and deliverance from Egypt that the Law was given. The Law was not given to save them. They had already been delivered. The Law was given to show the Israelites how they were to live under that covenant.

Now Jesus reminds this man of the commandments: “You know the commandments…”

Mark 10:20 ESV And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

Here is a remarkable young man! From his youth, he has kept the commandments.

We must not think that he is exaggerating or lying. The Apostle Paul spoke of his life before coming to Christ. He said that…

Philippians 3:6 ESV …as to righteousness under the law, [he was] blameless.

Without arrogance or hypocrisy, this man gives his moral report card to Jesus: “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

Mark 10:21 ESV And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…

Jesus looked at this man intently. He examined him. He read his heart. Jesus saw something “rare and admirable in the man, for of no one else in the Gospel does Mark say that Jesus ‘loved him.’”[1]

Jesus accepts the man’s self-evaluation. This man had kept the Law. Jesus did not challenge that. But something is missing. The young man knows that something is missing. That is why he is kneeling before Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life.

Mark 10:21 ESV And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing…”

He had kept the commandments! What more did he need?

Mark 10:21 ESV And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

What was this? Was this a call to poverty? Is Jesus telling us that we must take a vow of poverty in order to inherit eternal life?

No, not at all. The one thing that was missing from the man’s life was Jesus. “Come, follow me,” Jesus told him. Jesus said to him, in effect:

Right now God is your boss; but God is not your Savior, and here’s how you can see it: I want you to imagine life without money. I want you to imagine all of it gone. No inheritance, no inventory, no servants, no mansions— all of that is gone. All you have is me. Can you live like that?”[2]

Mark 10:22 CSB But he was stunned at this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Money was the center of this man’s identity.[3] Jesus is what was missing.

You can obey the commandments, live a righteous life, be an example to others, and still be an idolater. Jesus loved this man, but he was lost.

What must we do to inherit eternal life? The answer is simple: We must follow Jesus.

  1. He Asked the Right Question (10:17).
  2. He came to the right person (10:17).
  3. He Got the Right Answers (10:18-21), BUT

4.      He made the wrong decision (7:22).

This rich man went away grieving. Jesus tells him to sell all that he had, give to the poor, and to follow him. He would have treasure in heaven, but the man preferred his treasure on earth to eternal life in heaven.

The Wrong Decision and the Unchanging Gospel

Jesus does not go running after the man. “Hey, come back! Don’t go! Let’s talk about this. I need people like you. You are very influential. The church needs you.”

No. Jesus could not build his church on people like him. How often the message of the gospel has been compromised. We have made false promises. We have preached a false gospel. We have told people that if they come to Jesus, they will never lack for anything. Life will always be sweet.

But Jesus says,

Mark 8:34 ESV … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

“Follow me,” Jesus says. “You lack one thing… you are not following me.”

The Peril of Riches

Mark 10:23-24 ESV And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Jesus now turns his attention to his disciples. He looks around and warns them, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”

They are astonished. The Jews thought that if you were rich, it was because God was blessing you. Rich in this life, rich in the next!

Jesus tells them again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Today we have false preachers telling people that the gospel is all about getting financial blessings. Faith is all about claiming your rights as King’s kids. This is what the sinful heart wants to hear. The so-called prosperity gospel appeals to our greed. It does not take a work of the Spirit of God to accept and embrace a teaching which appeals to our sinful greedy nature. But it does take a work of the Holy Spirit to enable me to deny myself, and take up my cross, and follow Christ.

It is the characteristic of cults to take the focus off of the center of Christ. We preach Christ and him crucified (2 Corinthians 4:5). The Apostle Paul said, “I determined not to know anything among you but Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2).

The Bible has so many warnings about the deceitfulness of riches.

1 Timothy 6:6-11 ESV But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things…

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus rebuked the church at Laodicea:

Revelation 3:17 ESV For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

They were financially rich but spiritually poor. Contrast that with his message to the church at Smyrna,

Revelation 2:9 ESV “’I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)…

It is not a sin to be rich, but those who are rich must be rich in good works:

1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

The disciples are astonished for Jesus’ teaching about riches has turned their worldview upside down. He emphasizes the point with a famous illustration:

Mark 10:25-26 ESV It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”

Some have tried to explain away what Jesus said, but he is clearly pointing to the impossibility.

Mark 10:27 ESV Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

It is impossible with man, but not with God. When we understand that it is impossible for us to do anything to save ourselves, we look beyond ourselves to the God for whom all things are possible. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Psalm 3:8; Jonah 2:9).

The Promise of Life Now and Forever

So what does this look like, this Christian life? Is this simply a life of self-denial, a life of asceticism, a life of poverty, a life of doing without?

Peter wants to know.

Mark 10:28 ESV Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”

Jesus assures his disciples that following him “holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

Mark 10:29-30 ESV Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means complete allegiance to him and his will. Sometimes it means leaving house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands — for his sake and for the gospel. Following Christ so that others may know him. Leaving the comfort of your home and the security of your family so that others may be saved. When Christ calls you to leave your island and go to another place that has no biblical witness, you are leaving home and family for the sake of Christ and the gospel.

But there is great reward, both now and in eternity. Jesus says that no one who does this will not receive a hundred times as much in this present age. Putting it another way, Jesus tells Peter that everyone who leaves home and family will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age. In serving Christ we inherit a huge spiritual family: brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus also speaks of houses and lands. The houses and lands are also to be understood in a spiritual sense:

“The new homes and fields are those that God’s people share with those in need.”[4]

Jesus said that we receive this with persecutions. There is a cross, but there is the joy of belonging to the great family of God. We have brothers and sisters and mothers and children without number!

[T]o conceive of discipleship solely in terms of its costs and sacrifices is to conceive of it wrongly — as though in marrying a beautiful bride a young man would think only of what he was giving up.[5]

Today my 15 year old son is traveling from Manila, Philippines to Port Vila. He has a long layover in Brisbane. But we have brothers and sisters in Brisbane who are going to pick him up at the airport and take him home and take care of him before putting him back on the plane to Port Vila. We have left home and family in the United States, but we have family here in Vanuatu, in Australia, in New Caledonia, in Fiji, in French Polynesia, in Europe, and in Africa. When you follow Jesus, you become part of the incredible family of God!

Something Missing?

So how is it with you? Do you feel like something is missing? Perhaps you have reached your goals and found out that they did not give you the satisfaction that you longed for. The signs around Port Vila tell us that happiness is a Facebook account. Or happiness is free SMS texting. That only lasts so long.

You will never fill that empty spot in your life with money or position or fame or success. You can follow all the rules and be as good as is humanly possible, but there will still be that nagging question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

You only lack one thing: You must follow Christ.


[1] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5747-5748). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 129-130). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 129-130). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches, A Biblical Theology of Possessions, IVP, 1999. p. 140

[5] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5827-5829). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

Isaiah 53, “Why Did Christ Suffer?”

Grunewald's crucifixion3.png

 

1456053183_thumb.pngWe are coming up on Good Friday this week when the Church gives special attention to the sufferings of Christ. Actually we remember his death every time we partake of Holy Communion. The Scriptures tell us that as we break the bread and drink the cup, we remember Christ’s broken body and shed blood — we remember Christ’s death until he comes again. Furthermore, our message is Christ and him crucified. We preach Christ crucified, risen, and coming again.

Today we want to think of the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. We find an astonishing description of his suffering in Isaiah 52 and 53. I say “astonishing” because this description of Christ’s sufferings was given by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before the birth of our Lord.

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. 14 As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind– 15 so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 52:13-12 ESV).

Interpretation

The Jewish religion, Judaism, has always been at odds with Christianity over the interpretation of Isaiah 53 and many other passages that point to Jesus Christ. But we read in Luke 24, that after his resurrection, Christ himself went through the Scriptures with his apostles and showed them how the Hebrew Scriptures pointed to him.

Several passages in the New Testament confirm that Isaiah was speaking of the suffering of Christ. For example, in Acts 8, we read that Philip met up an Ethiopian eunuch, the Minister of Finances for Ethiopia; he was reading Isaiah 53.

Acts 8:32-35 ESV Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.

So the Ethiopian was reading Isaiah 53, but did not know who Isaiah was talking about. Philip told him that Isaiah was talking about Jesus.

John tells us that the unbelief of the Jews was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53:1,

John 12:37-38 ESV Though he [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Peter also quotes Isaiah 53, telling us that Christ left us an example that we should follow in his steps.

But why did he suffer?

We were created in the image of God. We are creatures who seek to understand. We naturally look for meaning. And so we ask ourselves, “Why?” Why did Christ suffer?

When we speak of the sufferings of Christ, we stand before mystery; we stand on holy ground:

1 Timothy 3:16 ESV Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

“He was manifested in the flesh.” This is the incarnation. The Word became flesh, the Son of God became the Son of Man. God took upon himself humanity. Isaiah describes Christ on earth growing up before the Father as a young plant, tender, vulnerable. He is threatened as an infant by a hostile King Herod. As an adult, he is subject to all the weaknesses of humanity: he is weary, he sleeps, he thirsts, he bleeds, he dies.

“He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (53:2). Jesus was not what the Jews were hoping for in the Messiah. They wanted someone who would overthrow the Romans, someone who would guarantee them prominence, prestige, and power. They wanted to make him king; they wanted him to wear a crown; he came to bear a cross. So as Isaiah prophesied,

Isaiah 53:3a ESV He was despised and rejected by men;

Matthew 27:39-44 ESV And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Isaiah describes him as

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV).

Isaiah writes of Christ’s appearance on the cross.

Isaiah 52:14 ESV As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—

As we consider suffering, we often attempt to establish cause. Why is this person suffering? Why is another sick? Is it a failure to look after their health?

Job had been the richest man of the East, but lost everything including his health. His three friends — miserable comforters — were certain that there was sin in his life that had brought on the judgment of God. But they were wrong.

In John 9, Jesus comes up on a man who was born blind. The disciples seek to establish blame. “Who sinned?” they ask, “this man or his parents that he would be born blind?”

Looking at Christ on the cross, what are we to think? Isaiah says,

“…yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4c-d ESV).

Stricken, smitten, afflicted — by God! We are tempted to ask, “What did he do to deserve this treatment? What did he do to deserve such a horrible death?”

Why did He suffer? Isaiah gives us the answer.

1. CHRIST SUFFERED BECAUSE OF OUR SINS (4-6)!

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV).

Why did he suffer? For what sins did the Crucified One suffer? He bore our griefs. He carried our sorrows. It was not for himself or his sins that he suffered. Our griefs, our sorrows — what we merited, what we deserved, he took upon himself.

  • He was pierced for our
  • He was crushed for our
  • The chastisement upon him brought us peace with God.
  • His wounds bring about our healing.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV).

We are wandering sheep. We have followed our ways rather than God’s ways. We do our own thing. We do it our way. We follow our own inclinations.

1 Peter 2:24 ESV He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Application: See him there, on the cross? Do you realize that Christ suffered because of your sins? My sins and yours, nailed him to the cross. Christ suffered because of our sins.

Why did He suffer? He suffered because of our sins. But secondly,

2. CHRIST SUFFERED BECAUSE HE ACCEPTED TO SUFFER (7-9).

Isaiah 53:7 ESV He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

He was a voluntary victim. He is the great high priest who presented himself.

Matthew 26:53 ESV Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?

At any moment he could have put a stop to it all. As they spit in his face, and struck him, and ripped the beard from his face, and lacerated his back with a whip, and drove the crown of thorns into this brow, and nailed him to the cross — at any moment he could have called it off. But he was a voluntary victim. He gave himself for us.

Philippians 2:5-7 ESV Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Romans 5:6-8 ESV For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Heb 9:11-14 ESV “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

Christ gave himself for us.

Galatians 1:4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

Mat 20:28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Joh 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Tit 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

He accepted to suffer and give himself for us, and he did it because he loved us.

Eph 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Galatians 2:20 ESV I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Joh 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Rom 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

Rev 1:5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood

Application: Christ accepted to suffer in your place, in your stead, because he loved you.

3. CHRIST SUFFERED BECAUSE IT WAS THE WILL OF THE LORD TO CRUSH HIM WITH SUFFERING (10).

We may be tempted to think that the cross was a tragic accident. That something went terribly wrong. John tells us that Christ came to his own people, but even his own people did not receive him. But this was no accident. This was the plan of God.

“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10 ESV).

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached,

Acts 2:23 ESV this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Two chapters later, the believers prayed,

Acts 4:27-28 ESV for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

We are all implicated in the death of Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike. But it was the Father’s plan and a demonstration of His love as well as the love of the Son.

1 John 4:9-10 ESV In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

John 3:16 ESV For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Propitiation is the satisfaction of justice. God could not simply overlook our sins and still be righteous. If it is proved in a court of law that a man is guilty of murder, we expect the judge to pass sentence on the murderer rather than let him off. And if the judge simply excuses the crime, we would say that the judge is corrupt.

God cannot simply let us off the hook. He is righteous and just. The penalty must be paid, but our sins and iniquities are too great. We cannot pay for our own deliverance. God Himself paid the penalty. The Word became flesh. The Son of God became the Son of Man that he might stand in our place, and pay the penalty for our sins. The death of Christ on the cross was no accident. It was the plan of God. The Father gave His Son. The Son gave himself.

Application: Christ suffered because that was the only way that God could save us.

4. CHRIST SUFFERED TO JUSTIFY MANY (11-12).

“Many… many… many”

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12 ESV).

Christ died not for a few, but for all. John tells us that Christ is the propitiation not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2). Christ died for your sins. Christ died that you might be justified.

Psalm 2:8 ESV Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.

Revelation 5:9-10 ESV And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Application: Are you one of the many who have been justified?

II.   Christ suffered

  1. Because of our sins
  2. Because he accepted to suffer: it was voluntary.
  3. Because it was the will of the lord to crush him with suffering
  4. To justify many.

Redemption’s Song

© J. Gary Ellison, April 4, 2012

See Him there upon the cross
As He dies in shame?
We are the ones who nailed Him there,
We are the ones to blame.

It was for crimes He had not done,
Our sins that caused His pain.
He knew no sin, the Righteous One,
For sinners He was slain.

O Lamb of God on sacred tree
Twas there You died for me
To take away my sin and shame
That righteous I might be.

That Holy One did bear our sin
No other one could do.
He is the Lamb, the spotless One,
Who died for me and you.

Holy, innocent, undefiled,
On Him our sins were laid,
To cleanse us from our awful deeds
The penalty He paid.

O Righteous One, I hear you now,
“It’s finished! It is done!”—
The work on Calvary’s bloody cross—
The victory’s been won!

They laid Him in a borrowed grave
He would not use it long.
God raised Him up that He might save,
This is Redemption’s song.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:11-12 ESV).

You can receive Christ right where you are by confessing you sin to him and asking him to be your Lord and Savior.

 

Mark 07v01-23 “How Can I Be Clean?”

 

How is a man to be clean before God? What puts a man right before God? What are the marks of true and false religion?

Introduction

How can a man be clean before God? This is a question of great concern, not only of religious people, but of everyone who will someday stand before God to give an account of how he has spent his life.

Job asked,

Job 15:14 ESV What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?

Job 9:2-3 ESV “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? 3 If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.

The psalmist, King David, prayed,

Psalm 143:2 ESV Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

Psalm 130:3 ESV If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?

Religion is man’s attempt to make himself right with God. But what can we do to undo the wrong that we have done? What can we do to make the wrongs right? What can we do to wash ourselves of clean from the filth of our sin?

The world’s religions have attempted to answer that question in various ways.

1.        Religion’s Attempt to Clean Us Up

1.1.     Islam’s Concern with Clean

In Islam, for example, there is a great concern about being clean before praying to Allah so there are washings called “wudhu” that are observed before prayer.[1]

  1. The hands are washed three times, the right hand then the left.
  2. The mouth is rinsed three times using the right hand.
  3. The nostrils are washed by sniffing water up into them three times, followed by blowing it out.
  4. The face is washed three times.
  5. The arms are washed three times up to the elbows.
  6. The head is wiped once.
  7. The ears are cleaned inside and out once.
  8. Finally, the feet are washed up to the ankles three times.

So there is a concern that one be clean before approaching Allah.

1.2.     Clean and Unclean in Judaism

The Jews of Jesus’ day, especially the Pharisees, were very concerned about cleanliness. This is what we find in Mark’s Gospel chapter 7.

Mark 7:1-5 NIVO The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”

We have seen growing opposition to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

  • Mark 2:7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming!”
  • Mark 2:16 “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
  • Mark 2:24 “Why are [his disciples] doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
  • Mark 7:5 “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

Here in chapter 7 of Mark, we have a head-on collision between Jesus and the Pharisees over what makes one clean. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this passage is more about what defiles a person. In Judaism, there was a long list of things that defiled a person:

  • Human excretion of any kind, such as spittle or urine
  • Corpses
  • Decaying flesh of dead animals
  • Creeping things
  • Idols The list would also include certain classes of people:
  • Lepers, like the one that Jesus touched and healed (1:40)
  • Tax collectors like Levi (2:13)
  • Gentiles, like the Gentile territory of the Gerasenes (5:1)
  • Menstruating women, like the woman who had the issue of blood for 12 years and who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment (5:25)
  • The dead daughter of Jairus, that Jesus raised from the dead (5:35)

But this passage is not simply about personal hygiene. It is not about germs, though there were Old Testament regulations that certainly helped to prevent disease and the spread of germs. No, this passage is all about being defiled and what one must do to be clean.

Mark describes in detail the traditions of the Pharisees.

Mark 7:3-4 NIVO (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees could watch people to know if they were holding to the traditions of the elders. They saw that the disciples of Jesus ate without washing their hands.

Mark 7:5 NIVO So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”

One of the marks of false religion is the emphasis that it puts on the external. It stresses appearance. False religion says that what really counts is what one sees. “Here are the rules. Follow them and you’ll be all right. You’ll be in the group. Follow the rules and God will have a place for you in His kingdom. So…”

  • Do you go to church?
  • Okay, what day do you go to church on? Do you go to church on the Sabbath or on Sunday?
  • Do you fast?
  • Do you pray five times a day?
  • Have you gone on a mission?
  • Are you wearing the right clothes?

These traditions make it very convenient. With these traditions, we can think ourselves very righteous before God. We can see ourselves as better than others. We can look down on people who do not live according to our traditions. It gives us such a wonderful feeling of superiority!

This enables us to determine whether others are right with God. We can watch them to see if they are following the rules.

And to that, the God said to Samuel,

1 Samuel 16:7 ESV …the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

MUSIC: Kathryn Scott – Search Me, Know Me

2.        Worthless Religion

The Pharisees want to know why the disciples of Jesus do not live according to the traditions of the elders. This is an indirect attack on Jesus himself. The reason that his disciples did not live according to the traditions of the elders is that Jesus himself did not live according to those traditions as we will see. The disciples were simply following the example of Jesus himself.

But Jesus has very strong words for these religious leaders who see themselves as righteous because everything looks so good on the outside.

2.1.     First, Jesus calls them hypocrites.

Mark 7:6 ESV And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites…

The word hypocrite first simply meant an actor. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites because their whole lives were “a piece of acting without any sincerity behind it at all.”[2] So what is religion for you?

  • A list of rules and regulations?
  • Certain rituals or practices that you have to observe?
  • Certain tabus that you must avoid?

Then you, my friend, are a hypocrite. You are acting a part. You believe that you are good if you do certain things and avoid other things — and here’s the key — no matter what your heart and thoughts are like.[3]

Legalism puts the accent on outward appearance, outward conformity to a code or list of rules. It does not take into account what is in the heart.

William Barclay tells the story of a Muslim — it could have been a Christian or a Hindu or a Jew or anyone — but it’s the story of a Muslim…

Who was pursuing a man with upraised knife to murder him. Just then the call to prayer rang out. Immediately he stopped, spread out his prayer mat, knelt, said his prayer as fast as he could; then rose and continued his murderous pursuit. The prayer was simply a form and a ritual, an outward observance, merely the correct interlude in the career of murder.[4]

Going to church, reading your Bible, singing in the choir, giving in the offering — these things will not make you right with God. The question is, What is in your heart toward God and toward your neighbor?

Jesus said that the Pharisees were hypocrites. They were simply acting a part. Next, he said that…

2.2.     Their worship is worthless.

Mark 7:6 ESV …as it is written, “’This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;

These religious people honor God with their lips. They say the right things. They’ve got the vocabulary. They can talk about spiritual things. They can quote Bible verses. They sound very spiritual.

But…

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

They do not love God. They do not delight in God. Going to church is a chore. They pray because it is their duty. If they read their Bibles, it is because they are supposed to. But they know nothing of rejoicing in the Lord. They know nothing of hunger for God:

Psalm 73:25-26 NIVO Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Their worship, Jesus says, is all external. It does not come from the heart, so it is worthless.

Mark 7:7 ESV in vain do they worship me…

It is a waste of time.

Then Jesus said that…

 

2.3.     Their teaching has no divine authority.

Mark 7:7 ESV in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

That is part of the quotation from the prophet Isaiah. The New Living Translation puts it,

Mark 7:7 NLT Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’

This controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees was all about the traditions of the elders. Six times this passage refers to the tradition of the elders which prescribed how they were to prepare to eat, what they were to do when going to market, even how to wash their dishes! These were teachings that were added to the Word of God.

Today churches are replacing the Word of God with the words of men. Oh, they may still have the Bible. They give it lip-service. But when they explain it, they explain it away. They wrestle against the plain reading of the Word. They have their own ideas and have elevated them above the Word of God.

We have our churches, our denominations, our committees, our councils and conferences, and it is so easy to just vote and do what we want to do. We make our decisions and ask God to agree with us and bless us.

Jesus gives a strong rebuke to these Jewish authorities:

Mark 7:8-13 NIVO You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” 9 And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Jesus gives an example of how they overturn the Word of God. One of the ten commandments was to honor our parents. But one could avoid helping a parent financially in need by saying that he had vowed to give the money to God. Jesus sarcastically accuses them of having a fine way of setting aside, making void, nullifying or invalidating the Word of God in order to observe their own traditions.

3.        Jesus Turns Religion Inside Out

This was not a matter to be left to the religious authorities. Jesus called the crowd together.

Mark 7:14-15 NIVO Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.

Wow! Jesus wants us to understand this!

15 Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’ “

The Pharisees had criticized the disciples for not washing before eating. Jesus calls into question the whole religious order. Outward appearance is not what is important. What is in the heart?

3.1.     Jesus and His Disciples

This is revolutionary! Even the disciples have not grasped it.

Mark 7:17-19 ESV And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

A right standing with God is not based on what we eat. You are not defiled or made unclean by what you eat. What you eat goes into your digestive tract and is expelled; it never enters the heart. What you eat has no effect on your heart or on your relationship with God. Notice carefully what Mark tells us in verse 19:

Thus he declared all foods clean.

Jesus is Lord. In Mark 2, he is Lord of the Sabbath and can declare his intention for the Sabbath: “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:28).

As Lord, he here declares that from that point on, all foods are clean. This truth is repeated later in the experience of Peter when in a vision, he sees a sheet coming down from heaven, containing all kinds of beasts. The Lord tells him to “Kill and eat.”

Acts 10:14-15 NIVO “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

The Apostle Paul writes to the Romans,

Romans 14:14 NIVO As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself…

Romans 14:20 NIVO … All food is clean…

False religions put the emphasis on the external, but they have nothing to do with true spiritual life.

Colossians 2:16 NIVO Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

Colossians 2:20-22 NIVO Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 NIVO The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Romans 14:17 NIVO For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,

3.2.     Dirty on the Inside

The problem is not dirt on the outside. The problem is dirt on the inside. False religions are trying to clean up the outside but they have no way of cleaning the inside. We read in Luke 11 of another time…

Luke 11:37-39 ESV While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.

The problem is not dirt on the outside but filth on the inside. Dirt under your fingernails will not make you unclean. Mud on your feet does not defile you.

Mark 7:20-23 NIVO He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ 21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

This is what makes what defiles us: impure hearts.

  1. Evil thoughts and plans
  2. Sexual immorality: a broad term including all sexual activity outside of marriage.
  3. Theft: Stealing, taking from another what is not yours (the eighth commandment, Exodus 20:15).
  4. Murder: Taking an innocent life (Exodus 20:13).
  5. Adultery: More specific: violating the marriage covenant — your own or someone else’s, either physically or mentally (Matthew 5:28; the seventh commandment, Exodus 20:14).
  6. Greed: coveting, desiring more at the expense of others (the tenth commandment, Exodus 20:17).
  7. Evil actions: wicked behavior, behavior with harmful intent.
  8. Deceit: deception, dishonesty
  9. Lewdness: Promiscuity — lack of moral discernment or restraint
  10. Envy: jealousy. Belief that God is withholding His best.
  11. Slander: speaking evil of man or God.
  12. Arrogance: Pride.
  13. Folly: senselessness, spiritual insensitivity.[5]

Mark 7:23 NIVO All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

Did we leave anyone out?

Romans 3:10 NIVO As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;

Isaiah 53:6 ESV All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way…

“Internal impurity… cannot be washed away by external rituals.” These impurities cannot be washed away with soap and water.[6]

What are we to do?

4.        Jesus Touches the Unclean to Make Us Clean.

In the Old Testament, people would become unclean by simply touching someone or something that was unclean. Lepers warned people not to get near because they were unclean. Jesus was never afraid to touch the unclean. Instead of being defiled by our uncleanness, his holiness overcomes our filth.

  • The unclean leper came to Jesus. Jesus touched him and the leper was made clean.
  • The woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was instantly made whole and clean.
  • The dead daughter of Jairus did not render Jesus unclean when he touched her. Instead, his touch raised her from the dead.

All of us have thought and done things that have defiled us and made us unclean. There are no religious rites or actions that can make us clean. The religions of this world say, “Do this. Do that. Do it again and again and again.”

Jesus says, “Done.” “It is finished.” On the cross he did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He wiped the slate clean.

Colossians 2:13-14 NIVO When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

If you will come to him, he will make you clean. And he will begin his work in you to make you a new creation in Christ so that the old way of living is gone and the new has come.

***And you can say, “I am clean!”

MUSIC: Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir: “I’m Clean”

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/galleries/wudhu/

[2] William Barclay, Mark, p. 168.

[3] William Barclay, Mark, p. 168.

[4] William Barclay, Mark, p. 168.

[5] Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 156). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, p. 133.

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

Are we lawless Christians?

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We have been considering what the Scriptures say about the Law. We have seen that we are released from the Law (Romans 7:6). Does that mean that we are lawless? Are we lawless Christians?

The New Testament Scriptures show that we are no longer under the Law of Moses. If Christians are no longer under the Law, does that mean that we are lawless?

The Scriptures speak of our freedom in Christ. Does that mean that we free to do whatever we want to do?

1.      Released from the Law

The coming of Jesus Christ was not a minor event in the history of salvation. The eternal God took upon himself the form of a man. He became a real man while continuing to be truly God. He took upon himself not only our human nature, but on the cross, he took upon himself the sins of the entire world. He suffered, bled, and died as the spotless, perfect, Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice once and for all for the sins that you and I and every other human being has ever committed. Then God raised him from the dead. The wages of sin is death, but he paid the penalty of sin. His blood was shed to pay the penalty of sin. His body was broken to break the power of sin. Romans 4:25 says that Christ was delivered — i.e. crucified — for our sins and that he was raised for our justification. We are confronted with his incarnation, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, his death on the cross for you and me, his resurrection from the dead, and 40 days later, his ascension to the right hand of his Father where he intercedes for you and me. Things cannot go on as usual. Everything has changed. When God dies and rises again, we cannot think that we are made right with him by following a list of rules.

As we have seen in recent weeks, the Old Covenant announced and pointed to the New Covenant. The Law of Moses was a parenthesis in the plan of God. The real deal was the Promise, the Promise that God had made to Abraham and ratified by the Prophets. Even the Law prophesied Christ the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But when Christ died, we died to the Law. As the body of Christ was torn, the curtain into the Holy of Holies, which was 18 meters high and 9 meters wide, was torn from top to bottom showing that God has opened a new and living way into his presence for us. Things cannot remain the same:

Hebrews 10:19-20 ESV Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,

The Son of God came and died and rose again. Everything has changed. We cannot go on living as if we were under the law: “Do this, do that!” No! The message of the gospel is not “Do this.” The message of the gospel is “Done!” “It is finished!”

So everything has changed for us. Hear these words:

Romans 7:4 ESV Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law…

Romans 7:6 ESV But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive…

Romans 6:14 ESV …you are not under law but under grace.

Galatians 3:13 ESV Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…

Galatians 3:23-25 ESV Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,

The Scriptures also speak clearly of the fact that we are free.

John 8:32 ESV and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:36 NLT So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.

Galatians 5:1 ESV For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

So these verses tell us that we are no longer under the Law because Christ came to set us free from the Law. We are therefore not to go back to the Law.

So does that mean that we can live however we want? Does that mean that we can continue to live the way we used to live before we became Christians?

That is what some people accused the Apostle Paul of saying. Paul explained in Romans 3 how our unrighteousness showed off the glorious righteousness of God, just like a candle glows all the brighter on a dark night. So some said, “Let’s keep on sinning! It makes God’s righteousness shine even more!” Paul speaks of these people in…

Romans 3:8 ESV And why not do evil that good may come?– as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

But that is not the gospel. Our liberty in Christ is not a license to sin.

The verses that I quoted moments ago go on to explain that we are no longer under the Law because God has given us what the Law could not give us: God has given us His Holy Spirit so that we may live righteously.

Romans 7:6 ESV But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Galatians 3:13-14 ESV Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us… so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

When the apostle tells us that we are no longer under the law but under grace, he is explaining that grace enables us to live righteous lives:

Romans 6:14 ESV For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Some people think that grace means that we can continue to sin. Not at all! Again Paul confronts this sinful way of thinking in…

Romans 6:1-4 NLT Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

When Jesus promised freedom, he was not promising freedom to sin. He was promising freedom from sin. When he spoke of knowing the truth and being set free he said,

John 8:34-36 ESV “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

The good news of the gospel is that we do not have to be slaves to sin. Jesus came to set us free.

So what does all that mean? It means that being set free from the Law does not free us to continue to sin. Grace is not only unmerited favor. Grace is not only an undeserved kindness from God whereby he forgives us for all the rebellion and animosity and hatred toward him that is expressed by our sin. Grace is the power of God — the power of the Holy Spirit in us — to live in a way that is pleasing to God.

So grace is the power to desire and to do what pleases God:

Philippians 2:13 NLT For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Titus 2:11-12 ESV For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…

2.      The Problem with the Law

As we begin reading the New Testament, it becomes clear that freedom does not mean that we have a license to sin. Being in Christ does not mean that we can lie, or steal, or take the Lord’s name in vain, or covet someone’s iPhone or his wife. There are many passages in the New Testament that tell us that these works of the sinful nature are out of place in the life of the regenerated Christian. In fact, the Word of God contains severe warnings that we would do well to heed:

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people– none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

Ephesians 5:3-7 NLT Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes– these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. 7 Don’t participate in the things these people do.

Now some of that sounds like the Ten Commandments: no idolatry, no stealing, no lying, no adultery, no coveting. The coming of Christ into the world did not make evil things good! His coming did not make sinful things less sinful! Sin is still sinful. And God is still holy, and he commands us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Here is the problem with the Law of Moses. The Law was external. It was a written code, written on stone tablets rather than on the heart of man. The Law of Moses was powerless to change man’s heart.

But in the New Covenant, the very Spirit of Christ comes into our hearts and begins His work of changing us into the image of Christ. What does that mean? It means that God is in the character building business and by His Spirit in us, he is working to make us to be more and more like His Son.

In each of the passages that I just quoted, the Apostle Paul goes on to talk about the change that Christ makes in our lives when we are in Christ:

1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Galatians 5:22-23 NLT But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Ephesians 5:8 NLT For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!

3.      Are We Lawless?

But the question remains: Are we lawless? Do we as Christians have no law? We will have to consider the evidence of the New Covenant, i.e. the New Testament.

The message of the New Testament is clear: you do not become a Christian by following rules or by obeying laws. A Christian is someone who is born of the Spirit of God. He has repented of his sin and has believed the message that it is done: Christ did everything that we needed for salvation. This is what the Word of God says in…

Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

So we are still left with the question: As Christians, do we or do we not have a law to guide us in the decisions that we must make from day to day, hour to hour, and minute to minute?

To answer that question, we must turn to 1 Corinthians 9.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is talking about his freedom. Actually, he is telling the Corinthians that they should follow his example. For the sake of the gospel so that souls would be won to Christ, Paul did not make use of all his freedom. He did not make use of all of his rights. For example, he had the right to be married to a believing wife, but he was not married. He had the right to take a salary for his ministry, but he did not. His concern was winning people to Christ. This is what he said in…

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Now Paul says some remarkable things in this passage. It is frequently misunderstood by many who only quote part of it out of context. But this passage is important for our understanding of the role of law because in just two verses, verses 20 and 21, Paul uses the word “law” nine times!

  • “Under the law” – 5 times
  • “Outside the law” – 4 times

All that in just two verses.

Paul also uses the word “win” five times. He wants to

  • “Win more of them” (v. 19)
  • “Win Jews” (v. 20)
  • “Win those under the law” (v. 20)
  • “Win those outside the law” (v. 21)
  • “Win the weak”” (v. 22)

His mission is to “save some” that he might “share with them” in the blessings of the gospel (v. 22-23). So Paul talks about how he related to various groups of people in order to win them to Christ.

“To the Jews,” he said, “I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.”

Now that is a most remarkable statement, and it gives us great insight into the mind of this great missionary apostle. “To the Jews, I became as a Jew,” he said. Wait just a minute! Paul was a Jew! This is what he says about himself in another letter:

Philippians 3:5 NLT I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin– a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.

So how does he say that he became as a Jew to the Jews?

Here we see that Christ changes everything. Paul’s real identity does not depend on the circumstances of his birth, where he was born, who his parents were, or even his personal past. He real identity is in Christ. He recognizes that God had set him apart even before he was born (Galatians 1:15). His citizenship is now in heaven (Philippians 3:20). When we come to Christ, we recognize that we belong to his lordship. He is our Lord, our Master, our God. Being American or Australian or Austrian or ni-Vanuatu or Vietnamese is secondary to our new identity as citizens of heaven.

More importantly, Paul realizes that being a Jew will not save him and that we do not have to become Jews in order to be right with God. We do not have to adopt Jewish culture or Jewish practices or the Jewish calendar. We do not have to worship on the Sabbath to be right with God, and worshiping on the Sabbath will certainly not make us right with God. Nonetheless, Paul says that he became as a Jew in order to win Jews to Christ. He could fit in with them. He could even go to the synagogue on the Sabbath in order to share the Good News with Jews that Jesus Christ came to do what keeping the Sabbath could never do: Jesus Christ came to make us right with God.

As if that was not enough, Paul makes an even more startling statement:

1 Corinthians 9:20 ESV …To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.

Here the Apostle clearly states that he is not under the Law. Yet, because the Law is not sin (Romans 7:7), Paul can follow certain practices of the Law in order to win those who are under the Law. So he can follow the Jewish practice of making a vow and cutting his hair (Acts 18:18; 21:23-27), for example, to reach his own people, the Jews. His desire is to win people to Christ.

Romans 10:1-4 ESV Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Paul says that the Jews are wrong think that they can get right with God by clinging to the Law. But he will become as one who is under the Law to reach them, though he plainly says that he is not himself under the Law.

In his desire to see people saved, the Apostle tries to win not only people who are under the Law, but people who are “outside the law”:

1 Corinthians 9:21 ESV To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.

Who are these people who are “outside the Law”? They are Gentiles, like me and most of you. The Old Covenant of the Law was not made with us; it was made with the Israelites. So we are outside the Law. The Apostle Paul was sent by God as a missionary to the Gentiles. He adapted to the various cultures of the Gentiles. The old saying is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” To some extent, that was Paul’s method. “To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law.” But immediately, Paul adds a qualification, just as he had with the previous statement. Though he became as one outside the law, he immediately adds that he was not outside the law of God.

Does everything depend on culture? Is right and wrong only a matter of culture? If we are not under the Law, how do we know what is right and what is wrong? If we are not under the Law, how do we know what we should do and what we should not do? When you are in Rome, can you do everything that the Romans do?

No, Paul says. “I am not outside the law of God.” What does that mean? He has just said that he is not under the Law. Now he says that he is not outside the law of God. So he is neither under the Law nor outside the law of God. Paul the Christian, yes, Paul the Apostle tells us Christians that we are neither under the Law nor outside the law of God. We are not under the Law of Moses, but we are not left to our own devices. This is not simply a question of everyone doing what is right in his own eyes. The next phrase gives us the answer to our question. We are not under the Law of Moses and we are not outside the law of God for we are “under the law of Christ.” Hear him again,

1 Corinthians 9:21 ESV To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.

Paul will never change the Good News of the gospel. But he will become all things to all people, that by all means he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22). His heart’s desire and prayer for them was that they might be saved. Sounds like love to me. What do you think?

4.      The Law of Christ

Clearly then, the Christian is not under the Law of Moses because Christ has come. Christ is the end of the Law for everyone who believes. But now that Christ has come, we are under the law of Christ.

Paul uses the phrase “the law of Christ” one other time and that in his letter to the Galatians:

Galatians 6:2 ESV Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

It is important to note that Paul uses the word “law” 32 times in this letter to the Galatians. In fact, he gives a thorough thrashing to the Judaizers who want to make Jews out of Christians. They want to put these new believers under the Law of Moses. Paul will have none of it. What they are preaching is a distortion, a twisting of the gospel, Paul says in Galatians 1:7. Listen to some of what Paul says about the Law of Moses in this letter:

2:16 we know that a person is not justified by works of the law…

2:19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

2:21 … if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse…

3:11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law…

3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…

5:4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

This is the very first letter of Paul. He mentions the word “law” 32 times. In the first four chapters, he has thoroughly rebuked the Judaizers who insisted on keeping the Law as a requirement for salvation. It is hardly surprising that sabbatarians avoid the epistles of the Apostle Paul. You cannot believe the New Testament and believe that the Sabbath is binding on Christians.

But now he warns about the opposite error: lawlessness, the idea that Christians are free to do whatever they want to do. Not so, Paul says.

Galatians 5:13 ESV …you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Love? What’s love got to do with it? Just yesterday I was in a store that was playing that song over the sound system. What’s love got to do with it?

Everything.

Galatians 5:13-14 ESV For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

What’s love got to do with it? Everything in the world since love fulfills the law.

Now Paul is no situation ethicist.[1] It is not a question of loving God and doing as you please. Not at all. He does not hesitate to list offenses that are completely incompatible with love for God and neighbor:

Galatians 5:19-21 NLT When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

We are not under the Law of Moses. Rather, we live by the Spirit of God:

Galatians 5:18 ESV But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Paul tells us just four verses later, that the fruit of the Spirit is love.

A few verses later in Galatians 6:2, he tells us,

Galatians 6:2 ESV Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

There it is! The law of Christ! Bearing one another’s burdens is an expression of the love of Christ. Again Galatians 5:14 tells us,

Galatians 5:14 ESV For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

One day a lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him:

Matthew 22:36-40 ESV “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

James, the half brother of Jesus, called the law of Christ the “royal law.”

James 2:8 ESV If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

Jesus did not say, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you keep the Sabbath.” This is what he said in

John 13:34-35 ESV A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This is not a list of laws written on stone. This is a changed heart. Love comes from the heart. Jesus came to cleanse us from sin, to set us free from the power of sin, and to put his love in our hearts. We are not lawless. We are under the law of Christ, the law to love God with all our hearts and to love one another as Christ loved us.

What must you do to be saved? It’s not a question of going to church on a certain day of the week. What must you do? You must believe and receive Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life. Call out to him. Ask him to come into you. He will save you. Only trust him now.

See also “Seventh Day Adventism”:

John 11:45-53, “Made-Up Minds, Hardened Hearts”

Have you ever met someone with the attitude, “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts!” Today I’d like to talk to you about Made-Up Minds and Hardened Hearts. Stay tuned!

Made-Up Minds

“My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts!”

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Ever hear anyone say that? Perhaps you’ve never heard someone say it in quite those terms, but most of us have dealt with unreasonable people. And in our most honest moments, we might even admit to having made up our minds before considering all the facts.

That’s what we find in John 11.

No Neutral Ground

In John 11, Jesus did what no ordinary man could do. A friend named Lazarus had died. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, had sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. They wanted Jesus to come and heal him. Jesus was far away and it would have taken him about four days to get there. But instead of rushing to his sick friend, Jesus delayed his departure.

God works on a different timezone. Actually, He is the Creator of time and works outside of time. He is never in a hurry, and sometimes it seems to us that He is late. So in John 11, by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus was cold stone dead. In fact, it was the fourth day since he had died.

But the story does not end there. Jesus goes to the tomb. He asks that the huge stone blocking the entrance to the tomb be removed. Martha, always the practical sister, protests that there would be an odor after four days. But Jesus responds, “Did not I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

It is often said that seeing is believing, but that is not true. This story demonstrates that those who see do not always believe. Only those who believe really see: “Did not I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

The death of Lazarus was all about belief. When Jesus announced to his disciples that Lazarus was dead, he told them,

John 11:15 ESV …for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe…”

When Martha professed faith that Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection on the last day,”

John 11:25-27 NLT Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

Now as they stand at the open tomb, Jesus prays to His Father so that the people may believe:

John 11:41-42 NLT So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”

Jesus called the dead man by name. With a loud voice he cried out, “Lazarus, come out!” Did you know that someday Jesus will call you from the grave? Jesus had already said in John 5,

John 5:28-29 ESV Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Do not imagine for a moment that it’s all over when they toss the last clump of dirt on your casket. The hymn by Will L. Thompson (1847-1909) speaks of that day:

There’s a great day coming, a great day coming;
There’s a great day coming by and by,
When the saints and the sinners shall be parted right and left,
Are you ready for that day to come?

Refrain

There’s a bright day coming, a bright day coming;
There’s a bright day coming by and by.
But its brightness shall only come to them that love the Lord.
Are you ready for that day to come?

Refrain

There’s a sad day coming, a sad day coming;
There’s a sad day coming by and by,
When the sinner shall hear his doom: “Depart, I know you not!”
Are you ready for that day to come?

Refrain

Are you ready? Are you ready?
Are you ready for the judgment day?
Are you ready? Are you ready?
For the judgment day?

Jesus stood by the tomb of Lazarus and called him forth.

John 11:44 NLT And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

 Division

Well, what do you do with that? Jesus does just what he says he will do.

John 11:45 NLT Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.

It would seem that everyone should believe in the face of such evidence, but that was not the case. The next verse tells us,

John 11:46 NLT But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

These informers were hardened in their unbelief. They run to the Pharisees not merely to inform them of what has happened, and certainly not to persuade them to believe in Jesus. No, these informers have sided with the Pharisees against Jesus. They want to get in good with these people of power and influence.

Throughout the Gospels, the Pharisees continually oppose Jesus. He challenges their superficial understanding of the Scriptures. He exposes their hypocrisy. Rather than humble themselves and repent, they resist Jesus and try to bury the truth. Those people who reported the miracle to the Pharisees had already made up their minds about Jesus. They had made-up minds and hardened hearts. So the raising of Lazarus only deepened the division over Jesus.

It is much the same today. “There are some things in life about which it is possible to be neutral and others about which this is not possible.”[1] For example, it probably does not matter to you what color your neighbor paints his house. But if the teenage boy next-door is throwing stones at your three year old son, you cannot be neutral. You cannot be neutral when women and children are abused or when babies are aborted. You cannot be neutral about moral issues.

People are not neutral about Jesus. They are either for him or against him, or they are very selective about what they believe about him. I was talking with a man this week who professed a certain veneration for Jesus, but he did not believe what Jesus said about himself. He did not believe that Jesus told the truth when he said that he was the only way to God. This man did not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, or that Jesus was coming back as the Scriptures declare. It makes no sense to say that Jesus was a great teacher if you reject his teaching. This is actually a hidden hostility toward Jesus.

Throughout the Gospel of John, we have seen people divided over Jesus and his claims. In John 7, when Jesus claimed to be the source of living water, “the crowd was divided about him” (John 7:37-43, NLT).

When he healed a blind man on the Sabbath, some said that he was not from God because he did the work on the Sabbath, but others asked how a sinner would do such signs (John 9:16).

When Jesus claimed to be the Good Shepherd, “the people were again divided in their opinions about him” (John 10:19, NLT).

Now in John 11, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, many of the people believed in Jesus. Who were these people? They were friends of Martha and Mary. They had gone to console them in their loss. They had accompanied Mary to the tomb and there they “found themselves face to face with a stupendous work of God.”[2]

John 11:45 NLT Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.

John’s whole purpose in writing this Gospel is to bring people to faith in Christ:

John 20:30-31 ESV Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

“…the reaction of these people is the kind of reaction [John] is looking for from his readers generally.”[3]

Unbelief

But belief was not the only response to the raising of Lazarus. Some Jews “went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done” (John 11:46).

John 11:47 ESV So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.

A miracle like the raising of Lazarus should have compelled belief, but that was not the case. Some Jews told the Pharisees. The Pharisees and the religious authorities had a meeting. The facts are not in question: “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.”

“Many signs,” they said. In Jerusalem alone Jesus performed numerous signs. Already in John 2, people in Jerusalem believed in Jesus because of the signs which he did. In John 5, Jesus healed a man who had been lame for 38 years. In John 9, he healed a man who had been blind from birth. Now in Bethany, just three kilometers from Jerusalem, Jesus has raised a man from the dead.

The enemies of Jesus admit that he has performed many signs, but they fail to believe what the signs signify.

These signs were written, John said, so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God… (20:31).

That is the very thing that they refuse to believe. The religious authorities wanted to kill Jesus in John 5:18 when he made himself equal with God and claimed the prerogatives of God. The picked up stones to stone him in John 5:58 because he claimed the pre-existence of God. Again they wanted to stone him in John 10:30-33 “because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

The religious authorities did not contest the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles. But he had to be stopped. Why did he have to be stopped? Jesus had to be stopped because…

Jesus Was a Dangerous Man

A man like Jesus was simply too dangerous to let loose on the public. Israel was not a sovereign nation. Israel was a nation under Rome. Every member of the Sanhedrin—the Supreme Court of Israel—every member knew that the Roman Empire held the real authority. The High Priest was appointed by Rome, and Rome could change the appointment or even completely revoke any local authority whenever it wanted to.

As long as things went smoothly in the country, as long as there was peace in the streets, the chief priests could maintain the position of prestige, power, and wealth. But a man like Jesus was a serious threat to their position. Too many people were following him. Rome could become very uneasy about a new people movement in Israel.

John 11:47-48 ESV So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

They chide themselves for not having solved the problem sooner. “What are we doing?” they asked. “We are getting nowhere fast!”

How often does concern for one’s position or place keep one from believing in Christ? In many places in the world, schools and universities are supposed to be places of academic freedom, as long as you accept the party line. As long as you believe that there is no absolute truth. As long as you believe in evolution. As long as you believe in abortion on demand. And the list goes on. If you do not accept these articles of faith, you risk losing your position.

The chief priests and Pharisees did not contest the reality of the miraculous signs but refused to believe what the signs said about Jesus. “Unbelief can mean a complete failure to reckon with the facts.”[4] These men saw that Jesus put their position in danger and they wanted none of it.

The Unconscious Prophecy

At this point, John points out that Caiaphas was the high priest that fateful year. Caiaphas was as concerned as any of them for his position. As high priest, he was the most powerful man of the Sanhedrin. Powerful and arrogant.

John 11:49-50 NLT Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! 50 You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”

Caiaphas felt his superiority: “You don’t know anything!” He points to their incompetence. They are unable to find a solution to this man who continues to work many miracles. They focus on the people and the consequences: “Everyone will believe in him,” they say, “and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Caiaphas focuses not on the results but on the cause. He could not be bothered with questions of justice or morality. For him, the end justified the means. All you have to do is kill the man who works the miracles. Kill the miracle worker and you kill the movement: “it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish” (John 11:50 NAU). Not “it is right,” but “it is expedient.”

It did not matter whether or not Jesus was guilty of a crime; the solution to the problem posed by his growing popularity was [not simply to silence him or imprison him, but] to have him killed. If he was put out of the way, there would be no problem; the nation would be saved.[5]

But Caiaphas spoke better than he knew.

The irony is, Caiaphas was talking about the nation of Israel being saved from the wrath of Rome, while the prophecy—as John turns it—is that he’s will die for people all over the world so they could be saved from God’s wrath![6]

He was not a religious man; he was an unprincipled politician. Nonetheless, as high priest, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation. Though an ungodly man, the words in his mouth had been put there by God.

God often uses wicked men for His own purposes. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter will declare that the people of Israel delivered up Jesus “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).

Leon Morris says this of Caiaphas:

God used him to enunciate a truth that was greater and more significant than Caiaphas ever dreamed. Jesus would die for the nation, but he would do more than that. He would die for all God’s children and gather them “into one” (v. 52). Scattered abroad through the world they might be, but the atoning death of Jesus would form a bond of unity. To this day those who have been saved through Christ’s death are one with each other in a way that surpasses all merely human unities.[7]

Here the words of Caiaphas are prophetic: Jesus would die for the nation, but not for the nation only, John tells us, “but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

This is exactly what Christ came to do. The Good Shepherd came to lay down his life for the sheep. In the previous chapter, Jesus has said,

John 10:14-16 ESV I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

The Good Shepherd would die for the nation and for all the future children of God scattered abroad. Jesus would die not only for the Jews, but for you and me.

Hardened hearts.

John 11:53 NLT So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death.

Made-up minds. Hardened hearts.

What will you do with Jesus? You cannot ignore him. He does not allow that. Jesus pushes the envelope, so to speak. He allows no room for neutrality. He is unconventional; he breaks with tradition. He works on the Sabbath and when called to account for his actions, he simply replies that he is only doing what God has always done on the Sabbath. He quotes no authorities; he is the final authority. He will not be silenced; his words ring out through the centuries. You can kill him and bury him, but he won’t stay put; he rises from the dead.

The facts were never called into question. No one doubted that Jesus had healed the lame man, or opened the eyes of the man born blind, or raised Lazarus from the dead. And when Jesus himself rose from the dead, the authorities never questioned the testimony of the disciples or the hundreds of other witnesses to his resurrection. Facts are facts. But facts do not force faith. Faith is turning to Christ and trusting him for your eternal welfare. It is trusting him for your salvation: not the good things that you do. Not keeping the Sabbath. Faith recognizes that our righteousness stinks. Christ is our only hope. He died in our place to save us from the wrath of God.

So what will you do with Jesus?

Romans 10:9-13 NLT If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”

Turn to him and be saved.

[1] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 418.

[2] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 420.

[3] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 420.

[4] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 422.

[5] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 424.

[6] Philip W. Comfort, Opening the Gospel of John, p. 192.

[7] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 424.

See also “Gospel of John”:

Ephesians 2:11-22, “From Wall to Temple”

Taken from West Berlin looking into the East.

Taken from West Berlin looking into the East. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A very happy Unity Day—or should I say “Happy Unity Weekend”—to each of you. Unity Day is all about, well, unity! And what better place to talk about the need for unity than Vanuatu? 83 islands stretched out over some 264,000 square kilometers of ocean, not to mention 113 different languages, more languages per capita than any other country in the world. Unity? What can be done to break down the walls that separate us? Linguistic walls, cultural walls, tribal walls, religious walls, geographical walls? What can be done to bring about peace in a world that is so torn by war and hostility? I’ve got good news for you! What we could not do, God has already done. Stay tuned!

Introduction

The Great Wall of China

The largest engineering and building project ever carried out by man was only five to nine meters high, five to eight meters wide. It was built of dirt, stone, and brick. Thousands of workers were involved in its construction which took centuries to finish going back to the fourth century BC, and it has been maintained over the centuries. Although in some places the construction project is hardly wider or higher than the boat, the Big Sista, that travels between our islands, the reason that it is the largest building project ever carried out by man is that it stretches 2,400 kilometers long. I am talking, of course, about the Great Wall of China. It was built as a protection against invading nomads, or wandering tribes, from the north. Walls are built for different reasons, but the Great Wall of China was built to separate people. It was built to keep people out.

Some walls are built to keep people in. Every major city around the world has at least one building whose walls were built to keep people in. The buildings have metal doors and locked gates. The walls are made of solid reinforced concrete with barbed wire on top. The walls are built to keep people in, to keep people apart, to keep them separated.

The Berlin Wall

Another wall that was built to keep people from getting out is known in French as “Le mur de la honte” (the Wall of Shame), commonly known as The Berlin Wall. It was built around the city of West Berlin to keep East Germans from escaping to the West. It started out as a barbed wire barricade in 1961. It was gradually replaced by a 2 meter concrete wall which was raised to 4 meters. It extended 155 km around West Berlin and included electrified fences, fortifications, 293 guard posts, land mines, and automatic machine guns.

In 1987, my wife and I went to West Berlin and crossed over into East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie and saw the deplorable conditions that the East German people lived in. It was hard to believe that East Berlin was the showcase for communism. We saw people lined up on the street because a store had gotten some coffee, so people waited in line to be able to buy the rare commodity. We sat in a cafeteria, that looked more like an army mess hall, and watched as two old ladies talked. One was visiting from West Berlin. She was finely dressed. The other was from East Berlin, wearing tired worn out clothes. The lady from West Berlin was showing the other lady photographs of family members that had been separated for more than 25 years by the Wall of Shame.

Coming back into West Berlin we visited the museum to see the extremes to which people had gone to escape East Germany into West Berlin. From 1961 to 1989, 588 people were killed trying to get out of East Germany into West Berlin. 38,818 people were able to escape by going over the wall, tunneling under the wall, floating over the wall in hot air balloons, or sneaking out in vehicles, or other methods.

Walls. Whether they are built to keep people in or to keep people out, walls are not built for unity. Walls are built to separate.

And yet, man has a keen sense that we are supposed to be united. We unite with others like ourselves only to separate ourselves from others. We are separated by language, by culture, by color, by religion, by history, by geography, and by a hundred other factors. The United Nations took the place of the failed League of Nations, but the one thing that the United Nations has not been able to deliver is unity.

I misspelled United Nations on my computer and it came out the Untied Nations. We are tied together by our common humanity, our common planet, and our common Creator, but we are “untied” rather than united in so many respects. We talk about unity but continue to build our walls.

Yes, walls are built to separate. But the greatest wall of separation was not between the Chinese and the invaders from the north. Nor was it the Wall of Shame between East Germany and West Berlin. The greatest wall was that wall which separated us Gentiles from Jews, and more importantly, the wall that separated us from God. Paul makes reference to the wall between Jews and Gentiles in Ephesians 2:14 when he speaks of the dividing wall of hostility.

Ephesians 2:11-22 (New Living Translation)

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. 14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. 17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. 19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Context: Let’s step back and put this into context.

Paul has told us in 1:9-10 that God’s eternal purpose was to unite all things in Christ, not only things on earth, but things in heaven and things on earth.

Ephesians 1:9-10 ESV making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

So God Himself has a plan that will ultimately succeed. God’s plan is to bring everything into submission to His Son Jesus Christ.

Yet, there were…

Three obstacles to the accomplishing of the plan of God.

  1. The first obstacle to this unity in Christ, as Sinclair Ferguson has suggested, was the demonic powers that Paul talks about in 1:21-22.

Ephesians 1:20-22 NLT [God] raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else– not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church.

Paul mentions all the categories in the Ephesian cosmology so that we would know that this first obstacle to the accomplishment of God plan has been removed. All demonic powers have been placed under his feet, under the authority of Christ. God “raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is name, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”

  1. The second obstacle to Christ becoming all in all was our dark human hearts. Paul shows in chapter 2 that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. His description of our condition without Christ was hopeless.

Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil– the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But thankfully, that is not the end of the story. Paul continues,

Ephesians 2:4-6 NLT But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) 6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.

The second obstacle of our dark human hearts was removed by the cross and resurrection of Christ.

  1. The third obstacle to God’s purpose being accomplished in Christ is the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile.

Indications of the wall

Even before we get to 2:11-22, there are already indications that Paul is thinking about the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. There is almost an “us and them” theme in the first chapter: “us” being the Jews, for Paul himself is a Jew, and “them” — the rest of us Gentiles! In chapter 1, Paul says that God “blessed us”, “chose us” and “predestined us”. He says, “we have redemption”, God “made known to us the mystery of his will” and “we have obtained an inheritance”. This all sounds rather inclusive until we get to verses 12 and 13 where it becomes clear. The New Living Translation renders it this way:

Ephesians 1:12-13 NLT God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.

This distinction between “we” and “you” continues in chapter 2: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… we all once lived in the passions of our flesh… like the rest of mankind.”

It becomes clearer in our passage (2:11-22). “…you Gentiles used to be outsiders” (NLT).

How could Jews and Gentiles be united? How could they be one? The dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile had to be removed.

As we consider this question, we cannot ignore the atrocities that have been committed against Jews throughout history. We cannot forget the Auschwitz and the German concentration camps, some of which I have visited, where six million Jews were exterminated. We cannot forget the horrible attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem just twelve days ago where six people were violently killed, four of them being Jewish rabbis, three of the four rabbis being American immigrants to Israel.

It seems that the wall of hostility still exists. I do not intend to enter into a political discussion of the issues or to justify the nation of Israel on all accounts, but make no mistake about it: the Bible is clear that the nations will be gathered against the nation of Israel to destroy it and the Lord Himself will intervene.

The wall of hostility is broken down only in Christ.

During the first century until the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., there was a wall of partition which separated the Court of the Gentiles from the rest of the temple. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, said that there were signs posted on that wall in three languages warning Gentiles not to go beyond the wall. In 1871 and in 1934, two of these signs were found. They stated: “No foreigner is permitted to pass beyond this barricade around the sanctuary. Whoever does so will be responsible for his own death.” That’s quite a way to welcome visitors!

In Acts 21, we read that Paul himself was almost killed when the Jews thought that he had introduced the Gentile Trophimus beyond the wall. Paul may have been thinking about this close brush with death as he wrote about the dividing wall of hostility in Ephesians 2:14.

1.      There was a wall (2:11-12).

This was the condition when we were without Christ.

In verse 11, Paul draws the contrast in starkest terms. The hostility of the Jews toward Gentiles was demonstrated in the language they used to refer to the Gentiles. They called them “the uncircumcision.” That is a nice euphemistic way of translating a Greek term whose literal meaning none of us would want to hear in a Sunday morning church service. Suffice it to say that it was a term of disdain.

But Paul turns the tables on his fellow Jews. He says that they are “called the circumcision”. Their circumcision is made in the flesh, not in the heart. Their circumcision is made by human hands, not by God. They are only called the circumcision, but they have not experienced the circumcision that produces a clean heart.

Paul defines what it is to be a true Jew in Romans 2:28-29:

Romans 2:28-29 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Paul is telling us to remember our condition. He is not talking so much about our personal sinful condition. He did talk about that in the first part of chapter 2. He reminded us that we had been dead in trespasses and sins (2:1, 5). There, he spoke of our depravity as Sinclair Ferguson calls it. Here in 2:11, Paul is talking about our deprivation, our historical situation, and it was a condition that for the most part we did not even know about. We just lived in deprivation without knowing it. That’s what life was for us. Paul gives five characteristics of our lives before coming to Christ:

  1. We were separated from Christ. We were without Christ. We may have known nothing of Christ, not knowing that we needed Christ. Separated from his life, we were dead in our trespasses and sins.
  2. We were “excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel” (NLT). Citizenship has its benefits. As citizens of this country, you have rights that I do not have as a foreigner. You have, for example, the right to vote and other rights accorded to you by the government. There are benefits to citizenship. There were benefits to citizenship among the people of Israel. There were benefits of growing up in a Jewish home, knowing the Scriptures and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  3. Third, we were strangers to the covenants of the promise that God had made. We were not members of the covenant people. We did not know the promises that God had made to his people. We did not know God’s promise to Abraham that through his offspring, Christ, all the peoples of the world would be blessed. We did not know that God had promised through Jeremiah that he would give a new heart and put his Spirit within.
  4. Fourth, we were hopeless. Before coming to Christ, we had no hope beyond the grave. Shortly before we left Tahiti, we attended the funeral of a young man whose father was a pastor, but who had not served the Lord. As the casket was being closed, his unsaved wife threw herself on the casket begging him not to leave her. She had no hope.
  5. Finally, Paul says that we were without God in the world. We were godless. Not in the sense of being ungodly, but we did not know God. He says in 4:18 that the Gentiles “are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them.”

The wall separated us from the commonwealth of Israel and from the promises. We were without Christ, without hope and without God in the world. Jesus said in John 4:22 that salvation comes from the Jews. If you are without Christ, you are without hope and without God. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” Jesus said, “no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Peter declared, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul said that there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

God’s eternal purpose is to unite all in Christ, all things in heaven and in earth. His purpose is to make us one.

2.      The wall was broken down (2:13-18).

This is what happened through Christ.

2.1.     The propitiation in Christ Jesus has brought about the change (2:13).

In verse 13, we find the most beautiful words of the Bible. The most beautiful words of the Bible? What are they? Simply this: “But now…” The wall meant that we were far off. We were far from God. “But now!” Notice the contrast. Back in

  • 2:2       Paul says that we “once” walked following the course of this world,
  • 2:3       we “once lived in the passions of our flesh.
  • 2:12     “at that time” we were separated from Christ. At that time we were excluded from citizenship. At that time we did not know the covenant promises that God had made. We were without hope and without God!

“But now!” Everything has changed! We were far off; now we are near. We were without Christ; now we are in Christ (Sans Christ en Christ.) What made the difference? We have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The cross of Christ made all the difference. He offered up his body for us. The “blood” speaks of the violent death that Christ suffered for us. We were by nature the children of wrath (2:3), deserving the wrath of God for our sins and trespasses. But Christ suffered in our place, the just for the unjust, bearing the wrath of God against our sin.

Ephesians 2:13 NLT But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

2.2.     In his flesh, Christ broke down the wall of separation (2:14).

In verse 14 we read that Christ is our peace.

Ephesians 2:14 NLT For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.

Christ is the peace between Jews and Gentiles. He is the peace between Christian Arabs and Jews. In our world today we seek for peace. We seek to remove differences between people. We hear a lot about the need for tolerance, the need to remove any ideas that would offend, the need to remove from our vocabulary anything that would suggest to others that we have found the only way to God.

Theologians like the Catholic John Knitter and the former Presbyterian minister John Hick have argued that we must abandon any teaching that Jesus is the only way of salvation. They try to say that all religions are essentially the same and that any religion that claims to be the only way to God is only manifesting its intolerance toward others. And yet, as theologians from different religions gather at the round table, they cannot agree that they are all saying essentially the same thing. What is there that could unite Jew and Gentile, Buddhist and Hindu, Muslim and Gentile? Only Christ is great enough to unite us. As different as we are from one another, as we approach God through Jesus Christ, we approach one another, and in Christ we are one.

Christ is our peace. He has made one of the two by breaking down the dividing wall of hostility. The cross is the battering ram that has broken down the wall.

How did he do this?

Ephesians 2:15 NLT He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.

It was the Law of commandments and ordinances that created the difference between the Jews and Gentiles. But Christ ended the system of the Law. How did he do that? By fulfilling it. From the cross he declared, “It is finished.”

Romans 6:14 ESV For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 10:4 ESV For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

So those who would erect new walls based on the Sabbath have failed to understand the gospel. They have failed to see what Christ has done. The Bible says in Ephesians 2:15, that Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility

Ephesians 2:15 ESV by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,

He created in himself one new man, a new humanity. He removed the distinctions. It is not that the Gentiles have become Jews or that the Jews have become Gentiles. No, he created a new humanity.

There was pastor in Australia who was also a school bus driver. There were Aborigines and white children on his bus and on the way to and from school, there was a constant war of words between the white children and the Aborigine children. One day the pastor had had enough! He pulled the bus over to the side of the road and put it in park.

He went to the white children and asked them what color they were. “White!” they said. “No you’re not. Everyone who rides this bus is green. So what color are you?” “Green.” Then he went to the Aborigine children. “What color are you?” “We’re black!” they said. “No you’re not! Everyone who rides my bus is green. So what color are you?” “We’re… green.”

For a while everything was calm in the bus as it carried all the green children down the road. Then a voice was heard from the back, “All the light green children on this side of the bus, and all the dark green children on the other side!”

Well, the pastor had the right idea. God has created in Christ a new humanity, one new people from the two groups. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, had said,

John 10:16 NLT I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

That is true unity!

Verse 16: God’s intention is not only to reconcile us with each other but to reconcile us with himself. The cross reconciles us in both directions. Just as there is a vertical beam and a horizontal beam in the cross, the cross reconciles us vertically to God and horizontally to one another. In fact, the closer we move toward God, the closer we move toward one another.

Ephesians 2:16-18 NLT Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. 17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

There was a wall, but the wall was broken down by the cross of Christ. Where there was a wall,

3.      There is now a temple. We have become one in Christ (2:19-22).

Ephesians 2:19-22 NLT So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

The language is marvelous. The transformation is astonishing. From foreigners to family members who live in God’s house. Once we were excluded from the temple; now we are the temple of God.

In the ancient world, the temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the world, but nothing compares to the temple that God is building, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Together we are built on Christ Jesus himself and on the teaching—the foundation—of the apostles and the prophets—not some new prophet, but the apostles and prophets of the Bible. The work of Christ is the cornerstone of the Church. The teaching of the apostles and the prophets is the foundation that we are built on. That is the foundation of true unity.

Will unity ever become a reality? It will become the final reality. God’s ultimate purpose will be achieved in Christ Jesus the Lamb. The Book of Revelation gives us a glimpse into heaven.

Revelation 7:9-10 ESV After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

To be part of that holy throng, we must submit our lives to Christ the Lord in the here and now.

Implications

As we celebrate Unity Day this weekend, let us consider the implications of God’s Word about unity:

  1. The Church must reflect God’s eternal purpose of uniting all things in Christ. In the church, we embrace our new identity in Christ.

Galatians 3:28 NLT There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

We might add that there is neither American nor Australian, ni-Vanuatu nor Vietnamese, white man nor black man, for we are all one in Christ.

  1. We must focus, not on diversity, but on oneness in Christ, our new identity.
  2. Our mission cannot be limited to a certain group of people to the exclusion of others. We must not ignore those of different nationalities and languages, whether French or Chinese. Our Father in heaven wants to embrace them all.
  3. We must move beyond our comfort zones to people who are different from us
  • whether younger or older
  • whether rich and poor
  • those of different educational and social backgrounds
  • those of different nationalities
  1. We must demonstrate the peace that Christ procured on the cross.
  2. We must show the greatness of the love of God in Christ.

On this Unity weekend, let me conclude with Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians in chapter 4 verse 3:

Ephesians 4:3 ESV [Let us be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

It Happened on a Sunday!

Sunday

 

 

You’ll never guess what happened on Sunday. I think you’ll be surprised to discover some of the great events of the Bible that took place on Sunday, and just what God says about “the day after the Sabbath”!

1.      The SDA Challenge

1.1.     Are we wrong to worship God on Sunday?

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Is there any warrant for worshiping God on Sunday? Recently the churches of Vanuatu have been challenged to find just one verse that supports the practice of worshipping on Sunday. Never mind the historical fact that for nearly 20 centuries the church of Jesus Christ has met on Sunday for teaching, preaching, prayer, worship, and fellowship… But is there any biblical support for the practice of worshipping on Sunday?

On the other hand, is this a major issue that could put one’s salvation in jeopardy? I mean, is it true that by meeting to worship God on Sunday, that instead of truly worshipping God in spirit and truth, we are somehow worshipping the sun, because it’s SUNday? Would that then mean that people who worship on SATURday are actually worshipping the planet Saturn? Is it true that worshipping God on Sunday is blasphemous? Is it true that this is the mark of the beast?

Wow! Those are some fantastic remarks made about the church of the Lord Jesus Christ! Is God really upset that people would worship him on a Sunday? Is it true that our salvation is so fragile that it depends on worshipping on a certain day? Is salvation something that we do for ourselves by worshipping on a certain day of the week? Is salvation something that we do, or something that was done for us by Christ’s death on the cross?

Christians who know the Word of God will not be intimidated or shaken by these scare tactics. We know that the message of the gospel was not the preaching of the Sabbath but the preaching that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross for our sins and was literally, physically raised from the dead that we might be right with God through faith in his Son.

We have spent the last several weeks showing what the Scriptures teach about the Sabbath, the Law, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of God.

We have seen that

  • the Law pointed to Christ who completely fulfilled the Law.
  • that the work of Christ on the cross is a complete and finished work.
  • that Christ is the end of the Law for everyone who believes.
  • that our salvation does not depend on keeping the Sabbath.
  • Rather, our salvation is secure in our Savior Jesus Christ.

1.2.     Just One Verse

One of the tactics used is to challenge listeners to find just one verse in the Bible that says that we are to worship on a Sunday. Money is often offered by such groups to anyone who can find a verse that speaks of worship on Sunday. When no one responds, everyone is convinced that it must be wrong to do right on Sunday. As we have seen, this sounds so very much like the Pharisees who found wrong in all the good works that Jesus did on the Sabbath. We are told that worship is a matter of observing the calendar, that what God real wants is for us to get the day right.

The Christian churches of Vanuatu could also ask our friends who have raised the question, “Please show us one verse in the New Testament that shows that believers have to keep the sabbath.” No gat. There is not one single verse in the New Testament that tells believers to keep the Sabbath.

Now, it is not my purpose to make enemies. I would like to help people to see the truth of God’s Word. I would even hope to help those leaders who have been deceived and who are now deceiving others. I hope that you can sense that my desire is not to divide but help those who through grace have believed the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for us (Acts 18:27-28).

We have seen that there are many commandments for New Testament believers. Jesus has clearly instructed us to make disciples of all peoples everywhere and to teach them to obey all that he has commanded us. But as we read through all the commandments of the New Testament, not once are we ever told to keep the Sabbath.

I should point out here that obeying God’s Word is not how we are saved. We are saved by what Christ has done for us, not by what we do for him. Obedience flows out of love and joy for what he has done for us.

So there are commands in the New Testament, but never a command to keep the Sabbath.

On the other hand, there are also many lists of various sins that the believer will avoid, but breaking the sabbath is never listed. In fact, we are told not to let anyone judge us about the Sabbath for it is only a shadow; the reality is Christ.

 

2.      Shadow and Reality

We have seen in previous broadcasts that the Old Covenant was a shadow of the New Covenant. I want to look more closely at some of the shadow because the shadow points to the reality.

In Leviticus 23, Moses gives a detail description of the appointed feasts of the LORD (Leviticus 23:2, 4).

  1. The Sabbath Lev 23:3
  2. The Feast of Passover Lev 23:5
  3. The Feat of Unleavened Bread Lev 23:6
  4. The Feast of Firstfruits Lev 23:10
  5. The Feast of Weeks Lev 23:15.
  6. The Feast of Trumpets Lev 23:24
  7. The Day of Atonement Lev 23:27
  8. The Feast of Booths Lev 23:34

I want to consider two of these feasts: the Feast of the Firstfruits, and the Feast of Weeks (also known as the Feast of Pentecost).

2.1.     The Feast of the Firstfruits

We read about the Feast of the Firstfruits in Leviticus 23:9-11.

Leviticus 23:9-11 ESV And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, 11 and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.

Let us well notice that the Feast of the Firstfruits was to take place on the day after the Sabbath. This feast took place right after the Feast of Passover, on the day after the Sabbath of the Passover.

Let me underline that it took place not on the Sabbath, but on the day after the Sabbath. Verse 11 says that the priest,

shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.

We all know that “the day after the Sabbath” was a Sunday. God prescribed that the Feast of the Firstfruits was to take place on a Sunday.

This offering of firstfruits took place at the beginning of the harvest and signified Israel’s gratitude to and dependence on God.[1]

We have a further description of this feast in Deuteronomy 26.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 ESV “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. 3 And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ 4 Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. 5 “And you shall make response before the LORD your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. 7 Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. 9 And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O LORD, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.

Notice exactly what God says the Israelites were to do on that Sunday after the Passover. Verse 10 says that they were to present the firstfruits of the ground which the LORD had given them. “And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God.” Here is a shadow of the reality that was to come. They were to worship the LORD on a Sunday.

The Feast of Passover had taken place just days before the Feast of the Firstfruits. The Passover commemorated the time when God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. For 400 years the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt under the rule of Pharaoh. A Passover lamb had been slain for each family. The blood of the lamb had been painted on the doorposts of every home. The angel of death had been sent to kill the firstborn of every family in Egypt, but when the angel saw the blood of the lamb on the doorpost, he would “pass over” that home, sparing the firstborn child. That night the Israelites were delivered from Egypt (Exodus 12:1-13). All of this pointed to the Lamb of God who would be slain on a hill called Calvary in order to deliver us from Satan’s rule and the slavery of sin.

In celebration of this great deliverance from Egypt, the Israelites were to present the firstfruits of their crops and to worship the LORD, the first day after the Sabbath of Passover. It happened on a Sunday.

  • Every year
    For 1,446 years
  • From the giving of the Law
    Until the coming of Christ
    And until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
  • The Jews were commanded to celebrate the Feast of Firstfruits and to worship the LORD
  • The day after the Sabbath of the Passover.

It happened on a Sunday, “the day after the Sabbath.”

It happened on a Sunday and pointed to that great event that the New Testament tells many times took place on “the first day of the week”: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This was the Feast of the Firstfruits and it pointed to Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection:

1 Corinthians 15:20 ESV But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:23 ESV But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

Romans 8:23 ESV And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

So Christ is the firstfruits of the our future resurrection. The firstfruits came first; the full harvest came weeks later. Christ’s resurrection was first; our resurrection is still future, but both Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection are part of what the Bible calls “the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:5-6). The Feast of the Firstfruits took place “the day after the Sabbath.” It happened on a Sunday. The Feast of the Firstfruits pointed to the resurrection of Christ that would take place on Sunday, “the first day of the week.”

Just how important is the resurrection of Christ? The Scriptures tell us that if Christ had not been raised from the dead, then our preaching would be in vain, and your faith would be in vain. We would still be lost in and would perish (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

Again and again, the New Testament emphasizes that this most important event took place on Sunday, after the Sabbath, on “the first day of the week”:

Matthew 28:1 ESV Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Mark 16:2 ESV And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

Mark 16:9 ESV [Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.

Luke 24:1 ESV But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.

John 20:1 ESV Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

All these events of the resurrection day took place on Sunday, the first day of the week.

John 20:19 ESV On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

  • It was on a Sunday that the Lord arose from the grave (Mark 16:9).
  • It was on a Sunday that He appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:1).
  • It was on a Sunday that He walked and talked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-31).
  • It was on a Sunday “when he was at table with them, [that] he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them (Luke 24:30 ESV).
  • It was on a Sunday that the ten apostles and others had gathered in the upper room (John 20:19).
  • It was on a Sunday that the resurrected Christ appeared to them in the upper room (John 20:19).
  • It was on a Sunday that He gave the great commission “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV).
  • It was on a Sunday that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22 ESV).

It happened on a Sunday.

It happened on a Sunday, but Thomas was not there. It was a eight days later — count them: 1 – Sunday, 2 – Monday, 3 – Tuesday, 4 – Wednesday, 5 – Thursday, 6 – Friday, 7 – Saturday, 8 – Sunday — It was on a Sunday that Jesus chose to appear again to his disciples, this time Thomas was with them:

John 20:26 ESV Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

It happened on a Sunday. And it had been prefigured in the Feast of the Firstfruits. God had specified that Feast of the Firstfruits was to take place on “the day after the Sabbath” of Passover. God had commanded that the Feast of the Firstfruits would take place on a Sunday and that the Israelites were to worship God and thank Him for delivering them from slavery in Egypt. God had said that it was to take place the day after the Sabbath because he was going to raise his Son from the dead on the first day of the week, not the last day of the week. It would be a new beginning. A new creation. And it happened on a Sunday.

2.2.     The Feast of Pentecost

Back in Leviticus 23, immediately after the instructions about the Feast of the Firstfruits, God gave instructions about another shadow, the Feast of Weeks, that would point to another reality. The Feast of the Firstfruits took place on a Sunday at the very beginning of the harvest. That Sunday was the starting point for the count to the Feast of Weeks.

Leviticus 23:15-16 ESV “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.

Two times in these two verses, the phrase “the day after the Sabbath” is used. In verse 15, “the day after the Sabbath” refers to the Sunday when the Feast of the Firstfruits took place. The Israelites were to count seven full weeks from the Feast of the Firstfruits from that Sunday to the “day after the seventh Sabbath.” Seven full weeks were counted to the Feast of Weeks. Verse 16 says, “You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath.” The Feast of Weeks was fifty days after the Feast of the Firstfruits. The Greek translation of this Old Testament verse uses the word πεντήκοντα (pentêkonta, Leviticus 23:16 BGT). That is where we get the word “Pentecost.” The Feast of Weeks was the Feast of Pentecost. It was a time of great celebration as the harvest was brought in.

Deuteronomy 16:10-11 ESV Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you. 11 And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God…

They were to rejoice before the Lord. It happened on a Sunday, “the day after the seventh Sabbath.”

  • Every year
    For 1,446 years
  • From the giving of the Law
    Until the coming of Christ
    And until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
  • The Jews were commanded to rejoice before the LORD on Sunday, the Day of Pentecost,
  • The day after the 7th Sabbath after the Feast of Firstfruits.

It happened on a Sunday, “the day after the 7th Sabbath” for nearly 1,500 years.

The Feast of the Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks. The Feast of the Firstfruits pointed to the resurrection of Christ on a Sunday, “the first day of the week.” Then, from Resurrection Day, seven full weeks were counted. Fifty days until “the day after the seventh Sabbath.” A Sunday. The Day of Pentecost.

Acts 2:1-4 ESV When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

It happened on a Sunday.

  • It was on a Sunday that “there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind.”
  • It was on a Sunday that “divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.”
  • It was on a Sunday that 120 disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
  • It was on a Sunday that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
  • It was on a Sunday that a great multitude of devout Jews from “every nation under heaven” heard the disciples telling in their own languages “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:5, 11).
  • It was on a Sunday that the Apostle Peter preached to the Jews at Jerusalem that God had raised Jesus up from the dead and exalted him to the right hand of the Father and that he, Jesus, had pour out the Holy Spirit on the disciples, on a Sunday (Acts 2:33).
  • It was on a Sunday that Peter gave the invitation to those who heard him, telling them to repent and to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38).
  • It was on a Sunday that 3,000 people received Christ, were baptized in water and were added to the church (Acts 2:41).

It was the beginning of the Church. It was the Feast of Pentecost, a harvest celebration, and what a harvest of souls it was!

It happened on a Sunday.

 

3.      Sunday and the Early Church

It was for this reason that with time and the more the church spread beyond Jerusalem that Christians began meeting on Resurrection Day. Sunday.

3.1.     The Church in Troas

In Acts 20, on Paul’s third missionary journey, we read that the Christians in Troas met on the first day of the week.

Acts 20:6-7 ESV …we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. 7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

Though Paul was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem (Acts 20:16), Paul and Luke waited in Troas for six days until the first day of the week when the believers met. They met. They broke bread together, meaning that they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion together. And Paul preached to them.

And it happened on a Sunday.

 

3.2.     The Church in Corinth

We read in 1 Corinthians 16, that the church at Corinth met the first day of the week.

1 Corinthians 16:2 ESV On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

The churches took special offerings every Sunday for the church in Jerusalem.

OBJECTION: Some think that Paul was telling the believers to simply be systematic and put an offering aside every week in the privacy of their own homes.

ANSWER: IF THAT WERE THE CASE…

  1. It would not matter what day of the week they collected it. Paul specifically tells them to put aside their offerings and to store them up “the first day of every week.”
  2. If the families were simply putting aside an offering in their homes, there would still have been a need to collect it when Paul came. But he had specifically instructed them to collect the offerings “so that there will be no collecting when I come”

3.3.     The Churches of Galatia

Paul founded the churches of Galatia during his first missionary journey. These churches were in the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra. These churches also met on the first day of the week. Note again what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 16:1-2 ESV Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

So Paul had instructed the churches of Galatia to set aside an offering on the first day of every week.

 

3.4.     The Lord’s Day

God had ordained that the Feast of the Firstfruits and the Feast of Pentecost take place on “the day after the Sabbath,” i.e. on a Sunday. Those feasts pointed to the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which took place on a Sunday. Instead of meeting to worship on the Sabbath, the churches began meeting on the day of the Lord’s resurrection. The day of the Lord’s resurrection soon became known as the Lord’s Day. We read in Revelation 1:10,

Revelation 1:10 ESV I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…

The Apostle John was worshipping the Lord. He was in the Spirit on a Sunday, the Lord’s Day. The Lord Jesus met him and revealed himself to John, and revealed to him The Book of Revelation.

It happened on a Sunday.

 

4.      The Testimony of the Early Church Fathers

The early Church Fathers, those first Christians who left us their testimony of life in the early church, confirm that the church met on the Lord’s Day and not the Sabbath.

4.1      Ignatius of Antioch lived during most of the first century and into the second century.

He was a student of the Apostle John. Ignatius describes Christian believers as those who…

have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death–whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master…[2]

He goes on to say,

let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days [of the week].[3]

4.2      Justin Martyr lived from A.D. 110 to 165. This is what he says about Sunday:

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.[4]

The FIRST DAY of the week was the day set apart for special worship by the saints of God, LONG BEFORE CONSTANTINE WAS BORN, OR THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH WAS KNOWN.[5]

 

Conclusion

What shall we say then to these things? Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath? No, it is not. Nor is Saturday.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 2:16 not to let anyone trouble you or pass judgment on you concerning the Sabbath. It was only a shadow. Christ is the reality.

Will keeping the Sabbath save you? No. Neither will going to church on Sunday. Someone said that if a mouse lives in a cookie jar (biscuit jar), it won’t make him a cookie. Going to church on a Sunday will not make you a Christian. It will not save you. Nor will going to church on the Sabbath. That is not the gospel. It is not the teaching of the New Testament. It is a different gospel that is not the gospel at all.

Christ alone can save you. Do not put your trust in anything you can do. Put your trust in what Christ has done. He died on the cross to take the punishment for your sins and to set you free from the power of sin. Do not reject him who calls you to put your trust in him alone.

[1] Duane A. Garrett, “Feasts and Festivals of Israel” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p. 250.

[2] Epistle Of Ignatius To The Magnesians, “Chapter IX.–Let us live with Christ.”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Justin Martyr, First Apologia – “Chapter LXVII.—Weekly worship of the Christians.”

[5] Maurice Nicholson, “Disproving Seventh-day Adventism.”

See also “Seventh Day Adventism”:

The Old and the New: Two Testaments, Two Covenants

1. The Old and the New: Two Testaments, Two Covenants

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When we open the Bible, one of the first things that we notice is that the Bible is divided into two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Within the Old and New Testaments, there are covenants, special agreements ratified by sacrifice and sign. There are covenants between individuals such as Abraham and Abimelech (Genesis 21:27). More importantly, there are covenants between God and man.

For example, God made a covenant with Noah that He would never again destroy the earth by Flood. He put the rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant.

Genesis 9:14-15 ESV When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

God made a covenant with Abraham that the childless old man would yet become the father of a multitude of nations, that kings would come from him and that God would give them the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:18; 17:1-21).

Besides these covenants, God made a covenant with the nation of Israel:

Exodus 34:27-28 ESV And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

Though Israel would break the covenant, God would not forget His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though He would judge Israel and drive them into other nations, God says in Leviticus 26,

Leviticus 26:42 ESV then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.

Leviticus 26:45 ESV But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”

When God makes a covenant with man, it is a gracious act on his part. It is not a negotiated contract whereby we haggle and try to get God to do something that we want. God is God and he does whatever he pleases (Ecclesiastes 8:3; Psalm 115:3). When God makes a covenant, he takes the initiative and promises blessing if we will fulfill the terms of the covenant.

The covenant that God made with Israel would eventually be called the Old Covenant. In speaking of the Jews, Paul says,

2 Corinthians 3:14 NLT …to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.

So the covenant of the Law that God made with Israel is called the Old Covenant. And if the covenant of the Law is the Old Covenant, there must be a New Covenant. There is a New Covenant and that New Covenant was announced under the Old Covenant in the Old Testament, more than 600 years before the coming of Christ. We read in Jeremiah,

Jeremiah 31:31-34 NLT “The day is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD. 33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

So we see the great difference between the Old and New Covenants. God says, “This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors.” The Old Covenant was the Law. It was external. It was written on tablets of stone. In all, there were 613 rules that they had to follow. Six hundred thirteen! Most people could not tell you what the 10 commandments were, much less the 613 rules of the Old Covenant.

God says that the New Covenant would not be like the Old Covenant. It would not be external. It would not be outside of man. It would not be written stone tablets. Rather, God would write His instructions on our hearts:

Jeremiah 31:33 ESV For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

So God’s instructions would not be on the outside of man; they would be on the inside. God would write his instructions on the heart.

The prophet Ezekiel describes the newness that comes with the New Covenant:

Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

This new heart and new Spirit is the new birth that Jesus talked about in John 3. Jesus describes it as being born of water and the Spirit. The water represents the cleansing from sin and uncleanness that Ezekiel describes: “I will sprinkle clean water on you… I will cleanse you.”

Ezekiel also tells us that this New Covenant would include a new heart and a new spirit. In fact, God would put His Spirit in us: “I will put my Spirit within you…” This is what it means to be born of the Spirit. This is the new birth, being born of water and the Spirit, being cleansed of sin and made alive unto God. This is the new birth that is necessary to enter the kingdom of God.

That was the promise of a New Covenant that God gave through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel as the Israelites were about to be carried off into the Babylonian Captivity because they had broken the Old Covenant that God had made with them. As they had broken the Old Covenant, God promised the New Covenant.

Fast forward more than 600 years to the night before the crucifixion. Jesus and his disciples are gathered together in the upper room to celebrate the Passover meal. Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Then he takes the cup, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

“This cup is the New Covenant in my blood,” he said.

Every time we come to the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, we celebrate the New Covenant.

The writer of Hebrews gives a remarkable commentary on the Old Covenant comparing it with the New Covenant of Jeremiah’s prophecy. In Hebrews 8:6f, we read that Jesus,

Hebrews 8:6-13 NLT …mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. 7 If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. 8 But when God found fault with the people, he said: “The day is coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 9 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the LORD. 10 But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. 12 And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

So the author of Hebrews quotes the lengthy prophecy of Jeremiah about the New Covenant. Then he makes this commentary:

13 When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.

This is a most remarkable commentary. The New Covenant that was enacted by the shed blood of Christ is far superior to the Old Covenant of the Law. Had the Old Covenant been faultless, “there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it” (8:7). The Law was inadequate. The Law cannot change the heart. The Law needed to be replaced.

Hebrews 8:13 ESV In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The Old Covenant of the Law is obsolete. It’s out of date.

Sometimes you go to the grocery store and you see that they have radically dropped the price on something that you have been wanting to buy. Says it’s a box of cereal that normally sells for 2000vt, and you see that it is on sale for 500vt. Well, you grab it up, all excited about the great deal that you just got: a 2000vt box of cereal for 500vt! You can hardly wait for breakfast the next morning. You get out your cereal bowl and pour in the cereal, but what do you find? The cereal is full of bugs! It’s stale! It is inedible! How did that happen?

You search all over the box until you find the expiration date. You look at the calendar. Oh, no! The cereal is past the expiration date. It expired a week ago, a month ago or more! It’s no good!

That’s what the writer to the Hebrews is saying. The Old Covenant of the Law has passed its date of expiration. It is out of date. It is no longer valid. It has been replaced with the New Covenant.

So why are you still clinging to the Law? Why have you bought into the Old Covenant of the Law? Why are you trying to live by the Law? It has passed its expiration date. It was valid for a time but it has been superseded by the New Covenant. Why are you trying to live by the external Law? “Do this, do that.”

That is like trying to use an old mechanical typewriter instead of a computer. Why are you doing that? Why are you using an old worn out mechanical typewriter when there is a brand new powerful computer sitting on your desk? Why are you trying to live by the letter of the Law instead of by the power of the Spirit of God? God has given us the power of the Spirit so that we can live in a way the pleases and glorifies Him.

The Law is finished. It’s over. Get over it.

2. Shadow and Reality

Hebrews tells us that the Law was only a shadow, not the real thing:

Hebrews 10:1 ESV For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.

The Law was only a shadow. Let me illustrate. You and I are walking down the road together one afternoon. We are hungry and would like something to eat. The sun is shining brightly and suddenly on the road in front of us, we notice a shadow. We recognize from its shape that it is the shadow of a papaya tree full of papayas. Let me ask you, “Will that shadow satisfy our hunger? Will we get any nourishment or strength from the shadow?” No, we will not. But the shadow is there because there is a real papaya tree with real papayas that can satisfy our hunger and meet our need.

Hebrews tells us that the Law was only a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities. You have tried to satisfy yourself with the shadow. You have embraced the Law thinking that it is the real deal. It is not. It is only a shadow. It pointed to the reality. It pointed to Christ.

Paul also writes of the Law as a shadow in Colossians 2. He tells us that God forgave all our sins and canceled the legal charges against us by nailing them to the cross (v. 14).

Colossians 2:16-17 NLT So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.

So there are no food laws to follow: “Do not let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink.” The Christian is free to eat whatever he likes. You are free to eat meat. You are free to eat pork or any other meat that you may like. Jesus himself declared that all foods are clean:

Mark 7:14-19 NLT Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” 17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)

The English Standard Version renders Mark’s explanation, “Thus he declared all foods clean.” So all foods are clean. Bon appétit!

Again in Colossians 2, Paul goes on to say that these people are not holding on to Christ, but the danger for you is that if you follow their teaching, they will disqualify you or cause you to lose the prize:

Colossians 2:18 ESV Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism [abstaining from certain things, doing without] and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,

The Scriptures warn us about people who have visions and try to take authority over our lives and rob us of our freedom in Christ. “Let no one disqualify you… going on in detail about visions…” They tell you to abstain from foods and how you must worship. These rules about what you can eat and when you must worship have nothing to do with the Christian faith. In the next verses, the Apostle Paul tells us that we are free from these rules:

Colossians 2:20-23 NLT You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 21 “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.

The Apostle Paul tells us,

  1. Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.
  2. Do not let anyone rob you of your salvation by insisting on self-denial and submission to angels. Hold on to Christ.
  3. Stop living as if you belonged to the world. Man-made rules have an appearance of wisdom, they will do nothing to help you live a life of holiness.

3. Room for Difference of Opinion

All that is very clear. There are matters of consequence, and where the Word of God speaks clearly, we must speak clearly. We must not compromise on issues where God has spoken or we will be found to oppose God. Such matters include the biblical teachings about the inspiration of the Scriptures, the nature of God, the Trinity, the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, his eternal existence before coming into the world, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, his death on the cross for the whole world, his literal physical resurrection from the dead, his ascension to the right hand of the Father, his intercession for us. To that we could add the fall of man, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the believer producing a life of holiness without which no man shall see God, the primacy of the Church and its mission, the return of Christ, the final judgment, and the new heavens and the new earth. These truths are non-negotiables. You can see that these are weighty matters and on them the Scriptures speak with absolute clarity.

But there are also matters of opinion, areas where there may be different points of view or conviction. For example, in the area of food. We do not have the problem so much today, but in the early church there were both Gentile and Jewish Christians. The Gentile Christians were free to eat foods that some Jewish Christians, because of their upbringing, could not eat without feeling guilty. Can you imagine a church dinner where the Jewish believers would bring their kosher Jewish foods and the Gentiles would bring their non-kosher foods including pork and non-kosher foods of various kinds? The Gentiles could enjoy it all: chicken, salmon, tuna, beef, lamb, venison, and gefilte fish. Sounds good! Sometimes it is good to be a Gentile! But the Jewish believers would have a hard time swallowing bat, catfish, eel, shark, lobster, oyster, scallops, shrimp, snails, horse meat, or pork! Although Jesus declared all foods clean, some Jewish Christians having been brought up in kosher homes might have a troubled conscience if they were to eat non-kosher food.

The Bible addresses this issue in Romans 14:

Romans 14:1-4 ESV As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

You know what? Food matters do not matter. So if someone is weak in faith and feels that they cannot eat pork, let him be. Don’t look down on him. And the person who does not eat pork is not to think that he is any better than the one who does.

I’ve been to some stores where they had canned food with labels that told the customer that the ingredients looked like meat, smelled like meat, and tasted like meat, but that you could eat it because it was not really meat! If you are a Christian, you are free to eat it whether or not it is meat!

Food matters do not matter.

What about differences of opinion about the day of worship? This sounds so much more important. Surely we’ve got to get the day right! Not so. We have already seen in Colossians 2:16 that we are not to let others condemn us for not celebrating the Sabbath. The Bible says the same thing here in Romans 14:

Romans 14:5-12 NLT In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose– to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. 10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.'” 12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.

What does all this mean? It simply means that worshiping God in spirit and truth has nothing to do with the day that you meet for corporate worship. The person who meets with other believers to worship on Sunday must not look down on those who meet on Saturday. And those who meet to worship on Saturday must not condemn those who meet on Sundays.

Why does it not matter? It does not matter because we are not under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant is obsolete. We are under the New Covenant.

4. Living with a Corpse

Death is a terrible enemy. And the Bible tells us that it is the last enemy that will be destroyed, being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). But imagine a widow who did not want to admit that her husband had died. Going to the graveside she talks endlessly to the grave, wondering why her husband does not respond. She prepares wonderful meals for him and pleads with him to come home for something to eat. In the evening she says, “Honey won’t you come to bed with me? It’s so cold out here.” As ridiculous as that sounds, many people try to live with a corpse.

We live under the New Covenant, and according to the New Covenant we are dead to the Law. Hear the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:1-4.

Romans 7:1-4 ESV Or do you not know, brothers– for I am speaking to those who know the law– that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. 4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

God made a covenant with Israel. It was the Old Covenant of the Law. By the Law, we died to the Law. This is how Paul says it in Galatians 2:19,

Galatians 2:19-21 ESV For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

We died to the Law. We have been released from it. We are no longer under it.

Romans 7:6 NLT But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg explains,

Rom 7:7–13 clarifies that it was not the Law that was evil or deficient in any way. It was God’s perfect covenant for its era. But to try to continue to follow the Law after its fulfillment has come is like a woman who tries to remain married to her deceased husband after she is widowed. Christians are freed from the law as the covenant to which they are obligated (7:1– 6). Thus, when Paul declares in Rom 10:4 that Christ is the telos (end) of the law “so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes,” he means that Christ is both its goal and termination, as nicely captured in the TNIV’s translation “culmination.”

The coming of Christ changed everything.

Romans 10:4 NIV Christ is the [end] culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Are you trusting in the Law? Or are you trusting in Christ? Sabbath keeping will not save you. Abstaining from meat will not save you. Christ alone can save you. Hanging on the cross, he declared, “It is finished!” and the work was done.

Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Let me encourage you to find a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is preached, taught, and lived, and where the Bible and only the Bible — not someone’s vision or some other book — but the Bible and the Bible alone is the one and only final authority for what we believe and what we do. There is no other foundation than the Word of God.

See also “Seventh Day Adventism”:

Sabbath Day Controversies

Sabbath Day Controversies copy

We have seen in the Gospel of John that Jesus and the Pharisees were continually in conflict over the question of the Sabbath.

1. Sabbath Day Controversies

1.1.     Jesus Heals the Lame at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5)

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In John 5, for example, Jesus found a man at the pool of Bethesda who had been paralyzed for 38 years. “Get up, take up your mat, and walk,” Jesus told the man. And that’s what the man did. He got up, took up his mat, and walked for the first time in 38 years.

Now that should have been tremendous news. That should have made people rejoice and glorify God. But there was just one problem. It was the Sabbath. The Pharisees were upset! They were upset first because they saw the man carrying his mat on the Sabbath:

They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!” (Joh 5:10 NLT)

But Jesus had told him to do it! And the healed man told the Pharisees that he was only doing what he had been told:

John 5:11 NLT … “The man who healed me told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.'”

Ah, so it’s not only that this man was carrying his mat, but that Jesus had healed him on the Sabbath.

Here’s the issue: the Pharisees had one interpretation of the Sabbath and Jesus had another. The Pharisees thought that the man was sinning by carrying his mat on the Sabbath. But Jesus had told him to do just that. The Pharisees thought that Jesus was guilty of sin for healing a man—doing a work— on the Sabbath. You have the Pharisees on one side of the issue and Jesus on the other.

Jesus himself talks about this conflict in John 7:

John 7:21-24 ESV Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Notice what Jesus says. The Pharisees were angry with him because on the Sabbath he had healed a man. Then he tells them, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Jesus is telling them that their emphasis on the Sabbath is an emphasis on appearances. They have missed the point. They have misunderstood the Sabbath. They are judging Jesus for having healed the man on the Sabbath, but their judgment is false. They are in error.

1.2.     Jesus Heals the Man Blind from Birth (John 9)

Next we come to John 9 where Jesus heals the man who was blind from birth. Once again, Jesus is doing his work on the Sabbath.

John 9:16 NLT Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.”…

A few verses later (v. 24) the Pharisees declare that Jesus is a sinner, but the man born blind has come to see that Jesus has come from God and is doing the will of God (v. 31-33) even though he has done this work on the Sabbath.

1.3.     Jesus’ Disciples Pick Grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12)

We find this same conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities in the other Gospels. In Matthew 12,

Matthew 12:1-2 NLT … Jesus was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. 2 But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.”

Do you notice that it is the judgmental Pharisees who are in conflict with Jesus and his disciples over the Sabbath? They are on one side of the question and Jesus and his disciples are on the other side of it. The disciples were breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. “You can’t do that!” the Pharisee protested. “It’s the Sabbath!”

Jesus told him to cool it.

Matthew 12:3-7 NLT … “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. 5 And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? 6 I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! 7 But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’

Jesus says that their legalistic approach is wrong. God calls us to show mercy: “You would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’”

These legalists, the Pharisees, had not understood the Scriptures. They were insisting on the letter of the Law. They were insisting on outward conformity. They were insisting on appearances. But they had failed to understand the intention of the Scriptures. Mark tells us,

Mark 2:27 NLT Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.

Then Jesus declared that he was the Lord of the Sabbath:

Matthew 12:8 NLT For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”

Jesus as Lord has the right to tell us the meaning of the Sabbath.

1.4.     Jesus Heals the Man with a Deformed Hand (Matthew 12:10-14)

In the next verses of Matthew 12, Jesus goes to the synagogue where he notices a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees were watching Jesus to see if he would heal the man on the sabbath.

Matthew 12:10 NLT … The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.)

Do you see their attitude? These Sabbatarian legalists were looking for something in order to accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath.

Matthew 12:11-14 NLT And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. 12 And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! 14 Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus.

These legalists—these Pharisees—fail to understand the meaning of the Sabbath. They are concerned only about appearances. They show no mercy to the person who needs help on the Sabbath. And because Jesus does not conform to their interpretation of the Sabbath, they plot to kill him!

1.5.     Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-18)

We read in Luke 13:10-16 (NLT),

One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, 11 he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” 13 Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God! 14 But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.” 15 But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? 16 This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?”

1.6.     Jesus Heals a Man of Dropsy (Luke 14:1-6)

On another occasion, a Sabbath day, Jesus was having dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees. Everyone was watching Jesus closely because there was a man there whose arms and legs were swollen by a disease called dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in religious law, “Is it permitted in the law to heal people on the Sabbath day, or not?” but they refused to answer him. So Jesus touched the sick man and healed him and sent him on his way.

Luke 14:5-6 NLT Then he turned to them and said, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” 6 Again they could not answer.

“Jesus consciously chose the Sabbath day to perform some of His most extraordinary miracles”[1] for three reasons:

  1. To show that He is Lord of the Sabbath.

Mark 2:28 ESV So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

  1. To expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

Mark 7:6-7 ESV And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

  1. To show the real reason for the Sabbath.

Mark 2:27 ESV And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

So we see that Jesus was constantly in conflict with the Pharisees over the question of the Sabbath. They insisted on a strict observance of the Sabbath according to their interpretation. Jesus insisted that their interpretation was wrong.

 

 2. Different Interpretations Cannot All Be Right

Jesus was in conflict with the religious authorities not only about the Sabbath, but also about the Law. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus shows that the Pharisees had repeatedly misunderstood the meaning of the Old Testament Law. The Pharisees focussed on appearances. They stressed outward conformity to the Law but had missed the intention of the Law. The Pharisees were careful to tithe on everything they received. They fasted twice a week. They were diligent to observe the Sabbath and had added 39 Sabbath rules to the Law to make sure that no one broke it, but they had miserably failed to understand the purpose of the Law. The Pharisees believed that they were righteous, but Jesus said that their righteousness was not enough:

Matthew 5:20 ESV For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Then Jesus gives six examples of how they had misinterpreted the Scriptures.

2.1.     Murder

Matthew 5:21-22 NLT “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

Because the Pharisees had not murdered anyone—though they were plotting to kill Jesus!—they thought they were righteous. Jesus said that we must not have murder in our hearts: we must not be angry with someone, insult them, or curse them. We must not murder with our words or our looks.

2.2.     Adultery

Matthew 5:27-28 NLT “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

It is not enough to avoid the act; you must avoid the desire. Thank God for the anti-pornography laws in this country, but with the Internet, pornography is a click away. You must flee from it. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

2.3.     Divorce

Matthew 5:31 NLT “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’

How considerate! Give her a certificate of divorce so she’ll be free to remarry. No, Jesus says. You are causing her to commit adultery by remarrying, and whoever marries her commits adultery. Jesus takes us back to the beginning when God created male and female and says, “What God has put together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

2.4.     Vows

Matthew 5:33 NLT “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the LORD.’

Jesus tells us that we should not make vows; we should simply always tell the truth. We must be people of our word.

2.5.     Justice

Matthew 5:38 ESV “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

Jesus tells them that they have missed the point. This is not about vengeance or getting even. This Old Testament word is not addressed to individuals but to the system of justice. Punishment should be meted out according to the crime. But as for us as individuals, we are not to seek revenge.

2.6.     How to Treat Your Enemies

Matthew 5:43-44 ESV “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

The Law never said to hate your enemy, but that is how the Pharisees had misinterpreted it.

2.7.     The Pharisees had the Law, but they had misinterpreted it.

  • No murder, but it’s okay to hate, insult, and curse someone.
  • No adultery, but it doesn’t hurt to look.
  • Tired of your wife? Give her a piece of paper so you can marry the woman you want.
  • If you made a vow, you’ll have to honor it. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what you said.
  • Someone hurt you? Hurt them back.
  • Got an enemy? It’s okay to hate. Just love those who love you.

That’s how the Pharisees had interpreted the Law. They had missed it completely.

2.8.     Selective Obedience

  1. T. Kendall points out, “It is interesting to note that the greatest enemies of Jesus were strict Sabbatarians. [Jesus’ greatest enemies were people who insisted on keeping the Sabbath.] The probable reasons for this were because one could keep the Sabbath and feel good about oneself; it did not require any change of heart, and it was also a way of making one feel righteous.”[2]

The Pharisees picked and chose the commandments that they would obey. Sabbath keeping made them feel good about themselves, but they were merely self-righteous.

Jesus confronts them about their selective obedience in Matthew 15:

Matthew 15:1-9 NLT Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, 2 “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” 3 Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? 4 For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 5 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 6 In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, 8 ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.'”

 

3. Where Did the Sabbath Come From?

3.1.     The Institution of the Sabbath

So let’s look at this question of the Sabbath. Where did the Sabbath come from?

Some people teach that there has always been a Sabbath. But that is not what the Bible reveals. The first time the Sabbath is mentioned in the Bible is in Exodus 16:23, some 2,500 years after the creation of the heavens and the earth. God created everything that exists in six days and rested the seventh day, but He did not give the Sabbath to man until He brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. We read in…

Genesis 2:15 ESV The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

God gave Adam work to do, but there is no mention of resting on the seventh day. When Adam and Eve sinned and were expelled from the Garden of Eden,

Genesis 3:23 ESV … the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

Again, there is no mention of a Sabbath.

Cain is called “a worker of the ground” (Genesis 4:2). There is no mention of a Sabbath for Noah, Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. When Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, he worked (Genesis 39:11). The whole nation of Israel became slaves in Egypt:

Exodus 1:13-14 NLT So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. 14 They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.

God raised up Moses and Aaron.

Exodus 5:1 NLT …[They] went and spoke to Pharaoh. They told him, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Let my people go so they may hold a festival in my honor in the wilderness.”

Instead, Pharaoh increased the work that the Israelites had to do. They would no longer be supplied with straw but would have to first find it for themselves and then make the same number of bricks. There was no Sabbath. There was no rest.

The word “Sabbath” is not mentioned in Scripture until after God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt. The first time the word “Sabbath” is mentioned in the Bible is when the Israelites are in the wilderness. All they had known for 400 years of slavery in Egypt was work, day after day after day, with no rest, no Sabbath. God had not yet given the Sabbath.

Now the Israelites have been delivered from Egypt by the power of God. They have crossed the Red Sea as on dry ground. They find themselves in the wilderness with nothing to eat. But when they wake up in the morning, the ground is covered with something to eat. “Manna?” they say. Manna means, “What is it?” It was bread from heaven. And with the manna, God gives them the Sabbath. They will gather the manna every day for six days, but the seventh day will be a Sabbath:

Exodus 16:29 ESV See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.”

This is the beginning of the Sabbath for man. The foundation for the Sabbath is found in God’s work in creation: God “worked” for six days and on the seventh day He rested. But the very first mention of the word “Sabbath” is in Exodus 16 when God gives the Sabbath to the Israelites: “See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath…”

3.2.     The Meaning of the Sabbath

What is the meaning of the Sabbath? The first thing that is evident is that the Sabbath has something to do with work. Time and again the Israelites are told that they are to do no work on the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath is the fourth of the Ten Commandments:

Exodus 20:9-11 ESV Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

No work. We repeatedly find this emphasis on not doing any work on the Sabbath.

But why no work? Why does God establish one day in seven for the Israelites as a day when no work is to be done? What is the meaning of this day when no work is to be done? Exodus 31:13 tells us that the Sabbath is a sign.

Exodus 31:13 NIVO “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.

The Sabbath is a sign. A sign signifies something. God is teaching the Israelites something through the sign of the Sabbath: “This will be a sign… so you may know that I am the LORD who makes you holy.” No work: the LORD makes us holy.

The Sabbath was a weekly sign that salvation is not our work; it is God’s work. It was God that saved the Israelites from Egypt. Standing before the Red Sea,

Exodus 14:13 ESV …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.

God is our Savior. He does the work. The Sabbath was a weekly sign that salvation is not our work; it is God’s work. He is the one who sanctifies us. We cannot save ourselves.

Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

3.3.     The Perversion of the Sabbath

But what happens if you make the Sabbath a work? What happens if we begin to believe that what God really wants from us is Sabbath day observance? What happens if we begin to think that God’s primary intention is that we be Sabbath keepers?

This is what happens: the message of the Sabbath is perverted. The message of the Sabbath was “no work.” Salvation is not our work; it is God’s work. But we have changed the message. We have made the Sabbath a work to be done when the message of the Sabbath is really “no work.” We have put our trust in our keeping of the Sabbath. We have begun to think that keeping the Sabbath will save us.

If someone tells you that you must keep the Sabbath to be saved, he is preaching a different gospel than the gospel that was preached in the New Testament. If someone tells you that you must worship on Saturday and not Sunday, that person is living under the curse of the Law and not under the freedom of the gospel.

Galatians 3:10-11 NLT But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” 11 So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

 

4. The Sabbath in the New Testament

We have already seen that Jesus and the Pharisees were continuously in conflict over the interpretation of the Sabbath. It is worth noting that in the New Testament, Christians are never told to keep the Sabbath.

Matthew 19:16 NLT Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

Jesus told him to keep the commandments.

Matthew 19:18-19 NLT “Which ones?” the man asked. And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. 19 Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Jesus did not tell him to keep the Sabbath.

Paul quotes from the Ten Commandments, but does not mention the Sabbath:

Romans 13:9-10 ESV For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

James also quotes from the Ten Commandments:

James 2:8-11 ESV If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

But again, there is no mention of the Sabbath. “What is never once mentioned or even implied: the fourth commandment. Is it not strange that it is not even quoted? Must there not be a reason for this?”[3]

4.1.     The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the beginning of a new creation. It was not on the last day of the week that Christ was raised from the dead, but the first day. All four Gospels point to the fact that Christ was raised the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). He appeared that first Resurrection Day to the disciples who had gathered together in the upper room. He appeared to them again, this time with Thomas, on the next Resurrection Day, eight days later (John 20:26).

The first 12 chapters of Acts concern the growth of the church in Israel, but the Sabbath is not even mentioned. The Sabbath is mentioned in Paul’s missionary journeys because Paul went first to the Jews, and the Jews worshipped on the Sabbath. But the Christians had already begun to worship on the first day of the week.

4.2.     The First Day of the Week

In Acts 20, Paul is in a hurry to get to Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost (20:16). But when he arrives in Troas, he stayed for seven days (20:6). What was he waiting for? He waiting for the first day of the week:

Acts 20:7 ESV On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

Notice that it was the first day of the week that the church was gathered together to break bread, in other words, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Paul delayed his departure for Jerusalem so that he could meet with the church that gathered together on the first day of the week, not on the Sabbath.

Again, in 1 Corinthians 16, we see that the believers met together to celebrate the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week.

1 Corinthians 16:2 ESV On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

Paul is not simply telling the believers to be systematic in their saving up an offering for the saints at Jerusalem, otherwise he could tell them to put something aside each week without telling them what day of the week to put something aside. Paul is telling them to put aside a porting of the money they have earned “on the first day of every week” because that was the day that the church met.

4.3.     The Lord’s Day

In Revelation 1:10, the Apostle John says,

Revelation 1:10 ESV I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…

The first day of the week became known as “the Lord’s Day.” It was the Lord’s Day because it was the day that the Lord was raised from the dead. Worshiping the Lord on the Lord’s Day became the practice of the early church as the writings of the early church fathers clearly demonstrate.

 

Concluding Remarks

We have run out of time today, but let me conclude in saying first, that the message of the Sabbath is “no work.” Why no work? Because our works will never save us.

Ephesians 2:8-9 NIVO For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

The Sabbath is a sign:

Exodus 31:13 NIVO “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.

If we turn the Sabbath into a work that we must do, we pervert the Sabbath.

Second, the resurrection of Christ began the new creation. The resurrection of Christ changes everything. The early church began celebrating the resurrection of Christ the first day of the week, “the Lord’s Day.”

[1] R. T. Kendall, Grace, p. 115.

[2] R. T. Kendall, Grace, p. 114.

[3] R. T. Kendall, Grace, p. 118.

See also “Seventh Day Adventism“: