Jesus outlines seven woes against the teachers of the law and in the process displays greater anger than at any time other than when he clears the temple of merchants who are trying to use God for profit. Rather than worshipping the Lord and tending to their fellow human beings, these persons are interested in using religion to make money. Jesus doesn’t mince words; He outright condemns these persons.
With the teachers of the law, He tells them to stop straining out gnats and warns them that they are likely to swallow a camel while doing so. He warns them to stop worrying about appearances — about looking holy — and rather focus on “justice, mercy and faithfulness” which they’ve neglected while being only concerned about religious traditions such as the tithe.
Jesus condemns those who would refuse to care for their financially strapped parents because of tithing, saying this nullifies the Word of God, i.e. the commandment to “honor your mother and father.”
We seem to believe that God is as concerned with appearances as we are. Nothing could be farther from the truth of God’s own Word. He calls on us to focus on justice, mercy and faithfulness over the outside of the cup. He is concerned about our insides, about freeing us from “hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28). If we are a little dirty on the outside, God isn’t worried as long as we are merciful and loving to others, for how can we love God whom we cannot see and touch if we are incapable of loving people whom we are able to see and touch and help?
Therefore, be merciful as God is merciful; and don’t swallow a camel.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, ESV)
Isn’t it great that Peter says love should be “above all” – should be our top priority – while Paul says that the greatest of the three pillars of Christianity (which are faith, hope and love) is love. Love is above all.
Why is this true? Because God is Love.
Even better, Jesus tells us that the world will know we are Christians by the love we show one another.
Yet, today we Christians bicker among ourselves, arguing about the relative spirituality or lack of spirituality of each other which only shows the world that we are no closer to God than it is.
So, how do we love?
We choose to do so. We put aside pettiness and one-up-manship and holier-than-thou attitudes and we look to our common ground.
What is our common ground? This should be obvious. Our common foundation is Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected, glorified.
So, let us love one another for our love of each other covers a whole load of awful stuff — our rebellion, our pride, our self-hatred, our envy, our jealousy, our self-righteousness, our stupidity.
10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
Salvation is exclusive, not inclusive. Jesus deliberately keeps the secret of God’s plan from “those on the outside”. He reserves full understanding of His stories — His parables — to those “on the inside”. His disciples and others who are with Him are the only ones to whom Jesus explains Himself.
He asks His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” He desires for His followers to grasp the bigger picture, to know He is God, the great “I AM” of their Jewish heritage. He does not appear concerned about those who are excluded.
I like to think those who are excluded from understanding Jesus are those who can’t understand Jesus; unfortunately, this is errant thinking for no one is capable of understanding Jesus unless God the Holy Spirit gives understanding. In other words, we are all blind, all deaf, all stupid when it comes to comprehending God. God Himself gives us the ability to see Him, hear Him, understand Him, follow Him.
So, we come to the election of the saints.
Yes, God did choose — before the foundation of the world — a select few for salvation; or at the very least God saw ahead of time who would choose Him. Either way, the election stands.
The parables — the mystery of Jesus’ stories — proves the Son of God died for those in the Book of Life.
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
God exists outside the limits of time and space (except for a brief stint here on earth as an infant, child, young man). Since God is not limited in His point of view (since He is omniscient, that is) He is able to know ahead (and outside) of time who is “to be conformed to the image of His Son”. That’s easy. Once something is known (ahead of time) and is not then changed by the all-powerful God, then that thing known ahead of time becomes what we refer to as “predestined”. So much for free will. That’s easy, too.
So, God knew us before time, predestined us before time, called us before and inside time, justified us inside time, and glorifies us inside and beyond time. Time, in other words, does not and can not limit God.
Because of His unlimited power and knowledge about our fate, God “is for us”; and because He is for us, nothing can be against us. Nothing. Why? Because God did not spare His own Son. He gave Him up to Death for us. Therefore, He will keep us (those whose names are written in the Book of Life) — forever.
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Jesus tells His listeners — those who attend to His Words — to love their enemies, to do good to those who hate them, and to pray for those who mistreat them. He does not tell His listeners — those who follow after Him — to hate, curse, or mistreat their foes.
The love Jesus calls us to is not lip-service. Love is not saying, “Oh you didn’t hurt me with your cruel words” or “you didn’t damage my life with your unfair actions against me”. Rather love recognizes the harm done and calls on us to turn the other cheek. Love demands we go out of our way to do good in response to evil.
Love does not hide. God tells us that perfect loves literally drives out fear. And, perfect love keeps no record of wrongs, reminds Paul. Love never fails, never angers, never gives up.
We are to persevere in the face of mistreatment. We are never to return an insult with an insult of our own. We are never to be bitter when evil appears to succeed. Rather we are to pray — and we are not to pray for our enemy’s demise, but we are to pray for our enemy’s benefit.
Love desires what is best for the other — always.
“4 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
Odd that Paul starts this portion of his letter with the aside, “What I am saying” as if he is fully aware that he has not yet convinced his readers in the church of Galatia of the extraordinary truths that they are no longer slaves but fully adopted sons of God and therefore are no longer under the law.
The law, reminds Paul, was only a guardian — a kind of trustee of a future inheritance –right up until Jesus died on the Cross and was subsequently resurrected and ascended to glory. At that moment, born-again believers were transformed. They were adopted as sons and therefore heirs of God’s promise to remove the yoke of the law by fulfilling every jot and stroke of that law through Christ’s sacrifice.
Once freed from the law, Paul exhorts his readers not to try to put themselves back under the yoke and burden of the law which will only drive them deeply into guilt and shame.
Instead, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, NIV).
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” 2 Peter 3:18, ESV.
In this single verse, the apostle Peter tells us everything we need to know about the good news of Jesus Christ.
Jesus suffered only once.
He suffered and died for sinners, for persons who did not and do not deserve His sacrifice.
Jesus suffered and died to bring sinners to God ( not God to sinners, by the way ).
And how did Jesus accomplish this miracle?
Jesus brought sinners to God by “being put to death” — in other words, by execution which implies a courtroom, a judge and a sentence of death for guilt. Whose guilt? Not His own for He was and is without sin. The guilt that Jesus was sentenced to death for is mine and yours.
So stop pointing your finger at others.
We all alike condemned Jesus to the Cross.
And stop trying to crucify others.
Jesus needed to die only once.
Instead, rejoice! I say it again, Rejoice!
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
No, I’m not a sinner. Yes, I am a sinner. But… I’m a sinner saved by grace. Now wait a minute; I’m saved. I do not sin anymore. If I sin, that proves the Holy Spirit is not in charge of me. And if the Holy Spirit is not in charge, then I am not saved. In fact, I am lost. If I am lost, then I am a sinner.
And so on. Circular reasoning?
The author of 1 John writes that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” He adds that “if we say that we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar.”
If we claim to be sinless, “[God’s] Word is not in us.”
What we are to do is:
1) Recognize that we are sinners.
2) Confess our sins which we fall into each and every day.
3) Trust that God forgives these sins and make us righteous by His sacrifice.
21 Tell me, those of you who want to be under the law, don’t you hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and the other by a free woman. 23 But the one by the slave was born according to the impulse of the flesh, while the one by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. 24 These things are illustrations, for the women represent the two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai and bears children into slavery—this is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.
God does not change His mind, but He does create two separate covenants with mankind – the first covenant, often referred to as ‘old’ provides the Law and for a long time, mankind lives under this Law. The second covenant, often referred to as ‘new’ provides the Grace and from that point on, mankind lives under this Grace. Once Grace arrives, the Law is no longer needed. In fact, the Law is nailed to a tree and is essentially fulfilled in the Life and Body of Jesus Christ, once and for all!
Putting oneself back under the Law once under Grace is like going back into Slavery once Freedom is obtained. Who does that?
Paul wearies over the church at Galatia, even saying he remains in labor pains until Christ is formed in them. He wonders how it is that they’ve lost their joy, covering themselves with once-removed burdens. He wants to change his tone, but he is bewildered and hurt that they’ve returned to Slavery unnecessarily.
Don’t make this mistake. Our mother is not Hagar but Sarah; and she is Freedom.
In one of his many songs, David proclaims – at least in the Wycliffe translation of the Word – that God “loveth mercy and doom.” In parenthesis, the translator adds an alternative version: “[God] loveth righteousness and justice.”
On one hand, “mercy”; on the other “righteousness.” On one hand, “doom”; on the other hand “justice.” Even in the final phrase, on one hand, “mercy”; on the other “love.”
For the word of the Lord is rightful (For the word of the Lord is true); and all his works be (done) in faithfulness. He loveth mercy and doom; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord. (He loveth righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the love of the Lord.)
Imagine God loving “doom.”
If you look around at the state of the world at large, God loving doom is not hard to imagine. Listen to the evening news and doom is all around you – earthquakes, erupting volcanos, tsunamis, rising sea levels, erratic weather patterns, droughts, fires. And this doom does not yet include what people do to you ( or what you do to people… )!
So, where’s the evidence that God loves mercy?
The evidence for God’s mercy is less compelling, you might say. But, I would argue the evidence of God’s mercy is the doom inflicted and endured by Him on the Cross. “All [God’s] works be done in faithfulness.”