Pursuit of Holiness – (Romans 6:11-14)

In our last study on the subject of holiness, we looked at the necessity of holiness.

We saw that when God saved us, He not only imputed Christ’s holiness to us, but He also called us to a life of holiness.  Paul captures this in his opening greeting to the Corinthians: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints..”  They were separated from the world and set apart to be holy.

Now that we are convinced of the necessity of living a holy life, the question remains as to how do we practically pursue it; and why is it that so many Christians feel constantly defeated in their struggle with sin, to the point that some have given up the fight and are resigned to wait for their glorified, sinless bodies.

While some have resorted to a list of do’s and don’ts as a way to have a measurable success in this area, others tell us that we need to stop trying in the flesh and simply trust in Christ’s active and passive obedience on our behalf; He will then live His life in us and we will experience victory over sin; they say that we started in faith and we need to continue in faith.

However, when we look into the scriptures, we see that we are not only to acknowledge that we have been delivered from the guilt and power of sin through our union with Christ, but that we are also to make no provision for the flesh:

Rom 6:11-13

11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

The fact of the matter is that as long as we are still in this world, we will be battling against sin; there is still an active devil whose aim is to tempt us so that we may fall into sin.  There is also our flesh that is easily enticed and drawn into sin.  But praise the Lord that we are not fighting this battle against sin in our own strength. God is committed to our sanctification and has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to live a holy life.

 

 

 

 

 

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Who Is in Charge? Matthew 21:23-46

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, he publicly affirmed what had, up to then, only been hinted at, that he was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. His intentional fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 (Behold, your king is coming to you; … humble and mounted on a donkey) served as a bold announcement that Jesus was the very King of Israel. This event set up a series of hostile encounters, over the next four days, with the religious authorities of the Jewish people – the Pharisees and Sadducees.  These confrontations, which are the subject of chapters 21 through 23 of Matthew’s Gospel, find their climax in Jesus’ prophecy of 21:43 that the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to a people producing fruits (a statement which hearkens back to the cursing of the fig tree in verses 18-22). Finally in chapter 23, Jesus utterly condemns the hypocritical leadership of Judaism with seven pronouncements of woe, ultimately condemning them for the murder of the righteous prophets that God had sent to warn and help the nation.

Palm Sunday’s entry into the city followed by Monday’s cleansing of the Temple prompted the religious leaders to ask Jesus by what authority he was doing these things (Mt 21:23). Without giving them a direct answer, Jesus told three parables which point to the failure of the Pharisees and Sadducees to lead Israel righteously. The consequence for their consistent hypocrisy and failure to heed the commandments of God, is revealed in this parable trilogy. The first parable (21:28-32) centers on their failure during the ministry of John the Baptist. The second parable (21:33-42) centers on the continual failure of the leadership throughout the history of Israel, culminating in their rejection of Jesus. And the third parable (22:1-14, which God willing, we will look at next time) reveals the continual rejection of Jesus’ mission through the church until the final Day of Judgment. Each parable highlights a particular segment in the history of salvation.

Though the church has historically understood these parables to be spoken against Israel, they most certainly apply to all of God’s people. Taken together, the parables challenge and call us to an urgent faith – not a mere profession or formal outward faith, but a true conversion-wrought faith that is a product of the new birth.

The Exiles Return – Ezra 2

“Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town.” (Ezra 2:1)

Ezra chapter 2 is a bunch of names. Sound exciting? Not just any names, either – some very difficult-to-pronounce names, along with some numbers. As you read it, you may wonder, can’t we just skip this passage?

Indeed, it would not be a sin to include this chapter in a sermon on chapter 1, or a study on the whole book. There is no command to treat this passage separately. However, when we consider the significance of this list of names, and its place in redemptive history, we come away with more than we’d expect.

Chapter 2 gives us a list of the names of those exiles who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and Judah. This history alone is worth savoring: God promised, years beforehand, that the captivity would conclude and his people would return – and here it is, written for our encouragement, God fulfilling his promise!

Now, why doesn’t the text merely tell us it happened, and move on to more dynamic elements of the event? What’s with all the names? Commentators have offered a few suggestions as to why: 1) the list of names gives credibility to land rights upon return, 2) the list distinguishes true Israelites from those who were not given approval to rebuild the temple, and 3) the list is a record of the line of families that constitutes Israel’s rich history, leaving for them (and us) a historical legacy that serves as a reminder that God has preserved his people.

Relishing in how good God is to his own children is enough to inspire worship for eternity. But there are other practical applications to reading this list as well. It reminds us that God is concerned with details. It foreshadows another list, wherein exiles in this present world will one day cross the river into the heavenly Jerusalem, namely the Lamb’s Book of Life, and raises the question, is my name written there? And it teaches us about the significance of names. God knows you by name!

As you think about the “bunch of names” in Ezra 2, rejoice that your name is written among the “bunch of names” in the Book of Life, right alongside the so-called giants of the faith! And remember, the only reason your name is written there is because of the accomplishments of the One who is given a name above all names, our Lord Jesus Christ!

Jesus: Prophet, Priest, & King (Revisited) – Matthew 20:29-21:22

In seeking to understand the work of Christ on earth, one of the most helpful concepts is that of “munus triplex,” or the ’threefold office of Christ,’ first described by Eusebius and more fully developed later by John Calvin.Munus triplex” summarizes how, during His life and ministry on earth, Jesus performed all three of those functions reserved in the Old Testament for separate parties – namely those of prophet, priest, and king. We see Jesus functioning in these three occupations from the very onset of His ministry in Matthew chapter 4, all the way until the end, described here in Matthew chapters 20 and 21.

Just as we saw this illustrated in Jesus’ ministry back in Matthew chapter 4, now, near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we once again find Him ministering among the people as prophet, priest, and king. First, in verses 29-34 of chapter 20, Jesus acts as the merciful priest as he heals two blind men. This will be the last public healing that Matthew reports in His gospel.  In the beginning of chapter 21, Matthew reports the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem on a donkey, highlighting His kingly ministry on earth which ordered the adoration of His people. Thirdly, in verses 12-22 of the same chapter, Jesus exercises his authority as a mighty prophet, cleansing the temple by overturning the tables of the corrupt money changers and cursing an unfruitful fig tree.

As Jesus did not refuse to heal anyone who asked Him, no less does he turn away even the vilest of sinners; so today, as sinners bruised and broken by the fall, we have Jesus’ blood to heal us and make us whole. Even now, He is our faithful high priest, whose blood pleads before the throne, making intercession for us.  As Jesus entered Jerusalem as a humble king, receiving the praises of His people, so today we as His people gather to worship Him as our great king. And just as Jesus acted as a prophet 2000 years ago in the temple courts, even today, His words continue to purify and speak authoritatively into our lives.

Jesus Christ is the only person who ever walked the earth and functioned in all three capacities of prophet, priest, and king; He could do so, because He was God incarnate. And He continues to minister to the church in these very same capacities to this very day as our mighty prophet, high priest, and great king.

The Book of the Covenant – Exodus 21:1-11

In Exodus so far, we’ve seen Israel in bondage under Egypt. We’ve seen Moses raised up by the Lord to be His mediator between Himself and the people. The Lord rescued Israel from their bondage and brought them to Mt. Sinai, where He spoke with them audibly and gave His Law to the nation as a whole in preparation for moving into the promised land. In our text this Sunday the Lord expands His Law to their everyday lives. In this section, and on to Exodus 23:33, the Lord explains how the Ten Commandments are to be applied in a case-by-case manner. Some refer to this section as “case laws.” In the first, the Lord addresses how Israelites are to treat their slaves or servants.

Today when we hear the word slave we immediately think of the early days of the USA. Slavery was wicked and cruel in our history as a nation. But that’s not how the word is used in our text. Israel has just come out of bondage, being slaves in the cruelest sense, but this is not what the Lord is speaking of here at all. During this time in Israel’s history and as they enter the land, some Israelites didn’t have enough to survive on their own. Others may have been in debt and in need of money to pay the debt off. And so, Israelites under monetary burdens like these would sell their services to another. They would live with the one who helped them and serve him until their service was paid off. In our text, the Lord sets standards on how to treat those that sell their services to another.

Today this may be equivalent to a live-in servant who serves for room and board plus a small payment. Or it may possibly be similar to one who joins the military for a four-year enlistment. The Army agrees to house, train, and care for you with pay. For all intents and purposes, for those years you belong to the Army until your contract is finished!

The Lord tells Israel they are to treat their fellow Israelites with kindness. Also, they are to be set free after six years of service.

The Lord has treated Israel well and they are to treat their neighbors well, as we’ll see in our text. Jesus summed up the commandments in Mark 12:30-31: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.

The LORD Stirs – Ezra 1

“ . . the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia . . .”; “. . . everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord . . .” (Ezra 1:1c; 1:5b)

Next Sunday we begin a new sermon series entitled “Return and Remember: Ezra-Nehemiah.” We will journey through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah together, considering them as one whole unit. While we will consider many truths about God, his people, history, and applications to life, one theme that will glow throughout the series is God’s unstoppable, covenant-keeping nature.

The Book of Ezra records the return of the Jewish people to Judah after about fifty years of Babylonian captivity. They were granted permission to return and rebuild their temple and their culture after King Cyrus and the Persians took over the Babylonian Empire. This grant came in the form a a decree given by Cyrus, but scripture also reveals that this was truly a decree from God, based on his promises: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing.” (Ezra 1:1)

The unstoppable nature of God is evident in this first verse. Cyrus was anointed by God according to the prophet Isaiah and was given his authority and rule by God alone, at a time appointed by God alone. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied that God’s people would return to the land (Jer 29:10) after their Babylonian captivity. In our text, God’s chosen ruler (Cyrus) frees God’s chosen people (the Jews) based on promises made by God’s chosen prophets (Isaiah and Jeremiah) for the precise moment in history of which we read. God is in control of rulers, history, and prophecy. He is truly unstoppable!

Yes, we confess on paper that “God is in control.” But do we believe this? We are so often bogged down with our society downgrade, our political climate, our tense work atmosphere, our familial issues, or other personal problems. But the same God who used a pagan king to accomplish his purposes decreed from eternity past is the God we serve here and now! As the scripture says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” (Prov 21:1). Believer, take heart – nothing can stop the purposes of God! May the God who stirred up Cyrus stir our hearts to burn more deeply about God’s generous sovereignty.

The Church’s Call to Serve – Matthew 20:1-28

Whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:27-28

In Matthew chapter 19, after encountering a rich young man, Jesus proceeded to teach his disciples about the danger of pursuing riches and the blessing of surrendering all to follow Him. He concluded this teaching in verse 30 by saying, “but many who are first will be last, and the last first.” This statement summarizes the teaching that those who pursue financial gain may be counted first in this world, but they are last in the kingdom of God; while those who, like the disciples, surrender their lives for the name of Christ, are counted first.

There is a close connection between the stories of chapter 20 and those of chapter 19. This is clear as Jesus repeats the same phrase in verse 16: “the last will be first, and the first last.” Chapter 20 also begins with the Greek conjunction gar, which emphasizes the continuity. Just how the parable of the hired workers in the vineyard (chapter 20) is related to the teaching on riches (chapter 19) is not immediately clear, but what is clear is that Matthew uses this illustration as a segue to the events he reports later in verses 20-28, where he teaches about the value of being a servant.

 “The last will be first, and the first last,” is a summary of the counter-cultural way the entire Gospel of Matthew calls the Christian disciple to live. In this present order, those who are first are the rich and famous; as Jesus puts it in verse 25, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.” In our society, “the first” are served; “the last” are the servants. But Jesus calls us to a different life, saying in verse 26, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” Jesus demonstrated this as He who is “the king of the universe” turned the world on its head, by coming “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Christ’s servant’s nature is most demonstrable on the cross where He gave His life to save others. In preparation for Sunday read and pray through Philippians 2:3-11.