The Righteous Person In an Unrighteous Society

Posted by on November 24, 1996 under Sermons

Matthew 5:13-20

I have two sons, both of whom work in the “real world.” Neither of their work environments are influenced to any significant degree by the religious world. One is the director of a Chamber of Commerce, and one is an accountant in a major accounting firm. My older son preaches and teaches Bible classes; my younger son is a deacon in the Highland congregation in Memphis.

Both have talked to me about how far removed much of our teaching emphasis is from the day-to-day realities encountered when you do your non-religious job in a non-religious environment.

One of the great challenges that has always confronted Christianity is the challenge to address real life and real problems in the world and age of the moment. Most religious bodies fail to do that in every age. As Christ’s church, we commonly do a less than desirable job of helping people use Christ’s teachings to address real life and real problems of today. I am not talking about changing anything Scripture teaches. I am talking about realistically and understandably using scripture to address what is happening in people’s lives right now.

It is too easy for any religion or church to initially decide what it believes, what the important issues are, where it stands, and to focus all future attention on dealing with the concerns of the religion or church’s, not the spiritual needs of people as they struggle with life.

That is what Judaism had done in the first century. Centuries before, they decided what they believed, what the important issues were, and where they stood. And in each new generation, the synagogue teachers focused on the concerns of Judaism. It did not focus on the spiritual needs of people who struggled with life.

In the sermon found in Matthew 5-7, Jesus dealt with the spiritual needs of people struggling with life. The teachings of the Pharisees made the struggle worse. Jesus addressed matters that would help people spiritually in the real world.

Last week we looked at the contrast between Jesus’ description of a righteous man and the Pharisees’ description. Tonight we want to look at Jesus’ statement about the life of a righteous person in an unrighteous society. Please note that the Jewish society was a religious society, but, by Jesus’ definition, it was an unrighteous society.

Read with me Matthew 5:13-20.

  1. In this reading, Jesus used two “you are” statements.
    1. In that day, in that religious society, for a Jewish teacher to say “your are” was unusual.
      1. In Matthew 7:28, 29 the writer notes at the end of the sermon that:
        1. The people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching.
        2. And that they were amazed because Jesus taught them as a person who possessed authority.
      2. A number of statements recorded by the gospels note the fact that Jesus’ teachings amazed people.
        1. In Matthew 13 Jesus was visiting in his hometown.
          1. Verse 54 states that people in his hometown were astonished.
          2. “Where did he get this wisdom? Where did he get the power to perform these miracles?”
        2. During the last week of his life, Jesus had some major confrontations with Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.
          1. In Matthew 22, the Pharisees asked him if it was proper for Jews to pay Roman taxes, and he silenced them with his answer.
          2. The Sadducees asked him whose wife a woman would be in the next world since she had been married to seven brothers; again, Jesus silenced them with his answer.
          3. The crowds of people who witnessed this give and take were astonished at Jesus’ teachings (22:33).
        3. Once when Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem, John 7:32 states that the chief priests and Pharisees sent some officers to arrest Jesus because they disapproved of his teachings.
          1. Verse 46 says that the officers returned without Jesus.
          2. They asked, “Why didn’t you arrest him?”
          3. The officers answered, “Never did a man speak the way this man speaks.”
        4. Mark 11:18 states that the chief priests and scribes wanted to destroy Jesus–they were afraid of him because he astonished the multitudes with his teaching.
        5. Twice more it says that Jesus’ teachings amazed the people because he taught as one having authority.
          1. Mark 1:21, 22.
          2. Luke 4:31, 32.
      3. Some of their amazement occurred because of the content of his teaching and the wisdom reflected in his teaching.
        1. But content and wisdom do not explain the amazement generated because he taught as one having authority.
        2. In the synagogues, or in virtually any study or teaching situation, there was an approved, accepted, correct way to teach the scriptures.
        3. Either the scripture to be discussed was read, or the topic to be discussed was stated, and the relevant scriptures on that topic noted.
        4. Then the teacher established the proper interpretation or understanding by establishing the position of the rabbis over generations.
        5. “This is the correct understanding because rabbi A said, and rabbi B said, and rabbi C said, ” and so on.
        6. Any one who disagreed would do so by citing a different line of rabbis.
        7. No one dared to say, “This is the correct understanding because I say…”
        8. You did not talk about “my position” or “my understanding.”
      4. That is, nobody did but Jesus, and what he said dealt with real world realities.
    2. Jesus was distinctive in his teachings, no only in what he said, but in how he said it.
      1. His concept of a righteous person was distinctively different from the common concept.
      2. Anyone who accepted his concept and devoted himself or herself to that concept would become a person who was distinctively different in that highly religious society–a society that was devoutly religious, but was not righteous.
    3. For a teacher to say to his disciples that “you are” the avenue through which God will accomplish His world purpose was unusual.
      1. He did not say that the word of God was the salt and light of the world.
      2. Nor that the scribes or religious teachers were the salt and light of the world.
      3. Nor that the priests were the salt and light of the world.
      4. Nor that the synagogue was the salt and light of the world.
      5. But, he said his untrained, uneducated disciples were the salt and light of the world.
      6. The world was not going to be saved or enlightened by Israel’s religious institutions and teachers, but by those who followed him and his teachings.
    4. Both images of salt and light are simple but profoundly powerful.
      1. “You, my disciples, are the salt of the earth.”
        1. Then a question to those disciples: “If the salt loses its taste, can you put the salty taste back in it?”
        2. Have you ever had a box of salt to spoil? Have you ever had a box of salt loose its taste? Of course not.
        3. Salt is sodium chloride, and as long as sodium chloride is sodium chloride it retains it properties which includes its taste. As long as salt is salt, it has its salty taste.
        4. Then what was Jesus talking about?
          1. Salt was a precious commodity in Jesus’ day because virtually everyone needed it.
          2. They had no means of preserving food by freezing or canning–salting food, especially fish or meat, was one of the few means that they had to preserve it.
          3. As under any government, the best items to tax are the items people use the most.
          4. A salt merchant would pass a government check point and pay taxes on his salt–and lose a part of his profit.
          5. Too make up for lost profit, he would add other white crystalline substances to it.
          6. If the salt passed through several merchants, and each did the same thing each time it was taxed, the salt would become so diluted by other substances that it was too weak to preserve food. It was salt “that had lost its taste” because it was diluted.
        5. What can you do with diluted salt?
          1. It is dangerous–there many be too little to taste or to preserve food, but there is still enough to kill plants if you put it on the ground.
          2. You cannot throw it away without doing damage.
          3. Unless you throw it away where you want nothing to grow–so you throw it in the road.
        6. God would work through Jesus’ disciples to save the world, or Jesus’ disciples would become so diluted by the world that they would become dangerous and destructive.
      2. You are the light of the world.
        1. As light, you will be obvious, as obvious as a city sitting on a tell. (A tell is a hill; specifically, an ancient mound in the Middle East composed of remains of successive settlements.)
        2. The purpose of lighting a lamp is to help everybody in the room to see.
        3. So you don’t hide the lamp under a basket (lamp’s were small and gave off a very dim light), but you put it on a lamp stand–high enough to light the room.
        4. Don’t hide the light you will radiate because of my teachings; don’t be afraid to be distinctive.
        5. Let it shine. How? By doing good works.
          1. The good you do will be so distinctively different to the religious society that people will not be giving you credit.
          2. Your distinctiveness will be so unique that they will glorify God.
        6. The Jewish people were quite accustomed to watching religious people perform religious deeds–they were not accustomed to religious teachings making people good people who did good things.

  2. Jesus knew that he would be accused of trying to destroy God’s law because his teachings and his method of teaching were different.
    1. If Jesus’ teachings and presentation were:
      1. Different.
      2. Presented in a style not used by anyone else.
      3. Reached different conclusions.
      4. Made God’s message relevant to present realities.
      5. He knew that the religious leaders would declare that he was not teaching the truth; that he was not teaching scripture; that he and his teachings were dangerous; and that his teaching were destructive.
      6. And he was right–that is exactly what happened.
    2. Jesus stated clearly that his teachings were no threat to God’s law.
      1. He did not come as a teacher to abolish (completely destroy) the law and the prophets–the way the Jews said “scriptures.”
      2. He came to accomplish the ultimate purposes of the law and prophets–the law and prophets would achieve their basic purpose and goal in what he was doing.
      3. Nothing could destroy the law–it was impossible for the law not to achieve its God-given purpose.
        1. “Any disciple who uses my teachings to nullify even the least command of the law will be least in the kingdom of heaven”–not out of it, but least.
        2. “Any disciple who lives by and teaches the law will be great in the kingdom of heaven.”
      4. Jesus knew, clearly understood, that the traditional teaching of the law had perverted the message and the intent of the law.
      5. His teachings would reveal and establish the correct message and intent of the law, for they would reveal God’s message and intent.
      6. The law was not threatened by Jesus or his teachings.
    3. Then he gave this warning to his disciples who would commit themselves to being the righteous person he described: “If your righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
      1. The point is clear: unless their righteousness was greater than the righteousness of their religious leaders, they would not be a part of the kingdom.
      2. That brings up interesting questions.
        1. Could they know more about the scriptures than the scribes and Pharisees?
        2. Could they study more?
        3. Could they recite more commands or give more applications?
        4. Could they be more judgmental?
        5. Could they attend more religious assemblies and religious functions?
        6. Could they pray more?
        7. No!
      3. The rest of the sermon reveals the “how”?
        1. They can learn a more correct understanding of God’s purposes and intents.
        2. They can learn correctly the message of God’s teachings.
        3. They can have better motives and better hearts.
        4. They can practice the things God defines to be good: such as forgiving others, treating others as you want to be treated.
      4. Just as their righteousness must exceed the religious expressions of their religious environment, if we are to be Christ’s church, so must ours.
        1. How will we do that?
          1. By knowing more than everyone else?
          2. By studying harder?
          3. By reciting more commands and more interpretations?
          4. By being more judgmental and hostile?
          5. By attending more assemblies and religious functions?
          6. By praying more?
          7. I sincerely doubt that is possible.
        2. How then?
          1. By committing ourselves to be the righteous person Jesus described.
          2. By learning God’s real intents and purposes in His word.
          3. By better understanding the message of God through Christ.
          4. By having better motives and better hearts.
          5. By devoting ourselves to things Jesus stressed such as forgiveness of others, and treating others as we want to be treated.

We are salt and light only if Christ is in us and our lives are dedicated to doing the things he wants us to do. We are salt and light only if we let Jesus teach us and change us. Only because of Jesus can we be salt and light. Without Jesus, we are not salt, and we are a part of the darkness. Allow Jesus’ teachings to make you a good person who does good things. And don’t be ashamed of being distinctive when Jesus does that.

God’s Greatest Investment

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

You are God’s greatest investment. In nothing has God investedmore than He has invested in you. He brought you into being byplacing a part of Himself in you. When our original ancestorsdecided to allow evil to become a permanent condition of the humanexperience, He committed to His most costly investment, thecreation of perfect forgiveness.

To grasp the magnitude of God’s investment (in time, frustration,sorrow, and personal cost), consider the known things required ofGod. Consider the decision to work patiently with humanity’sstubborn free wills. Consider the difficulty of forming the Nation ofIsrael. Consider Israel’s challenges to God’s purposes and patiencein Israel’s wilderness experiences. Consider the disappointmentsand setbacks God tolerated in Israel’s stubborn, hard-heartedrebelliousness generation after generation. Consider the agony ofGod’s distress when Israel’s failures necessitated exiles andcaptivities. But Israel had to exist for God to send Jesus. No Israel,no Jesus, no perfect forgiveness.

The most costly part of God’s investment was Jesus. He permitted apart of Himself, the active agent in creation, to become a humanpart of that creation. He permitted him, as a human, to endure theworst that evil could conspire. He permitted him, in true purity andinnocence, to suffer the most agonizing execution a human couldexperience. He allowed Jesus in death to wear in his body the totalsin of humanity. He allowed Jesus fully to experience an evilperson’s death.

God invested all of this in you. No one wants you to have and enjoysalvation as much as God does. God did not invest all of this todestroy you. He could have destroyed you with no investment.

God’s love was determined to save you. Having made this enormousinvestment, He will not hesitate to do anything needful to make yoursalvation certain reality. Your salvation is a daily reality and aneternal reality if you do three things. Place your confidence in theatonement of Jesus’ death. Place your trust in God’s power toresurrect. Learn to love God as He loves you.

Jesus came to save you. The patient, loving God wants no one to perish. If you chose to accept salvation through Jesus and, in love, commit yourself to God’s will, you can be certain that God will not neglect His investment. You can be assured that the same love which invested Jesus in your forgiveness will sustain you through forgiveness. In that assurance is the peace that passes all understanding.

A Congregation’s Greatest Asset

Posted by on under Sermons

Let’s suppose that God spoke to this congregation directly this morning, and that He said this to us:

“You are growing in your faith in my Son. Your confidence in His death, His resurrection, and my power is increasing. You are opening your lives to my Word and my Spirit. You arepraying with a new earnestness. Because you are placing more faith in me and less faith inyourselves, your potential is growing. Therefore, I will bless you with a tremendous asset. Thisasset will increase your outreach. Your capacity to do my work will increase. Your vision willgrow. This asset will be an open door for serving me in ways that will amaze all who see you.”

If God gave us that asset, what would it be? Someone says, “It is money.” With the rightattitude and proper stewardship, money can be an asset. But having money will not create thoseblessings and opportunities.

Someone says, “It is removing our debt.” That would be an asset. But no indebtedness will notcreate those blessings and opportunities.

What is this internal asset that God could give us? Let’s ask God.

  1. “God, what is this incredible asset?”
    1. God responds, “The great asset I give you that creates great potential for outreach andministry is diversity.”
      1. “Wait a minute, God. Let me get this straight. You want us to believe thatdiversity is an asset that creates extraordinary potential?”
        1. “God, diversity is not asset or potential–diversity is handicap.”
        2. “Diversity means that we are not alike within the congregation; that weare in fact very different.”
        3. “The fact that we are different in our membership is a problem, or atleast the beginning of problems; it is disadvantage, not advantage.”
      2. If you are convinced that diversity in a congregation is problem rather than anasset, may I ask how you formed that conclusion? Why do you think diversityto be a spiritual liability?
        1. I anticipate that most of us would say that the goal of the church is to beuniform and to produce uniformity.
        2. If the goal of Christ’s church is uniformity, then diversity would be aproblem.
    2. From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, diversity was used to generate opportunity toachieve God’s greatest purposes.
      1. How many intimate disciples did Jesus have? Even the children would replythat Jesus had twelve disciples.
        1. In those twelve men, do you see uniformity or diversity?
        2. You see incredible diversity–I could easily illustrate that diversity inmany ways.
        3. To me, the most striking illustration of their diversity is seen in Matthewthe tax collector and Simeon the Zealot.
          1. Matthew, prior to becoming one of the twelve, collected taxesfrom Jews for the Roman government.
            1. Because he collected taxes for the government thatdestroyed Israel’s independence and stationed an occupationforce in their country, Matthew was regarded to be a traitorito his own nation by many of his fellow Jews.
            2. Many Jews were insulted by Jesus choosing a tax collectorto be one of the twelve.
          2. Simeon, before becoming one of the twelve, belonged to theZealots, a radical religious/political group that believed Jews whocollected taxes for the Roman government were committingtreason against God.
            1. They believed that God expected them to assassinate Jewswho assisted the Roman government.
            2. So Zealots killed tax collectors when it was possible.
          3. Thus Simeon would have killed Matthew prior to discipleship.
            1. How could Jesus select as two of the twelve men that werethat different? That defies our expectation andunderstanding.
            2. Matthew and Simeon had nothing in common before theyfollowed Jesus, and the only thing they had in common asdisciples was that they both followed Jesus.
            3. In fact, neither Matthew or Simeon would have had much incommon with the other 10 disciples.
        4. Jesus deliberately creating such diversity within the twelve declares an important lesson that we must see and understand clearly.
          1. The diversity that Jesus established within the discipleship clearly emphasizes his determination to save all kinds of people.
          2. Peter could never have worked effectively with the peopleMatthew could identify with, and Matthew could never identifywith and effectively communicate to the people that Simeon couldteach.
      2. If we understand the diversity Jesus deliberately created within the twelve, it should not surprise us that he deliberately designed the church to be diverse.
  2. Is the church by divine design to be diverse? Is diversity within the church the intent of God, Christ, and the Spirit?
    1. Unquestionably!
      1. Look at what the book of Acts clearly reveals to us about the establishment andgrowth of the church under the specific guidance of Christ and the Spirit.
        1. From day one in Acts 2 it existed in a complex diversity.
          1. The first converts were made from the people who came toJerusalem to observe the Passover.
          2. Those who first heard and responded to the good newsabout Jesus’ resurrection included Jews from Galilee andJews from Judea–who had major differences; Jews fromPalestine and Jews from non-Jewish nations–which hadeven greater differences; and converted non-Jews, who hadeven more differences.
          3. Then, under the direct guidance of Jesus and the Spirit, thegospel was extended to non-Jews who already believed inGod in Acts 10.
          4. Then in Acts 11 we learn that the gospel was extended tonon-Jews who did not believe in God, and from Acts 13 thatGod commissioned two of his best preachers to work in theRoman world among non-Jews who worshipped idols.
          5. Within a few years after the church was established, it wasincredibly diverse–more diverse than any of us have everknown it in our lifetimes.
        2. In fact, congregations were so diverse that it was common for thecongregations to have problems accepting their own diversity.
        3. Romans 12:3-8 is clear documentation of that fact.
          1. Within your diversity, don’t be concerned about yourown significance and importance.
          2. Focus your concern on a desire to have soundjudgment in using your God-given potential for faith.
          3. A congregation, in its diversity, is like the physicalbody of a person.
          4. There are many different body parts that have totallydifferent functions, completely different purposes,and dissimilar abilities.
          5. Determine your gift that God has given you as a partof the body and function diligently doing what Godenabled you to do.
      2. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 documents God’s design for a congregationto be diverse in even greater detail.
        1. Paul told the diverse congregation at Corinth that the churchand the physical body are alike because the church exists asChrist’s body in this world.
        2. It is formed from Jews and non-Jews, from slaves andpeople who are free–you do not find any greater differencesthan are found in those two groupings.
        3. If you do not have diversity, you do not have a body becausea body must function in many distinctly different ways toexist.
        4. God placed each person in the body; our differences comefrom God; and God has a use for each one of us within thebody that will bring health and strength to the body.
        5. God never intended for all of us to be alike doing the samethings.
  3. Allow me to give a clear, practical illustration of the blessing of diversity.
    1. David Chadwell has one body, and all its parts are interconnected and mutuallydependent.
      1. My eyeball and my thumb have absolutely nothing in common as body parts.
        1. They have nothing in common in their individual functions.
        2. Their purposes are not even remotely similar.
        3. They are not even made of the same tissue and certainly do not have thesame structure–an eyeball and a thumb are about as dissimilar as you canget.
      2. My eyeball could arrogantly say, “The body would be in a terrible fix if it didnot have me.”
        1. “I am the body’s light.”
        2. “I am the body’s guidance system.”
        3. “Without me, the body can’t function.”
      3. The thumb is a very low-profile member of our bodies.
        1. We use it constantly without realizing that we are using it.
        2. Our thumbs probably find themselves in more critical, dangeroussituations every single day than any other part of our body.
        3. Yet, we take thumbs so for granted that we never consider how importanta thumb is.
        4. Tape your thumb securely to the palm of your hand for a half a day.
          1. See how much you miss it; see how often you think aboutit-not having your thumb available.
          2. You will be astounded at the hundreds of things that youcannot do within only four or five hours, things that youconstantly do without even thinking.
      4. My eyeball and my thumb are very essential parts of my body.
      5. But the only two things my eyeball and my thumb have in common isthat they are both a part of my body and they both are sustained by thesame life force.
        1. But my thumb and my eyeball need each other and are dedicated totaking care of each other.
        2. If some trash gets in my eye, my thumb is instantly there to be ofassistance.
        3. My eye is constantly giving guidance to my thumb as it dailymaneuvers through dangerous situations.

To see the incredible blessing of diversity, look at your own body. When all members of your body are healthy and strong, your body is incredibly capable.

As a congregation, the greatest practical blessing God can give us is diversity. But we cannot accept or use that blessing without knowledgeable faith and understanding. The more diverse we are, the more God can use us for all His purposes. The more diverse we are, the more people we can touch with the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

Thank God everyone in the congregation is not exactly like me. Thank God everyone is not exactly like you. Because you and I are so evil? No. Because if everyone were exactly alike, there would not be a body.

Jesus’ Description of a Righteous Man

Posted by on November 17, 1996 under Sermons

Matthew 5:1-12

Jesus Christ stands at the heart and center of everything we are spiritually and everything we do religiously. We belong to Jesus. Jesus is our Lord as well as being our Savior. We are saved because of Jesus. We are forgiven because of Jesus. We can be children of God because of Jesus. Nothing is more important than understanding Jesus. All proper Christian knowledge begins with a proper understanding of Jesus. A proper knowledge of the epistles begins with an accurate understanding of Jesus. Paul urged Christians to develop the mind of Christ.

I want to begin my Sunday evening studies with you by reaffirming and advancing our understanding of Jesus. I want to begin our focus on Jesus by developing an overview of the longest recorded sermon of Jesus in the gospels, the Sermon on the Mount.

This evening I want us to examine Jesus’ description of a righteous person by looking at what we call the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12.

  1. Important background considerations:
    1. Matthew 5:1 states that Jesus gave these teachings to his disciples.
      1. Though a massive crowd of people continued to follow him, he created a context in which he could address his disciples.
        1. He went up on a hill and sat down.
        2. His disciples gathered around him.
      2. It is particularly important that we understand that he is teaching disciples.
        1. These are people who have already committed themselves to follow Jesus for the purpose of learning anything he wants to teach them.
        2. They have already accepted the fact that he is the teacher, and that nothing is more important than learning from him.
        3. These are people that belong to him, that follow him on a day-by-day basis who are committed to learn anything and everything that he can teach them.
        4. They are not there to question or challenge; they are there to understand.
    2. It is equally important to understand that Jesus is teaching his disciples a totally different concept of religion, of spirituality, of relationship with God, and of relationship with people.
      1. The most influential voice, the most powerful religious teachers in Israel, are the Pharisees.
        1. The concepts and teachings of the Pharisees were accepted as being truth by “the man on the street” in Palestine.
        2. The positions and thoughts of the Pharisees were so commonly accepted and had been so commonly accepted for such a lengthy period of time that they represented what most Jews accepted to be the “way things are.”
      2. In this sermon, and in much of Jesus’ teachings, he is contrasting his teachings and concepts with the thoughts and understandings that the common Jewish population accepted without question or doubt.
      3. This contrast was very evident to those who seriously listened to his teachings.
        1. Jesus is not merely telling them something different.
        2. He is sharing with them thoughts and revelations that radically oppose what they always accepted, always understood to be the truth of the scriptures.
  2. Interestingly, Jesus begins this series of contrasts between himself and the Pharisees by presenting his description of the righteous person.
    1. The beatitudes are a composite description of Jesus’ righteous person.
      1. He is not talking about eight different kinds of people who follow God.
      2. He is talking about basic qualities of righteousness that are typical of the person that God acknowledges to be righteous.
    2. Those eight qualities are:
      1. The righteous person is poor in spirit, or, he or she recognizes his or her spiritual poverty and owns that spiritual poverty.
      2. The righteous person mourns, or, because he or she sees and owns his or her spiritual poverty, he or she is grieved because that poverty exists.
      3. The righteous person is meek, or gentle, or under control.
      4. The righteous person is famished for righteousness–he or she has a consuming appetite for righteousness, that is what he or she wants and wants to become.
      5. The righteous person is merciful–the person who abuses them, or offends them, or hurts them, or treats them unjustly will receive mercy, not justice; and the righteous person will extend mercy to those who have failed.
      6. The righteous person is devoted to developing and having a pure heart; he or she does not merely want to look pure in deeds; he or she wants to be pure within.
      7. The righteous person is a peacemaker; he or she is the kind of person who can help those who are alienated find reconciliation.
      8. The righteous person is willing to endure suffering and mistreatment for Jesus’ sake.
  3. Jesus’ description of a righteous person stood in total contrast, stark contrast with the Pharisees’ concept of a righteous person–and remember that was the commonly accepted definition of righteous person at that time.
    1. The Pharisees’ description of a righteous person was the exact opposite of Jesus’ description.
      1. The righteous person was a religiously accomplished person (he had no spiritual poverty to own).
        1. By virtue of his accomplishments, he knew he was right, he knew he had God’s truth.
        2. He could say, as the Pharisees did to Jesus, “By what authority do you do these things?”
        3. He could say, “We have Moses on our side, and we are descendants of Abraham.”
        4. He could tell you in detail what was right and what was wrong in any situation.
      2. The righteous person took pride in his religious achievements (he had nothing religiously to mourn).
        1. In the parable of the Pharisee and the publican who were praying at the temple, the Pharisee in his prayer is a superb example (Luke 18:9-14).
          1. God, I thank you that I am not like other people who do not do your will.
          2. I don’t swindle, I am not unjust, I don’t commit adultery, and I don’t take advantage of other people.
          3. I fast two times every week.
          4. I give you ten percent of everything I receive, no matter how big or small it is.
        2. I am proud of what I am not, and I am proud of what I do.
      3. The righteous person was aggressive as he opposed those he declared to be God’s enemies (meekness or gentleness was weakness).
        1. Like the Pharisees did when they came from Jerusalem to Galilee to examine the deeds and teachings of Jesus.
        2. Like the Pharisees as they followed Jesus searching for mistakes as they were doing when they saw his disciples stripping raw grain and eating it on a Sabbath.
        3. Like the Pharisees, who were certain Jesus was evil, and plotted to discredit and destroy him.
      4. The righteous person was knowledgeable (he had no need to hunger for righteousness); he did not seek understanding–he dispersed understanding. He fed those who were starved to understand.
        1. Jesus never taught the Pharisees one thing.
        2. They were always certain they understood and Jesus did not, they were right and Jesus was wrong, and they had the right interpretation of God’s will and Jesus was misrepresenting God’s will.
      5. The righteous person exercised righteous indignation (mercy compromised God’s will).
        1. It was an act of righteousness to trap someone that you declared was teaching error.
        2. It was an act of righteousness to falsely accuse and discredit someone who was doing what you declared to be evil.
        3. It was an act of righteousness to destroy a person who was a religious threat to what you knew was right.
      6. The righteous person was ceremonially pure; he ate the right things, washed his hands the right way, practiced the commands regarding body purity–purity existed in how you used your body, not your emotions, not your motivations, not your inner being.
        1. Purity had nothing to do with the mind and the heart.
        2. Purity concerned only your body.
        3. Is it not easy to see how that reasoning could lead to the mock trials and execution of Jesus?
      7. The righteous person was devoted to justice, to condemning the wrong doers, to destroying those who violated the commandments (not to making peace).
        1. It was perfectly consistent with the Pharisees’ concept of righteousness to bring the woman captured while committing adultery to Jesus and say, “The law says kill her, so what do you say?”
      8. Obviously, from this description of righteousness, a righteous person would not endure suffering in loyalty to Jesus–in this definition the righteous person would inflict suffering on those who were loyal to Jesus.
  4. Those who accepted and lived by the Pharisees’ description of a righteous person became hardened, inflexible, judgmental people who did evil things for what they declared to be godly purposes.
    1. They were cold and unsympathetic to the failures and struggles of others.
    2. They became emotional deserts and loveless religious robots who always went through the motions of doing the declared right thing without feeling and without faith as God defines faith.
  5. Those who would accept Jesus’ description of a righteous person:
    1. Had citizenship in God’s kingdom.
    2. Would receive comfort for their spiritual grief.
    3. Would endure in this world.
    4. Would have their craving for righteousness satisfied.
    5. Would receive mercy when they made mistakes and failings.
    6. Would see God.
    7. Would be called God’s children.
    8. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Those who are righteous by Jesus’ description become warm, alive, and filled with kindness, love, and compassion just as was Jesus. The righteousness Jesus described will make us Christ-like.

Hope For Those In Despair

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In most of the nations of our world, the majority of the population live in open despair. Their despair is no secret–the truth is it cannot be hidden. There is not enough food to feed families, and what they eat we would not consider eating. They exist in crude, inadequate forms of shelter. Every day they face incredible hardships and short life spans–when we observe their hardships we wonder how they survive at all. They endure sickness and disease with little hope for medical treatment.

Despair is no stranger to the people in our society. We have people who live in open despair in our society. We have our homeless, our hungry, our jobless, our people who exist in inhumane conditions. But the majority of people in our society who live in despair live in hidden despair. In daily life they try hard to act as if everything is fine in their lives. But it is anything but fine. Some are trapped in horrible marriages and endure outrageous abuses. Some struggle with deep depression and are filled with anger. Some are trapped in addictive behaviors that they struggle to hide. They often wonder if their lives are worth living, often think that there is no reason for them to go on. But they are determined to keep their despair a well hidden secret.

I want to ask you a serious question. What do all these people need? These people who are living in open despair or hidden despair in any society, what do they need. We answer, “They need the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ!” May I ask a second question. If these people heard the gospel, if they received the gospel, how would this good news about Jesus Christ address their despair?

I am in total agreement that it can address their despair, but it can only if one thing is true. The good news of Jesus will address their despair only if it gives them hope. Not speculative hope, the hope that says, “Well, maybe things can get better.” Not wishful thinking hope, the hope that says, “I wish this could change.” But the hope emphasized in the New Testament, the hope based on solid assurance.

Last weekend we heard the great commission emphasized, and it should be emphasized. But I am convinced that Jesus’ great invitation must always accompany Jesus’ great commission. It is the great invitation that reveals the solid hope of Jesus’ great commission.

  1. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus issued his great invitation:
    Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my load is light.
    1. There are several striking things to note and to accept in Jesus’ great invitation.
      1. Jesus wants struggling people to come to him.
        1. He did not call those who are confident that they have their lives together.
        2. He did not call those who would have us believe that they have no problems.
        3. He called the people who are so distressed in their lives that they can hardly struggle on.
          1. The word weary here literally means “those who have worked to exhaustion.”
          2. These folks have struggled with life until they are exhausted.
          3. Their burdens are so heavy that they are being crushed under them.
      2. He wants the struggling and the burdened to put themselves in his hands, to place themselves under his control, and to allow him to teach them. He assures the struggling and the burdened that:
        1. He is gentle.
        2. He is humble in heart.
        3. Jesus is not some egomaniac that exploits people to advance his self-importance.
        4. Instead, Jesus is totally devoted to helping the weary, struggling person who is being crushed by his or her life.
      3. This great invitation includes a promise, a promise that is stressed twice: “I will give you rest; you will find rest for your souls.”
        1. When we are distressed, we can’t rest.
        2. When we are struggling and so burdened with life that it is crushing us, we can’t rest.
        3. But Jesus promised that if we come to him, he will extend a rest to us that we can receive and experience.
  2. One of the rich blessings that has touched my life has been the joy of witnessing the hope of the good news at work.
    1. In West Africa:
      1. I gave a Bible to a woman who had never touched a Bible before.
        1. Even though she could not read, you could see the joy in her face and her eyes.
        2. She had a child who was going to school who could read her Bible to her in the evenings.
      2. I listened as a converted witch doctor implored me to return to America and tell the people who supported my mission work how much he appreciated being a Christian.
        1. His conversion had cost him his wife, his property, and his prestige.
        2. But he regarded those to be acceptable sacrifices when he compared them to what he found in Christ.
    2. In Kaliningrad, Russia, I was the first American invited by the Institute to speak in English about Christianity to their students.
      1. For four days the lecture hall was packed with students who listened with total attentiveness–no one left the lecture hall for any reason even when I spoke for over an hour.
      2. The first day a few professors came.
      3. By the last day, professors took over the first row of seats in the lecture hall.
      4. The first day, a lady professor told me that she had never entered a church.
        1. The second day she told me, “You are sharing things that can be useful to our people.”
        2. The next day she said, “I see that I need to give serious consideration to the things that you are saying.”
        3. The last day she said, “I am ready to go to a church.”
  3. But here in our own country equally moving experiences have touched me.
    1. A few years ago I met a young woman whose life was about as messed up as a life can get.
      1. Though she was an accomplished, capable professional, she was struggling to find a reason to live.
        1. She was close to recovery from anorexia.
        2. She was a recovering alcoholic.
        3. She was as depressed as a person can be and still be alive.
        4. She lived every day of her life terrified by fears that she could not identify.
      2. Years prior, at the lowest point of her life, she was converted to Christ and became a member of a very controlling religious group.
        1. When she could not instantly overcome her problems, when she could not meet their demands, the group was ordered to withdraw their support and association and she was told that she was possessed by demons.
        2. When I met her, she knew that she needed God, but the thought of seeking God terrified her.
      3. She was so filled with fear that she literally could not enter a church building to study or to worship–church buildings were places that hurt struggling people.
        1. At that time we were conducting some group work one night a week for struggling people.
        2. She came, but she stood outside the door trembling; when she could come in, she might be so overwhelmed with fear that she would have to get up and leave.
    2. She was rooming with another young lady who was an agnostic.
      1. This lady’s father delighted in getting her drunk when she was six because he thought it was funny to watch a drunk child stagger around.
      2. She was an alcoholic before she was 10.
      3. Though her family never worshipped, they forced her to attend Bible classes and worship.
      4. In Bible class, as a child, she became friends with the teacher’s daughter.
        1. After a class, the teacher caught them together.
        2. The teacher told her daughter, “This is the kind of person that you must not associate with.”
      5. She detested the church and God from that day forward.
    3. Listen to what happened.
      1. The agnostic lady said to the fear-filled lady, “This class is obviously helping you. I will go with you so you will be able to walk in the building.”
      2. That is the only reason the agonistic came.
      3. But the agnostic could not believe how the group and the discussion was building hope.
      4. By the third class the agnostic was coming because she wanted to be there.
      5. That led to personal studies and, in time, to baptism into Christ.
      6. I have never seen a person in any country any happier than was this lady on the day she was baptized.
        1. She said, “For the first time in my life I understand what love is. For the first time in my life I know what a friend is.”
  4. The hunger, the burning desire that I have for us as a congregation focuses on three great needs.
    1. I want us to grow as we expand our mission outreach into the world.
      1. I want our commitment to reach out to other peoples in other nations to capture our imaginations.
      2. I want us to bring the good news of the hope of assurance to other people.
    2. But I also want us to grow as we develop and expand our outreach to the Fort Smith area.
      1. I want that commitment to also capture our imaginations.
      2. I want to bring the good news of the hope of assurance to those who know despair all around us.
    3. And I want each of us as a part God’s family to grow and develop spiritually as never before.
      1. I want each of us to understand and to trust the hope of the gospel as we never have before.
      2. I want the assurance of our hope to draw us closer together than we have ever been, to make us more respectful and forbearing with one another than we have ever been.

Jesus was the most compassionate, merciful man who ever lived. When you read the gospels, his unselfish compassion is beyond belief. Again and again he astounds you with how much he cared, and who he cared for. He amazes you with the kindness and consideration he extends to the most unlikely people. Constantly he proved that his great invitation was genuine, that it was sincere, and that he meant it.

With all my heart and being, I want us to be a congregation in which we can see Jesus in each other. I want everyone of us to know that we will help each other when we are struggling. I want those who visit with us to see Jesus in us. I want them to know that this is a congregation that helps anyone who struggles and lifts burdens.