Daily Archives: April 1, 2017

April 1, 2017: Verse of the day

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1 The phrase “blessed is” (ʾašrê) begins (see 1:1) and closes the first book of Psalms. It forms a magnificent envelopic structure enclosing forty-one psalms, representative of the literary variety of the psalms: lament, prayer, praise, confidence, wisdom, Zion song, and affirmation of Yahweh’s kingship.

How blessed are the children of God, as they receive grace upon grace! But God’s blessings are not automatically bestowed on his people. The Father in heaven looks for those who wisely conform to his heavenly kingdom on earth as it comes to expression in righteousness, holiness, love, and justice. He cares for the oppressed and delights to see his children’s concern with the things that are important to him—concern for those in need (cf. 35:13–14; 112:9; Mt 5:7; Jas 1:27). The need may take many forms—“times of trouble,” “his foes,” or a “sickbed” (vv. 1–3).

Expositor’s Bible Commentary

41:1–3 The Lord Sustains Those Who Are Kind to the Poor. The opening section expresses true covenantal faith: the person who considers the poor is kind to them because they are fellow members of God’s own people (usually “the poor” in the OT refers specifically to the poor in Israel); presumably his kindness includes both financial help and energetic protection of them from exploitation. These “poor” are “weak” (ESV footnote) in influence, and therefore this person’s kindness is also generous, extended in the knowledge that they cannot pay it back. God honors the person who shows such kindness in true covenant faith; he delivers him, protects him, and more specifically, sustains him on his sickbed.

ESV Study Bible

considers the poor. Understands or empathizes with those who are helpless and unable to take care of themselves. The psalmist is in this condition due to his debilitating sickness. Accordingly, the first three verses here may have been spoken to him by another person, perhaps a priest.

the Lord delivers him. Those strong in self-confidence do not turn to the Lord, because they think they have no need for Him. Those not so deluded, realizing their weakness, have nowhere else to turn.

Reformation Study Bible

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April 1 – Anticipating Jesus’ Death

“After two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be delivered up for crucifixion.”

Matthew 26:2

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Jesus adhered perfectly to God’s timetable for His death, which was part of the Father’s larger plan of redemption.

The history of redemption most definitely centers on the cross of Jesus Christ. Hymn writer John Bowring expressed this fact well:

In the cross of Christ I glory,

Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time.

All the light of sacred story

Gathers round its head sublime.

The apostle Paul was so convinced of the central importance of Christ’s death on the cross that he told the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul knew that without the cross of Christ there is no salvation and no true Christianity.

Jesus Himself knew the length of His earthly life was determined by God’s sovereign timetable and that the time of His death could not be altered or thwarted. Concerning control over His life, He declared, “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). As the Son of God, Jesus was able to look forward to His death and even predict that it would be in Jerusalem and that He would rise on the third day (Matt. 16:21).

During Jesus’ ministry, people such as the Jewish leaders unknowingly threatened God’s timetable when they sought to kill Him. But all premature attempts to murder Christ failed because they did not fit into God’s sovereign plan for how, when, and why Jesus should die on the cross (John 1:29; Acts 2:23–24).

But Jesus’ reference to the Passover in Matthew 26:2 did fit into God’s plan; our Lord’s suffering and death was perfectly timed to coincide with that celebration. Passover was known by the Jews as the festival in which sacrificial lambs were slain, but now the death of the Lamb of God would forever replace Passover’s importance. We can take great comfort in all this, knowing “Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7) and that Jesus the Lamb was “foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of [us]” (1 Peter 1:19–20).

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Suggestions for Prayer: Thank the Lord that His sovereign plan for Christ’s sacrificial death could not be changed by man’s will.

For Further Study: Read John 10:1–18, and select several verses for meditation and memorization. What does the passage say about the nature of salvation?[1]


The Preparation of Sovereign Grace

You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be delivered up for crucifixion. (26:2)

In His incarnation, Jesus voluntarily limited the use of His omniscience, His glory, and certain other attributes of His deity (cf. Phil. 2:7–8). In His humility and self-imposed limitations as a man, Jesus taught only the divine truth that His heavenly Father revealed to Him. “The Father Himself who sent Me,” Jesus said, “has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (John 12:49; cf. Matt. 24:36).

Now Jesus knew it was the Father’s time for Him to die, and He not only declared again that He must suffer and be crucified but specified that His death was only two days away, at the beginning of the Passover. At that divinely appointed time the Son of Man would be delivered up for crucifixion.

Unbelieving skeptics have long tried to explain Jesus’ death as a quirk of fate, the unintended termination of a well-meaning revolution that was discovered and crushed or the sad end to the delusions of a madman. Others picture Jesus as a visionary whose dreams were ahead of the age in which He lived, or as a prophet who overstated His claims and thereby roused the ire of the religious establishment. But such assertions do not square with the gospel accounts and are blasphemous.

As already noted, Jesus had predicted at least three times previously that He would suffer to the death but would rise again. He had even indicated that His death would be in Jerusalem and that He would rise on the third day He was on a divine timetable, and no human plans or power could cause that timetable to vary in a single detail. “No one has taken [My life] away from Me,” He declared, “but I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). When Pilate said to Jesus, “ ‘Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above’ ” (John 19:10–11).

There were many times when people sought to kill Jesus but were unable to do so. The Jewish religious leaders began plotting His death soon after He began His public ministry (John 5:18), but they were not able to fulfill that intention until it fit into God’s timetable.

The first attempt on Jesus’ life was made shortly after He was born, when Herod massacred all the male infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem. God sent an angel to warn Joseph to take Jesus and His mother to Egypt until the danger was over. On one occasion when He was ministering in a synagogue in His home town of Nazareth, the people became incensed by His claim to be fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy and by His reminding them of several instances when God chose to bless certain Gentiles rather than Jews. They succeeded in leading Him to the edge of a high cliff on the outskirts of the city, but before they could throw Him to His death, He miraculously passed through their midst and went His way (Luke 4:16–30).

After Jesus healed the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, the Jewish leaders began “seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). To some people Jesus became known as “the man whom they are seeking to kill” (John 7:25). But when the Temple police were sent to arrest Him for healing a man on the Sabbath, they returned empty-handed. When the chief priests and Pharisees asked the officers why they did not bring Jesus back with them, they replied, “Never did a man speak the way this man speaks” (John 7:44–46).

All of those attempts to kill Jesus, and perhaps others that are not recorded, failed because it was not God’s time or God’s way for the Son to die. Only the sovereign grace of God could have brought Jesus to the cross. No human power could have accomplished it apart from God’s will, and no human power could now prevent it, because it was now God’s plan. As Jesus declared at the Last Supper, “the Son of Man is going as it has been determined” (Luke 22:22). And as Peter declared at Pentecost, Jesus was “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).

The appropriate time for Jesus to die was at Passover, when the sacrificial lambs were slain, because that celebration pointed to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The sacrifices of all the other lambs were but faint symbols of what the true Lamb was soon to accomplish in reality.

As Philip explained to the Ethiopian, Jesus was the Lamb predicted by Isaiah, led to slaughter but not opening His mouth (Acts 8:32–34). As Paul declared to the Corinthian believers, Jesus was “Christ our Passover [who] also has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). As Peter proclaimed to the scattered and persecuted saints of the first-century church, Jesus was the unblemished Lamb “foreknown before the foundation of the world, but [who] has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” (1 Pet. 1:19–20). As John saw on Patmos, Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).[2]


1–2 For the other major passion predictions, see comments at 16:21; 17:22–23; 20:18–19. One last time, Matthew uses the formula by which he brings all his discourses to a close (v. 1; see comments at 7:28–29). In the narrative line of Matthew, this pericope is a masterpiece of irony. The judge of the universe, King Messiah, the glorious Son of Man, is about to be judged. After Jesus’ warnings against hypocrisy (23:12–31) and his demand for righteousness that involves the whole person (25:31–46), the plot moves on by stealth and by a morally bankrupt expediency (26:4–5). The passion begins.

The Passover began Thursday afternoon with the slaughter of the lamb. “Two days” (v. 2) must be somewhat under forty-eight hours, or the “two days” would be “three days” (see comments at 12:40). According to the tentative chronology (see comments at 21:23–22:46; 23:1–36; 24:13), Jesus speaks these words on the Mount of Olives late Tuesday evening, which, by Jewish reckoning, would be the beginning of Wednesday.

The “Son of Man” (see comments at 8:20) is here both glorious and suffering; as often, the themes merge. The Passover is two days away, and it is during that festival, Jesus now reveals for the first time, that the Son of Man will be handed over (for reasons to take the Greek present as a future, see Moule, Idiom Book, 7) to be crucified. Thus Jesus provides a framework for his disciples to interpret his death correctly after it happens—a framework alluded to a little more clearly in the institution of the Lord’s Supper (vv. 17–29).[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 26:1–2). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 587). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

APRIL 1 – INFINITE UNDERSTANDING

Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.

—Psalm 147:5

If there were a point where God stopped, then God wouldn’t be perfect. For instance, if God knew almost everything, but not quite everything, then God wouldn’t be perfect in knowledge. His understanding wouldn’t be infinite, as it says in Psalm 147:5.

Let us take all that can be known—past, present and future, spiritual, psychic and physical—everywhere throughout the universe. And let us say God knows all of it except one percent—He knows ninety-nine percent of all that can be known. I’d be embarrassed to go to heaven and look into the face of a God that didn’t know everything. He has to know it all or I can’t worship Him. I can’t worship that which is not perfect.

What about power? If God had all the power there is except a little bit, and if somebody else had a little bit of power hoarded that God couldn’t get to, then we couldn’t worship God. We couldn’t say that this God is of infinite power because He wouldn’t be of infinite power; He’d just be close to it. While He would be more powerful than any other being and perhaps even more powerful than all the beings in the universe lumped together, He still would have a defect, and therefore He couldn’t be God. Our God is perfect—perfect in knowledge and power. AOG006

Lord, how wonderful it is to know that I can worship a God who is perfect. I praise You for Your infinite understanding and power. Amen. [1]


147:5 his understanding is beyond measure. God is above and beyond human intelligence. There is no scale that can measure infinity.[2]


147:4, 5 God’s knowledge of the stars suggests that He is more than equal to the problems of humankind. His power and understanding far surpass any other resource from which we may draw.[3]


The two motifs of restoration and creation are sufficient to bring God’s people to worship. The psalmist exclaims how “great” (gādôl; cf. 48:1; 96:4; 145:3) is God’s royal sovereignty (“our Lord,” ʾadônênû) in “power” and wisdom (“understanding,” v. 5; see 136:5)! This conclusion relates primarily to his creative and sustaining powers over the universe (cf. Isa 40:26–28). By inference, God’s royal power and greatness extended to the world of creation are small in comparison to the depth of God’s love for his people (cf. Isa 40:26 with Isa 40:27–31). This brings the psalmist to a renewed consideration of God’s care for his own (v. 6).[4]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 866). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[3] The Open Bible: New King James Version. (1998). (electronic ed., Ps 147:4–5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 998). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

April 1 – Jesus and the Permanence of Scripture

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.—Matt. 5:18

Jesus’ teachings are not only unqualifiedly authoritative (“truly I say to you”), they are permanent. He implicitly equated His words of instruction with God’s eternal Word: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). As such, Jesus’ words are on a par with the Old Testament and are timeless.

In view of that reality, how foolish of us ever to wonder about the relevancy of God’s Word for us. The Bible is God’s eternal Word, and even though completed nearly two millennia ago, it has much to say to us today. Scripture is and always has been “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

Jesus reveals that the permanence of God’s Word extends to the smallest letters and the smallest parts of printed letters—neither will be erased or modified.

No other statement by the Lord more clearly states His absolute confidence in the enduring nature and inerrant quality of the Bible. It is God’s own Spirit-inspired Word, down to every single word, letter, and part of letter.

ASK YOURSELF

Not necessarily by time percentages, to what extent does the Word factor into your usual day? When and why do you turn to its wisdom and instruction? What have you found to be the best ways to keep the Scriptures alive and active within you?[1]


Christ and the Law—Part 2: The Permanence of Scripture

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. (5:18)

The honest Jew of Jesus’ day knew he could not fulfill all the requirements of the Mosaic law, and that he could not even keep all the traditions developed over the years by the rabbis and scribes. Many hoped the Messiah would bring God’s standards down to a level they could manage.

But as indicated in previous chapters,Jesus made it clear in His first major sermon that God’s true standard was even higher than the traditions, and that, as the Messiah, He had not come to diminish the law in the least bit, but to uphold and fulfill it in every detail.

By introducing His statement with truly I say to you, Jesus confirmed the special importance of what He was about to say. Amēn (truly) was a term of strong, intense affirmation. Jesus was saying, “I say this to you absolutely, without qualification and with the fullest authority.”

His teaching not only was absolute but was permanent. Until heaven and earth pass away represents the end of time as we know it, the end of earthly history. As God’s Word, the law would outlast the universe, which someday will cease to exist. “The present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:7; cf. v. 10). Even the psalmist knew that “Of old Thou didst found the earth; and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. Even they will perish, but Thou dost endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment; like clothing Thou wilt change them, and they will be changed. But Thou art the same, and Thy years will not come to an end” (Ps. 102:25–26). Isaiah said, “Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants will die in like manner, but My righteousness shall not wane” (Isa. 51:6; cf. 34:4; Rev. 6:13–14).

Jesus equated His own words with the Word of God: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). What was true of the law, in its fullest meaning as the Old Testament, was also true of Jesus’ teaching. It is timeless.

It is incredibly foolish to ask, “What does the Bible, a two-thousand-year-old book, have to say to us today?” The Bible is the eternal Word of the eternal God. It “is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). It has long preceded and will long outlast every person who questions its validity and relevancy.

Not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, Jesus continued. The smallest letter translates the word iōta, the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet. To Jesus’ Jewish hearers it would have represented the yodh, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which looks something like an apostrophe. A stroke (keraia) literally means “little horn” and refers to the small marks that help distinguish one Hebrew letter from another. It was a small extension of a letter similar to a serif in modern typefaces.

In other words, not only will the smallest letter not be erased, but even the smallest part of a letter will not be erased from the Law. Not even the tiniest, seemingly most insignificant, part of God’s Word will be removed or modified until all is accomplished.

As discussed in the last chapter, Jesus brought to completion all the judicial and ceremonial law and certain parts of the moral law, such as Sabbath observance. But God’s basic moral law, centered in the Ten Commandments, is still every bit as valid today as when God gave it to Moses at Sinai. During His earthly ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus fulfilled many of the prophecies of the Old Testament. Others, such as the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, would be fulfilled in later New Testament times. Still other prophecies, both of the Old and New Testaments, are yet to be fulfilled. But without the smallest exception, every commandment, every prophecy, every figure and symbol and type would be accomplished.

No other statement made by our Lord more clearly states His absolute contention that Scripture is verbally inerrant, totally without error in the original form in which God gave it. That is, Scripture is God’s own Word not only down to every single written word, but down to every letter and the smallest part of every letter.

“Fulfill” in verse 17 has the idea of completion, of filling up. Accomplished (from ginomai) has the similar meaning of becoming or taking place. Arthur Pink comments, “Everything in the Law must be fulfilled [or accomplished]: not only its prefigurations and prophecies, but its precepts and penalty: fulfilled, first, personally and vicariously, by and upon the Surety; fulfilled, second and evangelically, in and by His people; and fulfilled, third, in the doom of the wicked, who shall experience its awful curse forever and ever. Instead of Christ’s being opposed to the law of God, He came here to magnify it and render it honourable. … And rather than His teachings being subversive thereof, they confirmed and enforced it” (An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950], p. 57).

Jesus referred to the Old Testament at least sixty-four times, and always as authoritative truth. In the course of defending His messiahship and divinity before the unbelieving Jewish leaders in the Temple, He said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

When the Sadducees tried to trip Him up by asking which of seven successive husbands would be a woman’s husband in the resurrection, that is in heaven, He replied, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). The question itself was foolish, He said, because its very premise was wrong, “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (v. 30). He then went on to correct the Sadducees’ view of resurrection, in which they did not believe. “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (vv. 31–32).

In that confrontation with the Sadducees, Jesus’ whole argument is based on a single verb tense. In the book of Exodus, which He was here quoting, God told Moses that He is, not was, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (3:6). Hundreds of years after those patriarchs had died, the Lord was still their God. Obviously those men were still alive. God’s Word is therefore authoritative not only down to the smallest part of every letter, but also to the grammatical forms of every word. Because Scripture itself is without error, when it is believed and obeyed it will save us from error.

Over and over again, Jesus confirmed the accuracy and the authenticity of the Old Testament. He confirmed the standard of marriage that God established in the Garden of Eden (Matt. 19:4), the murder of Abel (Luke 11:51), Noah and the flood (Matt. 24:38–39), Abraham and his faith (John 8:56), Sodom, Lot, and Lot’s wife (Luke 17:29), the call of Moses (Mark 12:26), the manna from heaven (John 6:31, 58), and the bronze serpent (John 3:14).

Jesus also made clear that Scripture was given to lead men to salvation. In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham told the rich man that if his brothers, whom he hoped to save from hell, “do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). In other words, they had God’s Word, which was sufficient to bring them to God and to salvation-if they would believe it.

Jesus also used Scripture in His own defense. When He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness at the outset of His ministry, Jesus countered each temptation with quotations from Deuteronomy (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; cf. Deut. 8:3; 6:16, 13). He could have challenged the devil in the power and authority of new words spoken simply for that occasion. But in quoting the Scriptures, He testified to their divine origin and authority.

I heard a preacher once say, “The one thing I’ve learned is that when you get into the pulpit you’ve got to somehow communicate without using the Bible, because the Bible turns people off. I’ve spent a long time developing the ability to communicate to people without ever using the Bible. I started out in my ministry saying this verse says this and this verse says that, and I finally realized that wouldn’t get me anywhere. Now I say it in my own way and people will accept it.”

What that preacher said is true. Many people today are very much turned off by the Bible. But men’s being turned off by God’s Word is hardly a new phenomenon. It has been turning off unbelievers for thousands of years. Many people today, just as in Jesus’ day-and in the days of Moses and of the prophets-would much rather hear the opinions of men than the Word of God. But those opinions cannot lead them to the truth or to salvation. Opinions that do not square with Scripture will often leave men superficially contented and satisfied, but they will also leave them in darkness and sin.

Shortly after His temptation, Jesus went into the synagogue at Nazareth “on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’ And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ ” (Luke 4:16–21; cf. Isa. 61:1).

The Lord used Scripture’s authority to establish His own. When John the Baptist sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else? … Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11:3–5). In that reply Jesus again referred to the same passage from Isaiah which predicted the Messiah and His work.

When He cleansed the Temple on returning to Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus defended His action on the basis of Scripture. “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbers’ den” (Mark 11:17).

It is impossible to accept Christ’s authority without accepting Scripture’s authority, and vice versa. They stand together. To accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is to accept what He taught about Scripture as binding. To be a kingdom citizen is to accept what the King says about God’s Word. To have a kingdom character and a kingdom testimony is to obey the King’s manifesto, the Scriptures. Scripture’s authority is Christ’s authority, and to obey the Lord is to obey His Word. “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:47). To trust in Christ is to say of Him as Peter did, “You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

If the Old Testament contains any errors we must conclude one of two things about Jesus Christ. One possibility is that He was ignorant of those errors, in which case He was not omniscient and was therefore not God. The other possibility is that He knew of the errors but denied them, in which case He would have been a liar and a hypocrite, and therefore not holy God.

If not a single letter or stroke or tense of God’s Word is going to pass away, we first should receive it for what it is, “the word implanted, which is able to save [our] souls” (James 1:21). We should receive it because of the infinite majesty of the Author and His authoritative statements about it. We should receive it because of the price that God paid to get it to us, and because it is the standard of truth, joy, blessing, and salvation. And we should receive it because not to receive it brings judgment.

Second, we are called to honor God’s Word. “How sweet are Thy words to my taste!” said the psalmist, “Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103). Charles Spurgeon said, “They called George Fox a Quaker. Why? Because when he spoke he would quake exceedingly through the force of the truth he so thoroughly apprehended.” He went on to say, “It were better to break stones on a road than to be a preacher, unless God had given the Holy Spirit to sustain him. The heart and soul of a man who speaks for God will know no ease, for he hears in his ears that warning admonition, ‘If the watchman warned them not, they perished, but their blood will I require at the watchman’s hands.’ Is the infallible revelation of the infallible Jehovah to be moderated, to be shaped, to be toned down to the fancies and fashions of the hour? God forbid us if we ever alter His Word.”

Martin Luther never feared men, but when he stood up to preach he often felt his knees knock together under a sense of great responsibility to be true to the Word of God.

Third, we should obey God’s Word. We should be diligent to present ourselves approved to God as workmen who do “not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Like Jeremiah, we should find God’s words and eat them (Jer. 15:16), and “let the word of Christ richly dwell within” us (Col. 3:16).

Fourth, we must defend God’s Word. We are to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Like Jude, we should fight for the integrity, purity, and authority of Scripture. Spurgeon said, “The everlasting gospel is worth preaching even if one stood on a burning fagot and addressed the crowds from a pulpit of flames. The truths revealed in Scripture are worth living for and they are worth dying for. I count myself thrice happy, to bear reproach for the sake of the faith. It is an honor of which I feel myself to be unworthy, and yet most truly I can say the words of our hymn, ‘Shall I to soothe the unholy throng, soften Thy truths and smooth my tongue to gain earth’s gilded toys, or flee the cross endured my God by Thee?’ ”

Finally, we live to proclaim God’s Word. Says Spurgeon again, “I cannot speak out my whole heart on this theme which is so dear to me, but I would stir you all up to be instant in season and out of season in telling out the gospel message, especially to repeat such a word as this: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.’ Whisper it in the ear of the sick, shout it in the corner of the streets, write it on your tablet, send it forth from the press, but everywhere let this be your great motive and warrant. You preach the gospel because the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”[2]


18 “I tell you the truth” signals that the statement to follow is of the utmost importance (see Notes). In Greek it is connected to the preceding verse by an explanatory “for” (gar): v. 18 further explains and confirms the truth of v. 17. The “jot” (KJV) has become “the smallest letter” (NIV). This is almost certainly correct, for it refers to the letter י (yôd), the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The “tittle” (NIV, “least stroke of a pen,” keraia, GK 3037) has been variously interpreted: it is the Hebrew letter ו (wāw) (so G. Schwarz, “ἱῶτα ἕν ἣ μία κεραία [Matthäus 5:18],” ZNW 66 [1975]: 268–69) or the small stroke that distinguishes several pairs of Hebrew letters (e.g., כ/ב; ר/ד; ך/ד) (so Filson, Lenski, Allen) or a purely ornamental stroke, a “crown” (Tasker, Schniewind, Schweizer; but cf. NIDNTT, 3:182); or it forms a hendiadys with “jot,” referring to the smallest part of the smallest letter (Lachs, “Textual Observations,” 106–8). In any event, Jesus here upholds the authority of the OT Scriptures right down to the “least stroke of a pen.” His is the highest possible view of the OT.

Verses 17–18 do not wrestle abstractly with OT authority but with the nature, extent, and duration of its validity and continuity. The nature of these has been set forth in v. 17. The reference to “jot and tittle” establishes its extent. It will not do to reduce the reference to moral law, or to the law as a whole but not necessarily its parts, or to God’s will in some general sense. “Law” almost certainly refers to the entire OT Scriptures, not just the Pentateuch or moral law (note the parallel in v. 17).

That leaves the duration of the OT’s authority. The two “until” clauses answer this. The first—“until heaven and earth disappear”—simply means “until the end of the age”: i.e., not quite “never” (contra Meier, Law and History, 61), but “never, as long as the present world order persists.” The second—“until everything is accomplished”—is more difficult. Some take it to be equivalent to the first (cf. Sand, Gesetz und die Propheten, 36–39). But it is more subtle than that. The word panta (“all things” or “everything”) has no antecedent. Contrary to Sand (p. 38), Hill, Bultmann (History of the Synoptic Tradition, 138, 405), and Grundmann, the word cannot very easily refer to all the demands of the Law that must be “accomplished,” because (1) “Law” almost certainly refers here to all Scripture and not just its commands—but even if that were not so, v. 17 has shown that even imperatival law is prophetic; (2) the word genētai (“is accomplished,” GK 1181) must here be rendered “happens,” “comes to pass” (i.e., “is accomplished” in that sense, not in the sense of obeying a law; cf. Meier, Law and History, 53–54; Banks, Jesus and the Law, 215ff.).

Hence panta (“everything”) is best understood to refer to everything in the Law considered under the Law’s prophetic function—namely, until all these things have taken place as prophesied. This is not simply pointing to the cross (Davies, Christian Origins, 60ff.), nor simply to the end of the age (Schniewind). The parallel with 24:34–35 is not that close, since in the latter case, the events are specified. Verse 18d simply means the entire divine purpose prophesied in Scripture must take place; not one jot or tittle will fail of its fulfillment. A similar point is made in 11:13. Thus the first “until” clause focuses strictly on the duration of OT authority, but the second returns to considering its nature. It reveals God’s redemptive purposes and points to their fulfillment, their “accomplishment,” in Jesus and the eschatological kingdom he is now introducing and will one day consummate (cf. Gibbs).

Meier (Law and History) ably establishes the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus as the pivotal event in Matthew’s presentation of salvation history. Before it Jesus’ disciples are restricted to Israel (10:5–6); after it they are to go everywhere. Similarly, the precise form of the Mosaic law may change with the crucial redemptive events to which it points. For that which prophesies is in some sense taken up in and transcended by the fulfillment of the prophecy. Meier has grasped and explained this redemptive-historical structure better than most commentators. He may, however, have gone too far in interpreting v. 18 d too narrowly as a reference to the cross and the resurrection.[3]


He clearly insisted that not one jot or one tittle would pass from the law until it was completely fulfilled. The jot, or yod, is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet; the tittle is a small mark or projection that serves to distinguish one letter from another, much as the bottom stroke of a capital E distinguishes it from a capital F. Jesus believed in the literal inspiration of the Bible, even in what might seem small unimportant details. Nothing in Scripture, even the smallest stroke, is without significance.

It is important to notice that Jesus did not say that the law would never pass away. He said it would not pass away till all was fulfilled. This distinction has ramifications for the believer today, and since the believer’s relation to the law is rather complicated, we are going to take time to summarize the Bible’s teaching on this subject.[4]


5:18 until heaven and earth pass away … until all is accomplished. Here Christ was affirming the utter inerrancy and absolute authority of the OT as the Word of God—down to the smallest stroke or letter. Again (see note on v. 17), this suggests that the NT should not be seen as supplanting and abrogating the OT, but as fulfilling and explicating it. For example, all the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic law were fulfilled in Christ and are no longer to be observed by Christians (Col 2:16, 17). Yet not the smallest letter or stroke is thereby erased; the underlying truths of those Scriptures remain—and in fact the mysteries behind them are now revealed in the brighter light of the gospel. smallest letter or stroke. The phrase “smallest letter” refers to the smallest Heb. letter, the yohd, which is a meager stroke of the pen, like an accent mark or an apostrophe. The “stroke” is a tiny extension on a Heb. letter, like the serif in modern typefaces.[5]


5:18 until heaven and earth pass away. Jesus confirms the full authority of the OT as Scripture for all time (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15–16), even down to the smallest components of the written text: the iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet (or the yod of the Hb. alphabet) and the dot likely refers to a tiny stroke or a part of a letter used to differentiate between Hebrew letters. pass from the Law. The OT remains an authoritative compendium of divine testimony and teaching, within which some elements (such as sacrifices and other ceremonial laws) predicted or foreshadowed events that would be accomplished in Jesus’ ministry (see notes on Gal. 4:10; 5:1) and so are not now models for Christian behavior. Until all is accomplished points to Jesus’ fulfillment of specific OT hopes, partly through his earthly life, death, and resurrection, and then more fully after his second coming.[6]


5:18 will pass away All of the law was important to Jesus (compare v. 17).

Following the destruction of the temple in ad 70, many parts of the law—such as the sacrifices—were no longer able to be fulfilled. Faithful Jews expressed their fidelity to the law by upholding the spirit of its teachings, which is summed up toward the end of Jesus’ sermon (see 7:12 and note). Gentiles, or non-Jews, who came to compose the majority of the Church, were excluded from keeping the law based on the decision of Acts 15:1–21.[7]


5:18 dot. A tiny extension on certain letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

until all is accomplished. The full manifestation of God’s kingdom (chs. 24; 25) for which believers are to pray (6:10).[8]


5:17, 18 This refers to the entire O.T. revelation and the righteousness required by it. It introduces Jesus’ uncompromising acceptance of the authority of the O.T. as God’s Word (vv. 17–19). Verse 18 reflects the extent of inspiration of the Torah or Law, here a reference to the O.T. Jesus argues that not a “jot” or “tittle” shall pass from the Law. “Jot” is a reference to the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, the yodh (“$H1”). “Tittle” refers to a small extension on a Hebrew letter which differentiates it from another letter. For example, the Hebrew beth (“$H2”) differs from the Hebrew kaph (“$H3”) only by a small extension of the beth at the lower right-hand extremity of the letter. This minuteness of detail makes clear Jesus’ view of the thoroughness of inspiration. He rejects the righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes, which is reflected in their interpretations of the Law (vv. 17–48) as well as in their actual practice of righteousness (6:1–18). The righteousness demanded by the kingdom of God is a righteousness of the heart, which was envisioned by the Law and the Prophets (vv. 17–48). The practice of it is related to others (6:1–4), to God (6:5–15), and to oneself (6:16–18). Jesus’ insistence upon the authority of His own teaching as equally binding (v. 20) means that He speaks with the authority of God just as did the O.T. prophets. Jesus’ interpretation of the Law is antithetical to that of the Pharisees, who charged Jesus with destroying the Law, a charge answered in vv. 17–20. He also warned Antinomians, those who construe liberty as license, that freedom from legalism does not mean freedom from the law (vv. 18–20). The word for “law” is the Greek nomos, which is analogous to the Hebrew word torah, translated “law,” and meaning “teaching” or “direction.” Torah referred to the oral law, later codified in the Mishnah (c. a.d. 200), or to the gemara (Heb., “completion”), the interpretations of the Mishnah by the rabbis from a.d. 200–500 (cf. 15:2). It could also designate the Pentateuch, the whole O.T., the Ten Commandments, or simply instruction, teaching, or divine revelation. The law became so exalted by the rabbis in Judaism that it became the explanation and justification of Israel’s existence. However, at the heart of O.T. religion was the covenant and not the law, which was only a standard of obedience necessary for the preservation of the covenant relationship. In postexilic Israel, obedience to the law is the necessary condition to become a member of God’s people; hence it becomes more central than covenant in the religion of Judaism. Verses 21–48 illustrate what Jesus meant by fulfilling the Law, and they demonstrate the difference between the righteousness demanded of citizens of God’s kingdom (v. 48) and the righteousness of the scribes. Jesus appears to set His teachings in opposition to the law in these verses. Regarding anger (vv. 21–26), lust (vv. 27–30), divorce (vv. 31, 32), oaths (vv. 33–37), personal revenge (vv. 38–42), and love for enemies (vv. 43–48), however, Jesus, as the ultimate interpreter, brings out the real intent of the Mosaic Law as opposed to the legalistic interpretations and false inferences of the scribes (cf. 7:29; 23:28). What Jesus meant by “fulfill” (v. 17) may be deduced from these verses in conjunction with His total message and life. He fulfilled the Law by (1) full obedience to it; (2) submitting to the condemnation brought by the Law against transgressors, whose place He took (20:28); (3) stressing His messianic authority as equal to it; (4) proving erroneous the false inferences made from it by the scribes; (5) living up to the standard of righteousness demanded by the Law; (6) fulfilling predictions regarding the Messiah; (7) stressing the ethical and moral rather than the ritual demands of the Law; and (8) viewing His messianic mission as the means whereby the righteousness of the kingdom might be fulfilled and thus mediated through His own Person and mission.[9]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 100). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 260–266). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 177–178). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1218). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Mt 5:18). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[6] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 1828–1829). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Mt 5:18). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[8] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1368). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[9] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Mt 5:17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

APRIL 1 – THE PRESENCE OF GOD

The righteous shall give thanks…the upright shall dwell in thy presence.

Psalm 140:13

 

The spiritual giants of old were those who at some time became acutely conscious of the presence of God. They maintained that consciousness for the rest of their lives.

How otherwise can the saints and prophets be explained? How otherwise can we account for the amazing power for good they have exercised over countless generations?

Is it not that indeed they had become friends of God? Is it not that they walked in conscious communion with the real Presence and addressed their prayers to God with the artless conviction that they were truly addressing Someone actually there?

Let me say it again, for certainly it is no secret: We do God more honor in believing what He has said about Himself and coming boldly to His throne of grace than by hiding in a self-conscious humility!

Those unlikely men chosen by our Lord as His closest disciples might well have hesitated to claim friendship with Christ. But Jesus said to them, “You are my friends!”

 

Lord, my prayer this morning is that I will become “acutely conscious of the presence of God.”[1]


13 At the time of the intervention and vindication, “the righteous” (plural of ṣaddîq; see 1:6) will change their prayers for deliverance (cf. vv. 1, 4) to songs of triumph. The “upright” (yāšār) in heart (see 32:11) will enjoy the presence of the Lord (cf. 23:6; 27:4). How blessed are the people whose God is the Lord![2]


140:12, 13 The Psalm closes with quiet confidence in the righteous Lord. Whatever happens, David knows that right will prevail—that the Lord is on the side of the afflicted and the poor. And the righteous shall always have reason to thank the Lord for His help. The upright shall dwell in His presence forever, and that makes all the sufferings of this life seem like pin-pricks.[3]

140:12, 13 David expresses unshakeable confidence in the character of God and the outcome for the righteous (cf. Pss 10:17, 18; 74:21; 82:3, 4).[4]

140:12–13 I Am Confident that the Lord Will Protect Me. The psalm closes, as many laments do, by expressing confidence in the Lord (he will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice; cf. note on vv. 9–11) and by guiding the faithful in what they can expect (give thanks to your name and dwell in your presence).[5]

140:12–13 The psalmist casts his confidence in terms of Yahweh’s general help for the afflicted, who praise Yahweh when He aids them. While the psalmist certainly presents himself as afflicted in Psa 140, his portrayal of a wider view of Yahweh’s justice is more than humble self-effacement. The closing statement (v. 13) portrays the just society that the psalmist desires for all Israel in contrast to the evil system that would result if the wicked gained power (see vv. 8, 11).[6]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 969). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 773). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 140:12). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1118). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 140:12–13). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

April 1 – Cultivating Beatitude Attitudes

“When [Jesus] saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them” (Matt. 5:1–2).

✧✧✧

Only Christians know true happiness because they know Christ, who is its source.

Jesus’ earthly ministry included teaching, preaching, and healing. Wherever He went, He generated great excitement and controversy. Usually great multitudes of people followed Him as He moved throughout the regions of Judea and Galilee. Thousands came for healing, many came to mock and scorn, and some came in search of truth.

On one such occasion Jesus delivered His first recorded message—the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7). In it He proclaimed a standard of living diametrically opposed to the standards of His day—and ours. Boldly denouncing the ritualistic, hypocritical practices of the Jewish religious leaders, He taught that true religion is a matter of the heart or mind. People will behave as their hearts dictate (Luke 6:45); so the key to transformed behavior is transformed thinking.

At the beginning of His sermon Jesus presented the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12), a list of the godly attitudes that mark a true believer and ensure true happiness. The Greek word translated “blessed” in those verses speaks of happiness and contentment. The rest of the sermon discusses the lifestyle that produces it.

Jesus taught that happiness is much more than favorable circumstances and pleasant emotions. In fact, it doesn’t depend on circumstances at all. It is built on the indwelling character of God Himself. As your life manifests the virtues of humility, sorrow over sin, gentleness, righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, and peace, you will experience happiness that even severe persecution can’t destroy.

As we study the Beatitudes, I pray you will be more and more conformed to the attitudes they portray and that you will experience true happiness in Christ.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer:  Ask the Holy Spirit to minister to you through our daily studies. Be prepared to make any attitude changes that He might prompt.

For Further Study: Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7). ✧ What issues did Christ address? ✧ How did His hearers react to His teaching? How do you?[1]


The Great Sermon of the Great King

And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, (5:1–2)

Until this point in Matthew, Jesus’ words have been limited (4:17, 19) and reference to His teachings general (4:23). Now, in one powerfully comprehensive yet compact message, the Lord sets forth the foundational truths of the gospel of the kingdom He came to proclaim.

Here begins what has traditionally been called the Sermon on the Mount. Though Jesus repeated many of these truths on other occasions, chapters 5–7 record one continuous message of the Lord, delivered at one specific time. As we will see, these were revolutionary truths to the minds of those Jewish religionists who heard them, and have continued to explode with great impact on the minds of readers for nearly two thousand years.

Here is the manifesto of the new Monarch, who ushers in a new age with a new message.

The Context

The Biblical Context

The King’s new message was closely related to the message of the Old Testament and was, in fact, a reaffirmation of it. Yet the emphasis of the gospel (which means “good news”) was radically different from the current understanding of the Old Testament-an astounding clarification of what Moses, David, the prophets, and other inspired writers of God’s Word had revealed. In addition to that, Christ’s message struck violently against the Jewish tradition of His day.

The last message in the Old Testament is, “And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse” (Mal. 4:6). By contrast, this first great sermon of the New Testament begins with a series of blessings, which we call the Beatitudes (5:3–12). The Old Testament ends with the warning of a curse; the New Testament begins with the promise of blessing. The Old Testament was characterized by Mount Sinai, with its law, its thunder and lightning, and its warnings of judgment and cursing. The New Testament is characterized by Mount Zion, with its grace, its salvation and healing, and its promises of peace and blessing (cf. Heb. 12:18–24).

The Old Testament law demonstrates man’s need of salvation, and the New Testament message offers the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord had to begin with a proper presentation of the law, so the people would recognize their sin-then could come the offer of salvation. The Sermon on the Mount clarifies the reasons for the curse and shows that man has no righteousness that can survive the scrutiny of God. The new message offers blessing, and that is the Lord’s opening offer.

As will be developed in the next chapter, however, the blessedness Christ offers is not dependent on self-effort or self-righteousness, but on the new nature God gives. In God’s Son man comes to share God’s very nature, which is characterized by true righteousness and its consequence-blessedness, or happiness. In Christ we partake of the very bliss of God Himself! That is the kind and the extent of the contentment God wants His children to have-His very own peace and happiness. So the Lord begins with the offer of blessedness and then proceeds to demonstrate that human righteousness, such as the Jews sought, cannot produce it. The good news is that of blessing. The bad news is that man cannot achieve it, no matter how self-righteous and religious he is.

The Old Testament is the book of Adam, whose story is tragic. Adam not only was the first man on earth but the first king. He was given dominion over all the earth, to subdue and rule it (Gen. 1:28). But that first monarch fell soon after he began to rule, and his fall brought a curse-the curse with which the Old Testament both begins and ends.

The New Testament begins with the presentation of the new sovereign Man, One who will not fall and One who brings blessing rather than cursing. The second Adam is also the last Adam, and after Him will come no other ruler, no other sovereign. The first king sinned and left a curse; the second King was sinless and leaves a blessing. As one writer has put it, the first Adam was tested in a beautiful garden and failed; the last Adam was tested in a threatening wilderness and succeeded. Because the first Adam was a thief, he was cast out of paradise; but the last Adam turned to a thief on a cross and said, “Today you shall be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The Old Testament, the book of the generations of Adam, ends with a curse; the New Testament, the book of the generations of Jesus Christ, ends with the promise, “There shall no longer be any curse” (Rev. 22:3). The Old Testament gave the law to show man in his misery, and the New Testament gives life to show man in his bliss.

In Jesus Christ a new reality dawned on history. A new Man and new King of the earth came to reverse the terrible curse of the first king. The Sermon on the Mount is the masterful revelation from the great King, offering blessing instead of cursing to those who come on His terms to true righteousness.

The Political Context

Most Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be, first of all, a military and political leader who would deliver them from the yoke of Rome and establish a prosperous Jewish kingdom that would lead the world. He would be greater than any king, leader, or prophet in their history. After Jesus miraculously fed the multitude on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, the people tried “to come and take Him by force, to make Him king” (John 6:15). They saw Jesus as the anticipated leader of a great welfare state in which even their routine physical needs would be provided. But Jesus would not allow Himself to be mistaken for that sort of king, and He disappeared from the crowd. Later, when Pilate asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” the Lord replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).

The thrust of the Sermon on the Mount is that the message and work of the King are first and most importantly internal and not external, and spiritual and moral rather than physical and political. Here we find no politics or social reform. His concern is for what men are, because what they are determines what they do.

The ideals and principles in the Sermon on the Mount are utterly contrary to those of human societies and governments. In Christ’s kingdom the most exalted persons are those who are the lowliest in the world’s estimation, and vice versa. Jesus declared that John the Baptist was the greatest man who had ever lived until that time. Yet John had no possessions and no home, lived in the wilderness, dressed in a hair garment, and ate locusts and wild honey. He was not a part of the religious system, and he had no financial, military, or political power. In addition to that, he preached a message that in the world’s eyes was completely irrelevant and absurd. By worldly standards he was a misfit and a failure. Yet he received the Lord’s highest praise.

In Jesus’ kingdom the least are greater even than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11). They are characterized in this sermon as being humble, compassionate, meek, yearning for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers-and persecuted for the sake of the very righteousness they practice. In the world’s eyes those characteristics are the marks of losers. The world says, “Assert yourself, stand up for yourself, be proud of yourself, elevate yourself, defend yourself, avenge yourself, serve yourself.” Those are the treasured traits of the world’s people and the world’s kingdoms.

The Religious Context

Jesus lived in a highly complex religious society, one that included many professional religionists. Those professionals were in four primary groups: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots. At this point, it is only necessary to introduce these groups briefly. Later chapters will unfold more of their distinctives.

The Pharisees believed that right religion consisted in divine laws and religious tradition. Their primary concern was for fastidious observance of the Mosaic law and of every minute detail of the traditions handed down by various rabbis over the centuries. They focused on adhering to the laws of the past.

The Sadducees focused on the present. They were the religious liberals who discounted most things supernatural and who modified both Scripture and tradition to fit their own religious philosophy.

The Essenes were ascetics who believed that right religion meant separation from the rest of society. They led austere lives in remote, barren areas such as Qumran, on the northwest edge of the Dead Sea.

The Zealots were fanatical nationalists who thought that right religion centered in radical political activism. These Jewish revolutionaries looked down on fellow Jews who would not take up arms against Rome.

In essence, the Pharisees said, “Go back”; the Sadducees said, “Go ahead”; the Essenes said, “Go away”; and the Zealots said, “Go against.” The Pharisees were traditionalists; the Sadducees were modernists; the Essenes were separatists; and the Zealots were activists. They represented the same primary types of religious factions that are common today.

But Jesus’ way was not any of those. To the Pharisees He said that true spirituality is internal, not external. To the Sadducees He said that it is God’s way, not man’s way. To the Essenes He said that it is a matter of the heart, not the body. To the Zealots He said that it is a matter of worship, not revolution. The central thrust of His message to every group and every person, of whatever persuasion or inclination, was that the way of His kingdom is first and above all a matter of the inside-the soul. That is the central focus of the Sermon on the Mount. True religion in God’s kingdom is not a question of ritual, of philosophy, of location, or of military might-but of right attitude toward God and toward other people. The Lord summed it up in the words “I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20).

The dominant message of the Sermon on the Mount is that one must not find comfort merely in right theology, much less in contemporary philosophy, geographical separation, or military and political activism. Right theology is essential; so are being contemporary in the right way, separating ourselves from worldliness, and taking stands on moral issues. But those external things must flow from right internal life and attitudes if they are to serve and please God. That has always been God’s way. He told Samuel, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). In Proverbs, wisdom says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (4:23).

When the Pharisees with whom Jesus was having lunch were bothered that He did not ceremonially wash His hands before eating, Jesus said, “Now you Pharisees have the habit of cleaning the outside of your cups and dishes, but inside you yourselves are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the One who made the outside make the inside too? But dedicate once for all your inner self, and at once you will have everything clean” (Luke 11:39–41, Williams). That was His message for every sect of Judaism.

The Importance

In light of the preceding truths we can see at least five reasons why the Sermon on the Mount is important. First, it shows the absolute necessity of the new birth. Its standards are much too high and demanding to be met by human power. Only those who partake of God’s own nature through Jesus Christ can fulfill such demands. The standards of the Sermon on the Mount go far beyond those of Moses in the law, demanding not only righteous actions but righteous attitudes-not just that men do right but that they be right. No part of Scripture more clearly shows man’s desperate situation without God.

Second, the sermon intends to drive the listener to Jesus Christ as man’s only hope of meeting God’s standards. If man cannot live up to the divine standard, he needs a supernatural power to enable him. The proper response to the sermon leads to Christ.

Third, the sermon gives God’s pattern for happiness and for true success. It reveals the standards, the objectives, and the motivations that, with God’s help, will fulfill what God has designed man to be. Here we find the way of joy, peace, and contentment.

Fourth, the sermon is perhaps the greatest scriptural resource for witnessing, for reaching others for Christ. A Christian who personifies these principles of Jesus will be a spiritual magnet, attracting others to the Lord who empowers him to live as he does. The life obedient to the principles of the Sermon on the Mount is the church’s greatest tool for evangelism.

Fifth, the life obedient to the maxims of this proclamation is the only life that is pleasing to God. That is the believer’s highest reason for following Jesus’ teaching-it pleases God.

The Setting

And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. (5:1)

Jesus was always concerned for the multitudes, for whom He had great compassion-whether they were “distressed and downcast” (Matt. 9:36), sick (14:14; cf. 4:23), hungry (15:32), or in any other need. Whether the people were physically ill or healthy, emotionally stable or demon-possessed, financially poor or rich, politically oppressed or powerful, religiously insignificant or influential, intellectually ignorant or educated, Jesus had compassion on them. Jesus attracted all strata of people because He loved them all.

Everything Jesus said on this occasion was spoken publicly, to the multitudes (cf. 7:28–29). His intention was to drive them to a recognition of their sin, and thus to the need of a Savior, which He had come to be. Until they believed in Him, the demands of the sermon could only show them how terribly far they were from meeting God’s standards. This masterful evangelistic sermon is designed to confront men with their desperate condition of sinfulness.

The Preacher

It was Jesus who saw the multitudes, … went up on the mountain; and … sat down. God’s own Son delivered the sermon. The greatest Preacher who ever lived preached the greatest sermon ever preached. When He concluded, “the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (7:28–29). He quoted no sources, no ancient rabbis, no revered tradition. What He spoke, He spoke on His own authority. That was unheard of among the Jews, who always derived their authority from recognized sources.

The Sermon on the Mount is the supreme model of good preaching, a homiletical masterpiece. It beautifully and powerfully flows from the introduction (5:3–12) to the first point (the citizens of the kingdom, 5:13–16), to the second point (the righteousness of the kingdom, 5:17—7:12), to the third point (the exhortation to enter the kingdom, 7:13–27), and to the conclusion (the effect of the sermon on its hearers, 7:28–29), The transitions from point to point are clear and unmistakable.

At the beginning of his ministry Ezekiel was told by the Lord, “I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be dumb, and cannot be a man who rebukes them, for they are a rebellious house” (Ezek. 3:26). Much later the same prophet testified, “Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me in the evening, before the refugees came. And He opened my mouth at the time they came to me in the morning; so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer speechless” (33:22). Like Ezekiel, Jesus did not display His truth, His wisdom, and His power until it was time in God’s sovereign will for Him to do so.

The Location

The sanctuary for the greatest sermon ever preached was the mountain. As far as we know, this mountain-really a large hill-had no name until Jesus preached there. Until then it had been but one of many hills that slope up gently from the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. What had been simply a mountain among many other mountains now became the mountain, sanctified and set apart by the presence of the Lord. For many centuries the traditional site has been called the Mount of Beatitudes.

The Style

A rabbi commonly sat down when he taught. If he spoke while standing or walking, what he said was considered to be informal and unofficial. But when he sat down, what he said was authoritative and official. Even today we speak of professors holding a “chair” in a university, signifying the honored position from which they teach. When the Roman Catholic pope gives an official pronouncement, he is said to speak ex cathedra, which literally means to speak from his chair. When Jesus sat down and delivered the Sermon on the Mount, He spoke from His divine chair with absolute authority as the sovereign King.

As mentioned above, the multitudes were an important audience for this evangelistic sermon. But the standards of spiritual life that Jesus gave here could not apply to them or be followed by them unless they belonged to Him.

That His disciples came to Him indicates they were also His audience. In fact, the twelve were the only ones at that time who, to any real extent, could know the blessedness of which the Lord spoke and follow the perfect way of righteousness which He set forth. They were the only ones who had partaken of the inner divine power and presence that are absolutely necessary for obeying God’s perfect will. So the sermon not only showed the multitude the standard of God’s righteousness that they could not keep, but it also showed the disciples the possible standard they could now keep because of His coming and their faith in Him.

An archbishop of the Church of England once remarked that it would be impossible to conduct the affairs of Britain on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount, because the nation was not loyal to the King. The sermon of the King can be understood and followed only by faithful subjects of the King.

The famous historian Will Durant said that in any given generation only a handful of people make an impression on the world that lasts more than a few years. The person who stands out above all others, he said, is Jesus Christ. Jesus undoubtedly has had the most powerful and permanent influence on the thought of mankind. But, the historian went on to say, His teachings have not had a corresponding effect on man’s actions.

Trying to apply Jesus’ teachings without receiving Him as Lord and Savior is futile. Those, for example, who promote the social gospel, endeavoring to institute Jesus’ teachings apart from His saving and regenerating work, prove only that His principles cannot work for those who do not have a transformed nature and God’s indwelling power. One cannot behave like Christ until one becomes like Christ. Those who do not love the King cannot live like the King.

The Content

And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, (5:2)

Matthew’s speaking of Jesus’ opening His mouth as He began to teach them was not a superfluous statement of the obvious, but was a common colloquialism used to introduce a message that was especially solemn and important. It was also used to indicate intimate, heartfelt testimony or sharing. Jesus’ sermon was both authoritative and intimate; it was of the utmost importance and was delivered with the utmost concern.

In this sermon our Lord establishes a standard of living counter to everything the world practices and holds dear. To live by the standards He gives here is to live a life of blessed happiness. Here is an utterly new approach to living, one that results in joy instead of despair, in peace instead of conflict-a peace that the world does not understand and cannot have (John 14:27; Phil. 4:7). It is a blessedness not produced by the world or by circumstances, and it cannot be taken away by the world or by circumstances. It is not produced externally and cannot be destroyed externally.

Because of its seemingly impossible demands, many evangelicals maintain that the Sermon on the Mount pertains only to the kingdom age, the Millennium. Otherwise, they argue, how could Jesus command us to be perfect, just as our “heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)? For several reasons, however, that interpretation cannot be correct. First of all, the text does not indicate or imply that these teachings are for another age. Second, Jesus demanded them of people who were not living in the Millennium. Third, many of the teachings themselves become meaningless if they are applied to the Millennium. For example, there will be no persecution of believers (see 5:10–12, 44) during the kingdom age. Fourth, every principle taught in the Sermon on the Mount is also taught elsewhere in the New Testament in contexts that clearly apply to believers of our present age. Fifth, there are many New Testament passages that command equally impossible standards, which unglorified human strength cannot continually achieve (see Rom. 13:14; 2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 1:9–10; Col. 3:1–2; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15–16).

The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are for believers today, marking the distinctive life-style that should characterize the direction, if not the perfection, of the lives of Christians of every age. Unfortunately, those standards do not always characterize Christians. The world’s standards and objectives too often have engulfed believers and conformed them to its own image, squeezed them into its own mold (see Rom. 12:2, Phillips).

Jesus’ new way of living comes from a new way of thinking, and the new way of thinking comes from new life. Here are God’s standards for those created in His own image and recreated into the image of His own dear Son (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18). Those who do not follow them as a general direction of life have an unacceptable righteousness (Matt. 5:20).

Who knows more about a product than the manufacturer? When you buy a new power tool or appliance the first sensible thing to do is read the owner’s manual. The manufacturer prints those manuals to explain what the item is designed to do and not do, how it is to be cared for, what its limitations are, and so on. God has made every human being, yet few turn to their Maker to find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in their lives, to learn how they are to live and how they are to take care of themselves-how they can function properly and happily as they were designed to do.

As the Sermon on the Mount itself makes clear, internal changes also bring external changes. When our attitudes and thinking are right, our actions will fall in line. If our inner life does not make our outer life better, our inner life is deficient or nonexistent. “Faith without works is useless,” James says (James 2:20). Paul tells us that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

But the true outside life can only be produced from a true inside life. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones compares the Christian life to playing music. A person may play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata accurately and without a single mistake-yet not really play what the composer had in mind. Even though the notes are played correctly, they do not produce the sonata. The pianist may mechanically strike the right notes at the right time, yet miss the essence, the soul, of the composition. He may not at all express what Beethoven meant to be expressed. The true artist must play the right notes at the right time. He is not exempt from the rules and principles of music. But accurate playing is not what makes him a great musician. It is his expression of what lies behind the notes that enthralls his listeners. In the same way, faithful Christians are concerned about the letter of God’s Word; but beyond that they are also concerned about the spirit, the deeper will and purpose that lie behind the letter. That concern reveals an obedient heart filled with the desire to glorify the Lord.

To claim to follow the spirit without obeying the letter is to be a liar. To follow the letter without following the spirit is to be a hypocrite. To follow the spirit in the right attitude and the letter in the right action is to be a faithful child of God and a loyal subject of the King.[2]


Commentary

1 The “crowds” are those referred to in 4:23–25. Here Jesus stands at the height of his popularity. Although his ministry touched the masses, he saw the need to teach his “disciples” (mathētai, GK 3412) closely. The word “disciple” must not be restricted to the Twelve, whom Matthew has yet to mention (10:1–4). Nor is it a special word for full-fledged believers, since it can also describe John the Baptist’s followers (11:2). In the Lukan parallel, we are told of a “large crowd of his disciples” as well as “a great number of people” (6:17). This goes well with Matthew 4:25, which says large crowds “followed” Jesus. Those who especially want to attach themselves to him, Jesus takes aside to instruct; but it is anachronistic to suppose that all are fully committed in the later “Christian” sense of Acts 11:26 (cf. Mt 7:13–14, 21–23). Matthew sees the disciples as paradigms for believers in his own day but never loses sight, as we shall repeatedly notice, of the unique historical place of the first followers (contra U. Luz, “Die Jünger im Matthäusevangelium,” ZNW 62 [1971]: 141–71—though Luz wisely avoids reducing Matthew’s disciples to the Twelve). On the importance of the theme of discipleship in this gospel, see Martin H. Franzmann, Follow Me: Discipleship according to Saint Matthew [St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia, 1961]).

At this point in his ministry, Jesus could not escape the mounting crowds; and by the end of his sermon (7:28–29), he was surrounded by even larger crowds. This suggests that his teaching covered several days, not just an hour or two (cf. the three-day meeting, 15:29–39). The place of retreat Jesus chose was in the hill country (see Notes, v. 1), not “on a mountainside.” He “sat down” to teach. Sitting was the accepted posture of synagogue or school teachers (Lk 4:20; cf. Mt 13:2; 23:2; 24:3; see NIDNTT, 3:588–89). The attempt of Lachs (“Textual Observations,” 99–101) to find an anachronism here fails because his sources refer to the position of one who is learning Torah, not teaching it. Luke has Jesus standing (6:17) but ministering to the larger crowd from which he could not escape (6:17–19).

2 The NIV masks the idiom “he opened his mouth and taught them,” found elsewhere in the NT (13:35; Ac 10:34; 18:14) and reflecting OT roots (Job 3:1; 33:2; Da 10:16). It is used in solemn or revelatory contexts. The verb “teach” (edidasken) is imperfect and inceptive: “He began to teach them.” Contrary to Davies (Setting, 7–8), one must not draw too sharp a distinction between preaching (kēryssō, GK 3062, Mt 4:17) and teaching (didaskō, GK 1438: see comments at 3:1 and the linking of these categories in 4:23; 9:35). Str-B, 1:189, notes that teaching was not uncommonly done outdoors as well as in synagogues.[3]


5:1, 2 The sermon opens with the Beatitudes, or blessings. These set forth the ideal citizen of Christ’s kingdom. The qualities described and approved are the opposite of those that the world values. A. W. Tozer describes them thus: “A fairly accurate description of the human race might be furnished one unacquainted with it by taking the Beatitudes, turning them wrong side out, and saying, ‘Here is your human race.’ ”[4]


5:1–2 Introduction (cf. Mk. 3:13; Lk. 6:20). The audience is clearly specified as his disciples, as opposed to the crowds. The latter reappear as a wider audience in 7:28, but they are clearly not the main focus of the teaching, which typically contrasts ‘you’ (the disciples) with other people (see especially 5:11–16).[5]


5:1 mountain. The traditional site of this sermon (though Matthew does not pinpoint the location) is above Tabgha, near Capernaum, on a ridge of hills northwest of the town, with a magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee. A twentieth-century church marks this site today, although down the hill in Tabgha there are remains of a small Byzantine chapel (probably from the 4th century) commemorating the sermon. This ridge is likely also where Jesus went “to a desolate place” (14:13; cf. Mark 1:35) and where he went “up on the mountain” (Matt. 14:23; 28:16). he sat down. Teachers in Judaism typically taught while sitting (cf. 23:2), a position Jesus takes regularly (cf. 13:1–2; 15:29; 24:3–4; 26:55).

5:2 While Jesus was seated, he opened his mouth (a Jewish idiom) and taught them, i.e., his disciples who had come to him (v. 1). “Disciples” (Gk. “learners”) were those who had made a commitment to Jesus as the Messiah; the “crowds” (v. 1) were those who were curious and often astounded by his teaching and ministry (7:28–29) yet for the most part remained neutral and uncommitted.[6]


5:1 he went up the mountain Jesus’ giving new instruction on a mountain reflects Exod 19–24. His comparisons with various points of the law (Matt 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43) allude to Moses. Mountains provide the setting for significant teachings and events in Matthew (e.g., 17:1; 24:3; 26:30; 28:16).

sat down In Jesus’ day, the most important person or persons in a group would sit while the rest stood. Rabbis sat while giving instruction.

his disciples Matthew does not mention how many of Jesus’ followers were disciples in the full sense.

While Jesus chose 12 for special status (10:1–4), Luke records that at least 72 were disciples of some sort (see note on Luke 10:1–20); Jesus selected these 72 from a larger group. He likely had as many as a few hundred disciples.

his disciples approached him The language of this verse reflects Moses’ reception of the law at Mount Sinai.

Moses went up Mount Sinai into the cloud; the disciples—like the Israelites in the desert—may have thought that they should wait below while he spoke with God. Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses, but so much greater than Moses that He does not have to consult with God before giving His new law—hinting at Jesus’ divinity.

5:2 opening his mouth A common idiom that emphasizes the solemnity of His teaching (see Job 3:1).[7]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 104). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 131–139). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 158). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1216). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] France, R. T. (1994). Matthew. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 910). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[6] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1827). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Mt 5:1–2). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

APRIL 1 – NO BURIAL IN SIGHT FOR THE FAITH OF OUR FATHERS

To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.

HEBREWS 12:23

There is a notion abroad that Christianity is on its last legs, or possibly already dead and just too weak to lie down. In the minds of many who do not understand Christianity, the chief proof of her death is said to be her failure to provide leadership for the world just when she needs it most.

Let me say that those who would come forward to bury the faith of our fathers have reckoned without the host. Just as Jesus Christ was once buried away with the full expectation that He had been gotten rid of, so His church has been laid to rest times without number; and as He disconcerted His enemies by rising from the dead so the church has confounded hers by springing again to vigorous life after all the obsequies had been performed over her coffin and the crocodile tears had been shed at her grave!

Christianity is going the way her Founder and His apostles said it would go. Its development and direction were predicted almost two thousand years ago, and this itself is a miracle!

Had Christ been less than God and His apostles less than inspired they could not have foretold with such precision the state of the church so far removed from them in time and circumstance. The true church is the repository of the life of God among men, and if in one place the frail vessels fail, that life will break out somewhere else! Of this we may be sure.[1]


The Church of the First-Born

The church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven is the Body of Christ. The first-born are those who receive the inheritance. As believers, we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,” who is “the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:17, 29).

Jesus tells us that we should not rejoice in the great works that God may do through us but that our “names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Our names are enrolled in heaven in “the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).

God, the Judge of All

On Mount Zion we can come into God’s own presence, an incomprehensible concept to a Jew who knew only the God of Sinai. But at Jesus’ crucifixion, “the veil of the temple was torn in two” (Luke 23:45), and the way into God’s presence forever made open for those who trust in the atoning work of that crucifixion. To come into God’s presence at Sinai was to die; to come into His presence at Zion is to live (cf. Ps. 73:25; Rev. 21:3).

The Spirits of Righteous Men Made Perfect

The spirits of righteous men made perfect are Old Testament saints, those who could only look forward to forgiveness, peace, and deliverance. When we come to heaven we will join Abel, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the others in one great household of God (cf. Matt. 8:11).

They had to wait a long time for the perfection that we received the instant we trusted in Christ. In fact, they had to wait for us (Heb. 11:40), in the sense that they had to wait for Christ’s death and resurrection before they could be glorified. In heaven we will be one with them in Jesus Christ. We will not be inferior to Abraham or Moses or Elijah, because we will all be equal in righteousness, because our only righteousness will be our Savior’s righteousness.[2]


23 Some commentators understand the “assembly of the firstborn” as a further description of the angels (who were created before human beings), but the term is not elsewhere used of angels (and indeed is used in this letter to describe Christ specifically in distinction from the angels, 1:6), and “names written in heaven” is a familiar idiom for God’s redeemed people (cf. Lk 10:20; Php 4:3).[3]


12:23 Then we are with the general assembly of the firstborn ones who are registered in heaven. These are members of the church, the Body and Bride of Christ, who have died since Pentecost and are now consciously enjoying the Lord’s presence. They await the Day when their bodies will be raised from the grave in glorified form and reunited with their spirits.

By faith we see God the Judge of all. No longer does darkness and gloom hide Him; to faith’s vision His glory is transcendent.

The OT saints are there, the spirits of just men made perfect. Justified by faith, they stand in spotless purity because the value of Christ’s work has been imputed to their account. They too await the time when the grave will yield up its ancient charges and they will receive glorified bodies.[4]


12:23 general assembly. The term here means “a gathering for public festival.” It does not likely describe a distinct group as if different from the church, but describes the attitude of the innumerable angels in heaven in a festal gathering around the throne of God. church of the firstborn. The firstborn is Jesus Christ (see note on 1:6). The “church” is comprised of believers who are fellow heirs with Christ, the preeminent One among many brethren (Ro 8:17, 29). righteous made perfect. See notes on 5:14 (cf. 11:40). These are the OT saints in distinction from the “church of the firstborn,” who are the NT believers.[5]


12:23 assembly of the firstborn. “Firstborn” is plural in Greek and modified by “who are enrolled.” Jesus was previously called the firstborn Son (1:6); here his followers are also granted an inheritance as if they too were firstborn sons (1:14; 2:10; 9:15; 12:5–8). Enrolled alludes to the book of life (e.g., Dan. 7:10; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 20:12–15), listing the true followers of Jesus. The title judge of all recalls previous warnings (e.g., Heb. 10:30–31). Spirits of the righteous refers to the saints of the old and new covenants, here portrayed as holy (“righteous”) and as personally made perfect, which was the goal of Christ’s work (10:14; 11:40), though with their reembodiment still to come at the final resurrection.[6]


12:23 assembly of the firstborn. All the firstborn in Israel were sanctified at the time of the Passover and consecrated to service in God’s presence, but the Levites served the sanctuary in the place of the firstborn (Num. 3:11–13). In the heavenly assembly all believers, redeemed from destruction, are “firstborn,” consecrated to God, and enrolled as His priests. Unlike Esau, who scorned his right as the firstborn (v. 16), believers share gratefully in the inheritance of Jesus, the firstborn (1:6, 14; 2:11, 12). In the heavenly assembly all believers may worship, in heaven and on earth (10:22, 25). See “The Church” at Eph. 2:19.

righteous made perfect. These are the spirits of those who have died in the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 14:13). Particularly in view are the Old Testament and intertestamental saints to whose righteousness by faith God Himself testified (11:2, 4, 5, 39), and who are now perfected (11:40) through the sacrifice of Jesus.[7]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 415–416). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 179). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2206). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Heb 12:23). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[6] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2384). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1797). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

April 1 – No Striking Back

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.

Isaiah 53:7

 

Jesus reflects a humble attitude before His tormentors: “When He was reviled, did not revile in return” (1 Pet. 2:23). Though under sustained provocation, Jesus spoke no evil because there was no sin in His heart.

However, under similar provocation, our reaction would be more like that of the apostle Paul’s. When he was on trial before the Sanhedrin, the high priest Ananias ordered him to be struck on the mouth. His immediate response to Ananias was, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!” (Acts 23:3). Paul immediately had to apologize—such an exclamation against a high priest was against the law (vv. 4–5; cf. Ex. 22:28).

Paul wasn’t perfect. He is not our standard of righteousness. Only Christ is a perfect standard of how to handle the reviling of one’s enemies.

Like our Master, we are never to abuse those who abuse us.[1]


53:7 like a lamb. I.e., innocent, submissive, not complaining (cf. John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32–33; 1 Pet. 2:22–23).[2]


53:7 slaughter Possibly alludes to sacrifice since sheep were important sacrificial animals. Lambs were used in the offering made on the Day of Atonement (Num 29:8). Lambs were also sacrificed on Passover (Exod 12:3–6).

Jesus unjustly dies on Passover, while hardly speaking a word (e.g., Matt 27:12–14; John 19:9). John’s description of Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29) is likely intended to evoke this ot passage. John’s Gospel emphasizes the connections between Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice and the symbolism of the Passover (see John 1:29 and note).

is silent Unlike Jeremiah, who also speaks about being like a lamb led to the slaughter (Jer 11:19), the Servant does not plead or complain. He is not requesting redemption from his situation, and he is certainly not asking for God to act (compare Jer 11:20).[3]


53:7, 8 This is the portion of Scripture read by the Ethiopian eunuch and subsequently explained to him by Philip as referring to Jesus (Ac 8:32, 33).

53:7 did not open His mouth. The Servant will utter no protest and will be utterly submissive to those who oppress Him. Jesus fulfilled this (Mt 26:63; 27:12–14; Mk 14:61; 15:5; Lk 23:9; Jn 19:9; 1Pe 2:23). lamb … led to slaughter. The Servant was to assume the role of a sacrificial lamb (Ex 12:3, 6). Jesus fulfilled this figurative role literally (Jn 1:29; 1Pe 1:18, 19; Rev 5:6).[4]


53:7 lamb … sheep. Christ is the Lamb of God (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7; Rev. 5:6) in obedience and submission to God (cf. Matt. 26:63; 27:12, 14; 1 Pet. 2:23). We went astray like sheep and He paid the penalty.[5]


53:7, 8 Like a sheep, that is, silent and uncomplaining before its shearers, He endured the cross. He was hurried away from prison and a fair trial (or “by oppression and judgment He was taken away”). It seemed impossible that He would have any posterity since He was cut off in His prime, slain for the sins of the people.[6]


53:7 Opened not His mouth speaks of the Servant’s willingness to die for sinners; it also marks His dignity and authority (Matt. 26:67, 68; 27:12–14; 1 Pet. 2:23). as a lamb to the slaughter: For similar imagery, see John 1:29, 36; 1 Cor. 5:7; Rev. 5:6, 12; 13:8.[7]


53:7 The Lamb of God—The imagery of Jesus as a lamb invokes the rich significance of the OT sacrificial system. Jesus suffered and died to fulfill the spiritual significance God had built into those sacrifices when He instituted the Levitical rituals.

  1. The Passover lamb. Jesus died as an unblemished lamb in the place of those who by faith apply His blood to the doorposts of their hearts. The death angel has no claim on them (1 Cor. 5:7; see Ex. 12).
  2. The Day of Atonement. The NT looks at Jesus fulfilling the Day of Atonement imagery primarily through His activity as High Priest (Heb. 9:11, 12) because the offerings that day were of a bull and two goats. However, it was His own blood that Jesus offered to God as High Priest (v. 14).

Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) because He died in the place of sinful humans. His death was a substitutionary sacrifice (Mark 10:45; John 10:11; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18).

Now go to—Eph. 4:3: The Person of the Holy Spirit.[8]


53:7 like a lamb. I.e., innocent, submissive, not complaining (cf. John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32–33; 1 Pet. 2:22–23).[9]


7–9 Thexton (in loc.) has given an admirable précis of these verses: “Meekly and without protest the Servant accepts the sentence to death and suffers execution. Although innocent, he is given a felon’s grave.” Motyer’s comments (1993, 1999, in loc.), in which he sets these verses in their wider theological context, are well worth reading. The term “oppressed” (v. 7) is appropriate in relation to the trials and death of Jesus; for all those who tried him—Pilate, Herod, Annas, and Caiaphas—had a measure of human authority and misused it when they condemned him or, washing their hands of him, allowed others to take him to the place of death. In it all, he had a quiet and uncomplaining bearing (cf. esp. 1 Pe 2:23), which suggests not only comparison but also contrast with Jeremiah (cf. Jer 11:18–20; 12:1–3). Writing on v. 7b, Simon (in loc.) says:

This new David (cf. Eze 34:23) gives his life for the sheep who, strangely, are his murderers. He combines both the initiative and the submissiveness of the priest-shepherd and the victim-sheep. Thus he transmutes what might have been merely the murder of a good person into a holy and abiding Messianic sacrifice.

The phrase “by oppression and judgment” (v. 8) is, formally, somewhat like the earlier expression “iniquity and the solemn assembly” (1:13, NASB; NIV, “evil assemblies”) in that the two nouns present concomitant aspects of the same fact. The judgment is in fact employed as an instrument of oppression. It seemed as though he must die without issue, which was regarded as a great misfortune or worse in that society.

The phrase “cut off” strongly suggests not only a violent, premature death but also the just judgment of God (cf., e.g., Ge 9:11; Ex 12:15), not simply the oppressive judgment of human beings. Motyer (1993, in loc.), referring to Whybray’s theory that this chapter does not require the actual death of the Servant, points out that “from the land of the living” is unequivocal in the OT as meaning death (Pss 27:13; 116:9; 142:5–6; Isa 38:11; Jer 11:19). The Isaiah 38:11 reference is important for two reasons: the entire context refers to death not only unambiguously but emphatically, and, if the book is conceived as a unity, the reference is part of the wider context of Isaiah 53 (see the discussion in Oswalt, in loc.). H. R. Minn (The Servant Songs [Christchurch, N.Z.: Presbyterian Bookroom, 1966], 23) points out that the versions support the MT in reading “my people”; he goes on to say, “If this is allowed to stand—and why should it not?—there is a distinction between the people and the Servant. They are not identical” (see Introduction, pp. 453–62).

Verse 9 presents an enigma, a striking prediction fulfilled in due time, and a transition to the final stanza, which describes the Servant’s vindication. The enigma consists in the apparent juxtaposition of “the wicked” and “the rich,” the former more appropriate to his rejection and the latter to his ultimate vindication. We are forced to conclude that the parallelism is not synonymous but antithetical, the first line indicating the human intention and the second the divinely ordained intervention and transference. This in fact is strikingly fulfilled in the burial of Jesus (Mt 27:57–60). Simon (in loc.) writes:

By a very simple manipulation of the text we may read a less dramatic account according to which he was thrown into a common grave with the wicked and evil-doers. But though this emendation may claim to restore an obvious Hebrew parallelism the simplification seems altogether regrettable here. The ancient commentators wisely retained the word “rich,” which has become troublesome only to modern minds.… By retaining the unconventional “rich” and rejecting the easier “evil-doers” we follow a sound principle. “Rich” must have been there from the start; it may have become “evil-doers” whereas the reverse is impossible. The paradox should be taken quite seriously.

Motyer (1999), noting that “wicked” is plural while “rich” is singular, makes an important point: “If Isaiah had merely intended the contrast between a shameful and a sumptuous burial he would have used two singulars. The use of a plural and a singular suggests that he is talking not about categories but about actual individuals. He offers no explanation nor is there one until the fulfillment.”

The Servant’s gentle ingenuousness is asserted at the close of the stanza.[10]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 106). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1338). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Is 53:7). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 53:7). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1225). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

[6] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 980). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[7] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (Is 53:7). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[8] The Open Bible: New King James Version. (1998). (electronic ed., Is 53:7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[9] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1338). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] Grogan, G. W. (2008). Isaiah. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, pp. 801–802). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

40 Days to the Cross: Reflections from Great Thinkers (Week Four: Saturday)

Saturday

Confession: Psalm 62:1–2

Only for God my soul waits in silence.

From him is my salvation.

Only he is my rock and my salvation,

my high stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Reading: Mark 14:12–21

And on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare, so that you can eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” ’ And he will show you a large upstairs room furnished and ready, and prepare for us there.” And the disciples went out and came into the city and found everything just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

And when it was evening, he arrived with the twelve. And while they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, that one of you who is eating with me will betray me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one by one, “Surely not I?” But he said to them, “It is one of the twelve—the one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man is going just as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if that man had not been born.”

Reflection

Ask Him why He chose Judas, a traitor? Why He entrusted to him the bag when He knew that he was a thief? Shall I tell you the reason? God judges the present, not the future. He does not make use of His foreknowledge to condemn a man though He knows that he will hereafter displease Him; but such is His goodness and unspeakable mercy that He chooses a man who, He perceives, will meanwhile be good, and who, He knows, will turn out badly, thus giving him the opportunity of being converted and of repenting.

This is the apostle’s meaning when he says, “Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds” (Rom 2:4–6 nrsv).

—Jerome

Against the Pelagians

Response

Spend time reflecting on God’s extravagant kindness to you. Write down the ways He has been kind—especially through the work of Jesus. Pray that you would be filled with thankfulness to Him.[1]

 

[1] Van Noord, R., & Strong, J. (Eds.). (2014). 40 Days to the Cross: Reflections from Great Thinkers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.