Daily Archives: April 15, 2017

April 15, 2017: Verse of the day

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The Reason for Discipline

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (5:6–8)

Discipline sometimes must be severe because the consequences of not disciplining are much worse. Sin is a spiritual malignancy and it will not long stay isolated. Unless removed it will spread its infection until the whole fellowship of believers is diseased.

The Corinthians could not face that truth, although they had been taught it long before. Their pride caused them to be forgetful and neglectful, and Paul tells them, Your boasting is not good. “Look where your arrogance and your boasting have brought you. Because you still love human wisdom and human recognition and the things of this world, you are completely blinded to the blatant sin that will destroy your church if you don’t remove it.” Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? In a more modern figure he was saying, “Don’t you know that one rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel?”

God diagnoses spiritual health only by the standards of His righteousness. We can be highly gifted, highly blessed, highly successful, and highly respected—and also be highly sinful. That was the condition of the Corinthian church. The believers thee had been under the ministry of Paul, Apollos, and Peter. They were “enriched in [Christ], in all speech and all knowledge,” the “testimony concerning Christ was confirmed” in them, and they were “not lacking in any gift” (1:5–7). Yet they were proud, arrogant, boastful, and immoral—even tolerant of sins, including a sin that pagans condemned.

Similarly, the scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were quite satisfied with themselves. They loved “the place of honor at banquets,” the “respectful greetings in the market place,” and “being called by men, Rabbi” (Matt. 23:6–7). They thought they deserved such recognition. But Jesus pronounced on them a long series of “woes,” in which He pointed out sin after sin of which they were guilty. He characterized them as blind and hypocritical. Their unchecked pride completely blinded them to the most obvious of spiritual principles, and their arrogance caused them to live lives of continuous pretense. “You serpents, you brood of vipers,” Jesus said, “how shall you escape the sentence of hell?” (vv. 13–33). But such pride is less offensive in the case of spiritual hypocrites like the Jews to whom our Lord spoke than it is in the assembly of believers.

A large congregation, an impressive Sunday school, active witnessing and visitation and counseling, and every other sort of good program give no protection or justification to a church that is not faithful in cleansing itself. When sin is willingly, or even neglectfully, allowed to go unchallenged and undisciplined, a larger church will be in danger of a larger malignancy.

In ancient times, when bread was about to be baked, a small piece of dough was pulled off and saved. That little leaven, or yeast, would then be allowed to ferment in water, and would later be kneaded into the next batch of fresh dough to make it rise.

Leaven in Paul’s illustration, as throughout Scripture, represents influence. Usually it refers to the influence of evil, though in Matthew 13:33 it represents the good influence of the kingdom of heaven. In this case, however, evil influence is in view. The whole lump of dough is here the local church. If given opportunity, sin will permeate a whole church just as leaven permeates a whole loaf. Sind’s nature is to ferment, corrupt, and spread.

For the Jews, leaven historically had also represented something bad from the past brought over into the present. When God was preparing Israel to leave Egypt He instructed His people to sprinkle lamb’s blood on their door posts and lintels so that, in the last of the ten plagues on Egypt, the angel of death would pass over and not slay their firstborn (Ex. 12:23). And when they baked bread in preparation for the trek out of Egypt, the Israelites were not allowed to add leaven. For one thing, they did not have time to knead the leaven into the dough and wait for it to rise, since “they could not delay” (v. 39). For another, bread represented sustenance of life, and the Passover and Exodus represented deliverance from the old life (in Egypt) and entrance into the new life (in the Promised Land). The leaven represented the old life—the way of Egypt, the way of the world—which was to be left entirely behind. Consequently, while they were traveling out of Egypt and during every subsequent Passover celebration, the Lord commanded that “nothing leavened shall be seen among you” (13:3, 7). Every bit of leaven was to be thrown out.

Christians likewise are to be separated from the old life. We are to bring none of it into the new life. Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Clean out is expressed with the use of a compound word (ekkathairō, “to purge or cleanse thoroughly”) to emphasize the completeness of cleansing. As pictured in the Passover in Egypt, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Passover Lamb, and the placing of His blood over us, completely separates us from the dominion of sin and the penalty of judgment. We, too, are to remove everything from the old life that would taint and permeate the new As Israel was set free from Egypt as a result of the Passover and was to make a clean break with that oppressor, so the believer is to be totally separated from his old life, with its sinful attitudes, standards, and habits. Christ died to separate us from bondage to sin and give us a new bondage to righteousness (Rom. 6:19), which is the only true freedom.

David Brainerd, who spent his short adult life as a missionary to the American Indians, wrote in his diary:

I never got away from Jesus, and him crucified, and I found that when my people were gripped by this great evangelical doctrine of Christ and him crucified, I had no need to give them instructions about morality. I found that one followed as the sure and inevitable fruit of the other. … I find my Indians begin to put on the garments of holiness and their common life begins to be sanctified even in small matters when they are possessed by the doctrine of Christ and him crucified.

One of the greatest protections from sin that we have as Christians is simply focusing on our Lord and on the sacrifice He made for us. To understand that His death for sin applied to us calls us away from sin and to a clean break with the old ways is to understand the sanctifying work of the cross (see Titus 2:11–14). It is impossible to be occupied with this truth and with sin at the same time.

The conclusion of Paul’s point is that we are to continue to celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The Old Testament Passover was celebrated but once a year, as a reminder of the deliverance from Egypt. The Christian’s celebration should be continuous. Our every thought, every plan, every intention should be under Christ’s control. The perfect unleavened bread FIe desires us to eat is that of sincerity and truth. Sincerity is the attitude of genuine honesty and integrity, from which truth results. In this context, those two words are synonyms for purity, the purity of the cleansed new life in Jesus Christ—which has no place for the leaven, the impurity, of malice and wickedness. Malice speaks of an evil nature or disposition. Wickedness is the act that manifests that evil disposition. We are called to celebrate our Passover in Christ not with an annual feast but with constant life devotion to purity and rejection of sin.

Discipline in the church assists in this celebration by removing impurities that will contaminate and corrupt it. It preserves Christd’s Body from the permeation of evil.[1]


6–7a In 5:2 the report had come to Paul that the Corinthians were “proud” about their toleration of the incestuous man in their midst. Paul picks up on this in v. 6 when he indicates that their “boasting is not good.” In fact, their boasting needs to stop. How so? Paul turns to the metaphor of yeast and the leavening process to explain.

Everyone knows that only a small amount of yeast works its way through the entire batch of dough and makes the dough rise. The majority of references in the NT to this process are negative (see, e.g., Mt 16:5–6; Mk 8:15), showing the permeating power of sin (in the same way we may talk of a rotten apple spoiling the entire barrel). What the Corinthians need to do is to get rid of the leaven (i.e., the rotten apple) in their midst in order to stop the process.

What is that leaven, or yeast? Most interpreters assume that it is the incestuous man. But this is not what the context says. Rather, what is infecting the congregation is their spirit of pride and boasting about their toleration of this man. That is what Paul wants to get rid of among the believers in Corinth. If to accomplish this the sinful man has to be expelled (cf. 5:13), so be it. But Paul does not see the sin of this man’s immorality infecting the congregation, as though that is the rottenness; rather, what is affecting the church is the sin of their pride. If they can get rid of that sin, which is eating its way through the congregation, then they stand a chance of being a “new batch without yeast.”

7b–8 This is, in fact, the reason the Lord Jesus Christ was sacrificed on the cross as our Passover Lamb, in order that we might be reconciled to God (2 Co 5:18–21) and be presented to him as a pure and holy people (see 2 Co 11:2; cf. Php 2:14–16). Paul uses the Passover imagery now because his use of the yeast/leaven metaphor brings to his mind the Feast of the Passover and Unleavened Bread. During this OT feast day, all leaven was to be removed from the houses of the Israelites as a symbol of putting away their sin and impurity in preparation for the killing of the Passover lamb and their remembrance of God’s gracious redemptive event in the exodus.

In a similar manner, the Corinthians are to put away “the yeast of malice and wickedness” (v. 8), namely, their sin of pride and boasting of how tolerant they are in the case of the incestuous man. In its place they are to put the unleavened bread of “sincerity and truth.” “Sincerity” (eilikrineia, GK 1636) is a word that Paul associates with “holiness” in 2 Corinthians 2:12; he associates the cognate adjective eilikrenēs (“unmixed,” “morally pure”) with blamelessness in Philippians 1:10. The only way in which the Corinthians can hope to appear before God in purity and holiness is by getting rid of that pride.[2]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 127–130). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 302–303). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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April 15 – Showing Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7).

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There are many ways to show mercy.

God delights in mercy, and as a believer you have the privilege of showing mercy in many ways. In the physical realm you can give money to the poor, food to the hungry, or a bed to the homeless. God has always wanted His people to be that way. Deuteronomy 15 says, “If there is a poor man with you … you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from [him]; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks” (vv. 7–8). Verses 12–14 instruct Israelites who release a slave to provide for the slave’s needs. That was the merciful thing to do.

In the spiritual realm you can show mercy by pitying the lost. St. Augustine said, “If I weep for that body from which the soul is departed, how should I weep for that soul from which God is departed?” (cited by Thomas Watson in The Beatitudes, p. 144). We mourn over the dead, but do we mourn as much for lost souls? When Stephen was being stoned, he pitied his wretched murderers, asking God to forgive them (Acts 7:60). Jesus did the same (Luke 23:34). That should be our attitude as well.

Another way of showing mercy is to rebuke sin. Second Timothy 2:24–25 says, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all … with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” It is merciful and loving to rebuke sinners because it gives them a chance to repent and be forgiven.

Prayer is also an act of mercy, as is preaching the gospel. In fact, sharing Christ with someone is the most merciful thing you can do!

There are many more ways to be merciful, but I hope these will stimulate your thinking and will encourage you to discover as many ways as possible to pass on the abundant mercy God has shown to you.

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Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for the mercies you have received from others. ✧ Take advantage of every opportunity to minister to others.

For Further Study: Determine who receives mercy according to the following verses: Matthew 6:14; Titus 3:5–6; Hebrews 4:14–16; James 2:13; and 1 Peter 2:9–10.[1]


Happy Are the Merciful

(5:7)

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Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (5:7)

The first four beatitudes deal entirely with inner principles, principles of the heart and mind. They are concerned with the way we see ourselves before God. The last four are outward manifestations of those attitudes. Those who in poverty of spirit recognize their need of mercy are led to show mercy to others (v. 7). Those who mourn over their sin are led to purity of heart (v. 8). Those who are meek always seek to make peace (v. 9). And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are never unwilling to pay the price of being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (v. 10).

The concept of mercy is seen throughout Scripture, from the Fall to the consummation of history at the return of Christ. Mercy is a desperately needed gift of God’s providential and redemptive work on behalf of sinners-and the Lord requires His people to follow His example by extending mercy to others.

To discover its essence we will look at three basic aspects of mercy: its meaning, its source, and its practice.

The Meaning of Mercy

For the most part, the days in which Jesus lived and taught were not characterized by mercy. The Jewish religionists themselves were not inclined to show mercy, because mercy is not characteristic of those who are proud, self-righteous, and judgmental. To many-perhaps most-of Jesus’ hearers, showing mercy was considered one of the least of virtues, if it was thought to be a virtue at all. It was in the same category as love-reserved for those who had shown the virtue to you. You loved those who loved you, and you showed mercy to those who showed mercy to you. That attitude was condemned by Jesus later in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy’ ” (Matt. 5:43). But such a shallow, selfish kind of love that even the outcast tax-gatherers practiced (v. 46) was not acceptable to the Savior. He said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. … For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? … And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv. 44–47).

Yet many people have interpreted this beatitude in another way that is just as selfish and humanistic: they maintain that our being merciful causes those around us, especially those to whom we show mercy, to be merciful to us. Mercy given will mean mercy received. For such people, mercy is shown to others purely in an effort toward self-seeking.

The ancient rabbi Gamaliel is quoted in the Talmud as saying, “Whenever thou hast mercy, God will have mercy upon thee, and if thou hast not mercy, neither will God have mercy on thee.” Gamaliel’s idea is right. When God is involved there will be mercy for mercy. “If you forgive men for their transgressions,” Jesus said, “your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14–15).

But as a platitude applied among men, the principle does not work. One writer sentimentally says, “This is the great truth of life: if people see us care, they will care.” Yet neither Scripture nor experience bears out that idea. God works that way, but the world does not. With God there is always proper reciprocation, and with interest. If we honor God, He will honor us; if we show mercy to others, especially to His children, He will show even more abundant mercy to us. But that is not the world’s way.

A popular Roman philosopher called mercy “the disease of the soul.” It was the supreme sign of weakness. Mercy was a sign that you did not have what it takes to be a real man and especially a real Roman. The Romans glorified manly courage, strict justice, firm discipline, and, above all, absolute power. They looked down on mercy, because mercy to them was weakness, and weakness was despised above all other human limitations.

During much of Roman history, a father had the right of patria opitestas, of deciding whether or not his newborn child would live or die. As the infant was held up for him to see, the father would turn his thumb up if he wanted the child to live, down if he wanted it to die. If his thumb turned down the child was immediately drowned. Citizens had the same life-or-death power over slaves. At any time and for any reason they could kill and bury a slave, with no fear of arrest or reprisal. Husbands could even have their wives put to death on the least provocation. Today abortion reflects the same merciless attitude. A society that despises mercy is a society that glorifies brutality.

The underlying motive of self-concern has characterized men in general and societies in general since the Fall. We see it expressed today in such sayings as, “If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will.” Such popular proverbs are generally true, because they reflect the basic selfish nature of fallen man. Men are not naturally inclined to repay mercy for mercy.

The best illustration of that fact is the Lord Himself. Jesus Christ was the most merciful human being who ever lived. He reached out to heal the sick, restore the crippled, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and even life to the dead. He found prostitutes, tax collectors, the debauched and the drunken, and drew them into His circle of love and forgiveness. When the scribes and Pharisees brought the adulteress to Him to see if He would agree to her stoning, He confronted them with their merciless hypocrisy: “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” When no one stepped forward to condemn her, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more” (John 8:7–11). Jesus wept with the sorrowing and gave companionship to the lonely. He took little children into His arms and blessed them. He was merciful to everyone. He was mercy incarnate, just as He was love incarnate.

Yet what was the response to Jesus’ mercy? He shamed the woman’s accusers into inaction, but they did not become merciful. By the time the accounts of John 8 ended, Jesus’ opponents “picked up stones to throw at Him” (v. 59). When the scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus “eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers,” they asked His disciples why their Master associated with such unworthy people (Mark 2:16).

The more Jesus showed mercy, the more He showed up the unmercifulness of the Jewish religious leaders. The more He showed mercy, the more they were determined to put Him out of the way. The ultimate outcome of His mercy was the cross. In Jesus’ crucifixion, two merciless systems-merciless government and merciless religion-united to kill Him. Totalitarian Rome joined intolerant Judaism to destroy the Prince of mercy.

The fifth beatitude does not teach that mercy to men brings mercy from men, but that mercy to men brings mercy from God. If we are merciful to others, God will be merciful to us, whether men are or not. God is the subject of the second clause, just as in the other beatitudes. It is God who gives the kingdom of heaven to the poor in spirit, comfort to those who mourn, the earth to the meek, and satisfaction to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those who are merciful … shall receive mercy from God. God gives the divine blessings to those who obey His divine standards.

Merciful is from eleēmōn, from which we also get eleemosynary, meaning beneficial or charitable. Hebrews 2:17 speaks of Jesus as our “merciful and faithful high priest.” Christ is the supreme example of mercy and the supreme dispenser of mercy. It is from Jesus Christ that both redeeming and sustaining mercy come.

In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) the same term is used to translate the Hebrew ḥesed, one of the most commonly used words to describe God’s character. It is usually translated as mercy, love, lovingkindness, or steadfast love (Ps. 17:7; 51:1; Isa. 63:7; Jer. 9:24; etc.). The basic meaning is to give help to the afflicted and to rescue the helpless. It is compassion in action.

Jesus is not speaking of detached or powerless sentiment that is unwilling or unable to help those for whom there is sympathy. Nor is He speaking of the false mercy, the feigned pity, that gives help only to salve a guilty conscience or to impress others with its appearance of virtue. And it is not passive, silent concern which, though genuine, is unable to give tangible help. It is genuine compassion expressed in genuine help, selfless concern expressed in selfless deeds.

Jesus says in effect, “The people in My kingdom are not takers but givers, not pretending helpers but practical helpers. They are not condemners but mercy givers.” The selfish, self-satisfied, and self-righteous do not bother to help anyone-unless they think something is in it for them. Sometimes they even justify their lack of love and mercy under the guise of religious duty. Once when the Pharisees and scribes questioned why His disciples did not observe the traditions of the elders, Jesus replied, “Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, anything of mine you might have been helped by is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:10–13). In the name of hypocritical religious tradition, compassion toward parents in such a case was actually forbidden.

Mercy is meeting people’s needs. It is not simply feeling compassion but showing compassion, not only sympathizing but giving a helping hand. Mercy is giving food to the hungry, comfort to the bereaved, love to the rejected, forgiveness to the offender, companionship to the lonely. It is therefore one of the loveliest and noblest of all virtues.

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (4.1.180–85) Portia says,

The quality of mercy is not strain’d;

It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven,

Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d.

It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:

’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown:

Mercy and Forgiveness

A clearer understanding of mercy can be gained by working through some comparisons. Mercy has much in common with forgiveness but is distinct from it. Paul tells us that Jesus “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). God’s forgiveness of our sins flows from His mercy. But mercy is bigger than forgiveness, because God is merciful to us even when we do not sin, just as we can be merciful to those who have never done anything against us. God’s mercy does not just forgive our transgressions, but reaches to all our weakness and need.

“The Lord’s lovingkindness [mercies, KJV] indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22). God’s mercy to His children never ceases.

Mercy and Love

Forgiveness flows out of mercy, and mercy flows out of love. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4–5). Just as mercy is more than forgiveness, love is more than mercy. Love manifests itself in many ways that do not involve either forgiveness or mercy. Love loves even when there is no wrong to forgive or need to meet. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, although they both are without sin and without need. They both love the holy angels, although the angels are without sin and need. When we enter heaven we, too, will be without sin or need, yet God’s love for us will, in comparison to eternity, only be just beginning.

Mercy is the physician; love is the friend. Mercy acts because of need; love acts because of affection, whether there is need or not. Mercy is reserved for times of trouble; love is constant. There can be no true mercy apart from love, but there can be true love apart from mercy.

Mercy and Grace

Mercy is also related to grace, which flows out of love just as forgiveness flows out of mercy. In each of his three pastoral epistles Paul includes the words “grace, mercy and peace” in his salutations (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4, KJV). Grace and mercy have the closest possible relationship; yet they are different. Mercy and its related terms all have to do with pain, misery, and distress-with the consequences of sin. Whether because of our individual sins or because of the sinful world in which we live, all of our problems, in the last analysis, are sin problems. It is with those problems that mercy gives help. Grace, on the other hand, deals with sin itself. Mercy deals with the symptoms, grace with the cause. Mercy offers relief from punishment; grace offers pardon for the crime. Mercy eliminates the pain; grace cures the disease.

When the good Samaritan bound up the wounds of the man who had been beaten and robbed, he showed mercy. When he took him to the nearest inn and paid for his lodging until he was well, he showed grace. His mercy relieved the pain; his grace provided for healing.

Mercy relates to the negative; grace relates to the positive. In relation to salvation, mercy says, “No hell,” whereas grace says, “Heaven.” Mercy says, “I pity you”; grace says, “I pardon you.”

Mercy and Justice

Mercy is also related to justice, although, on the surface, they seem to be incompatible. Justice gives exactly what is deserved; whereas mercy gives less punishment and more help than is deserved. It is difficult, therefore, for some people to understand how God can be both just and merciful at the same time to the same person. If God is completely just, how could He ever not punish sin totally? For Him to be merciful would seem to negate His justice. The truth is that God does not show mercy without punishing sin; and for Him to offer mercy without punishment would negate His justice.

Mercy that ignores sin is false mercy and is no more merciful than it is just. It is that sort of false mercy that Saul showed to King Agag after God had clearly instructed Saul to kill every Amalekite (1 Sam. 15:3, 9). It is that sort of false mercy that David showed to his rebellious and wicked son Absalom when he was young. Because David did not deal with Absalom’s sin, his attitude toward his son was unrighteous sentimentality, neither justice nor mercy-and it served to confirm Absalom in his wickedness.

That sort of false mercy is common in our day. It is thought to be unloving and unkind to hold people responsible for their sins. But that is a cheap grace that is not just and is not merciful, that offers neither punishment nor pardon for sin. And because it merely overlooks sin, it leaves sin; and the one who relies on that sort of mercy is left in his sin. To cancel justice is to cancel mercy. To ignore sin is to deny the truth; and mercy and truth are inseparable, they “are met together” (Ps. 85:10, KJV). In every true act of mercy, someone pays the price. God did, the Good Samaritan did, and so do we. To be merciful is to bear the load for someone else.

To expect to enter the sphere of God’s mercy without repenting from our sin is but wishful thinking. And for the church to offer hope of God’s mercy apart from repentance from sin is to offer false hope through a false gospel. God offers nothing but merciless judgment to those who will not turn from their sin to the Savior. Neither relying on good works nor relying on God’s overlooking sin will bring salvation. Neither trusting in personal goodness nor presuming on God’s goodness will bring entrance into the kingdom. Those who do not come to God on His terms have no claim on His mercy.

God’s mercy is grounded not only in His love but in His justice. It is not grounded in sentiment but in Christ’s atoning blood, which paid the penalty for and cleanses from sin those who believe in Him. Without being punished and removed, even the least of our sin would eternally separate us from God.

The good news of the gospel is that Christ paid the penalty for all sins in order that God might be merciful to all sinners. On the cross Jesus satisfied God’s justice, and when a person trusts in that satisfying sacrifice God opens the floodgates of His mercy. The good news of the gospel is not that God winked at justice, glossed over sin, and compromised righteousness. The good news is that in the shedding of Christ’s blood justice was satisfied, sin was forgiven, righteousness was fulfilled, and mercy was made available. There is never an excuse for sin, but always a remedy.

Mercy, therefore, is more than forgiveness and less than love. It is different from grace and is one with justice. And what is true of God’s mercy should be true of ours.

Mercy led Abraham to rescue his selfish nephew Lot from Chedorlaomer and his allies. Mercy led Joseph to forgive his brothers and to provide them food for their families. Mercy led Moses to plead with the Lord to remove the leprosy with which his sister Miriam had been punished. Mercy led David to spare the life of Saul.

Those who are unmerciful will not receive mercy from God. In one of his imprecatory psalms David says of an unnamed wicked man, “Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the Lord continually, that He may cut off their memory from the earth.” David’s anger was not vengeful or retaliatory. That man and his family did not deserve mercy because they were not themselves merciful. “He did not remember to show lovingkindness, but persecuted the afflicted and needy man, and the despondent in heart, to put them to death” (Ps. 109:14–16).

Paul characterizes godless men as unrighteous, wicked, greedy, evil, envious, murderous, deceitful, malicious, gossiping, slanderous, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, and unloving. The climaxing evil of that long list, however, is being unmerciful (Rom. 1:29–31). Mercilessness is the capstone marking those who reject God’s mercy.

“The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm” (Prov. 11:17). The way to happiness is through mercy; the way to misery is through cruelty. The truly merciful person is even kind to animals, whereas the merciless person is cruel to everything. “A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruel” (Prov. 12:10).

In His Olivet discourse Jesus warned that those who claim to belong to Him but who have not served and shown compassion on the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned will not be allowed to enter His kingdom. He will say to them, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” When they say, “ ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry,’ … He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me’ ” (Matt. 25:41–45).

James writes, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:10–13a).

In the midst of our corrupt, ego-entered, and selfish society that tells us to grab everything we can get, the voice of God tells us to give everything we can give. The true character of mercy is in giving-giving compassion, giving help, giving time, giving forgiveness, giving money, giving ourselves. The children of the King are merciful. Those who are merciless face judgment; but “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13b).

The Source of Mercy

Pure mercy is a gift of God. It is not a natural attribute of man but is a gift that comes with the new birth. We can be merciful in its full sense and with a righteous motive only when we have experienced God’s mercy. Mercy is only for those who through grace and divine power have met the requirements of the first four beatitudes. It is only for those who by the work of the Holy Spirit bow humbly before God in poverty of spirit, who mourn over and turn from their sin, who are meek and submissive to His control, and who hunger and thirst above all else for His righteousness. The way of mercy is the way of humility, repentance, surrender, and holiness.

Balaam continually prostituted his ministry, trying to keep within the letter of God’s will while conspiring with a pagan king against God’s people. He presumptuously prayed, “Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!” (Num. 23:10). As one Puritan commentator observed, Balaam wanted to die like the righteous, but he did not want to live like the righteous. Many people want God’s mercy but not on God’s terms.

God has both absolute and relative attributes. His absolute attributes-such as love, truth, and holiness-have characterized Him from all eternity. They were characteristic of Him before He created angels, or the world, or man. But His relative attributes-such as mercy, justice, and grace-were not expressed until His creatures came into being. In fact they were not manifest until man, the creature made in His own image, sinned and became separated from his Creator. Apart from sin and evil, mercy, justice, and grace have no meaning.

When man fell, God’s love was extended to His fallen creatures in mercy. And only when they receive His mercy can they reflect His mercy. God is the source of mercy. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness [mercy] toward those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:11). It is because we have the resource of God’s mercy that Jesus commanded, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

Donald Barnhouse writes,

When Jesus Christ died on the cross, all the work of God for man’s salvation passed out of the realm of prophecy and became historical fact. God has now had mercy upon us. For anyone to pray, “God have mercy on me” is the equivalent of asking Him to repeat the sacrifice of Christ. All the mercy that God ever will have on man He has already had, when Christ died. That is the totality of mercy. There could not be any more. … The fountain is now opened, and it is flowing, and it continues to flow freely. (Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 4:4)

We cannot have the blessing apart from the Blesser. We cannot even meet the condition apart from the One who has set the condition. We are blessed by God when we are merciful to others, and we are able to be merciful to others because we have already received salvation’s mercy. And when we share the mercy received, we shall receive mercy even beyond what we already have.

We never sing more truthfully than when we sing, “Mercy there was great and grace was free; pardon there was multiplied to me; there my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary.”

The Practice of Mercy

The most obvious way we can show mercy is through physical acts, as did the good Samaritan. As Jesus specifically commands, we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and give any other practical help that is needed. In serving others in need, we demonstrate a heart of mercy.

It is helpful to note that the way of mercy did not begin with the New Testament. God has always intended for mercy to characterize His people. The Old Testament law taught, “You shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks” (Deut. 15:7–8). Even in the year of release, when all debts were canceled, Israelites were to give their poor countrymen whatever they needed. They were warned, “Beware, lest there is a base thought in your heart, saying ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing” (v. 9).

Mercy is also to be shown in our attitudes. Mercy does not hold a grudge, harbor resentment, capitalize on another’s failure or weakness, or publicize another’s sin. On a great table at which he fed countless hundreds of people, Augustine inscribed,

Whoever thinks that he is able,

To nibble at the life of absent friends,

Must know that he’s unworthy of this table.

The vindictive, heartless, indifferent are not subjects of Christ’s kingdom. When they pass need by on the other side, as the priest and the Levite did in the story of the good Samaritan, they show they have passed Christ by.

Mercy is also to be shown spiritually. First, it is shown through pity. Augustine said, “If I weep for the body from which the soul is departed, should I not weep for the soul from which God is departed?” The sensitive Christian will grieve more for lost souls than for lost bodies. Because we have experienced God’s mercy, we are to have great concern for those who have not.

Jesus’ last words from the cross were words of mercy. For His executioners He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). To the penitent thief hanging beside Him He said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (v. 43). To His mother He said, “ ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple [John], ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household” (John 19:26–27). Like his Master, Stephen prayed for those who were taking his life, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60).

Second, we are to show spiritual mercy by confrontation. Paul says that, as Christ’s servants, we should gently correct “those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). We are to be willing to confront others about their sin in order that they might come to God for salvation. When certain teachers were “upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain,” Paul told Titus to “reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:11, 13). Love and mercy will be severe when that is necessary for the sake of an erring brother and for the sake of Christ’s church. In such cases it is cruel to say nothing and let the harm continue.

As Jude closed his letter with the encouragement to “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life,” he also admonished, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 21–23). Extreme situations require extreme care, but we are to show mercy even to those trapped in the worst systems of apostasy.

Third, we are to show spiritual mercy by praying. The sacrifice of prayer for those without God is an act of mercy. Our mercy can be measured by our prayer for the unsaved and for Christians who are walking in disobedience.

Fourth, we are to show spiritual mercy by proclaiming the saving gospel of Jesus Christ-the most merciful thing we can do.

The Result of Mercy

Reflecting on the fact that when we are merciful we receive mercy, we see God’s cycle of mercy. God is merciful to us by saving us through Christ; in obedience we are merciful to others; and God in faithfulness gives us even more mercy, pouring out blessing for our needs and withholding severe chastening for our sin.

As in the other beatitudes, the emphatic pronoun autos (they) indicates that only those who are merciful qualify to receive mercy. David sang of the Lord, “With the kind Thou dost show Thyself kind” (2 Sam. 22:26). Speaking of the opposite side of the same truth, James says, “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). At the end of the disciples’ prayer Jesus explained, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14–15). Again the emphatic truth is that God will respond with chastening for an unforgiving disciple.

Neither in that passage nor in this beatitude is Jesus speaking of our mercy gaining us salvation. We do not earn salvation by being merciful. We must be saved by God’s mercy before we can truly be merciful. We cannot work our way into heaven even by a lifetime of merciful deeds, any more than by good works of any sort. God does not give mercy for merit; He gives mercy in grace, because it is needed, not because it is earned.

To illustrate the working of God’s mercy Jesus told the parable of a slave who had been graciously forgiven a great debt by the king. The man then went to a fellow slave who owed him a pittance by comparison and demanded that every cent be repaid and had him thrown into prison. When the king heard of the incident, he called the first man to him and said, “ ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:23–35).

In that parable Jesus gives a picture of God’s saving mercy in relation to forgiving others (vv. 21–22). The first man pleaded with God for mercy and received it. The fact that he, in turn, was unmerciful was so inconsistent with his own salvation that he was chastened until he repented. The Lord will chasten, if need be, to produce repentance in a stubborn child. Mercy to others is a mark of salvation. When we do not show it, we may be disciplined until we do. When we hold back mercy, God restricts His flow of mercy to us, and we forfeit blessing. The presence of chastening and the absence of blessing attend an unmerciful believer.

If we have received from a holy God unlimited mercy that cancels our unpayable debt of sin-we who had no righteousness but were poor in spirit, mourning over our load of sin in beggarly, helpless condition, wretched and doomed, meek before almighty God, hungry and thirsty for a righteousness we did not have and could not attain-it surely follows that we should be merciful to others.[2]


7 This beatitude is akin to Psalm 18:25 (reading “merciful” [ASV] instead of “faithful” [NIV]; following MT [v. 26], not LXX [17:26]; cf. Pr 14:21). Mercy embraces both forgiveness for the guilty and compassion for the suffering and needy. No particular object of the demanded mercy is specified, because mercy is to be a function of Jesus’ disciples, not of the particular situation that calls it forth. The theme is common in Matthew (6:12–15; 9:13; 12:7; 18:33–34). The reward is not mercy shown by others but by God (cf. the saying preserved in 1 Clem. 13:2). This does not mean our mercy is the causal ground of God’s mercy but its occasional ground (see comments at 6:14–15). This beatitude, too, is tied to the context. “It is ‘the meek’ who are also ‘the merciful’. For to be meek is to acknowledge to others that we are sinners; to be merciful is to have compassion on others, for they are sinners too” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 48, emphasis his).[3]


5:7 In our Lord’s kingdom, the merciful are blessed … for they shall obtain mercy. To be merciful means to be actively compassionate. In one sense it means to withhold punishment from offenders who deserve it. In a wider sense it means to help others in need who cannot help themselves. God showed mercy in sparing us from the judgment which our sins deserved and in demonstrating kindness to us through the saving work of Christ. We imitate God when we have compassion.

The merciful shall obtain mercy. Here, Jesus is not referring to the mercy of salvation which God gives to a believing sinner; that mercy is not dependent on a person’s being merciful—it is a free, unconditional gift. Rather the Lord is speaking of the daily mercy needed for Christian living and of mercy in that future day when one’s works will be reviewed (1 Cor. 3:12–15). If one has not been merciful, that person will not receive mercy; that is, one’s rewards will decrease accordingly.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 118). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 186–197). 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. 164). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1216–1217). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

APRIL 15 – MEDIOCRE CHRISTIANITY

I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal.

1 Corinthians 3:1

 

Read your New Testament again and you will agree that mediocrity in the Christian life is not the highest that Jesus offers. Certainly God is not honored by our arrested spiritual development—our permanent halfway spiritual condition.

We all know that the Bible tells us that we honor God by going on to full maturity in Christ!

Why, then, do we settle for those little pleasures that tickle the saintlets and charm the fancy of the carnal?

It is because we once heard a call to take up the cross and instead of following toward the heights, we bargained with the Lord like a street huckster! We felt an urge to be spent for Christ, but instead of going on, we started asking questions. We began to bicker and bargain with God about His standards for spiritual attainment.

This is plain truth—not about unbelieving “liberals”—but about those who have been born again and who dare to ask, “Lord, what will it cost me?”

 

O Lord, in my heart of hearts I desire to honor You by going on to full maturity in Christ. Help me not to be satisfied with mediocrity.[1]


The cause of division in the church was more than an external, worldly influence. It was also internal, fleshly. The Corinthians had succumbed to the pressures of the world, but they were also succumbing to the pressures and enticements of their own flesh.

Before Paul chastises them for their immature sinfulness, he reminds them again that he is speaking to them as brethren, as fellow believers. That is a term of recognition and of love. It reminded his brothers in Christ that they were still saved, that their sinning, terrible and inexcusable as it was, did not forfeit their salvation. He did not try to diminish the seriousness of their sins, but he did try to diminish or prevent any discouragement that his rebuke might otherwise have caused. He stood with them as a brother, not over them as a judge.

But Paul could not speak to the Corinthian believers as spiritual men. They had come through the door of faith but had gone no farther. Most of them had received Jesus Christ years earlier but were acting as if they had just been born again. They were still babes in Christ.

The New Testament uses the word spiritual in a number of ways. In a neutral sense it simply means the realm of spiritual things, in contrast to the realm of the physical. When applied to men, however, it is used of their relationship to God in one of two ways: positionally or practically. Unbelievers are totally unspiritual in both senses. They possess neither a new spirit nor the Holy Spirit. Their position is natural and their practice is natural. Believers, on the other hand, are totally spiritual in the positional sense, because they have been given a new inner being that loves God and is indwelt by His Holy Spirit. But practically, believers can also be unspiritual.

In 2:14–15 Paul contrasts believers and unbelievers, and his use of “spiritual” in that context refers, therefore, to positional spirituality. The “natural man” (v. 14) is the unsaved; “he who is spiritual” (v. 15) is the saved. In the positional sense, there is no such thing as an unspiritual Christian or a partially spiritual Christian. In this sense every believer is equal. This spiritual is a synonym for possessing the life of God in the soul, or as we saw in 2:16, having the mind of Christ.

A positionally spiritual person is one with a new heart, indwelt by and controlled by the Holy Spirit. “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9; cf. v. 14). When we trust in Jesus Christ, His Spirit takes charge of our lives and remains in charge until we die. He will control us to His own ultimate ends, whether we submit or not. “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Our resistance and disobedience can cause many unnecessary detours, delays, and heartaches, but He will accomplish His work in us. “he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

Practically, however, believers may be anything but spiritual. Such were the Corinthian Christians. Paul addressed them as brethren. but he made it clear that he had to speak to them on the lowest possible spiritual level. He had to speak to them as if they were men of flesh.

Men of flesh (sarkinos) is literally “fleshy ones.” In this context it refers to man’s fallen humanness, his Adamic self—his bodily desires that manifest rebelliousness toward God, his glorying in himself, and his proneness to sin. As mentioned above, the flesh is not eradicated when we are saved. It no longer can ultimately dominate or destroy us, but it can still greatly influence us. That is why we yearn for the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23). Glorification, in one sense, will be less of a change than justification. Justification was transformation of the inner being; glorification is the elimination of the outer being, which bears the curse.

So a Christian is not characterized by sin; it no longer represents his basic nature. But he is still able to sin, and his sin is just as sinful as the sin of an unbeliever. Sin is sin. When a Christian sins, he is being practically unspiritual, living on the same practical level as an unbeliever. Consequently Paul is compelled to speak to the Corinthian believers much as if they were unbelievers.

Perhaps somewhat to soften the rebuke, he also compares them to babes in Christ. It was far from a compliment, but it did recognize that they truly belonged to Christ.

The Corinthian believers were spiritually ignorant. Paul had ministered to them for eighteen months, and after that they were pastored by the highly–gifted Apollos. Some of them were acquainted with Peter and others apparently had even heard Jesus preach (1:12). Like the “babes” of Hebrews 5:13, they had no excuse for not being mature. Yet they were exactly the opposite. They were not babes because they were newly redeemed, but because they were inexcusably immature.

The Corinthians were not unintelligent. Their problem was not low iq or lack of teaching. They were not ignorant of the faith because they were dumb, but because they were fleshly. The cause was not mental but spiritual. Because they refused to give up their worldly ways and their carnal desires, they became what James calls forgetful hearers (James 1:25). A person who does not use information will lose it; and spiritual truth is no exception. Spiritual truths that we ignore and neglect will become less and less remembered and meaningful (cf. 2 Pet. 1:12–13). Nothing causes us to ignore God’s truth more than not living it. A sinning Christian is uncomfortable in the light of God’s truth. He either turns from his fleshly behavior or he begins to block out God’s light. Only when we put aside “malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander”—that is, the flesh—are we able to “long for the pure milk of the word” and “grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:1–2).[2]


3:1 When Paul first visited Corinth, he had fed the believers with the elementary milk of the word because they were weak and young in the faith. The teaching which had been given to them was suitable to their condition. They could not receive deeply spiritual instruction because they were new believers. They were mere babes in Christ.[3]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 69–71). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1754). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

APRIL 15 – CHRISTIANITY IS NO LONGER PRODUCING SAINTLINESS

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ….

2 PETER 3:18

It is possible for a whole generation of professing Christians to be victims of poor teaching, low moral standards and unscriptural or extrascriptural doctrines, resulting in stunted growth and retarded development. It is little less than stark tragedy that an individual Christian may pass from youth to old age in a state of suspended growth and all his life be unaware of it!

Those who would question the truth of this have only to read the First Epistle to the Corinthians and the Epistle to the Hebrews; and church history adds all the further proof that is needed.

In today’s Christianity, we have measured ourselves by ourselves until the incentive to seek higher plateaus in the things of the Spirit is all but gone!

The fact is that we are no longer producing saints. We are making converts to an effete type of Christianity that bears little resemblance to that of the New Testament. The average so-called Bible Christian in our times is but a wretched parody on true sainthood!

Clearly, we must begin to produce better Christians! We must insist on New Testament sainthood for our converts, nothing less; and we must lead them into a state of heart purity, fiery love, separation from the world and poured-out devotion to the Person of Christ. Only in this way can the low level of spirituality be raised again to where it should be in the light of the Scriptures and of eternal values![1]


Spiritual Progress

but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (3:18a)

Instead of falling prey to the schemes of false teachers, Peter encouraged his readers to pursue Christlikeness and spiritual growth—a goal that every believer should have. The apostle Paul gave similar instruction to the Ephesians.

We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Eph. 4:14–16)

Grow (auxanō) means “to advance, or increase in the sphere of.”  We are to grow in grace through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Because of His grace, God forgives the sins of His children (Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:7; 2:5, 8; cf. Acts 15:11). They in turn feed on Scripture (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15) and commune with Christ (John 15:1–11), thereby increasing in their knowledge of Him (Eph. 4:13; Col. 1:9–10; 3:10). In his earlier letter, Peter had commented on this very process, exhorting his readers: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). As their knowledge and maturity increase, Christians are better prepared to fend off destructive doctrines and spiritual deceptions.

It is crucial to note that Peter designated Jesus as both Lord and Savior. Pursuing a deeper understanding of the fullness of Christ’s person, both in His saving work and His lordship (Rom. 5:1–5; Eph. 4:15–16; Phil. 2:12–14; 3:10, 12–14), will provide believers with the doctrinal stability they need to avoid being misled.

Continual Praise

To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (3:18b)

Peter closed the letter with a doxology, calling believers to worship and adore God (cf. Pss. 95:1–6; 105:1–5; 113:1–6; 148; 150; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 1:20; Eph. 1:12; 3:20–21; 1 Tim. 1:17; Jude 25). They are to give Him all the glory, both now, in the present, and in eternity.

Clearly the pronoun Him refers back to Christ and is a sure affirmation of His deity and equality with God. After all, the Old Testament declares that divine glory belongs to God alone: “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa. 42:8; cf. 48:11; Deut. 5:24; 28:58; Neh. 9:5; Pss. 93:1–2; 104:31; 138:5; Ezek. 11:23). Yet various places in the Gospels attribute that same glory to Jesus Christ: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; cf. Matt. 16:27; 25:31; John 17:24). The only possible conclusion, then, is that Christ is worthy of the Father’s glory because He Himself is God (cf. John 5:23; Rev. 1:5–6). Peter began this epistle with an affirmation of Christ’s deity in 1:1, and he now ends with the same.

Having reassured his readers of the certainty of Christ’s return (in 3:1–10), Peter concluded with an exhortation to live this life in light of that reality (in vv. 11–18). Accordingly, he echoed one of the New Testament’s foremost themes. In the words of the apostle Paul:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col. 3:1–4)[2]


18 Fittingly, the antidote to this possibility is repeated in the letter’s concluding statement, just as it had appeared in the greeting (1:2): the readers are to grow in the “grace and knowledge” of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The epistolary conclusion reveals a double inclusio: “making every effort” (1:5//3:14) and “grace and knowledge” of the Lord (1:2//3:18). The letter ends somewhat abruptly and without the customary epistolary features one might expect to find—personal wishes, greetings, instructions, requests, and so forth. The doxology “to him be glory both now and forever!” is ascribed to Christ alone and is thought unusual when contrasted with other NT doxologies.[3]

3:18 Once again Peter teaches that continued progress in divine things is a great protection against the peril of false teachers. There must be a twofold growth—in grace and in knowledge. Grace is the practical demonstration of the fruit of the Spirit. Growth in grace is not increased head knowledge or tireless activity; it is increasing likeness to the Lord Jesus. Knowledge means acquaintance with the Lord through the word. Growth in knowledge means increasing study of and subjection to His words, works, and ways.

But Peter cannot close his Epistle with an exhortation to the saints. The climax must be glory to the Savior. And so we find the lovely doxology: To Him be the glory, both now and forever. Amen. This, after all, is the ultimate reason for our existence—to glorify Him—and therefore no concluding note to this Epistle could be more fitting.[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2005). 2 Peter and Jude (pp. 136–138). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[3] Charles, D. J. (2006). 2 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 411). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2304). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

April 15 – Slander Equals Murder

Whoever says to his brother, “You good-for-nothing,” shall be guilty before the supreme court.—Matt. 5:22b

The word (raca) translated by the New American Standard Bible “good-for-nothing” has been variously rendered elsewhere as “brainless idiot,” “worthless fellow,” “blockhead,” and the like. It was a term of malicious abuse and slander that really has no precise modern translation. David graphically described persons who used such slander as those who “sharpen their tongues as a serpent; poison of a viper is under their lips” (Ps. 140:3). The Roman soldiers who tortured and crucified Jesus could well have used the term to mock and disrespect Him (cf. Matt. 27:29–31).

According to Jewish legend, a young rabbi had just come from a session with his famous teacher. He felt especially proud of how he had handled himself before the teacher. As he basked in those feelings of superiority, he passed an especially unattractive man who greeted him. The young rabbi responded, “You Raca! How ugly you are. Are all men of your town as ugly as you?”

“That I do not know,” the man replied, “but go and tell the Maker who created me how ugly is the creature He has made.”

To slander someone made in God’s image is to slander God Himself and is the same as murdering that person. Jesus called such harsh contempt murder of the heart. The contemptuous person was as much as “guilty before the supreme court” (the Jewish Sanhedrin, which tried the most serious cases and pronounced the ultimate penalty—death). We dare not trifle with any kind of contemptuous language toward others.

ASK YOURSELF
Remember, this is not just an injunction against speaking unkind, judgmental words, but also of thinking them in our minds. When God has led you to seasons of victory in your thought life, how has He accomplished it? What stopped evil thoughts from ever coming up?[1]

The Evil and Danger of Slander

and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca,”shall be guilty before the supreme court. (5:22b)

Raca was an epithet commonly used in Jesus’ day that has no exact modern equivalent. Therefore in most Bible versions, as here, it is simply transliterated. A term of malicious abuse, derision, and slander, it has been variously rendered as brainless idiot, worthless fellow, silly fool, empty head, blockhead, and the like. It was a word of arrogant contempt. David spoke of persons who use such slander as those who “sharpen their tongues as a serpent; poison of a viper is under their lips” (Ps. 140:3). It was the type of word that would have been used by the soldiers who mocked Jesus as they placed the crown of thorns on His head and led Him out to be crucified (Matt. 27:29–31).

A Jewish legend tells of a young rabbi named Simon Ben Eleazar who had just come from a session with his famous teacher. The young man felt especially proud about how he handled himself before the teacher. As he basked in his feelings of erudition, wisdom, and holiness, he passed a man who was especially unattractive. When the man greeted Simon, the rabbi responded, “You Raca! How ugly you are. Are all men of your town as ugly as you?” “That I do not know,” the man answered, “but go and tell the Maker who created me how ugly is the creature He has made.”

To slander a creature made in God’s image is to slander God Himself and is equivalent to murdering that person. Contempt, says Jesus, is murder of the heart. The contemptuous person shall be guilty before the supreme court, the Sanhedrin, the council of the seventy who tried the most serious offenses and pronounced the severest penalties, including death by stoning (see Acts 6:12—7:60).[2]


5:22 The first is the case of a person who is angry with his brother without a cause. One accused of this crime would be in danger of the judgment—that is, he could be taken to court. Most people can find what they think is a valid cause for their anger, but anger is justified only when God’s honor is at stake or when someone else is being wronged. It is never right when expressed in retaliation for personal wrongs.

Even more serious is the sin of insulting a brother. In Jesus’ day, people used the word Raca (an Aramaic term meaning “empty one”) as a word of contempt and abuse. Those who used this epithet were in danger of the council—that is, they were subject to trial before the Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land.

Finally, to call someone a fool is the third form of unrighteous anger that Jesus condemns. Here the word fool means more than just a dunce. It signifies a moral fool who ought to be dead and it expresses the wish that he were. Today it is common to hear a person cursing another with the words, “God damn you!” He is calling on God to consign the victim to hell. Jesus says that the one who utters such a curse is in danger of hell fire. The bodies of executed criminals were often thrown into a burning dump outside Jerusalem known as the Valley of Hinnom or Gehenna. This was a figure of the fires of hell which shall never be quenched.

There is no mistaking the severity of the Savior’s words. He teaches that anger contains the seeds of murder, that abusive language contains the spirit of murder, and that cursing language implies the very desire to murder. The progressive heightening of the crimes demand three degrees of punishment: the judgment, the council, and hell fire. In the kingdom, Jesus will deal with sins according to severity.[3]


Murder: The Sixth Commandment

The way Jesus handles this material is by contrasts (“You have heard that it was said … but I tell you …”), and the point at which these contrasts begin is the sixth commandment. Ever since Sinai, the Jews had known “you shall not murder”; it was part of God’s law. But the leaders of the people had joined that commandment (found in Exod. 20:13) to Numbers 35:30, which demanded death for murderers, implying that the sixth commandment referred only to the specific act of killing.

Is that all murder is? asked Jesus. Is it nothing but killing? Suppose a man wants to kill his enemy but is stopped by some unexpected circumstance. Is he innocent just because he didn’t get a chance to follow through on his desire? Suppose he is too cowardly to kill but would like to do it. Or suppose he is just afraid of getting caught. What if he only hates his enemy? Or insults him? Is he still innocent of breaking this commandment?

No, says Jesus. In a human court the only acts that can be judged and punished are external acts, because human beings can look only on outward things. They cannot see the heart. But in God’s court “anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment,” and anyone who merely says, “ ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (v. 22).

This is not earth-shatteringly new, of course. The Pharisees and other teachers of the law should have discovered this deeper meaning of the sixth commandment by themselves. William Hendriksen observed rightly,

There was no excuse for the fact that in their interpretation of the sixth commandment the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, in agreement with the men of long ago, were omitting the main lesson. Moses had emphasized love for God (Deut. 6:5) and for man (Lev. 19:18). Not only that but the very first domestic quarrel narrative, the story of Cain and Abel, had in a very impressive manner pointed up the evil of jealous anger, as being the root of murder (Gen. 4:1–16). … Accordingly Jesus, in interpreting the sixth commandment as he does, far from annulling it, is showing what it had meant from the very beginning.

There is something else in these verses. It is true that they interpret the sixth commandment definitively. We now know exactly what the words “you shall not murder” mean. But in addition to that, Jesus also tells us what to do when we do become angry or when we know we have done something wrong to someone else. (1) We must make the wrong right, being reconciled to our brother (vv. 24–25); and (2) we must make things right immediately, even before we worship God (vv. 23–24).

The reason God comes into the picture is because the sin of anger, like all sins, is ultimately against God and must be made right before him. This is why Jesus talks about being “thrown into prison” until “you have paid the last penny” (vv. 25–26). It is not just a human prison he is thinking of. It is hell, which brings the end of the section (v. 26) back to what Jesus warned his hearers of at the beginning (v. 22).[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 114). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 294–295). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1220). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Boice, J. M. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 88–89). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

APRIL 15 – GOD IS ALSO HOLY AND JUST

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.

—Habakkuk 1:13

A lot of people have talked about the goodness of God and then gotten sentimental about it and said, “God is too good to punish anybody,” and so they have ruled out hell. But the man who has an adequate conception of God will not only believe in the love of God, but also in the holiness of God. He will not only believe in the mercy of God, but also in the justice of God. And when you see the everlasting God in His holy, perfect union, when you see the One God acting in judgment, you know that the man who chooses evil must never dwell in the presence of this holy God.

But a lot of people have gone too far and have written books and poetry that gets everybody believing that God is so kind and loving and gentle. God is so kind that infinity won’t measure it. And God is so loving that He is immeasurably loving. But God is also holy and just. AOG107

We praise You for your love and mercy, Lord, but may we never take lightly Your awesome holiness and Your fearful justice. Amen. [1]


13 The verbs “look on” (rāʾâ) and “tolerate” (hibbîṭ) are repeated from vv. 3 and 5 (where hibbîṭ is translated “watch”), marking a further development in this dialogue on justice. To “look” at a matter can imply that it is viewed with acceptance (cf. Pss 66:18; 138:6). That the Lord, unlike most ancient Near Eastern gods, refuses to countenance “evil” (rāʿ) and “wrong” (ʿāmāl; cf. v. 3) is a basic tenet of Israel’s faith (e.g.; Pss 5:4; 34:16, 21).

As in v. 3, the violent discrepancy between this premise and the prophet’s perception of reality provokes the question “why?”—a question founded, nevertheless, on the obedient faith expressed in v. 12. The evil apparently tolerated is that of the “treacherous” (bôgedîm; GK 953), namely, those who are unreliable and break faith in relationship (cf. Jer 3:8, 11; Hos 5:7); the term is applied again to the Babylonians in Isaiah 21:2 (cf. Isa 39). The Lord’s tolerance is implied because he has been “silent” or uninvolved (cf. Ps 50:21; Isa 42:14); the treachery is typically that of the wicked, who “swallow up” (cf. Ex 7:12; Pss 35:25; 124:3; La 2:16) the righteous as a wolf devours its prey.

The identity of the “wicked” has been disputed. Evidently they correspond to the fisherman in vv. 15–17. The NIV’s transition between vv. 12–13 and vv. 15–17 from a plural to a singular third-person subject is not present in the MT, where singular third-person forms predominate throughout. These verses are also linked by a continuity of theme, the image of devouring food pervading the passage. In turn, vv. 12–17 show extensive continuity with vv. 5–11. The image of fishing corresponds to that of hunting (v. 8; cf. Jer 16:16). The express purpose is to consume the prey (vv. 8, 16; the root ʾkl [“eat”] occurs in each verse). This is motivated by a boundless greed, gratified without principle and pursued by means of a far-flung, international aggression (vv. 6–10, 13–17; the root ʾsp [“gather”] occurs in vv. 9, 15, and the noun gôyîm [“nations”] in vv. 5, 17). This greed entails the overthrow of all opposing human authority (vv. 10, 14) and the deification of the aggressor’s own power (vv. 7, 11, 16). Both passages attribute this tyrannical imperialism to God’s initiative in judgment (vv. 5–6, 12, 14), yet without condoning it (vv. 11, 13).

In view of these detailed correlations, it may be concluded that the “wicked” in v. 13 correspond to the Babylonians in v. 6. They are thus distinct from the “wicked” in v. 4, just as the “violence” and perverted justice in vv. 7 and 9 differ from that in vv. 2–4; and they represent a further dramatic embodiment of the lex talionis, the “wicked” being judged through the “wicked” (cf. Eze 7:23–24).

As the “wicked” in v. 13 correspond to the fisherman in vv. 15–17, so the “righteous” correspond to the “nations,” likened to fish (vv. 14–17), as their respective prey. The designation therefore includes Judah, whose sin has caused her to be numbered among the nations of vv. 14–17 in judgment (cf. Lev 26:33, 38; Dt 28:64–65; Jer 9:16; Eze 4:13, in all of which Israel is “scattered among” the nations, while ultimately being kept separate). Habakkuk’s concern is, of course, his own people, both as the perpetrators and victims of injustice; and the dramatic exchange of vv. 5–17 serves primarily to set his initial local concern in an international context of God’s unfolding patterns of justice. For the prophet this only heightens the dilemma.[2]


1:13 eyes are too pure. In spite of the prophet’s expressions of faith and trust, he found himself in even further perplexity. The essence of Habakkuk’s next quandary is expressed in this verse: If God is too pure to behold evil, then how can He use the wicked to devour a person more righteous than they? Would not God’s use of the Chaldeans result in even greater damage to His righteous character?[3]


1:13 purer eyes than to see evil. This is a classic statement of the puzzle of how an all-powerful God can allow sin to continue unchecked. Habakkuk cannot understand the justice of allowing wicked Babylon to punish a less wicked nation such as Judah. (He can call Judah more righteous because, even though most of its people were unfaithful to God’s covenants, some of them actually were faithful.) Habakkuk thinks that God’s holiness should have prohibited him from using the corrupt Babylonians.

1:13 In the crucifixion of Christ the wicked leaders swallowed up Christ the righteous one.[4]


1:13 when the wicked swallows up someone more righteous than Habakkuk questions why Yahweh permits the Babylonians to devour the kingdom of Judah. The prophet suggests that Yahweh’s holiness should have caused Him to prevent the oppression of the people of Judah, especially since some of them remained faithful to Him. Habakkuk complains that Yahweh remains idle and silent despite Judah’s suffering.[5]


1:13 purer eyes. How can the holy and all-powerful God, to whom sin is totally repugnant, permit evil to go unchecked and unpunished?

traitors. Lit. “those acting treacherously.” The reference is to the Babylonians. Habakkuk cannot fathom how the holy God can use such an unscrupulous and wicked nation to punish Judah, whose conduct is by comparison “more righteous.”[6]


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

[2] Armerding, C. E. (2008). Habakkuk. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 618–619). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Hab 1:13). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1722). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Hab 1:13). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1601). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

April 15 – Defending the Faith

Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.

1 Peter 3:15

 

When society attacks, you need to be ready to make a defense. The Greek term for “defense” often referred to a formal defense in a court of law. But Paul also used the word informally to describe his ability to answer anyone who questioned him—not just a judge, magistrate, or governor (Phil. 1:16–17). Furthermore, including the word always in today’s verse indicates that you should be prepared to answer in all situations, not just the legal sphere.

Whether in an official setting or informally to anyone who might inquire, you need to be ready to provide an answer about “the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15)—that is, give a description of your Christian faith. You should be able to give a rational explanation of your salvation.[1]


A Devotion to Christ

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, (3:15a)

Here the apostle again alludes to Isaiah 8:13, “Sanctify the Lord of hosts” (kjv). When believers sanctify Christ as Lord in their hearts, they affirm their submission to His control, instruction, and guidance. In so doing they also declare and submit to God’s sovereign majesty (cf. Deut. 4:35; 32:4; 1 Kings 8:27; Pss. 90:2; 92:15; 99:9; 145:3, 5; Isa. 43:10; Rom. 8:28; 11:33) and demonstrate that they fear only Him (Josh. 24:22–24; Pss. 22:23; 27:1; 34:9; 111:10; 119:46, 63; Prov. 14:26; Matt. 4:10).

Sanctify (hagiasate) means “to set apart,” or “consecrate.” But in this context it also connotes giving the primary place of adoration, exaltation, and worship to Christ. Believers who sanctify Christ set Him apart from all others as the sole object of their love, reverence, loyalty, and obedience (cf. Rom. 13:14; Phil. 2:5–11; 3:14; Col. 3:4; 2 Peter 1:10–11). They recognize His perfection (Heb. 7:26–28), magnify His glory (Acts 7:55–56; cf. Rev. 1:12–18), extol His pre-eminence (Col. 1:18), and submit themselves to His will (Mark 3:35; Rom. 12:2; Eph. 6:6; Heb. 10:36; 1 John 2:17), with the understanding that sometimes that submission includes suffering.

This honoring of Christ as Lord is not external, but in the hearts of true worshipers—even when they must face unjust suffering. That submission to and trust in the perfect purposes of the sovereign Lord yields courage, boldness, and fortitude to triumph through the most adverse situations.

A Readiness to Defend the Faith

always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (3:15b)

It is not just endurance through the blessing of suffering that believers are to submit to; there is also the opportunity to defend the truth when they are being persecuted. Christians must be ready to make a defense of the faith. The Greek term for defense (apologia) is the word from which the English terms apology and apologetics derive. It often means a formal defense in a judicial courtroom (cf. Acts 25:16; 2 Tim. 4:16), but Paul also used the word informally to denote his ability to answer those who questioned him (Phil. 1:16). Always indicates believers’ need for constant preparedness and readiness to respond, whether in a formal courtroom or informally, to everyone who asks them to give an account for why they live and believe the way they do. Account is simply logos, “word,” or “message,” and it calls saints to be able at the time someone asks (present tense) to give the right words in response to questions about the gospel.

The gospel is identified as the hope that is in believers. Hope is synonymous with the Christian faith because the motive for believers’ embracing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is their anticipation of escaping hell and entering eternal glory (cf. Acts 26:6; Eph. 1:18; 4:4; Col. 1:23; Heb. 10:23). Thus hope becomes the focal point of any rational explanation believers should be able to provide regarding their salvation. (For further insights into the meaning of hope, see the discussion of 1:3 in chapter 2 of this volume.)

The believer’s defense of this hope before the unbeliever who asks must be firm and uncompromising, but at the same time conveyed with gentleness and reverence. Gentleness refers to meekness or humility, not in the sense of weakness but in the sense of not being dominant or overbearing (cf. Eph. 4:15, “speaking the truth in love”). The Lord Himself was characterized by this virtue, as was Paul: “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1a).

Reverence expresses devotion to God, a deep regard for His truth, and even respect for the person listening (Col. 4:6; 2 Tim. 2:24–26).

Christians who cannot present a biblically clear explanation of their faith (cf. 1 Thess. 5:19–22; 1 John 2:14) will be insecure when strongly challenged by unbelievers (cf. Eph. 4:14–15). In some cases that insecurity can undermine their assurance of salvation. The world’s attacks can overwhelm those who have not “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8; cf. Eph. 6:10–17).[2]


3:15 In the last part of verse 14 and in this verse, Peter quotes from Isaiah 8:12b, 13, which says: “Nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.” Someone has said, “We fear God so little because we fear man so much.”

The Isaiah passage speaks of The Lord of hosts as the One to be reverenced. Quoting it, Peter by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says, sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.

To reverence the Lord means to make Him the Sovereign of our lives. All we do and say should be in His will, for His pleasure, and for His glory. The lordship of Christ should dominate every area of our lives—our possessions, our occupation, our library, our marriage, our spare time—nothing can be excluded.

Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. This applies primarily to times when Christians are being persecuted because of their faith. The consciousness of the presence of the Lord Christ should impart a holy boldness and inspire the believer to witness a good confession.

The verse is also applicable to everyday life. People often ask us questions which quite naturally open the door to speak to them about the Lord. We should be ready to tell them what great things the Lord has done for us. This witnessing should be done in either case with gentleness and reverence. There should be no trace of harshness, bitterness or flippancy when we speak of our Savior and Lord.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 120). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 200–202). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2271). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

April 15 – Reaching Out to Others

“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:43

✧✧✧

The circumstances are never too adverse, nor the hour too late, to offer the gospel of Christ to someone.

Jesus was crucified between two criminals (thieves)—one on each side of His cross. At first the two men both joined the onlookers in hurling unbelieving rhetoric at the Lord (Mark 15:32). But one of the thieves obviously had a change of heart as the hours elapsed. He rebuked the other thief by pointing out Jesus’ sinlessness (Luke 23:40–41) and then expressed his need of salvation: “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (v. 42). And Jesus graciously answered the thief’s request.

The dying thief’s conversion is an extraordinary story. At Calvary there was nothing convincing or favorable about Jesus. From man’s vantage point He was dying because He had been completely rejected; even the disciples had deserted Him. Jesus appeared weak, disgraced, and ashamed. When the thief uttered his plea for help, no one was pointing to Jesus and saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Given the circumstances, it is difficult to comprehend how Christ could be concerned with the immediate salvation of a wretched thief who was justly being executed for his crimes. But our Lord cared very much about the destiny of that man’s soul. Jesus’ desire to see sinners saved was constant, because He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). His concern for the unsaved is the supreme example and motivation to us in reaching out to others.

The thief’s salvation is also a clear illustration of the sovereignty of God in redemption. So often the church wants to attribute someone’s salvation to human cleverness in presenting a well–crafted message at just the right time and in the most appropriate place. But salvation is always the direct result of God’s intervening grace. The sovereign work of God’s Spirit, not circumstances, gave the thief a saving understanding about who Jesus was and what His death was accomplishing.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God for the courage to reach out with the good news of salvation no matter what the circumstances.

For Further Study: Read John 4:1–42. What excuses could Jesus have used for not talking to the woman? ✧ How did He keep His focus during His conversation with her?[1]


The Lord’s reply was astonishing. He prefaced it with the word truly, because what He was about to say was hard to believe. That a cursed criminal, whom the Jews would view as unredeemable, would be promised entrance to God’s kingdom was an outrageous affront to their sensibilities.

The promise that this redeemed sinner would be with Jesus in heaven that very day invalidates the Roman Catholic teaching regarding purgatory. It also eliminates any system of works-righteousness, since the penitent thief had neither the time nor the opportunity to perform enough good deeds to merit salvation.

The wonderful promise that he would be with Jesus in Paradise (heaven; 2 Cor. 12:2; cf. Rev. 2:7 with 22:2, 14) speaks of his full reconciliation to God. He would not merely see Jesus from afar, he would be with Him. His restoration would be full and complete.[2]


23:43 Jesus rewarded his faith with the promise that that very day, they would be together in Paradise. Paradise is the same as the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2, 4), and means the dwelling place of God. Today—what speed! With Me—what company! In Paradise—what happiness! Charles R. Erdman writes:

This story reveals the truth to us that salvation is conditioned upon repentance and faith. However, it contains other important messages also. It declares that salvation is independent of sacraments. The thief had never been baptized, nor had he partaken of the Lord’s Supper.… He did in fact boldly profess his faith in the presence of a hostile crowd and amid the taunts and jeers of rulers and soldiers, yet he was saved without any formal rites. It is further evident that salvation is independent of good works.… It is also seen that there is no “sleep of the soul.” The body may sleep, but consciousness exists after death. Again it is evident that there is no “purgatory.” Out of a life of sin and shame, the penitent robber passed immediately into a state of blessedness. Again it may be remarked that salvation is not universal. There were two robbers; only one was saved. Last of all it may be noted that the very essence of the joy which lies beyond death consists in personal communion with Christ. The heart of the promise to the dying thief was this: “Thou shalt be with me.” This is our blessed assurance, that to depart is “to be with Christ” which is “very far better.”

From Jesus Christ’s side one person may go to heaven and another to hell. Which side of the cross are you on?[3]


23:43 Paradise. The only other places this word is used in the NT are 2Co 12:4 and Rev 2:7. The word suggests a garden (it is the word used of Eden in the LXX), but in all 3 NT uses it speaks of heaven.[4]


23:43 today. If the repentant criminal envisions bodily resurrection in a distant future kingdom, he is not wrong; but Jesus promises more immediate communion with Himself even in the interim between physical death and Christ’s return and the final resurrection. See theological note “The Intermediate State” on p. 2109.

Paradise. A Persian word for “garden,” which came to mean “the place of the righteous dead” (2 Cor. 12:3; Rev. 2:7).[5]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. (2014). Luke 18–24 (p. 388). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1456). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Lk 23:43). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1838). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

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

Saturday

Confession: Psalm 42:11

Why are you in despair, O my soul?

And why are you disturbed within me?

Hope in God, because I shall again praise him,

my salvation and my God.

Reading: Mark 16:1–20

And when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome purchased fragrant spices so that they could go and anoint him. And very early in the morning on the first day of the week they came to the tomb after the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away (for it was very large). And as they were going into the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here! See the place where they laid him! But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, because trembling and amazement had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

So they promptly reported all the things they had been commanded to those around Peter. And after these things, Jesus himself also sent out through them from the east even as far as the west the holy and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen.

Now early on the first day of the week, after he rose, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had expelled seven demons. She went out and announced it to those who were with him while they were mourning and weeping. And those, when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, refused to believe it. And after these things, he appeared in a different form to two of them as they were walking, while they were going out into the countryside. And these went and reported it to the others, and they did not believe them. And later, while they were reclining at table, he appeared to the eleven. And he reprimanded their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him after he had been raised. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who refuses to believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will expel demons, they will speak in new tongues, they will pick up snakes. And if they drink any deadly poison it will never hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will get well.”

Then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed everywhere, while the Lord was working together with them and confirming the message through the accompanying signs.

Reflection

He that abides in Christ the crucified one learns to know what it is to be crucified with Him—and in Him to be indeed dead unto sin. He that abides in Christ the risen and glorified one becomes in the same way partaker of His resurrection life, and of the glory with which He has now been crowned in heaven. Unspeakable are the blessings which flow to the soul from the union with Jesus in His glorified life.

This life is a life of perfect victory and rest. Before His death, the Son of God had to suffer and to struggle. He could be tempted and troubled by sin and its assaults. As the risen one, He has triumphed over sin. And, as the glorified one, His humanity has entered into participation of the glory of deity. The believer who abides in Him as such is led to see how the power of sin and the flesh are indeed destroyed. The consciousness of complete and everlasting deliverance becomes increasingly clear. The blessed rest and peace—the fruit of such a conviction that victory and deliverance are an accomplished fact—take possession of the life. Abiding in Jesus, in whom he has been raised and set in the heavenly places, he receives of that glorious life streaming from the head through every member of the body.

—Andrew Murray

Abide in Christ

Response

Christ has defeated death! If you abide in Christ, you are a partaker of His resurrection life. Spend time today—every day—praising Him for this new life. Jesus leaves His disciples with words of encouragement and empowerment. How do you see His commission playing out in your own life? What steps do you take to fulfill it?[1]

 

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