Thursday, November 30, 2017

Reflections on the New Testament: Matthew

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. 5:3, NKJV.

What is meant by the phrase, “poor in spirit,” that it should here be particularly applied to the children of God? Firstly, is not “poor in spirit” an accurate description of humanity in general? Nevertheless, only those who acknowledge this poverty and submit to God shall enter the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Matt. 5:4.

Those who suffer at present shall have the greater joy in the end. Recall a similar passage in Ecclesiastes, which states: “Better to go to the house of mourning that to go the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart,” (Ecc.7:2). Mourning is a sign of humility, and is a word often used in the Old Testament to indicate the brokenness of a righteous person upon recognizing his or her sin. Feasting, on the other hand, is a Biblical term commonly associated with self-indulgence and worldly pleasure; it is perhaps most succinctly described by the phrase: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Those who “feast” view death as the ultimate end, and so comfort themselves with the temporal pleasures of this world; those who mourn face death, are humbled and terrified, and turn not to pleasure, but to evaluation of life and pursuance of purpose. The Lord Jesus promises these “shall be comforted”—for is not the Lord Jesus life, purpose, and comfort embodied?

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” Matt.5:5.

What does it mean to be meek? The original Greek word for meek is “praus,” which was commonly used to describe a well-broken war horse. The implications of submissiveness which the English translation possesses are certainly accurate, but we must understand that, in the given context, they are not intended to be applied to our interactions with mankind, but to our relationship with Jesus Christ, the Master. While gentleness and humility in all things are certainly relevant, the superseding principle is to uphold righteousness and oppose wickedness—mildly or vehemently as the case demands.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled,” Matt.5:6.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who have received the Holy Spirit and do not quench it, but submit to it and are filled with the power of God. Blessed, indeed, are they.

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

Does not the Lord also teach that with whatever measure we use, it shall be measured back to us; that as we judge, so shall we be judged, and that if we refuse to forgive our brother, neither will the Lord Jesus forgive us? So the pattern continues in this verse: if we are merciful to others, we ourselves shall be rewarded with mercy—if not by man, certainly by God.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” Matt.5:8.

Who is pure in heart, save those who are cleansed by Christ? And those who are cleansed cross over the gulf between man and God as one in Christ. God’s glory is not hidden from them, but they see Him, and cry out, “Abba, Father!”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” Matt.5:9.

How are we to be peacemakers, when we carry the sword of the Word, are clad in armor, and engage perpetually in spiritual warfare? Indeed, our Lord Himself declared: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword,” (Matt.10:34). The fact of the matter is: those who desire peace must first obtain victory. To attempt to make peace at this point in the spiritual war would be a futile and wicked attempt to reconcile good and evil. True peace ensues when evil is conquered. Since the army of the Lord is assured this victory, those who carry His sword and banner are peacemakers, and “shall be called sons of God.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Matt.5:10.
Blessed are they—for to them belong salvation, eternal life, and all the majesties of the kingdom of God. In light of this, what is persecution? Merely a reminder that we are not of this world, but of the church of God.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Reflections on the New Testament: Matthew

“Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to [John] and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” Matt. 3:5-7, NKJV.

Note the contrast here: that John baptized the people, who eagerly went out to him and confessed, but rebuked the religious leaders the instant he saw them approaching! The reason for this is simple, and, indeed, is addressed all throughout the gospels. The Pharisees and Sadducees adhered to the Law, and eagerly embraced its requirement of human effort as a means of self-glorification. They mistakenly believed that this outward display of religiosity was sufficient to gain righteousness—in short, that no divine intervention was necessary. To this, King Solomon soundly replies in Proverbs 26:12, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” The fool who humbles himself and confesses his sins shall be baptized—not by water only, but by the Holy Spirit. These have fled the wrath to come and, by the grace of God, have indeed escaped. But the self-righteous scoff at the wrath to come, believing they have already delivered themselves from it. There is nothing so dangerous as a false assurance of salvation. Do you indeed trust in human morality? You are still in your sins. “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” For flee you must.

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire,” Matt. 3:8-12.

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ But He answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: He shall give His angels charge over you, and, In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him,” Matt. 4:1-11, NKJV.
There are a number of remarkable things contained in this passage. To begin with, note that the conversation between Jesus and the devil consists almost entirely of quoted Scriptures. Jesus, fittingly, begins this trend; Satan then cunningly uses two verses, but, naturally, uses them incorrectly and is refuted by Jesus with yet another verse. As Christians, we will certainly be led “into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”—will we be able to argue as Jesus argued? It is essential that we know the entirety of Scripture and be able to reconcile each truth as part of a whole, that we may be able to refute those who take one truth and twist it away from the rest. Moreover, notice what is said in verse 11: “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.” Herein is revealed the correct interpretation of the statement, “He shall give His angels charge over you”! The Scriptures which the devil quoted are by no means false, but were placed in a blasphemous context. It was this context which the Lord refuted by saying “You shall not tempt the LORD your God.” When the devil departed and Jesus was no longer tempted or challenged, the angels came and ministered unto Him. “Every word of God proves true,” and all reconcile to one another to form a living and powerful whole. The devil separates these truths to form lies, and, in so doing, separates the church.