Reflections on Matthew

On June 8, 2014, I preached an overview sermon on the book of Matthew to launch our series of preaching through this book. After 166 sermons, this past Sunday, April 29, 2018, marked the completion of that journey. There are many wonderful lessons I learned over the course of preaching this first Gospel in the New Testament. Consider these reflections with me:

Length of a sermon series does not equate faithful preaching

I want to be clear that just because it took me nearly 4 years to preach through Matthew does not mean that I would say that a book series must be multiple years. Some churches will not be accustomed to a lengthy series and some pastors might not feel comfortable going that slow through a book. In Matthew, I slowed down in chapters 5-7 as I explored “The Sermon on the Mount” while sometimes preaching two miracle narratives together. The pastor must learn his congregation. Yet, he should hope that the congregation’s appetite for expository preaching will increase.

The people at New Testament Baptist Church are awesome!

There is no way that I could have preached Matthew the way I have were it not for the support, patience, and endurance of the flock I pastor. Their hunger for expositional preaching deepened the further we journeyed into this book. I am so thankful for the way in which I saw their appetite for the Word developed.

King Jesus

Matthew starts and finishes with a resounding theme blasting in our ears: “Jesus is the Son of David, Son of Abraham meaning He is the Christ, the Covenant Promise, the Son of God, the King!” Immanuel came to us and He still is with us! In days of unbelievable turmoil politically and culturally, the church must fasten itself closer to the reality of who our King is. Paraphrasing John Piper, kings and presidents will be dust and forgotten in eternity while King Jesus rules and reigns. Let us not be hopeless! He is ever with us! All authority is given to Him and He sends us with His authority to our neighborhoods and to the nations! He is building His kingdom and He will accomplish His purpose. “It is all about Jesus” dare not be a meaningless cliché but the marrow that gives us life!

The NT teaches us how to read the OT

By God’s providence, the first book in the New Testament provides Christians an excellent blueprint and grid for how we read the OT. As Christians, we do not read the OT as if we are Intertestamental Jews in the years of silence. We are New Covenant citizens! Matthew 2 teaches us how a passage like Hosea 11:1 finds fulfillment in Christ for Christ is the True Israel. Matthew 12 shows how Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy. Matthew cites or alludes to numerous OT passages teaching the early church and us that we read the OT with Christ always in mind and the gospel of redemption to be the tapestry with different threads making it up.

Hope for the Pagans

Matthew is considered to be the most “Jewish” of the 4 Gospels but the hope for the Gentiles is a constant theme. The genealogy of Jesus in chapter 1 contains Gentile women who were a part of Jesus’ ancestry demonstrating redemptive hope. Matthew 8 tells the story of the Roman centurion who comes to Jesus. What a blessed promise when Jesus says the Gentiles will come and sit with the Hebrew patriarchs in the Father’s kingdom! The Great Commission closes Matthew with the gospel to be carried out to every corner. In the most “Jewish” Gospel, the promise of grace to pagans is found over and over. The New Covenant Jesus inaugurates by His blood and sacrifice purchases and forms a kingdom not just of ethnic Israel but the True Israel: Jews and Gentiles in union with Jesus Christ.

Much more could be said but I encourage you to read Matthew! Read it in one setting and be prepared to be amazed by King Jesus! Fellow pastors, I exhort you to preach through this book soon! You will find yourself amazed by the precious jewels that you uncover week after week!

Sola Scriptura! Soli Deo Gloria!

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Only One Prophet-Priest-King

Let’s face it. Not every pastor is gifted in the same way. Some pastors are extraordinarily gifted preachers, delivering mainly “home runs” each week. Other pastors will only preach a “home run” sermon once a month, yet may be strong in the area of pastoral care and counseling. Meanwhile, a third category of pastor may not be the best preacher or the most caring and compassionate with his people, but he may excel in leading the body of Christ forward like none other. We can probably see in our own pastors one of these qualities rise above the others.

Every church wants a pastor who excels in all three areas: preaching, pastoral care, and leading. A problem arises, however, when church’s assume their pastor will fill out in these areas equally. The reality is, many churches expect more from their pastors than they would from any other human being in their lives. While pastors are called to be living examples to the flock and set apart from this world, they are still fellow sheep smack dab in the middle of their own sanctification. When churches expect their pastors to be golden-mouthed pulpiteers, Mr. Rogers-like companions, and dynamic vision-casters, they are looking for something in a man that can only be found in the Son of Man. Only Jesus is the perfect preacher (Prophet), shepherd (Priest), and leader (King). We see this in Matthew 12.

In Matthew 12, Jesus highlights the fact that He alone perfectly fulfills each of these roles. In order to tell us who He is and what He came to do, Jesus ties together the three offices which held the entire Old Testament together: that of the prophet, the priest, and the king. Each of these three offices was instituted by God and serves as a representative of God to His people. Yet Jesus explains that he came not to fulfill only one of them, but all three.

“Something greater than the temple is here”- Jesus is the Great High Priest who makes atonement for our sins

Jesus begins in verse 6 by staring down Israel’s flawed religious leadership. When the Scribes and Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for leading His disciples to break the Sabbath, He called Himself the, “Lord of the Sabbath” and even said, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus knew that the temple was the place where God dwelt and the place where blood sacrifices for sin were made. By saying, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus was showing them that a new day in salvation history had come and that God’s people could now approach Him solely on the basis of Christ’s person and work.

This means Jesus and Jesus alone is our Great High Priest who has made atonement for our sins. We have no need to make sacrifices and approach a certain man to enter God’s presence once a year and hope this atones for our sins. The once-for-all time sacrifice of Christ has been offered and we are cleansed of all sin through faith in Him. This frees us up as Christ’s people to rest in His priestly office instead of expecting it’s total fulfillment in our local pastor. Your pastor may not be as personable as you’d like, but that’s okay, as long as he is aiming for more Christ-likeness in that area.

“Something greater than Jonah is here”- Jesus is the Prophet who speaks God’s Word to us

In verse 41, Jesus returns to this theme of His fulfillment of the three Old Testament offices. He moves from a focus on the office of priest to that of prophet. Jesus amazingly connects Jonah’s experience to His upcoming death, burial, and resurrection. Then, Jesus says that a new day has come regarding the office of prophet. Jonah was a prophet with many sins, and Jesus uses Him to point out that this office of prophet had never found a perfect officeholder. But now the perfect Office-holder was here and that means Jesus perfectly delivers God’s Word to His people. Jesus not only is the perfect preacher and, “The prophet who is to come” (Deut. 18:15), but He is also, “The Word made flesh” (John 1:14). Throughout the gospel accounts, people were constantly remarking that Christ taught, “As one who had authority” (Mark 1:22, Matthew 7:29). After appearing to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, the men remarked: “He opened to us the Scriptures” (Lk. 24:32), then in verse 45 we’re told, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

This means that Jesus speaks God’s Word to us clearly and accurately, so we can trust His every word. This also means it should be our ambition to know nothing except, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). When we know Jesus is the, “Word of Life”, we will heed Him when He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24, italics mine). We will then not be discouraged if week after week, our local pastor only delivers a “base hit” with an occasional “home run.” We can be content sitting under our pastor’s preaching so long as this broken mouthpiece delivers the Word of God to us.

“Something greater than Solomon is here”- Jesus is the King who reigns in our hearts forever

Then, in the very next verse, in Matthew 12:42, Jesus mentions Israel’s wisest king, Solomon, and shockingly says, “Something greater than Solomon is here.” It is surprising enough that Jesus claims prominence over the temple as the true Priest, and supremacy over the prophets as the true Prophet; but to say that He is, “greater” than the greatest of Israel’s kings is huge. Jesus is claiming that His rule and reign and His wisdom excel that of every other human to walk the face of the earth. No mere man holds a candle to the perfection that shines forth from Christ.

This means that Jesus and Jesus alone is worthy of our soul’s total allegiance. We are freed up from looking for flawless leadership in our local pastor when we have bowed our hearts to the King of kings. Since Jesus is leading us to the Promised Land of Glory and has “prepared the way” for us by means of His cross and resurrection, we are content when our local pastor does his best to lead us. We don’t need to reject our pastor’s leading when he obviously has sought God’s best for us and is aiming to lead us forward in holiness. We can submit to our pastor’s leadership because we know he is merely trying to get us to follow Christ.

I am not saying pastors should not strive for excellence in preaching, shepherding, and leading. I believe the strongest pastor is the one that humbly repents of his shortcomings and sins and seeks to grow in grace in each of these three areas. My point is, Christ’s sheep should not seek for something in a man when they should find it in the God-Man. When church members find Christ to be their true Prophet, Priest, and King, they don’t get upset when others fail to fill these positions. Rather than finding fault in their flawed leaders, these church members rejoice as they see the light of Christ shining through the “jar of clay” that stands before them each Lord’s Day. Your pastor may never be a C.H. Spurgeon or a John MacArthur, but they are another instrument God has raised from the dust to sound forth for His glory.

May we all as Christ’s sheep follow our Good Shepherd, even as we submit to His flawed under-shepherds. And one day, all sheep and under-shepherds, will bow at the feet of, “The great Shepherd of the sheep”, the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20b).  

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 2)

This past Monday I began thinking through the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer coming to the conclusion that, based on James 1:13-15, this cannot mean that God tempts us in any way. What then does this mean? To that we now turn…

The True Meaning

When we pray “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” we are first acknowledging that God rules over all things in His sovereign, wise, and good rule. That there are no “maverick molecules”[1] in the universe, but all things are governed according to His will. Secondly, we are asking that God, if it be in line with His sovereign will, would not lead us into positions where we can be easily tempted and likely to fall.[2] It means we ask Him to preserve us from these things, or if He sees fit to bring us into seasons of trial that He strengthens us to stand firm, lessen the attractiveness of sin, or expel the allure of sin with a superior affection for Himself…in order to remain faithful to Him.[3] Thirdly, we are submitting ourselves to God in such a request knowing that every trial He brings our way is to be accepted and “counted all joy” as God’s necessary means to conforming us into the image of Christ.

As one commentator put it, “…there can be no virtue without temptations to vice…In few things is God’s power of bringing good out of evil seen more clearly than when He turns what the devil intends as ‘occasions of falling’ into opportunities that may be ‘for our wealth’; for every temptation vanquished adds to the strength and richness of the soul.”[4] So in this request we’re not asking God to not tempt us, He doesn’t tempt us. We are not asking that God not allow us to be tempted but saying “Lord, don’t let us succumb to temptation” or “Don’t abandon us to temptation.”[5] We, sad as it is to admit, do find ourselves giving in to temptation but in those moments we do so by rejecting the way of escape God always provides as 1 Cor. 10:13 tells us. So when we give in we have only ourselves to blame.[6] This means, we do not fall into sin. No, we sin because we want to and don’t want God to help us.

In Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s there is a story told of the fate of two men under the reign of bloody Mary. Both of these men were condemned to burn at the stake for being and teaching Reformation principles. One of the men boasted loudly to the other prisoners that he would be a ‘man’ in the fire, that he was grounded in the gospel of Christ and would never imagine denying Christ given the chance. Even as the day dawned, he spoke of his imminent death in the most pious of terms, saying that he was like a bride made ready for the wedding day. Well, the other man could not have been more opposite. He too was eager to not deny Christ but admitted that he was terrified of burning at the stake and suffering so greatly. He was so scared he feared that he would recant when the first flame came near him. So he begged the other man to pray for him and wept over his weakness and fear. The other man responded to his pleas for help by rebuking him for acting like a coward. The day came, they were tied to the stake, and at the first sight of the fire the one who had been so bold recanted, was released, and people say he never returned to Christ. The other man, trembling, stood firm as a rock praying, “Father, lead me not into temptation” as he died a cruel but courageous death.[7]

We do not approach trials saying “Bring it on!” We don’t look for them to show how strong we are.[8] If we’re honest we’d all like to avoid them, and be more faithful in them. That’s what this request is getting at. Here’s the lesson for us. We all must undergo various trials and temptations to grow in Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this (this being the great salvation and living hope we now have) you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Well, as the first half of v13 is put negatively, the second half is put positively. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The second half of the verse supports all we’ve been discussing so far and connects the temptations we encounter in life and desires to be saved from to their evil consequences and true source. Temptations, when given into, bring about some nasty consequences, and temptations, truly do come from the tempter, from the devil. This is why some say it should say “evil one” there instead of “evil.” I disagree. It is not just the devil in view, but all the evil dwells within our hearts, all the evil that results from giving into temptations, as well as all the evil produced directly by Satan. From these things we want deliverance, and praise God, He often does just that!

The Real Ending

Now, as we come to the ending you should all look down to your Bibles and look at that little footnote that says, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” This is not included in the earliest of manuscripts we have of Matthew and because it is not there most translations do not include it within the text, but leave it to the footnotes.

Martin Lloyd-Jones says that it does not matter whether this doxology was there originally or not, and that these words are fitting to for any Christian to say! He also adds that ending prayer with praise is suitable after beginning a prayer with praise, because it forms a kind of bookends to healthy prayer. But, as much as I agree with everything Lloyd-Jones says in those statements I want to encourage to you to believe that the prayer actually does stop with the word “evil.” I say this because seeing the ending of the prayer at ‘evil’ forms a vivid contrast to how the prayer began. “Our Father in heaven…, deliver us from evil.” As the blood bought covenantal adopted children of God, we live in between the times. We live in the overlap of the ages. We have one foot remaining in this present evil age and one foot, by God’s grace, in the age to come. We see something of this eschatological reality even here, that all of our lives are lived between God and the devil. Thus, the natural reaction of the Christian to this could only be a cry for help.

And in v13, the whole of the Lord’s Prayer in general, God has given us such a cry.[9]

 

Citations:

[1] A fond saying of the late R.C. Sproul.

[2] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies on the Sermon on the Mount, Vol. 2, page 76.

[3] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, page 103.

[4] Plummer, page 102-103.

[5] O’Donnell, page 171.

[6] Craig Blomberg, Matthew – The New American Commentary, page 120.

[7] O’Donnell, page 171-172.

[8] O’Donnell, page 172.

[9] O’Donnell, page 173.

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 1)

Coming now to the sixth and final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, I have four thoughts to give you.

The Context

Thus far in our trek through the Lord’s Prayer we have gleaned much benefit for our soul’s good by paying close attention to the context of the prayer, especially noticing the ordering of Matthew 6 as a whole and the individual requests within the prayer as well. We’ve seen that we do not begin prayer with any kind of petition but an opening address that acknowledges the goodness (Our Father) and greatness of God (in heaven). By beginning like this we’re reminded of the privileges of our adoption by God through the redemptive work of Christ, that He is our Father who has made us His own children and given us access to Him in Christ anytime we so desire. Then after beginning in God with prayer the very first priority we’re to move towards is His glory, that His name, fame, and reputation would be hallowed, magnified, or made much of.

After this we ask that both His Kingdom and His Will would come into our earthly context, serving the purpose of His glory, as they already are in God’s context, heaven. Then we descend from the heights of glory into the mundane and common affairs of human existence when we see v11 and the request for our daily bread. This reminds us that God is cosmic in His majesty but that God also cares about our ordinary physical/spiritual needs in this life as well. Then we come to the two-sided coin of v12-13 about our own sin and struggles. In v12 we’re told to pray for forgiveness, that our past guilt from our previous sins may be forgiven and in v13 we’re told to pray that God would deliver us from incurring new guilt by committing new sin.[1] So right away in v13 we’re brought face to face with the reality we must acknowledge, just as we need God to help with our past sins, we need God’s assistance to face future struggles. v13 is the prayer of a weak person to a strong God.[2]

The Obvious Question/Answer

As with v12, here in v13, right on the surface of this text lies a question that seems hard to answer but isn’t hard at all upon further study. The question is this: does v13 teach that God is one who leads us or brings us to temptation? Recall just a few chapters earlier when Matthew 4:1 told us “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” So right away we know there’s more to this than meets the eye. To answer it definitively we must go to James 1:13, where we read “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one.”

In James 1:13 we find a blasphemous accusation. Some think this verse is out of place because who in their right mind would accuse God of tempting them with evil? Perhaps you’d say, “God is God, He is holy. He is light and in Him there is no darkness at all as 1 John says. This is elementary Christian doctrine. Certainly I would ever accuse God of such a thing.” Wrong, I think you would. I think we all would. I think this because when we’re in a trial (like the audience of James is) we’re not in our right mind, and when we’re not in our right mind all sorts of fantastically wicked/sinful things become possible. We blame God for His providence, for the times we live in, for the people around us, for our circumstances, for allowing tempting things to remain in our path, some of us even blame God for our own evil condition. Puritan Thomas Manton said the reason we say such things of God is because “there is in man a wicked folly which moves us to measure God by man’s standards, and because we can be tempted to sin we think God can be tempted also, and because we can tempt others we presume God does the same.”

Clearly some of the dispersed believers James is addressing are struggling with this, saying these things, and rather than seeing their trials as sent to them by God for their own growth in grace (thereby allowing them to “count it all joy”), they are blaming God for their trials, and even going so far as to accuse God of tempting them to sin in the midst of their trials. This should not be so, this cannot be so. God cannot do such a thing because that would be altogether inconsistent with His purity and the holiness of His nature. God Himself tempts no one, and it isn’t even possible for God to be tempted with evil. This leaves us with the question of the origin of temptation – where does temptation come from if it doesn’t come from God? James continues and answers our question by descending into our own depravity in v14-15, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully-grown brings forth death.” This is ugly isn’t it? God tempts no one, and is not tempted with evil – yet we are lured away and enticed by what? Our own desires. And once desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin, and once sin is full grown it brings forth death. It really does come from within. The completion of this step-by-step progression into sin may take years to form in the heart, or it may take minutes. We allow sinful desires to grow in our hearts, we give it room to grow, sin then comes forth, and when it roars its ugly head literally all hell breaks lose, and if sin is not dealt with in a Biblically appropriate manner, it will be the end of us.

So we know this isn’t the meaning intended here in Matthew 6:13. But because this isn’t the meaning intended we’re left with a new question, what is the intended meaning?

That question I’ll turn to next week with the final two points…stay tuned.

 

Citations:

[1] A.W. Pink, An Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount, page 164.

[2] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 171.

He is Himself Our Daily Bread

I have four points to make today in regard to Matthew 6:11.

Transition Comments

Here in this first point let me set v11 into the context of the whole of the Lord’s Prayer.

When we come to Matthew 6:11, “Give us this day our daily bread” we reach a transition in the Lord’s Prayer similar to the transition we see in the Ten Commandments. In commandments 1-4 we find the first table of the Law, commandments that have to do with our relating to God directly. Then in commandments 5-10 we see the second table of the Law, commandments that have to do with our relating to one another directly. In these two tables of the Law God is first and man is second. Here in the Lord’s Prayer we see similar things. A Godward direction is present in the first three petitions. Hallow Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done are all direct requests for God to come and do something for His glory. After these initial three requests we see something different. Daily bread, forgiveness of sin, deliverance from temptation and evil are all direct requests for God to come and do something for our good.

See again the true pattern to prayer. We’ve seen this pattern time and time again throughout our study on prayer. Prayer doesn’t begin rapid fire of requests for God to come and make our lives better. It begins with God. It begins with praise, with adoration, with requests for His name to hallowed, and for His fame to be known and loved in all the world. It begins with a robust recognition of who we’re speaking to and an honest humility about who we are speaking to Him. The Lord’s Prayer shows us the reality of what tends to the glory of God and the good of man, and that the glory of God comes before the good of man.[1]

Realization of Utter Dependence

Here in this second point I want to make another introductory comment on v11. This request, “Give us this day our daily bread” should remind us of how utterly dependent we are on God for everything.[2] If God willed it He could withhold everything from us. He could stop the sun from shining and giving light and heat. He could stop the rain from watering the earth and making it bring forth plants and turn all of creation into a barren wasteland. He could take back up the breath in our lungs or forbid that our hearts take another beat if He desired to. In our arrogance we forget that God is at this very moment, and at all moments, upholding, preserving, and supporting all things. If He were to stop, we would not continue to exist for even a split second. We could not live a single moment without Him.

A.W. Pink goes further and comments here that not only can God do these things if He wanted to, but because of our sin God would be just to do those things. Pink says, “By asking for our ‘daily bread’ a tacit acknowledgement is made that ‘in Adam and by our own sins we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life, and deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God, and to have them cursed to us in the use of them.’”[3] I think here it would be appropriate to say, fighting for human rights and fighting against various kinds of injustices has its sure place in the life of man. But I think we too often forget that because of our sin, before God we have no rights. Or as the Westminster Larger Catechism questions 21-29 say, mankind did not continue in the estate wherein we were created. In Adam’s fall all man fell into a state of sin and misery. And now we who we created very good have become corrupted and wholly inclined to all evil continually, which causes us to commit actual sins. And because of this, we lost communion with God, gained His displeasure, and are in ourselves children of wrath, slaves to sin, justly deserving the wrath of God in this life and in the life to come.

Taking these things into account, this request “Give us this day our daily bread” is a good reminder for us of our dependence on God for everything…and that any provision that comes to us is of God’s sheer grace.

His Daily Provision

Here in this third point I want to unfold what the words “Give us this day our daily bread” mean. There is a difference of opinion as to what this phrase means and most of it centers around the word ‘daily.’ In the Greek epiousios is literally translated as ‘the next day.’ But as you can imagine, “Give us this day our bread for the next day” can be difficult to understand. Does it mean “Give us this day our…” bread for the current day, bread for future days, needful bread, or bread necessary for our existence?[4] While some do attempt at singling out one of these meanings as the optimal, most simply believe these varied meanings combine easily and prefer to use ‘daily’ as an all encompassing term. There is another debate as to what the bread actually refers to. Some believe it is describing the bread received in the Lord’s Supper, this is called the sacramental view. Others see the bread being a figurative term symbolizing life in Christ’s Kingdom and therefore see this fourth petition and the second petition “Your kingdom come” as asking the same things. These two views on the bread are minority views. Most believe this request for daily bread to be a request asking God to provide literal bread as well as all that is needed for our physical lives in this world. The reason most embrace this view is because the rest of Matthew 6 develops that very point.[5]

Therefore, many things are put forward here for us to embrace.[6] A great humility is put forward here as Jesus teaches us to ask God ‘to give’ us what we need to exist. In order to ask God for this we must put aside our pride thinking we can do this on our own. Moderation is put forward here as Jesus teaches us to ask God for daily bread, not luxury or superabundance, just what is needed. Trust in God is put forward here because after asking God to give us this sustenance we must trust Him to do so. But in trusting Him to do so, Jesus does not intend us to wait and be idle, anxiously awaiting God to answer this apart from our own work and toil. God intends us to work, to be able to earn money to purchase what we need to continue in our lives. And the idea of community is put forward to us here once again in that we pray not “Give me…” but “Give us…our daily bread.” So in praying for ourselves and our needs we must always have an eye on those in our community around us. If God gives you bread abundantly, it could very well be for more than just you. God may intend you to support and sustain another around you who isn’t in a similar state. “Give us…” demands we leave our normal independent mentality and think of our life in Christ as life together.

In Martin Lloyd-Jones commentary on the Sermon on the Mount he mentions an illustration he once heard from A.B. Simpson that helped him understand this a great deal.[7] He said Simpson asked him to think of God differently than most do. Most, he said, think of God as a Father that has given us a great of grace gift in one lump sum and we go on throughout life living on that gift. God does not work that way with us according to Simpson. In fact if God were like this Simpson mentions it wouldn’t be out of bounds to think we would enjoy the lavishness of the gift so much that we would forget the great Giver who gave to us. Rather, Simpson encouraged Lloyd-Jones to think of God like this. Think of God as our great Father, who has truly given us a great gift of grace in Christ, but being our Father He desires that we come to Him continuously and ask for this gift from Him. So in a sense God has put a great deposit for us in the bank, and while He will not allow us to take all of it out at once, He does allow and even want us to come and make daily withdrawals for what we need. Simpson said prayer was the way believers make withdraws for what we need from this great deposit of grace that is now ours in Christ.

Commenting on this Lloyd-Jones says, “This surely is the marvelous thing, that God likes us to come to Him. The God who is self-existent, the great Jehovah, the God who is not dependent on anybody, who is from eternity to eternity, who exists in Himself apart from all – this is the astounding thing, that because we are His children He likes us to come to Him, and likes to hear…our lisping praises and our petitions. That is because God is love; and that is why, though He knows all about our needs, it gives Him great pleasure…when He sees us coming to Him to ask for our daily bread.”[8]

So that God invites us to come to Him for this, awakes us to the realization that God is the giver of all good gifts. And from knowing that God is the source of all that sustains us in this life, our enjoyment of all that sustains us in this life is not diminished but increased. We often sing a hymn saying, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” This is true, God is God and God is greater and ever above all the gifts He gives to us. But, can I suggest that there is another way to see this? When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, when we look full in His wonderful face, when we see the reality of all that sustains us in this life comes from His hand, all that He has given us will not grow strangely dim but strangely bright, for in His gifts we see the glory of the Giver. Or as Jonathan Edwards says, “In His gifts we can trace the sunbeam back up to the sun.” 

A Thing of Wonder

Here in this last point I want to make a concluding statement, and try, by God’s grace to get you to see how wonderful this statement is. When we come to 6:11 we come down from the heights of glory to the depths of what is common. Jesus takes us from grand spiritual concerns (God’s glory, God’s Kingdom, God’s Will) to our everyday spiritual and physical concerns.[9] That the God of glory is concerned about our little needs is a thing of wonder. This shouldn’t surprise us, it is the teaching of Jesus everywhere. Even a sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground apart from God’s will, and after telling us that He says we are of much more value than sparrows. More so, all of the hairs of our head are numbered, such that, there is not a hair on our head that God is not concerned about. This means more than hair, it means that there is nothing about our life, even the smallest and most trivial details about us, that are not known to Him on His everlasting throne.

So rejoice, “…the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, dwells with he who has a humble and repentant spirit…in v11 Jesus Christ takes hold of us here on earth and links us with the Almighty God of glory.”[10]

 

 

Citations:

[1] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, page 95-96.

[2] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount – Vol. 2, page 72.

[3] A.W. Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, page 163.

[4] William Hendrikson, Baker New Testament Commentary – Matthew, page 332.

[5] Reformation Study Bible, study notes on Matthew 6:11.

[6] Hendrikson, page 333.

[7] Lloyd-Jones, page 71-72.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, page 72.

[9] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 169.

[10] Lloyd-Jones, page 70.

Our Father in Heaven

As the Prayer of Prayers begins, it doesn’t begin with any kind of petition but with an opening address.

We ought to expect such things. No one in his or her right mind would come into the presence of or greet the President of the United States glibly or casually. No, we would be respectful, polite, courteous, maybe even reverential. If we do this with earthly rulers, how much more should this be the case with God who rules over all? How much more should this be the case with the King of kings? There is difficulty in this. Martin Lloyd-Jones comments on this difficulty saying, “We are but human, and we are pressed by the urgency of our position, the cares, the anxieties, the troubles, the anguish of mind, the bleeding heart, whatever it is. And we are so full of this that, like children, we start speaking at once. But if you want to make contact with God, and if you want to feel His everlasting arms about you, put your hand upon your mouth for a moment…and remind yourself of what you are about to do.” Lloyd-Jones goes on to speak of Daniel’s prayers when he was vexed about knowing the interpretation of a dream, Jeremiah’s prayers when he was vexed with the state of God’s people, Jesus’ own prayer in John 17, and the prayers of Paul afterwards. None of these began with what vexed them, they all began with an invocation to God. The more we remember what we’re doing in prayer and who we’re speaking to in prayer, the less likely we are to jump into prayer quickly with a rapid fire of requests. That there is an opening address before any petition teaches us much about how prayer ought to begin. See the words with which appropriate prayer begins. “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…’”

I want to unfold four realities in this opening address with one aim – to see how Christians ought to begin with God in prayer.

Pray Like This

Notice the beginning of v9? “Pray then like this…” What does this mean? Does this mean we’re to recite these words? Does this mean we’re to pray in this manner? Or does this mean when you pray it is these matters that must make up our whole prayer life? These questions are clear enough in and of themselves, but the answers have been very different from one person to the next. The more liturgically minded believers recite these words in their exact form very often personally and corporately in worship. The less liturgically minded believers may go years without ever uttering this prayer personally or hearing this prayer uttered corporately. Why such recitation on the one hand and avoidance on the other? I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think either quite gets the point of Jesus here.

Rather than turning this prayer into a rote recitation that feels formal or cold and rather than avoiding this prayer all together for fear of sounding catholic or liturgical, I believe Jesus would have us catch the spirit of this prayer. Meaning that, these things (and perhaps these things in this order), are the matters that ought to be taking up our prayer life. We can choose to recite them sure, but we must not believe that the mere mindless recitation of them has any power; as if ten ‘Our Father’s’ will give us any spiritual benefit. We also can choose to never say these exact words, as long as the content of this prayer fills out the content of our own words in prayer. There is freedom here to be employed and enjoyed. But in this freedom we must be sure to anchor ourselves to the text itself, so that it in an organic manner these things naturally flow forth in our prayer. So we should see the Lord’s Prayer as guardrails which direct and guide us into prayer that is pleasing to God. In this regard John Calvin comments, “God has given us a form in which…everything which is lawful to wish, everything which is conducive to our interest, everything which is necessary to demand. From His goodness in this respect we derive the great comfort of knowing, that as we ask almost in His words, we ask nothing that is absurd, or foreign, or unseasonable, nothing (in short) that is disagreeable to Him.”

Our Father

It is true that there is something very personal about prayer. It’s an intimate moment, where we converse with God, where we linger with God quietly over His Word, where we bare our hearts, where we express our deepest longings, joys, sorrows, and desires. Prayer is intensely personal, so much so that most people feel some level of angst about praying in public. Yet, see how the Lord’s Prayer begins – “Our” not “My.” That “Our” is the first word in this prayer shows us that though prayer is truly private and personal, it is also truly communal and corporate. “When we pray we do not pray alone even if we are alone” (David VanDrunen). We do not pray to a God who has saved us alone, or even to a God who has saved many individuals throughout history. No, we pray to the God who has saved, is saving, and will save a people for Himself from every tribe, language, and tongue. The Church past, present, and future is the community we’re saved into, and in all appropriate prayer has a communal element to it. Be sure to note that the communal element I am speaking of here is the blood bought covenant people, the Church. I am not speaking of some kind of universal brotherhood of mankind underneath a universal fatherhood of God that we’re a part of. No, though God has created all mankind, only His children that He has chosen, pursued, adopted, and saved are free to call Him ‘Father.’

A number of places within Scripture remind us of this. John 1:11-12 says, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…” Galatians 3:23-26 says, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” One chapter later Paul expands on this in Galatians 4:4-7 saying, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

This is a Christmas time reality, that the Son of God was sent at the fullness of the times. Born like us, so that we would become like Him, and once we believe in Him we receive adoption as sons, are given His Spirit, given to heart and new desire to cry out to God as Father, and gain an inheritance. In Ephesians Paul brings the sovereignty of God into adoption when he says in 1:5, “In love He (God) predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” Lastly one of the highest moments in 1 John is when John exclaims in 3:1 saying, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

Think of like this. In regeneration God awakens us, in justification God legally declares us to be righteous, and in adoption God brings us into His family. Adoption comes after these things because it is the result of all that has come before. Because of this we can say it is in truth an apex in the order of our salvation. But do not confuse these doctrines. Regeneration is all about birth, that though we were born sinners God gave us a new birth and made us alive. Justification is all about declaring us to be righteous when we’re not. Regeneration grants us new life and justification clothes us in an alien righteousness. The glory of the doctrine of adoption is that once we’ve been made alive by God and declared righteous by Him He then brings us into a family we’re not naturally born into. So when, through faith, we receive and rest on Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel, God then receives us, brings us into the number of His children, and gives us all the rights, blessings, and privileges belonging to the sons of God. Now because of Christ, in prayer we do not meet a God angry at us, but a God who welcomes us as His own children.

“Our Father” is an appropriate address to begin prayer with, for in the very phrase itself is hidden all kinds of gospel beauty to behold.

In Heaven

As good as these things are, see that the opening address doesn’t end here. “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven…”

Why address God as the God who is in heaven? Isn’t something like that obvious? Well no, not always with how people go around defining God these days and perhaps in Jesus’ day too. So I think there are two reasons why the opening address ends with this little phrase “…in heaven…” First, it reminds us God is above all things. And second, it reminds us God is in control of all things. Or in other words, what kind of Father do we have? We don’t just have a Father who is a smiley benevolent fellow, we have a Father in heaven, sovereign and ruling over all things. This is the kind of Father we have. How wonderful for us to know this! That God is over and in control of all things in existence, able and powerful to do something about the things weighing on us, this is the God we come to in prayer.

So…

Let’s wrap this up in a sentence or two.

Prayer isn’t to be jumped into obnoxiously, but reverently and respectfully, the way we would enter the President’s Oval Office. And we do not immediately start rattling off all those things pressing on us, we remember who we’re speaking to, God the Father, who is above all things, in control of all things, and through Christ and the Spirit adopted us as His children.

In this manner, appropriate prayer must begin with an opening address that acknowledges the greatness of God, and our gratitude for Him being such a God.

The Gospel According to Angels

There is a beautiful and mysterious passage in 1 Peter which gives the indication that the angels of heaven long to look into the gospel of our salvation.

Under the inspiration of the Spirit, the Apostle Peter writes, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).

Humans and angels have a lot in common. We’re both created by God; we’re both commanded and sent out by God to perform His will; and we’re both enabled by God to serve His grand redemptive purposes in this world. So then why would angels long to look into the good news preached to us? Because of the one major difference between us and them. It was only for mankind that God would send redemption in the person of His Son Jesus.

To Mary: “He Will Be Called the Son of the Most High”

In Jesus’ birth narratives, we get a glimpse of the gospel from the perspective of angels. The first stop in our journey is the annunciation to Mary, found in Luke 1. The angel Gabriel announces the coming birth to Mary and explains Jesus’ unique identity and mission: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end…the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God” (Luke 1:32-33, 35b).

Luke begins his account of the gospel by comparing and contrasting the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus. Notice in Luke 1:32, Jesus is called, “the Son of the Most High” and “the Son of God” in verse 35. But in verse 76, John the Baptist is called, “the prophet of the Most High.” The angels knew that this Christ was the eternal Son of the Father from before the foundation of the world. This same angel Gabriel was sent to the prophet Daniel half a millenia earlier with the news that this Divine Son of Man would reign from an everlasting kingdom (Daniel 8:16, 7:13-14, 9:21). Now Gabriel’s mind is perhaps being blown as he sees God’s perfect wisdom crafting His plan of redemption with this Baby in the manger. Did God tell the angels what He was doing when He was sending Jesus or did He just tell them to go and proclaim the message? I’m not sure. But they were probably beginning to grasp new complexities of the gospel at various points in redemptive history, leading them to wonder all the more over this all-wise plan and to serve more heartily its Grand Architect and Designer.

To Joseph: “He Will Save His People from Their Sins”

Next, the angels address Joseph. In Matthew 1:18-25 an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, guiding him away from divorcing Mary to wedding her and adopting Jesus as his own so that Jesus could truly be called the Son of David. Since Matthew had just finished his genealogy of Jesus and the reader is left to wonder how Jesus could be the Son of David while not being Joseph’s son. Only if Joseph named and adopted Jesus as his own son would the proper family line and inheritance be traced through Him. This isn’t trivial stuff. If Jesus isn’t the Son of David, God would be a liar and we would have no true Savior.

Then, in verse 21, we read the angel’s stunning words concerning Jesus’ identity: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The angel declared that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, not their physical enemies. The air of Judaism at the time was rife with a longing for salvation from the hands of the Romans. Rome had slowly but surely taken over Jerusalem and the Jewish people were feeling the political pressure increase much like they did in Egypt under Pharaoh. They longed for the “prophet like Moses” who would come and set them free from Rome’s oppression and lead them to worship God in the Promised Land after defeating their enemies (Deut. 18:15). But the angel pronounced to Joseph that Jesus came for a much more significant salvation than merely political salvation. Yes Jesus was the “prophet like Moses” who would come, and yes He would defeat His people’s enemies, and yes He would lead them to the promised land to worship God in freedom, but not the way they anticipated. Christ would preach repentance from sin and faith in Himself. Christ would, “disarm the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in the cross” (Colossians 2:15). These enemies were, “the rulers…the authorities…the cosmic powers over this present darkness…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Christ would bring His redeemed people into the promised land of eternal life with Him, where they will forever be free to worship and serve Him.

For us, the angel’s words in Matthew 1:21 relay the precious truth that Jesus did not come to merely make salvation possible, but to fully secure salvation. Jesus did not come to save a faceless mass; He came to save specific people by bearing their specific sins Himself on the cross. This gospel message must have led the angels to wonder at God’s plan. What were the angels thinking when they saw this Messiah on Calvary’s cross crying out, “It is finished”? Was there gasping among their heavenly throng when Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane that He could, but wouldn’t call down twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53). We could only ponder.      

To the Shepherds: “Good News of Great Joy for All the People”

Finally, once Christ is born, the angels go to the shepherds. Jesus’ birth announcement is made by a chorus of heaven’s angels to a few lowly shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. It is a stunning contrast seeing this grand and glorious chorus praising God before such a meager and motley crew of first century shepherds. They were the ruffians, the nobody’s, the outcastes who had no place in the pomp and polished courts of nobility. Surely God was making a point to the high and mighty. He who chose small and ruddy David over big and mighty Saul, also chose to send His Son to a peasant family in little Bethlehem over the royal family in mighty Jerusalem. Yet listen to the sheer excitement in the angel’s words as they proclaim, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

The salvation the angels pronounced was one of good news. It was headline news because God was breaking into this world in the Person of His Son. It was good news because God was not breaking into this world to condemn, but to save sinners. It was news of great joy that led the angels to worship because these sinful humans were being shown something they could have never earned in a million lifetimes: divine and astounding grace! It was news for all people, because Israel’s King and Savior was the King of a new Israel, who would make up people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language.

May we feel the same shocking wonder of Christmas this year as the angels felt that first night when the Son of God was born to save sinful men and women.

The SOLI DEO GLORIA of Prayer

After lingering last week on the opening address of the Lord’s Prayer we now turn to the opening petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “…hallowed be Your name…” (Matthew 6:9b). In this first petition we find one grand request and two grand desires that result from it.

Grand Request

In this opening petition we find the pattern of all things. ‘Hallowed’ means to sanctify, to venerate, to treat as holy, to make much of, and to glorify. ‘Name’ here in Matthew 6:9b is the Greek word ‘onoma’ which not only means name, but carries with it the idea of one’s reputation. Therefore, taking these things into account tells us the first thing we come before God in prayer asking is that God, and specifically God’s name and reputation, would be hallowed, made much of, and glorified. Taking this phrase into your heart and breathing it out as praying looks like praying something like, “Our Father in heaven, the concern nearest to my heart and the one that shapes all other requests is that Your name would regarded as holy, that Your fame would be heralded in the all the earth, that You would be honored among the nations, that Your glory would be magnified for all to see. O Lord, be pleased to cause men everywhere to take pleasure in You, that You might be praised now and forever[1]…help us to really know You, to bless worship, and praise You for all Your works and for all that shines forth from them…help us to direct all our living…so that Your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always praised and honored.”[2]

I say that in this opening petition we find the pattern of all things simply because in it we do. God does all things for the great glory of His name. Therefore we want God, in all the aspects of who He is to be glorified and made much of. If you scoff at such a thought remember it is not self-flattery for God to do pursue His glory. When one of us craves the attention and praise of others we call it flattery because we understand the root of such behavior is insecurity and we therefore seek the praise of others to cheer us up or give us a kind of meaning or purpose. God is not like us. He needs no one, He lacks nothing, and He doesn’t need our praise to cheer Him up.

If I were to suggest that I should be given a Nobel Prize for mathematics I would be suggesting something entirely ridiculous. I am horrible at math and need a calculator to solve the most basic of equations. More so, if the Nobel committee gave me the award they would be functioning in an entirely ridiculous manner too, I don’t deserve it. But if a brilliant mathematician suggests that he win the prize and has the resume and work to prove it, for the committee to not give it to him would be as wrong as giving it to me. In a much greater and more lasting way, we do something entirely ridiculous ourselves when we keep glory for ourselves and not give it to God, who deserves it forever.[3]

The lesson today is brief and simple: because God’s chief priority is the glory of His name, the chief priority of our prayer should be the same. This is the grand request of the Lord’s Prayer. In this sense we can see that the opening petition of this prayer could be seen as something more than petition, we could see it as adoration.[4] And while the opening address “Our Father in heaven…” fills us with a solid confidence, the first petition “…hallowed be Your name…” fills us with a proper reverence.[5]

We can continue on this point further. The grand request in the opening petition of the Lord’s Prayer is nothing else than what is summed up in the last sola of the Reformation, Soli Deo Gloria[6] which means all believers are to aim at God’s glory not only in all of our prayer, but in all of our life. In an age as ours, one of deep self-centeredness and narcissism, Soli Deo Gloria is a call to reject the man-centered life and embrace a grand and sweeping vision of the God-centered life in all of life’s many facets. Everything we do, we’re to do to God’s glory, so it is true to say that only the glory of God gives the right purpose for all of life.

But…focusing Soli Deo Gloria solely on human conduct is imbalanced because it fails to reflect Scripture’s careful presentation of the topic. Many times Scripture does call us to glorify God in our worship, a couple of times Scripture does call us to do all things for the glory of God, but you know we see more of in Scripture when the glory of God is in view? In most of the references to the glory of God Scripture is speaking of that glory as a way of describing who God is. From promise to fulfillment, from progression to completion, or from Genesis to Revelation God’s glory is displayed as something growing from seed into full blossom, especially as He reveals Himself in the culmination of history in the Person of Jesus Christ.[7] Thus the glory of God is, as James Hamilton says, “…the weight of the majestic goodness of who God is, and the resulting name, or reputation, that He gains from His revelation of Himself as Creator, Sustainer, Judge, and Redeemer, perfect in justice and mercy, loving-kindness and truth.”[8] Or as Herman Bavinck said, “The ‘glory of the Lord’ is the splendor and brilliance that is inseparably associated with all of God’s attributes and His self-revelation in nature and grace, the glorious form in which He everywhere appears to His creatures.”[9]

So yes, the glory of God is about living all of our lives to the glory of God, and even praying with priorities that reflect God’s own priorities, as made clear here in this opening petition. But remember, before the glory of God is about us, before the glory of God is about our prayer even, the glory of God is about who God is. That truth itself should focus and drive our prayer and life toward God’s glory, which is why I think Jesus commands this petition before anything else.

I began with these opening thoughts because I don’t believe we can get into this opening petition without first reorienting ourselves to a proper posture in viewing the glory of God as about God in Himself first before our conduct for God. Now we can go on and discuss how this specifically relates to prayer. So remember “…hallowed be Your name…” is a prayer, it is the first request in the Lord’s Prayer. I want to ask a question at this point: what happens this prayer is answered? What happens when our Father in heaven is glorified? What happens when His name is hallowed? Two grand desires begin to stir and grow within us.

Grand Desire 1 – Increase

When God answers our prayer for His name to be hallowed He will stir within us a desire to want all that honors His name flourish and increase. There is both a personal and global element to this. So then, what is it that honors or glorifies God?

Grand Desire 2 – Decrease

When God answers our prayer for His name to be hallowed He will stir within us a desire to want all that dishonors His name perish and decrease. As before, there is both a personal and global element to this. So then, what is it that dishonors or defames God? I asked this question a few weeks ago during a Sunday evening worship and this is what we came up with. Take a look at it and see how you’d answer it this.

Citations: 

[1] Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forget, page 219.

[2] Heidelberg Catechism Question 122

[3] Christopher Ash, Job – The Wisdom of the Cross: Preaching the Word Commentary, page 46.

[4] Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Matthew – John: Volume 5, page 60.

[5] Alfred Plummer, Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, page 98.

[6] Few people have described this better than David VanDrunen in his book God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life.

[7] David VanDrunen, God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life, page 27.

[8] James Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, quoted in VanDrunen, page 23.

[9] Herman Bavinck, quoted in VanDrunen, page 26.

The Power of a Prayerful Private Piety

With one specific address to begin followed by six petitions to God, the Lord’s Prayer is no doubt the world’s most famous prayer. As we approach this text we must remember the first rule of proper hermeneutics (interpretation) is that every text comes to us in a certain context and it’s in that context where we find the meaning of a particular text. What is the context for the Lord’s Prayer in v9-13? Matthew 6:5-8, where see the warning against inappropriate prayer.

Inappropriate prayer was being done and prized in the community. How so? We see this in v5, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” We also see this in v7, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words.” Two things come to the surface when inappropriate prayer comes into view. First, a desire to be seen by others as holy, and second, a desire to be recognized by others as scholarly. Holy and scholarly, a well ordered life and a well ordered mind. These are two things that in and of themselves are great and commendable even. But when sought after for the sake of public recognition or personal fame, the end of v5 becomes the appropriate response to these kinds of inappropriate desires, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

The root of both of these false desires in v5 and v7 is simple but seems to be ever entangled around the human heart. When these people pray on the street corners in the middle of the day as people are walking by, or when they use many words with multiple syllables within earshot of everyone else around them they desire their fellow man to recognize them, honor them, and esteem them. This error in prayer is the same error with giving to the poor in v2 and with fasting in v16. So, taking v2, v5, v7, and v16 all together we can see this is all really just another way of saying, these people want their fellow man to praise them and give them glory. Jesus warns us against this. He warns us against using religious external practices, like prayer, to gain applause by our demeanor or language.

In every age believers need to be enormously cautious of this. We may think this only happens out in the world of sports or in Hollywood, but do not be deceived. We do not have a spotless history. Ever since Genesis 3 back in the garden mankind has been eager to exchange the glory of God for the glory of self. One current example is that we now live in the day of the celebrity pastor, where those pastors who are cool, hip, and trendy are making waves in the culture, gaining thousands of church attendees, and earning million dollar salaries. Even in our own reformed circles we prize pastors and theologians of the past and the present. We look to them for guidance, buy and read their books for wisdom, and go to their conferences to be near see them in person.

I remember the first time I went to Together for the Gospel conference in 2008. John Piper was one of the speakers and between sessions he was up front waiting to speak and a line of hundreds of people formed to meet him and get his autograph. I couldn’t understand why such a thing was happening at a conference for pastors, and for a time was a bit put off…until reflecting on that later and saw that was I jealous of those at the front of the line who actually got to meet him. The same Genesis 3 desire to make much of self, if we’re honest, is never far away. Of course there is a fine line here right? Biblical guidance, good books, and helpful conferences are a thing we could grow immensely from. But nonetheless the temptation remains, even for us, to do ministry or be ministered to, for our glory.

Well, as v5 and v7 show the evil and inappropriate kind of prayer, v6 and v8 show us the remedy. v6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” v8, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Also, as before this parallels the rest of this first section of chapter 6. v4 shows a true reward comes from God to those who give in secret, and v18 shows a true reward comes from God to those who fast in secret. Here Jesus reminds us of the importance simplicity and sincerity in prayer. Prayer, though informed by deep theology, isn’t meant to be a theological treatise that is performed before an audience of some kind, but simple, an activity of sincerity. Craig Blomberg, in his commentary on Matthew, says Jesus shows us that “…the remedy for our sinful streak aiming at self-glorification is the power of a private piety.”

There is one passage that clarifies these principles very clearly, Luke 18:9-14, which says, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In the first verse of this parable, Luke tells us that Jesus is talking to some people who thought they were righteous and viewed others as lower than themselves. Then Jesus gives his parable. Two men went into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector, or a Publican. Jesus then says some things seemingly crazy and ridiculous. But if we’re to see this parable as crazy or ridiculous, we must view the parable from Jesus’ culture and context rather than our culture and context. You see, when we read that there was a Pharisee and a tax collector here, our minds immediately go to one place: the Pharisee is the bad guy and the tax collector is the good guy. Why? That’s what our world has been taught. This was not what Jesus’ world would have felt or believed after reading or hearing this parable. They would have been shocked and astonished because Pharisee’s in their day were the spiritual superstars. If one of them showed up in a church today the people would be so impressed with his “godliness” that within a few weeks that they’d probably make him an elder or a deacon, they might even want him to be the pastor after a few months. Everything about the Pharisee’s life looked perfect, his faith would be robust, his singing would be loud and confident, his praying would be full of knowledge and eloquent, his family would be neat and in order, his dress would be proper and put-together…from the outside looking in it would look like this guy is the real thing, a leader among leaders, a Christian among Christians, and a saint among saints.

We can see this in the text, look in v11-12, “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Everything Jesus warns us against in Matthew 6:5-8 is present in this Pharisee’s prayer. His so-called righteousness was really unrighteousness. Look back at his prayer. He says God once, and then says “I” five times, boasting about how squeaky clean and morally upright he is. This isn’t a prayer, it’s a boast. It seems that to this guy, God ought to be impressed with him. The harsh reality here for us in this example, is that when we come to God like this, or have these thoughts within us, we don’t find mercy from God, we find judgment.

Now to the Publican. In Jesus’ day, the average tax collector was nothing less than a crook who robbed people of their livelihood. They not only were traitors to their own people by being employed by the Jewish enemy, Rome, these people would take Jewish money and give it to Rome. And to make matters worse, most tax collectors were filthy rich because they took more money than they needed from people, and kept it for themselves. These people today would probably be included with the likes of those who sell drugs to children, pimps and swingers, and those leading, using, and trading in the sex trafficking industry. These are not good people, and everyone knew it. For one of them to walk into the temple like this guy not only never happened it would simply be astonishing.

This guy’s prayer was really different. He came in, couldn’t even lift his head to heaven or stand up, but bowed down, probably crouched in the corner saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He knew who he was, he knew he was a fraud, and that he had stolen more than he could count from innocent people. He knew that he was more wicked than he could ever imagine. He knew that he had sold out to Rome and was bankrupt morally. What’s crazy about this, is that after he prays, he received mercy and was made right with God. You see v13-14? “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” While everything Jesus warns against is present in the Pharisee’s prayer, everything Jesus encourages us toward is present in the Publican’s prayer.

So, in beginning to teach us about appropriate prayer Jesus begins by telling us what inappropriate prayer is. What then is they way to pray appropriately? We’ll answer that question over the next many weeks as we unfold the Lord’s Prayer phrase by phrase.

 

Prayer and Reverence

Prayer requires reverence.

Prayer is the heart engaged in loving awe. “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God. All this is gathered up in that emotion which most cleanses us from selfishness because it is the most selfless of all emotions – adoration.” William Temple

In Matthew 6:5-13 Jesus teaches his Disciples how to pray, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Let me give some context.

The reason for Jesus’ teaching on prayer was because of inappropriate prayer. Jesus wanted to correct abuses so He provided a model prayer for His disciples. The disciples of Jesus didn’t know how to pray. They say, “Lord, teach us to pray”. The hypocrites that are being referred to would stand up in public, they would draw attention to themselves, and they would seek the attention and praise and adoration of man from their prayers.  An apostate form of Judaism led by religious hypocrites had replaced the true religion, and faith of the Old Testament. Prayer had been reduced to rituals, and vain repetition.  This was all they knew, were recited, heartless, and almost mindless prayers.

And here He shifts and talks about the act of prayer as the Gentiles commonly practiced it.  Jesus denounces the Gentile prayers for their empty phrases and for their empty words, their meaningless words. Hypocrisy was the reason that Jesus’ is teaching on prayer. Jesus denounced the prayers of the “hypocrites”. The text says that these hypocrites pray, “in order to be seen by men”. Hypocrites pray to be noticed and pray to impress. This is the type of prayer that Jesus warns about.

Contrast this with Luke 11, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

Notice how Jesus instructs us in the Lords prayer. The very first thing Jesus instructs us to do in Luke 11 is “Father, hallowed be your name” and in Matthew 6 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Prayer is first and foremost recognition of God’s majestic glory and it is an act of submission to that glory. The word “hallow” means sanctify. The Greek word for hallow is Hagiazō. It means to separate or to set apart. Jesus tells us to pray, “Let your name be sanctified.” Sanctify can mean make holy or treat as holy. When God sanctifies us, it means that he makes us holy. But when we sanctify God, it means that we treat him as Holy.

He is to be revered.

 

John Oswalt, a commentator, expands on this, “For Isaiah the announcement of God’s holiness meant that he was in the presence of One distinct from – other than – himself. The function of the threefold holy is the strongest form of the superlative in Hebrew. Its use here indicates that Israel’s God is the most “godly” of all the gods.”

Next in Luke 11 Jesus instructs us to say, “Your kingdom come, and in Matthew 6 he says ‘Your will be done” On earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus commands us to seek God’s kingdom first rather than seeking food and clothing. In other words, we are to seek to let God be the Ruler and King in our lives now. His kingdom is a present reality wherever he rules as King. So when we pray, “Father, let your kingdom come,” we should mean, “Father, rule in my life. Be my king. When we pray to God we have a kingdom mindset but its not always the right kingdom it’s “My kingdom”, “My life”, and “My wants.” Our prayers need to be “upward” before they can be “outward.”

God is vastly beyond us and above us. He is Majestic and transcendent. The glory of God, the hallowing of His great and wondrous name, is the foundation of all prayers. When you and I cherish the desire for God to be glorified, and God to be honored, we will then ask only for those things, which God will see as the means to that end. Hallowing His name means I have set the Lord always before me. Which means: dear God, before I ever talk about my food, my needs, my sin, my life, know this, I desire your glory to be displayed.

When we focus on praise and adoration it reorders our loves. Because of sin the things we love and identify with take supremacy. The supreme source of our enjoyment and delight is God himself. Do we really know that the culmination of all our joy in God will be attained when his name is hallowed in all the earth? Our sinful hearts lead us to be “spiritually self-sufficient.” We are always bent on being in control. Like it says in Romans 1 we still “suppress the truth.” We do not always “honor him as God or give him thanks to him.” We have “foolish hearts.” Tim Keller is spot on when he comments on our condition saying, “The ultimate reason for our misery, however, is that we do not love God supremely.”

Church, love God supremely, reverently, and fearfully. And find that by doing so, we’ll be drawn into a deeper life of prayer.

I Want to Be That Man

Don Whitney, in his Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, reminds every Christian who is seeking maturity in Christ that “there is simply no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.” Oh, how true that is. The Word of God is irreplaceable in the Christian’s pursuit of personal holiness; there simply is no substitute.

God transforms us by the renewing of our minds—Romans 12:2

God cleansed us by the washing of water with His Word—Ephesians 5:26

God pierces our consciences, discerns our thoughts and intentions of our hearts by His Word—Hebrews 4:12

God draws us to Himself and reveals Himself to us through His Word—Romans 10:17

It is no surprise to those who are pursing Christ that His Word plays an intricate role in our sanctification. But, as students of the Word we (and by we I mean “I”) can get lost in the “meat of Scripture,” as Whitney described it and lose sight of the “milk.” Milk feeds, nourishes, and sustains the infant & the mature alike.

As I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) I was moved by the Holy Spirit and reminded that the academic pursuit of God alone is an exercise in futility.

Let me explain: As a preacher, teacher, and theologian I often approach the Scriptures from that position, recording notes in my Bible like “Your reward should motivate you” (from Matthew 6:20-21). When in reality, my notes should read “My reward should motivate me.” For truly, the Holy Spirit is seeking to transform ME, cleanse ME, pierce ME, and draw ME; milk before meat.

The meat of Scripture, the intellectual pursuit of exegesis & exposition, often take priority in my study & pursuit of the knowledge of God which leads to a spiritual dryness, and understandably so.

So, it was in the milk of Matthew 7:24-25 that the Lord reminded me of who I needed to be and caused me to re-think, re-read, and then apply that which he was teaching me. The Holman Christians Standard reads this way: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock” (emphasis added).

In other words, don’t just hear the Word and not act upon it but rather apply to your life that which is being taught (James 1:22-25 as well). Hear, act upon that which you heard, and you will be firmly established upon The Rock (not Dwayne Johnson), Jesus Christ. I want to be that man.

Profound, huh? Not really…just reality. Milk, not meat, is still needed; even greatly needed. As a dear friend of mine often reminds me, “Our orthopraxy must always match our orthodoxy.” For orthodoxy without orthopraxy is worthless!

May God bless you richly as you apply His Word and thereby glorify Him with your life!

What is Church Discipline?

What gospel do you believe in? Do you believe in a gospel that says “God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent His Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and be welcomed by God just as they are” (Jonathan Leeman). Do you believe in that gospel? Or do you believe in a gospel that says, “God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent His Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and be welcomed by God just as they are. But in His grace and by His Spirit He doesn’t leave us as we are. No, He slowly and surely makes us into different people. People who love Him and hate sin. People who refuse to do life alone but do it in the community of the local church. People who grow in godliness, eager to reflect His holy character and glory to this fallen world.”

Which gospel do you believe in? The first version presents Jesus as Savior, the second presents Jesus as Savior and Lord. The first version points to our new status as children of God, the second points to our new status as children of God as well as our new job description as citizens in His Kingdom. The first version has a view of God’s grace saving us, the second has a view of God’s grace not only saving us but sanctifying us as well.

Everything in the first version is true, wonderfully so. But there’s much more to be said. My guess is that most of you would say you believe in this second version of the gospel, and that’s a good thing. But I am coming to you today with a pastoral question, “Are you sure about that?” So please pay attention to not only what God is about to tell you through His Word, pay attention to how you respond to what is said in God’s Word. Why? Your response to these things reveal which version of the gospel you really believe as well as which version of the gospel you’re really living out.

 

The passage we’ll be walking through today is Matthew 18:15-20, where Matthew would have us consider three points today, all aiming at how we as fellow believers do life together when one of us wanders and how to restore such a person(s) to a right standing within the church.

Notice What’s Before Our Passage (18:10-14)

In the verses that lead up to our text today, we find Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. In this parable Jesus says, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of My Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (18:12-14). See here the great love of God for His people. It is so great and so vast that if one of them wanders off, He will always go after them and bring them home. Jesus shows Himself to be here in Matthew 18 what John 10 says He is, the great Shepherd of the sheep. And being the great Shepherd of the sheep, He not only has a great love for the sheep but He also sees to it that every sheep in the flock will remain in His hand until the end. None of them will perish or be snatched up by a wolf or some other intruder.

Church, since this is how God loves His people, since this is how Christ loves His Sheep, isn’t this to be how we love one another? Paul similarly, in Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This means when we come together and commit to one another in the membership of the local church, we commit to chasing down the wanderer, bringing back the sinner, loving one another despite our own foolishness, and pursuing the offender so that they are brought back home.

Into this context, comes one of the most detailed explanations of how to do church discipline. That this parable of the lost sheep comes before v15-20 gives us an example of the spirit in which church discipline is to be carried out. Not to punish, but always to be aiming at restoration, at winning back the wanderer.

Notice What’s In Our Passage (18:15-20)

Jesus has already told us that every one of us is to be about the business of pursuing, chasing, and bringing back the wandering sheep in our midst. But now suppose the shoe is on the other foot, what then? Did you notice the first words in v15? “If your brother sins against you…” If you’re the one sinned against, are you still to chase them down? Or does someone else do that? To see it in yet another manner, get out of your shoes altogether and get into the shoes of another and suppose you’re the one doing the sinning against another. What is supposed to happen then? What actions are you to take? What does the church do? Or the offended party? These are deep questions, loaded with all kinds of baggage, that God has not left us in the dark with. The light of His Word shines into our disobedience with all manner of grace.

Here Jesus gives us four steps that make up the whole process of church discipline.

Step One – Private Admonition (v15)

In v15 we learn that the very first step in the church discipline process is to go to the person who has sinned against you personally and privately. This means when sinned against, you don’t sound off to the whole church about how bad they really are and how they’re the worst thing that’s come into this church in years. You don’t refuse to talk to them anymore, give them the cold shoulder, or close yourself off from them. You don’t build up a bitter resentment in your heart toward them. No, you go them and bring it up privately. They may be aware of what they did, they may not. But by going to them privately you’re protecting the offender’s reputation by keeping the circle of people who know about this offense as small as possible. And you’re also protecting yourself from gossiping about them to others in the church by going to them immediately and personally.

When you go, what do you speak with them about? In v15 when it says “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” it implies that you’re intentions in going to them are to make them aware of their sin and seek repentance from them for their sin. You’re not going to condemn the person, you’re not going to tell the person off, you’re there to share what they did or what they continue to do, how it crossed the line of right and godly behavior for a Christian, and to see if they feel a godly remorse over what has happened and desire to make things right. If they listen to you, express sorrow over offending you, and repent Jesus says you’ve gained your brother back! I’ve often found that when this occurs the result of such a meeting is a much deeper relationship in the future. But if they refuse to listen, don’t acknowledge that what they’ve done or keep doing is sinful even though it’s clear in Scripture, you move onto to step two.

Before we get to step two notice something else here in step one. This initial step doesn’t involve any kind of official organization or leadership in the church. It’s simply between you and the other person, which is where Jesus intends church discipline to begin. In this light see that step one of church discipline is just a normal part of Christian discipleship where we are seek to do spiritual good to one another. I think if we got this step right more often, most of the discipline cases in churches would be solved right away. But sadly in this fallen world, rather than humbly seeking restoration and repentance with those who sin against us, we too quickly go the opposite way, wrongfully involve way too many people in what should be a private matter, and destroy relationships and reputations.

Step Two – Group Admonition (v16)

In v16 we learn that the second step in the church discipline process is not to give up but to again revisit the offender, with one or two others. Now, there is no timeline given here as to the exact amount of time required between these two visits. Patience, love, and grace should allow at least some time between the first and second visit to let the private admonition sink in. But if in time it is clear that the offending member is remaining unrepentant the one who went by themselves now must carefully choose one or two others, probably ones that know and love this person, or an elder, and go back to give another admonition. That a few others go back echoes Deut. 19:15 which says, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” That additional witnesses must be involved at this point encourages the one doing the sinning to come out of their sinful isolation, and encourages the individual sinned against to think deeply about whether or not this case is serious enough to warrant the sound judgment of a few others, or if they’re just making a bigger deal of this than is necessary. If they do deem it worthy of another visit, though the circle is still intentionally kept small here, a small group’s plea with the wanderer to return does make the admonition a bit weightier as well as harder to ignore.

Hope remains, for the offender could hear and heed the second warning, and if they do, you’ve won them back and will rejoice to bring them home! But if they do not, step 3 comes into view.

Step Three – Church Admonition (v17a)

In v17 we learn that the third step in the church discipline process is again, not to give up, but to tell it to the church. As we’ve seen throughout these steps, here also we do not receive a time requirement between step two and three, so patience, grace, and love should allow at least some time between the second step and the third step. When it’s clear that the offending member is still remaining unrepentant Jesus is clear, the matter now comes to the entire church. This is not strictly just telling it to the elders, not strictly just telling it to the pastor, but it really does seem to be the whole body or the entire local congregation in view here. Of course the elders need to take the lead here, they need to be the ones who decide how and when the church is to be told about it to ensure this is done orderly and graciously, but through them the matter is to come to the whole of the assembly. Do you think this is unloving or embarrassing? Remember the parable of the lost sheep. When the first two steps have been employed and the wandering member has refused to listen we’re not to give up, but in this third step we’re to enlist the whole of the congregation to go and gain back the wanderer. David Platt, in his commentary on Matthew says of this third step, “God loves us so much that if we are caught in sin, He will send an entire army of believers to us as a demonstration of His love and mercy.” In this step the circle is no longer small. It is intentionally large. Large enough, by God’s grace, to wake the wanderer out of his or her sin.

So again hope remains, the offending member who has not repented could hear and heed the warnings when they see the whole church pursuing them, and if they do, they are won back! But if they do not listen to the whole church, the final step, step 4 becomes a necessity.

Step Four – Excommunication (v17b-20)

Look at v17b, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” What does this mean? It means that when the offending member refuses to listen and repent after these first three steps, Jesus now commands one thing – excommunication. Though probably stirred quite a bit from the whole sermon up to now, our modern sensibilities are now in full shock. ‘Isn’t the church supposed to be welcoming to sinners? Isn’t the church a where sinners find hope? Isn’t the church where sinners find rest? Yes, of course. The Church of Christ is a very safe place for sinners, but it is not ever to be a safe place for sin. To excommunicate someone isn’t to forsake them or to forget about them, no. To excommunicate someone is a public declaration from the church of which they are a member, that this church no longer believes their profession of faith is true. So by excommunication, they cease to be a member of that church and cannot partake of the Lord’s Supper any longer.

In 1 Cor. 5 we see an example of this when Paul instructs the Corinthians to excommunicate a certain man (who had sinned grievously) so that he would be delivered “…to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). See it is restoration in view even here at this last step not punishment. So when this happens we should never forsake the person, but in treating them like an unbeliever we ought to pursue them with the gospel urgently. And just in case anyone is thinking ‘Who gives you the right to do such a thing?’ see v18-20. Here we receive the promise of authority in v18, that the church holds the keys of the Kingdom so that whatever is bound or loosed on earth is also bound or loosed in heaven. Here we also receive the promise of support in v19, that the Father will give His full support to what we agree about in prayer concerning these difficult matters of discipline. Here lastly we receive the promise of presence in v20. This is not a blanket statement about God dwelling in the midst of His people’s prayer, it’s specifically about God dwelling in the midst of His people’s prayer about excommunicating a wayward brother or sister. So when we do the tough work of church discipline, God encourages us with His authority, His support, and His presence.

Notice What’s After Our Passage (18:21-35)

We’ve seen what’s before and in our passage, now see what’s after it. In v21-35 we find the parable of the unforgiving servant, which asks “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? (18:21). No, Jesus says, “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (18:22). Lesson? That the passage describing how church discipline is done is surrounded before and behind, shows us church discipline must be carried out with gospel grace. How often will God forgive us for our sin? His grace never ends. Ours shouldn’t either.

In an age where this topic is as popular as a parent publicly spanking their child…

-We must remember that not all discipline is bad.

-We must remember that the exercise of pastoral authority is not the same as the abuse of pastoral authority.

-We must reject the belief that church discipline is a bad thing, and come to embrace the belief presented to us in the text, that the neglect of church discipline is a bad thing.

-And we must reject the critical/judgmental spirit that we’re all prone to, remembering that because we’ve received extravagant grace in the gospel, we now must extend extravagant grace with the gospel as well. These things are commanded by Christ for the wanderer’s good, for the purity of the church, and ultimately for the glory of God.

What That Verse Really Means – Matthew 18:20

There are a number of Bible verses that well-meaning people often quote at different times which twist Scripture into saying things it never intended to say. Some of us have probably heard or been guilty of using the phrase, “Where two or more are gathered, there am I among them.” This statement of Jesus from Matthew 18:20 is usually quoted when there is low attendance at some church function. Basically, we want to tell each other, “Hey guys, there may only be a handful of us here, but Jesus is with us.” It is true that Christ is among a small group of church members, but Matthew 18:20 isn’t saying it in that way.

Many people would be surprised to discover that Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 deal with church discipline. I’ve always heard it said that a text without a context is just a pretext. So let’s look at the context. Context is best found by reading the verses and chapters before and after. To discover what Jesus means in verse 20, we only need to read verses 15 through 20. Jesus says there,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The concept of church discipline is foreign to many churches today because we live in a society that embraces inclusion and we don’t want anyone to feel left out. Also, we may have seen this practiced in an unbiblical way and thrown out the baby with the bathwater. But due to our throwing out church discipline, we have an even more serious problem: unregenerate church membership, or worse, unregenerate church leadership. 

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has pointed out that Southern Baptists, America’s largest denomination, haven’t included a statement on church discipline in their doctrinal beliefs (The Baptist Faith and Message) since prior to 1925. Yet there is no avoiding it here; Jesus is talking very plainly and clearly about church discipline.

We can’t say with Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” When a person becomes a believer, they join a family, and families love one another. What compels families to hold interventions for an alcoholic parent? Love. As church members, we’ve got to ask ourselves, “Is it really love that motivates me to keep quiet when a brother’s foul language ruins his witness or when a sister’s addiction to pain pills enslaves her?” We may say it is love that silences us, but it is really fear. Love compels us to confront brothers or sisters caught in sin. Fear stands idly by and watches while someone’s life implodes, while love acts to rescue them. This is why we have a Good Samaritan’s Law which criminalizes onlookers who don’t help a person in danger. Real love is concern in action; a heart attached to hands, feet, and a yes, even a mouth.

But how is church discipline to be exercised? Are we to go around pointing out each other’s sins every time we see one another? Of course not. Jesus gives us some very clear steps to take and each imply some covenant relationship between both parties. These steps are to be carried out among members of a local church who have covenanted to care for one another spiritually. We’re not the spiritual police for the planet, but we are responsible to our fellow members.

Step One

According to Jesus, step one involves going to the sinning brother or sister on a personal level. Paul explains the spirit we should have in step one this way: “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 5:26-6:2). The aim in every step is restoration, yet loving confrontations enables this. If they do not “listen” and refuse to express any change of mind (repentance) about their sin, we move on to step two. 

Step Two

This involves bringing one or two others. Why? They can be extra witnesses, they add seriousness to the need for repentance, and this allows others a chance to persuade them. If repentance occurs, the process stops and restoration begins. If they refuse to listen even to these two or three gathered in Christ’s name, then the church body as a whole is to be notified. 

Step Three

And by “tell it to the church”, Jesus doesn’t mean the universal church! So sin that was once a matter between two members, due to ongoing unrepentance, has now become a matter for every member of that church who has covenanted to care for one another spiritually. This process probably goes on for a period of months and involves many prayers and tears first individually, then among the two or three, then as a unified church body. If however, this individual is so entrenched in sin that they refuse to repent even before the church body, the church is to respond by no longer treating them as a fellow member, but as an unbeliever in need of salvation. Paul uses the language of handing them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that their spirit might be saved in the end (1 Cor. 5:5). Even biblical ex-communication aims for eternal salvation!

So what does it mean when Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”? It means that if two or three believers go to an unrepentant brother or sister on behalf of the church, that individual should know they come with the authority and presence of Christ himself. We are all sinners, but we are all repentant sinners. Unrepentant church members must know that their sin not only brings them out of fellowship with fellow believers in their church, but out of fellowship with Christ himself. So in the event that you find yourself among the two or three going to confront another brother or sister living in sin, take Matthew 18:20 with you…and pray for the miracle of restoration.

What Child is This?

The advent hymn ‘What Child is This?’ is one of my favorites because it answers the question of who and what Jesus came to be and say. Taking the cue from this wonderful song, let’s ask a question today: according to Matthew’s gospel what child is this?

In Matthew 3:13-4:11 we see three answers:

a) Jesus came to bring New Creation:

In Genesis 1:2 the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation, and in Exodus 14:21 a ‘strong wind’ (‘wind’ also being ‘spirit’ in Hebrew) drove back the waters of the Red Sea making way for God’s people to safely go through. Here in this passage the Spirit of God similarly hovers over the Son of God at His baptism in the Jordan River. In each of these moments we see the Spirit hovering over water. It is not a coincidence that we find all of this same Genesis 1:2 and Exodus 14:21 activity at Jesus’ baptism. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of the creation of the world in Genesis and just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of the Red Sea in the creation of Israel in the Exodus, so too the Spirit hovered over Jesus in the waters of baptism to teach that Jesus came to, not to bring creation, but a to bring a new creation. Therefore it is no coincidence that when Paul is speaking of salvation in 2 Cor. 5:17 he states that those who repent and believe in the gospel become ‘new creations.’

b) Jesus came to be the True Israel:

In Exodus 4:22 God calls Israel His ‘firstborn son’ and in 1 Cor. 10:2 Paul calls Israel’s passing through the Red Sea their ‘baptism.’ Question: where did Israel, God’s son, go after they were baptized in the Red Sea? Into the wilderness. Second question: where did Jesus go after His baptism in 4:1? Into the wilderness, led by the Spirit. Is it a coincidence that we see the almost the exact same Holy Spirit activity at work in the Exodus and Jesus’ baptism? No, it’s not. God planned for it to be this way to teach us that with the coming of Christ not only comes a new creation, but that a new and greater exodus comes as well. An exodus in which God will once again save His people, not from Pharaoh, but from the greater pharaoh of ‘Satan, sin, and death’ and will take His people a new and greater promised land. So Jesus, by being baptized and going into the wilderness, replays the story of Israel in His own life. The difference shines through when we see that while Israel was unfaithful in their wilderness, Jesus is faithful in His. He is the true Israel. We also see echoes of this when we read in both Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15 “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

c) Jesus came to be the True Adam:

There are even more similarities between Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4 with Adam and Eve’s temptation in Genesis 3. Both Adam and Jesus are tempted to eat food God has forbid. For Adam it was fruit, for Jesus it was stones. In both tempting’s the devil used the same bait, ‘Did God really say?’ ‘Adam, did God really say you wouldn’t die?’ ‘Jesus, did God really say He would always care for You?’ Again Jesus, by being tempted by the devil with the same bait, replays the story of Adam in His own life. The difference shines through when we see that while Adam was unfaithful in his tempting, Jesus is faithful in His. He is (praise God!) the true Adam.

What Child is this? According to Matthew He is the One who will bring new creation, and the One who will be the True Israel and True Adam.

Where is Your Heart?

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Dr. Paul Fritz, Professor at Trinity College of Florida, recently found out that he has been cut out of a hefty inheritance. He was born into a very prosperous family and, if he had desired, could have been a beneficiary of his family’s money. However, he decided to put that life to the side and become a missionary proclaiming Christ to the lost. He endured many difficulties and illnesses along the way. Life was not always easy. Circumstances were not always perfect. But Dr. Fritz does not regret his choice to live his life for Christ, for there is no greater endeavor. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” (Jim Elliot).

Dr. Fritz could have spent his life making millions of dollars, but in the end what would that have mattered?

As someone once said, “You cannot pull a U-haul to heaven.” Only what is done for Christ lasts. So as the verses above say, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

Let me ask you, where is your heart?

Is your heart focused on God and living life for eternity? Or is your heart focused on this world and living for the temporal? What you pursue in this life is a reflection of your heart. And it is so easy to live for the nicest car, the biggest house, the best vacation, and the rest of what this world offers, but these are fleeting joys that do not fully satisfy. To live for these things is a futile pursuit that leaves you empty and lost. Instead we are to live for eternity. To live for the One who gave His life that you might have eternal life. Live for Jesus Christ.

This is the pursuit that matters.