July 26, 2009

Lust and the Damage Sin Causes - Jul 26, 2009

Sorry about the earlier "mistake post" that went out earlier. Please disregard that one. The post below has all the right links and text, etc. (I hope).

To LISTEN to this week's sermon online click here. To DOWNLOAD an MP3, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as".

To download a PDF of Pastor Paul Naumann's helpful paper (referenced in the sermon), "Addressing the Temptation of Internet Pornography" first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as"


This week we’re continuing our study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. One of the things that Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount was explaining the commandments of God. He was filling up the commandments with meaning like we might fill a cup with water.

Last week we heard Jesus talk about the fifth commandment, “You shall not murder”. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law taught that this commandment meant don’t take anyone’s life. Jesus says that it means more. It means don’t hate anyone. Don’t be full of anger. Don’t call anyone hurtful names because you’re angry with them. In God’s eyes, sinful anger IS murder.

This week Jesus moves on to the sixth commandment, “You shall not commit adultery”. And He’s going to do the same thing with this commandment. He’s going to explain it. He’s going to fill it up with meaning.

Jesus going to express three thoughts here: 1) You know that adultery is wrong. But lust is the same thing. 2) Take whatever action is necessary in order to separate yourself from what causes you to sin. 3) Only God can free you completely from what causes sin, because the source of sin is internal.

You can open up your Bibles to Matthew 5, verse 27. It’s also printed in your bulletin as the sermon text. Preaching to the crowds on the side of the mountain, Jesus says,

“27“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28 NIV).

Jesus says, “Lust = Adultery of the heart, Lust = Fornication of the heart. Lust is bad.”

The Greek word for “lust” (“Epi-thoo-meh-oh”) is a bit more picturesque than the English word. The “epi” means “toward”. “Thoo-meh-oh” means “to breathe hard”. To breath hard toward. You get the idea.

God is the one who built the response of attraction into the human being. But God says that this kind of strong desire belongs only between a man and a woman who are married.

Popular opinion in Jesus’ day, and in ours, says something different. Our culture teaches us that lust is “naughty”, but healthy in small doses. The Television teaches us that lust is only bad if it’s undesired. You know, the creepy guy who looks at you at the health club. Or the unattractive girl at work that dotes on you more than on anyone else. In other words, the world teaches us that lust is great, but only when you want it.

When Jesus spoke these words in the Sermon on the Mount, He spoke them in a culture that was very much male dominated. So, He spoke these words to men, about a problem that men have – the wandering, lustful eye.

But, that doesn’t mean that women don’t have issues with lust. Just because Jesus addresses men doesn’t mean that He’s saying, “You women out there in the crowd don’t have to listen to this. Find something else to think about for a few minutes because only men have this problem.”

I’m not a woman. I am a man. I don’t pretend that every man is like me, but I have at least some idea what other guys deal with when it comes to lust. What I certainly DON’T understand fully, is all the things that a WOMAN might experience in connection with this temptation.

So, I asked my wife.

She said that yeah, it’s not always the same. A woman can be physically attracted to a man, but the attraction is more likely to be in other areas.

She kinda smirked at one point in our conversation and said something like, “Yeah, you don’t see a lot of pictures of half-naked men around because most men just aren’t that good looking.” To which I said, “Thanks a lot.”

When a women struggles with lust, it may be different than when a man does. Perhaps she has a husband at home who doesn’t pay as much attention to her as he used to. He used to actually listen to her, now he just glazes over when she’s talking. He used to spend time with her, now it seems like he’s always gone somewhere else. She’s begun to see in other men what she wishes her husband was: Considerate. Thoughtful of her needs. Dedicated to providing for her. Focused on her. Romantic. In a word, more loving towards her. She sees in other men, the husband that she wishes he was. More than that, she looks to see in other men the husband that she wishes he was.

Lust isn’t just desire of a person because of their visible, physical qualities. It is the sinful desire of a person whom God has not given to you.

When people think of adultery, they usually think about the physical act. But Jesus takes the sin back to the lusting and farther.

If you’re following along in the New King James Version of the Bible, you’ve got a good translation at verse 28. Let’s look again at that verse, Matthew 5, verse 28.

“28But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NKJV).

The flow of thought is this: If a man’s eyes are moving toward a woman for the purpose of looking at her with sinful desire – the sin of adultery has already been done.

A man is sitting at an outdoor cafĂ© and he sees a woman’s foot pass by. He knows from the kind of shoe that this woman is wearing that she is not likely to be modestly dressed. Even before his eye finds its lustful target, God says, “the sin has been done” –even before the coveting look ever takes place, the sin has been done –in the heart.

Sexual sin is like an infection. Incubated in the heart, it moves out from there to the eyes. To the hands. To the whole body. But Jesus says, “God sees it the whole time, and it’s sin from beginning to end.”

Now I don’t want you to think that every time you notice someone who is beautiful or handsome, that you’re lusting after them. That’s not true. We can recognize and appreciate physical form and beauty without sinning. But we can also recognize when we’re doing more than “appreciating physical form and beauty”. Here’s barometer for you: if you’re uncomfortable with anyone else seeing you look, chances are, you should stop.

The world says, it’s okay to look, as long as you don’t touch. “Roving eyes, hands in the pocket”, that’s how one young man put it. It’s okay to fantasize, just don’t act on your fantasies. But that’s NOT what God says. And it’s NOT what human research shows either.

Studies show that when people get into looking at images that they shouldn’t, those images lead to harder images. Then to darker ones. Then to fantasizing. Then to acting out those fantasies in real life.

Do not mess with lust.

If you have a problem with pornography or lust, tell someone you can trust. Confide in someone. If you can’t talk to your pastor, please, talk to one of your brothers or sisters in Christ.

It’s been said that if a pastor isn’t dealing with pornography problems in his congregation, it’s not because they aren’t there, it’s because he doesn’t know about them. Talk to me. Talk to someone. There is help for this temptation. And with Christ forgiveness waits and all things are possible.

If you go online to our church website, www.redemptionclc.com, and go to the “Church” tab, you’ll find a link to this week’s sermon. At the beginning that sermon you’ll find instructions on how to download information on how to combat internet pornography in your life. It’s there. Our website. Church tab. This sermon. Link at the beginning.

One of the reasons why lust is so dangerous is that it damages and destroys relationships. Sometimes lust prevents relationships from ever getting started. Sometimes it destroys dating relationships. Sometimes lust damages and destroys marriages. The sin of lust also destroys the faith relationship between a person and God.

The apostle Paul talks about this in his first letter to the Corinthian congregation. You can follow along if you turn to 1 Corinthians 6, verse 9.

“9Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV).

Sin completely destroyed the relationship that Adam and Eve had with God in the beginning. But God, said, “I still love you, and I’ll fix this. I will send my own Son to suffer the punishment that YOU deserve. I’ll restore our relationship by taking your sins away.”

Jesus did just that. He suffered for our sins of adultery. Our sins of lust. He suffered for sexual sins He never even thought of doing. Our record of sexual sin, whatever it has been, is forgiven and washed away in a flood of God’s mercy through Jesus’ cross.

As followers of Jesus we know this. We know the Good News of sins forgiven through Jesus. But we need to be told again and again. These sins are hard to escape, and their guilt lingers too. In Christ, there is forgiveness. Full forgiveness. Complete forgiveness.

What we don’t want to do is pick our sins back up off the ground and run with them, that’s like pouring acid on our restored relationship with God. Eventually, the acid of sin will eat through faith and separates us from God again. Sin is damaging and dangerous. Always has been, always will be. That’s why Jesus says what He does in verses 29-30.

I’m at Matthew 5, verse 29. The last verses of our sermon text. Here Jesus says,

“29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30 NIV).

Jesus is saying that sin is so dangerous that we should take whatever action is necessary in order to get ourselves free from the things that cause us to sin. If the sinfulness is REALLY in your RIGHT EYE, get rid of it. If the evil is REALLY in your RIGHT HAND, by all means cut it off!

Recently I read about a guy who actually did this. Cut his own hand off. Not for the purpose of avoiding sin, but for the purpose of saving his own life.

Aron Ralston was hiking in Utah in 2003. He was in a narrow canyon when a falling boulder pinned his arm to the canyon wall. For six days he was trapped until finally he used a dull multi-tool to cut the lower part of his right arm off.

Aron cut his arm off because his life was on the line. Jesus says to do the same. Your life is on the line. Identify the sources of sin in your life and cut them away!

Now, when God tells us this, our response is shock and unbelief, “What? You want me to do what?” Then our reaction is disappointment, “Maybe I don’t really want to cut that something out of my life.”

We say, “Jesus, I just want to keep going where I go, and doing what I do, and keep on coming back to you for forgiveness on Sunday.” And Jesus says “Yeah, you can keep coming to me for forgiveness. But I don’t want you to keep going where you know you’re going to find temptation.” I want you to cut those places out.”

When we’re unsure that we really want to make a drastic move in our lives to conform to Christ’s way, we need to remember – whatever Jesus tells us to do WILL result in blessing. His way ultimately CANNOT go wrong.

This past week I pulled up an interview online with that climber, Aron Ralston.

Aron had thought about cutting of his arm off very early in his ordeal. But he try because he knew he wouldn’t be able to cut through bone with the cheap little multi-tool that he had to use. He didn’t realize that he could use a rock to break the bones in his arm, or snap them with leverage until his sixth day in the canyon. And while that sounds absolutely horrific to us, to SNAP the bones in your forearm on purpose and CUT OFF your own arm, the actual experience of it was something quite different for Aron.

Interviewer: “That moment when you finally get that, is so full of both salvation and horror that I can’t even imagine what it was like to go through that.”

Aron Ralston: “Well, and I know that you used the word dreadful to describe the experience of the amputation and I think that’s the way people see it and they have a hard time understanding that for me six days of considering myself a dead man even to the extend that I’d made my farewell messages, my last will and testament on the video tape to my family and my friends, that I’d written R.I.P over my name etched into the wall on the left side of the canyon. The moment when I figured out how I could get free, it was the best idea and the most beautiful experience I will ever have in my life. That it was all euphoria and not a bit of horror. It was having my life back after being dead” (NPR interview by Alex Chadwick first aired on September 13, 2004).

Those are his own words. He says that figuring out how to actually sever his right arm from his body was the “best idea and the most beautiful experience” he’ll ever have.

That’s how we should feel when we figure out how to cut some temptation out of our life. Not horror. Not self-pity. Not anger that Jesus is making us do this, but euphoria. Because what Jesus says always brings blessing. And cutting sin away from our lives means improved quality of life, it means freedom.

We’re not done with Aron’s story just yet. After he successfully amputated his arm, he wasn’t out of the woods yet. He was out in the country and needed to find medical help fast.

After amputating his right arm, Ralston had to sort out his climbing rope with one hand and rappel down a 60 foot cliff. This he accomplished after nearly dropping his rope. If he would have dropped that rope, he would have bled to death in that canyon.

But even after that, Aron wasn’t safe. He had lost a lot of blood. He began to hike up the trail. I’ll give you his own words.

Aron Ralston: ““I had lost almost a liter and a half of blood at the time that the helicopter found me. At the point when the human body loses about 2 liters of blood is medically speaking when it goes into the state of shock at the level where your organs are shutting down including your heart and you have a heart attack and you die. It essentially gave me a window of about another half an hour. During which I could be rescued. Had I had the epiphany to get out anytime before or after that half an hour window when that helicopter was exactly where it was because otherwise it was going to be headed back for refueling and wouldn’t be in the area, I would have bled to death in the bottom of that canyon. It was certain suicide in my mind and the fact that it worked out is just absolutely direct evidence that there’s something bigger going on” (NPR interview by Alex Chadwick first aired on September 13, 2004).

Aron’s experience matches that of every sinner. Because even if we can amputate some of our sins. Even if we can cut out some of the causes of sin in our lives, we’re still bleeding to death with the clock running. And there’s no way that we’ll be able to hike our way into God’s good favor. All our past sins linger behind us, trialing us like some impossibly long criminal record. We need help from above.

And that’s what Jesus is. He’s the rescue helicopter. He came down from heaven to save us, just at the right time. He doesn’t say, “Cut away a few more sins and I’ll rescue you!” He says, “You’re gonna be alright. I’m here. Your past sins can’t hurt you now. I’ve paid for them. Trust me, I’ve paid for them.”

Ralston was right, there is “something bigger” going on here. SOMEONE bigger. Someone who doesn’t ask us to take on our sins alone. Someone who knows we would never make it. Someone who has already arranged events for our success. Someone who will carry us through to the end. Trust in that someone, and in His Son.


The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

July 19, 2009

Getting Right with God - Jul 19, 2009

When I was in college I got a speeding ticket. Actually I’m sure I got more than one speeding ticket when I was in college. But I remember one in particular.

My wife Jennifer and I were on our way to a concert in Wisconsin, and had gotten off the 65 mile-an-hour highway onto a 55 mile-an-hour highway. But, I didn’t realize the speed limit had changed.

So here I was going about 5 miles an hour over what I THOUGHT was the speed limit, putting me at 70 in a 55. I was pulled over and I got a ticket.

Of course, I was upset. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to have to waste my money on paying a ticket. I figured, this just isn’t fair.

I didn’t know that I was in a 55 zone. I thought that I was in a 65 zone. If the speed limit was 65 I would only have been 5 mph over and the cop never would have ticketed me! Besides, I had only been on the road for a few minutes, there probably hadn’t even been a sign to tell me the speed limit had changed!

I convinced myself that I should contest the ticket.

Thankfully I didn’t carry through on contesting the ticket. When I had time to cool down and think about things, I realized that I could convince myself it wasn’t my fault. But I was going to have a hard time convincing anyone else, and there’s no way I’d be able to convince a judge. I was speeding.

Proverbs 12, verse 15 says:

“The way of a fool seems right to him,
but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15 NIV).

Today our sermon is all about getting right with God. It’s easy to rationalize our own actions and put a good spin on them. We might even be able to convince other people that it’s not our fault. But what really matters is getting right with God.

In the part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that we’re going to look at this week, Jesus explains that you can’t get right with God by dismissing God’s Law. You must understand what God’s standards really are. And you better get right with God before the court of the Almighty is in session.

If you’re following along in your own Bible, turn to Matthew 5, verse 17. You can also follow along in the bulletin. This section is marked as the sermon text.

Here Jesus says,

“17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20 NIV).

Here, Jesus tells the people that He hasn’t come to “ABOLISH”, that is, to veto, or dismiss the commands of God. He has come to FULFILL them.

The word that Jesus uses for “abolish” is “kata-loo-oh”. It’s made from joining two Greek words, “kata” meaning “down”, and “loo-oh” meaning “to loosen, or destroy”.

Jesus is saying that He’s not there to “loosen down” the commandments so they could keep them. He’s not there to wiggle out and throw away some book of the Bible.

Jesus says, “If you think I’ve come to tell you that you can dismiss what the Old Testament Bible says, you’re wrong. The Word of God is the WORD OF GOD and stands firm forever. I have come to FULFILL that Word”.

Now that word for “fulfill” is very important to our understanding. In the Greek it is “play-ro-oh”. It means to “fill full”. And it basically had two meanings: 1) to do a thing, or 2) to explain fully what a thing meant.

When it came to God’s Law, Jesus did both. Jesus DID the Law of God perfectly. Never broke a single commandment from the Father. And, in this section Jesus begins to explain fully what God’s Law meant.

Look at verse 21. Jesus says,

“21“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22 NIV).

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you.” We’re going to hear this phrase a lot as we work our way through the Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus is saying is this, “Your religious teachers have taught this, but here’s what God’s Word really means”.

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees had a shallow understanding of God’s Law. They had dumbed it down so they could keep it.

If this cup (hold up a cup with a “5” on it) is the fifth commandment, “You shall not murder”, the Pharisees only understood to here (2 oz).

They figured that they had kept the fifth commandment as long as they hadn’t actually taken anyone’s life. But Jesus says, “That’s just the beginning”. Jesus is going to fill this commandment up for the people and explain how far it actually goes.

If you are angry with your brother, you are in danger of judgment (4oz).

If you insult a person because you’re angry with them, you’re in danger of judgment (6oz).

And not only are you in danger of man’s judgment if you do these things, you are in danger of God’s judgment and the fires of hell (8oz).

Now, we’re not talking about “righteous anger”. Being angry because something is being done that is morally wrong, that is righteous anger. The feeling you get when you see pictures of aborted babies is righteous anger. The feeling you get when you see a bully picking on someone else is righteous anger. We’re not talking about that. Here we’re talking about sinful anger. Anger that might reveal itself with a bad word or two directed at the person you’re angry at. Anger that might be held onto in the form of a grudge.

The apostle John understood what Jesus was saying. If you have your Bible handy, turn to 1 John 3, verse 15. Years after John heard Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount, John wrote this in his first letter,

“15Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 John 3:15 NIV).

Ever call someone a bad name in anger? Maybe not “raca”, but the English equivalent? “Raca” was an Aramaic word that meant, “Empty head”. Kinda like our “moron”. Idiot. Retard. Ever call someone a name like that? Maybe not to their face, but to someone else? Jesus says that you have committed murder.

Turn to Ephesians 4, verse 26.

“26’In your anger do not sin’ : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV).

Ever been angry with a person longer than “righteous anger” allows? You’ve committed murder. You’re in danger of hell.

Is there anyone among us who could truthfully say they’ve never done these things? Never been angry with someone? Never gone to bed still mad at someone? We’re all murderers in the judgment of the Holy God. We’re all in danger of the fires of hell.

This is what matters to God. He’s not just concerned with blood on our hands. He’s sees the blood on our hearts.

This is God’s standard: A pure heart. That’s why Jesus could say, the people had to have a greater righteousness than the Pharisees to enter heaven.

The Pharisees thought that all God expected concerning the 5th commandment was that they not slit any throats. They figured that they were already righteousness in the eyes of God when it came to the 5th commandment.

Jesus blew that idea away.

When Jesus condemned the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, He threw a bombshell that rocked the people who heard Him. The Scribes and the Pharisees were considered the best followers of God! The holiest keepers of the Law. But Jesus says, “Nope, they’re only righteous in the eyes of men. In the eyes of God they’re only fit for hell.”

The Scribes and Pharisees had forgotten what was really important to God, if they ever knew at all. You ever been around someone who just doesn’t get it? Someone who is missing the point?

At our house we try to practice good hygiene. We take showers, comb our hair, brush our teeth. And of course we teach our children to do the same. But, sometimes children forget the point.

Parent: Go brush your teeth.

Child: Okay.

Parent: You’re back already? That was like 30 seconds. Did you actually brush your teeth?

Child: (whining) Yes!

Parent: Each one once? Go brush your teeth again! And this time, brush them until they are CLEAN.

If you think brushing your teeth means merely making contact with the toothbrush for any amount of time, you’re missing the point of brushing your teeth.

The Scribes and Pharisees were missing the point when it came to worship. And because they were teaching the people, the people were also missing the point when it came to worship.

What matters to God when it comes to worship? What is true worship in the eyes of God?

Jesus seeks to show us in Matthew 5, verse 23.

“23“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV).

Jesus was talking to people in Galilee. The Temple, the ONLY place where sacrifices to Jehovah were made, was in Jerusalem. That was over sixty miles to the south. If you walked maybe you could make it in three days.

Sacrifices were one of the central features of worship in the Old Testament. Sacrifices were important to bring to God’s Temple.

Jesus says, that it’s more important to God that you drop your sacrifice, travel three days back home, ask for forgiveness from they person you sinned against, do whatever needs to be done to set things right with them, and THEN come back and finish the sacrifice to God.

Formal worship had value. Offering sacrifices in the ways that God had told Moses to offer them was important to God. But dedication to God expressed in diligently living out His ideas and thoughts, that had more worship value than all the formality, sacrifice and song that happened at the Temple (see also Mark 12:28-34).

This is what matters to God. Sometimes you may find it necessary to leave church early, so that you can truly worship. Don’t delay in setting things right with those you’ve sinned against. There may not be much time left.

Look at verse 25. To close His words about murder, and hatred, and judgment, Jesus says…

“25“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:25-26 NIV).

What does this have to do with getting right before God? Jesus is simply using an common occurrence to illustrate a spiritual truth.

If you have committed a crime and you’re headed for court, you better settle before you reach the judge. You won’t get any mercy there.

All sinners are on the road to God’s Courthouse, and all sinners will be judged with no partiality before the Holy God. Jesus is saying, “You better get matters settled before you get there. While there is still time to escape your just punishment.”

So how do we do it? How do we get right with God before we’re judged by Him?

Turn to 2 Corinthians 5, verse 21. There the apostle Paul explains how murderers and sinners can get right with God before they die.

“21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).

Jesus says to “settle matters quickly” with our adversary who is taking us to court. He Himself is our defense. He is our “Matter Settler”.

We are sinners, He was not. We are guilty of sinful anger, He was not. We have murdered, He was murdered. Crucified in our place so that we are forgiven all our sins.

On the cross, Jesus paid off our sin debt with His suffering. He paid off our sin debt to the last penny. Jesus Christ has made us right with God. Jesus Christ has made us the righteousness of God.

No longer are you in danger of judgment. No longer are you in danger of the fires of Hell. You are forgiven through Jesus Christ.

Don’t use this great news as support for your sins. Instead use the forgiveness Christ gives to you as ammunition against anger. As a shield against despair. As fuel for a glad heart.

Any sin that we commit, we can either justify, or we can let Christ justify it. We can say, “Oh, it’s not my fault, I’m not accountable, she made me do it, he made me do it, the devil made me do it, blah, blah, blah.” OR we can say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Forgive me because of Jesus.”

We can declare ourselves righteous to ourselves, or Christ can declare us righteous before God. But only if Christ is our righteousness will that righteousness surpass that of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. Only if the Son of God is our righteousness will our righteousness give us entrance into God’s House.

Jesus is our Savior. In Him we are righteous. Trust in Him. Amen.

The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

July 12, 2009

Being the Blessed - Jul 12, 2009

I’m a Star Wars fan and lots of other kids are too. I like to ask kids which character in Star Wars is their favorite. Some like the good guys, but quite a few say Dark Vader is their favorite.

Now why would that be? My theory is that people gravitate toward characters like Darth Vader or Darth Maul because those characters are powerful, not to be messed with. They have some traits that we would like to have.

I’d like to ask you adults another question this morning. Not, who is your favorite Star Wars character, but who do you want to be like?

Who do you look at and say, “She’s exactly the person I want to be.” Or, “If I was him, I’d have it made. That’s what I want to be like. “

If we can identify who we really want to be like I think that tells us something about what matters to us. It’s a pretty strait forward theory: the people we admire have the traits that we value.

So, who do you want to be?

Last Sunday we began a sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We talked a little about why Jesus preached this sermon. One reason why Jesus preached this sermon was to correct false interpretations of God’s word and show the people what really matters to God.

In the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reveals what matters to God by describing the traits of a Christian. But these traits are not things that we naturally gravitate toward. These aren’t characteristics that are highly praised my many people. But they are qualities that matter to God.

If you’re following along in your Bible I’m at Matthew 5, verse 1. You can also follow along in the bulletin if you like.

“1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3-10 NIV).

The opening words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount got the people’s attention. These ideas were totally contrary to common thought. The poor in spirit are blessed? The mourners? The meek? Yes, Jesus says. These people are blessed because this is what God’s people are like.

Christians, those who mourn over their sins now, will be comforted by the fact that Jesus died for them and has therefore freed them from the punishment that their sins earned.

Christians, who are meek now, instead of biting and clawing to scratch out a place for themselves in this world, they will inherit the earth in the world to come.

Christians, who know that they are not complete now, they who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled with good things as God teaches them His. And in heaven they will be filled to the top with God’s perfect righteousness. Our sinfulness will be removed by God’s powerful hand when He makes all things new.

Jesus once said,

“36For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36 NKJV).

In this description of a Christian, it’s like Jesus is saying the converse of this statement. He’s saying, “What does it matter if a person misses out on all that the world values, if in the end he keeps his own soul for eternal life?

I want to move on to the next section. We don’t have the time here today to deal with each of these characteristics that Jesus describes. And perhaps these things are better suited for personal meditation.

I encourage you to take some time this week to look over this section again. If you do, try this. Take each statement and write out the opposite.

Instead of “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” you’d write something like, “Cursed are the haughty and self-confident, for theirs is hell”.

Instead of “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” you’d write, “Cursed are those who never feel sorrow over anything, for in the end they will be left to themselves.”

The good qualities that Jesus describes here are things we want to cultivate in ourselves. And the opposites of these characteristics are things we want to weed out of ourselves. Doing a little exercise like writing out the opposite of these statements may help us to see these things that matter to God more accurately.

I’d also challenge you to keep this section of Jesus’ sermon in your mind this week by picking one trait to nurture. Take one thing, maybe the easiest thing that you see there, and live it.

For example, ponder how you might be merciful this week. Think about what you might do to remind yourself to have mercy on others. Maybe write it on the back of your hand. “Mercy”.

And when you’ve done it, share whatever you do with me. I’d like to know what you come up with to actively incorporate Jesus’ teaching into your life. Maybe we can learn from each other in this way.

Now, I want to make sure nobody gets the wrong idea here. Last Sunday we talked about how Jesus isn’t telling us how to get to heaven in this sermon. We sinful people are forgiven because Jesus served our sentence on the cross of Calvary. He never sinned. He willingly suffered and died in our place. Because He took our punishment on Himself and gave us His perfection, we are forgiven and will live with Him forever.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is not describing how we are saved, He is describing how we, the saved, now live our lives.

As followers of Christ, Jesus says, that we are “blessed”. Jesus says that even when we are being framed, lied about and ganged up on, we are blessed. Turn to Matthew 5, verse 11. Jesus says to His disciples:

“11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12 NIV).

Being “Blessed” by God doesn’t mean that everything will be rosy in life. What it means is everything is going to be right in the end. Sometimes being “blessed” in a broken world is very frustrating.

Christina Gibbs, one of our members here, was once in Minneapolis visiting family when she got a little lost. Being lost is not what most of us would consider a “blessed” thing to be. Her husband wasn’t with the family because of work. So, it was just mom and the kids.

They were on their way to meet up with some family, and they were already behind schedule. To add to the problem, Christina missed the exit she needed to get off on.

We all know what that feels like. Late already, and then something happens to make things worst. But it got even worse. All the exits after that one were industrial exits. Not much help for someone who’s looking for directions. And in the back seat the kids were starting to get restless.

Finally she got turned around and was approaching what she believed was the right exit. But she wanted to make sure. So, she pulled off at a gas station to ask if this was the exit to the I-35 bridge. And when she asked the man behind the counter if this was the right exit to get to the I-35 bridge, he just pointed to the television screen and said, “Don’t you know? It just collapsed.”

The bridge that had stood for decades had just collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145.

All the sudden Christina went from feeling very frustrated, to feeling very blessed.

Our place in life may not seem blessed to us sometimes because we lose sight of the bigger picture. Looking at the little scuff on our shoe, we forget that we own a place in the eternal Kingdom of God because of Christ’s love for us.

Being blessed as a follower of Christ in this broken world does not mean silk pillows and bon-bons. It means that we have a great God who is actively guiding our lives. It means that because of Jesus, we have a future that will be so great that we will forget the bad experiences that we have now.

Now when we look at Jesus’ description of a Christian in the Sermon on the Mount, we might think: “I don’t have that. I’m not like that. Does that mean that I’m not a Christian?”

But Jesus knows that we don’t have all these things down yet. He knows where each of us is in our meekness, in our mercy, in our pureness of heart. He knows that we’re not perfect in these things.

If when people became Christians, POOF! they just had all these traits, Jesus wouldn’t have to say this stuff would He? He wouldn’t have to teach us these qualities. He knows where I need to grow, and where you need to grow. What qualities we need to nourish.

As they listened to Him, Jesus’ disciples may have been having troubling thoughts about their failure to do these things too. Jesus sets their hearts at ease by calling them the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”.

“Right now”, Jesus tells them, “you are these things”. It’s not, “First be like this, then you’ll be Christians.” It’s, “You trust in me, now be like this.” Jesus gives forgiveness first, then teaches us how to live His way.

Look at Matthew 5, verse 13. Jesus tells His followers,

13“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

Without refrigerators salt was very important because it was a preservative. Because of this fact, salt was much more valuable then than it is today.

The Roman army would sometimes pay their soldiers with salt. The phrase is still used today, “That guy isn’t worth his salt”. That’s where it comes from. A lazy soldier wasn’t worth the salt that he was paid.

Salt was also a symbol of purity back then. Salt is white. It keeps things from rotting. It’s not hard to see why it symbolized purity. You might not know this, but God commanded that salt be added to all the grain offerings that were presented at the Temple in Jerusalem. Their sacrifices were to be sprinkled with purity.

So what exactly was Jesus saying to his disciples by calling them salt? Perhaps it was something like this: You are the preservative that God sprinkles into the sinful world. You keep it from rotting away in sin. You show the right way to live and you point people to the Messiah.

Perhaps its was something like this: You are valuable to me. You are my hands and feet and mouth on the earth. Only through you will people hear my teachings, my Good News about forgiveness.

Perhaps Jesus was saying: You are my people, eager to do what is good. You are being led into purity and holy living by my words and by the Holy Spirit who helps you to accept and live them.

You are a preservative, your are valuable, your are pure, because of Me.

If you lived near a body of salt water you could make your own salt by leaving out saltwater to dry. When the water evaporates, salt remains. Salt and whatever other minerals were in your saltwater to begin with.

That’s why Jesus could talk about salt losing it’s saltiness. Because their salt had other minerals in it, it could lose it’s saltiness. Perhaps the salt part could be washed away if you didn’t put it away properly. And then you’d just have some white looking minerals that didn’t keep meat from spoiling and didn’t taste particularly good either. Salt-less salt was then tossed out the door. It was next to worthless. About the only good thing it could be used for was making the street a little less muddy.

If Christians lose their character as Christians. Their humility of spirit. Their mourning. Their meekness. Their hunger for righteousness. Their mercy. If they are only “salt” by name, and not because of their character, their usefulness to God and man is next to nothing.

Jesus warns His disciples: “Listen to what I’m saying, hold tight to what I’m teaching, live by it, don’t become salt-less salt, don’t become Christians in name only.”

Jesus also calls His disciples “the light of the world”. Look at Matthew 5:14.

“14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16 NIV).

I don’t need to explain what this means. Light shines up the darkness and shows the way.

When Jesus described the qualities of a Christian, He described inner qualities and outer ones. I would suggest to you today that these are like the parts of a candle. Inner qualities – the wick. Outer qualities – the wax. The wick and the wax don’t do much illuminating alone. But put them together and they burn brightly in the darkness.

So it is with the inner and outer qualities of a Christian. Together they burn brightly and illuminate the way of Jesus. The path of life that is God’s way.

We started this talk today by asking the question,

“Who do we want to be like?”

We may have all sorts of different answers to that question. But we can all agree on this: we want to be like “The Blessed” that Jesus describes here. We want to be followers of Him in more than just talk.

We want to put Jesus’ teachings to work in our lives, and when we do, we end up becoming more like the Teacher Himself. For He did more than teach these qualities, He lived them too. Perfectly. And in this way we can never be like Jesus. He’s the perfect Savior. We’re the saved. And thank God for this. For when we try to live His teachings, we will succeed, and we will fail. And when we fail, we will look in faith to Christ for forgiveness. We will pray to Him for forgiveness, knowing that His sacrifice on the cross washes our sins away. Knowing that His sacrifice sheds light into our darkness. Knowing His sacrifice has taken us from the kingdom of hell and made us part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

And now, may His Holy Spirit enable us to live as holy citizens of that country, right now, to the glory of God the Father.


The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

July 5, 2009

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount - Jul 5, 2009


The traditional church year is divided into two parts. The Festival half and the non-festival half.

The Festival Half starts with Advent and Christmas and continues through to Easter and Ascension. During this part of the church year our focus is on Jesus’ life.

The non-festival half of the church year begins with Pentecost and Trinity and ends around Thanksgiving. During this part of the church year we focus on the life of the saved. The non-festival half of the Church year is all about Christ’s followers growing in knowledge and in holy living.

In a nut shell: our church year is all about knowing how Jesus saved us from our sins, and learning how to live as His people.

Right now we’re in the non-festival half of the church year. The part that focuses on the Christian’s life. To help us grow as followers of Christ, we’re going to begin a sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.


Yesterday was Independence Day. We celebrate Independence Day on July fourth because that was on that day, in 1776, when the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. That document stated that the thirteen American colonies which were at war with Great Britain were now independent. They were no longer part of the British empire.

These colonies believed that Great Britain’s taxing and ruling over them from across the ocean had come to a point where it could no longer be tolerated. They also believed that a government gets it’s right to govern a people because its citizens voluntarily submit to their governing. At the beginning of the Declaration of Independence it says:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness” (The Declaration of Independence).

We’re starting a new sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount today. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was a declaration of independence also. With this sermon Jesus was freeing the people from false interpretations of God’s Word. These false interpretations had been hindering the people from experiencing life as God would have them live it.

Over and over in Jesus’ sermon we’re going to hear the words, “You have heard it said… but I tell you…”. This is one of the major reasons why Jesus was preaching this sermon. To correct common, but false, interpretations of God’s Word.

This sermon was preached early in Jesus’ ministry. From the side of a hill in Galilee. His audience was a huge crowd of people. We can be pretty sure that this crowd included people from all walks of life. Rich. Poor. Respected. Despised. Believers. Unbelievers. Church people. People who seldom set foot in the Temple courts.

But while all these people HEARD the sermon on the mount, much of this sermon was directed at the front row. To Jesus’ followers. That makes a big difference in how we understand some of the things Jesus says. If you have your own Bibles with you today, you can turn to Matthew 5. I’ll read verse 1-2.

“1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them, saying:” (Matthew 5:1-2 NIV).

And then Jesus goes on to teach His disciples what God’s Word really means.

One preacher I heard speak on the Sermon on the Mount said that many of the ideas that Jesus presented were shocking to the people of that day. Especially to those who thought they knew the Word of God. Especially to the “Church goers” who thought they were already living in line with god’s will. This preachers suggests that over and over it’s like God is grabbing the lapels of the listener and saying, “This is what matters to me.” During our study of Jesus’ sermon we’ll see that this is true. He calls all who hear to a deeper meaning of God’s commands.

Jesus didn’t just want to correct the false interpretations that were commonly held and taught, He also wanted to open up the commands of God and teach the God’s Law accurately. Only when God’s laws are understood thoroughly can a person know without a doubt how God wants us to live.

Now, some people shy away from the Sermon on the Mount because it doesn’t have a lot of Gospel in it. It’s true, this sermon of Jesus is mostly about what we call Law. Jesus is explaining what God’s commands really mean.

In this sermon Jesus isn’t explaining how He would live and die to take away our sins and open heaven to us. That much is absolutely true. Jesus is the only way a sinner can be forgiven and become a child of God. But here Jesus isn’t talking about that. Here Jesus is telling His followers how a believing child of God will then live his life. He’s teaching His disciples what they as His followers should do and not do. He’s illustrating the Christian way of life.

Again, if you have your Bibles handy, you can turn to Matthew 5 again, verse 17. There Jesus says:

“17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

One of the reasons Jesus wanted to teach the correct keeping of the Law was so that the people would understand His future actions as KEEPING and not BREAKING God’s Law.

For example, Jesus once healed a man who had a deformed hand. He healed this man on the day of rest, the Sabbath day. This made some of the people upset. They believed that healing a person was WORK and should therefore not be done on the Sabbath.

Jesus had to explain that His healing of the man was actually a keeping of the Sabbath day. The Sabbath was for rest and worship. By healing the man of his deformed hand Jesus had given the man rest from his life-long burden of carrying this disability. He had also made it possible for this man to worship in the Temple again (People with a deformity were not permitted in the Temple grounds because their deformity was symbolic of sin).

By healing on the Sabbath Jesus was not breaking the true spirit of the Law concerning Sabbath rest and worship, He was keeping it in a most God-pleasing way!

In this same complete way Jesus would keep all the commandments of God. Because of His perfect keeping of God’s Law Jesus could later offer Himself as a sinless Sacrifice in our place, wiping all our sins away.

One of the benefits of studying the Sermon on the Mount is that it helps us to more fully appreciate Jesus’ perfect life by showing us how deeply Jesus understood and fulfilled the will of God.

As we move forward into the Sermon on the Mount, remember that it is primarily Law. But also remember that doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. I think we have the tendency to short-change the Law because we know that the Law doesn’t take sins away. We know that trying to keep the Ten Commandments doesn’t get us any forgiveness.

But, the Law is an expression of God’s good and holy will. Therefore, we cannot cast it aside as if it had no value. It has great value for our personal lives. In fact, Jesus says that if we ignore these words of His, our lives will be huge failures. I’ll get to that in a minute. One more thing about the Law and what effect it has on people.

The mixed crowd that Jesus preached to would have been effected in three different ways when they heard this sermon.

Some would have been uneasy, or even a little afraid of God. If there were any career criminals in that crowd whose consciences weren’t completely hardened, they would have been uneasy about stealing their next wallet.

Others would have come to understood that according to this interpretation of God’s Law, they were in trouble. Especially when Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NIV). God’s Law shows us that we are sinners who need help.

The disciples would have been effected in both these ways. Their sinful nature inside would have been a little fearful of God’s judgment on their sins. Perhaps the next time they were tempted to sin in one way or another they would have stopped short.

They would have also seen that they were sinners. But they would have been effected in another way also.

They believed that Jesus was the Savior. And when the Law of God is heard by the Christian’s ears, it shows him exactly what matters to God. The Law and explained by Jesus is not about rules and outward and grudgingly kept rules and regulations. The Law explained by Jesus reveals the inner, spiritual truth of what God seeks in our hearts. The Law of God guides His followers to stay on His way.

You might have noticed that these three ways that Jesus sermon would have effected the crowds are the same three effects that Martin Luther explained said the Law has. It acts as curb, keeping sinners from sinning in more flagrant ways. It works as a mirror showing people their sins and their need of a Savior. It works as a guide for the Christ-follower, since our sin tainted conscience cannot always be trusted.

Jesus says that if we ignore the teachings contained in the Sermon on the Mount, our lives will be huge failures. We might become rich. But we’ll be failures. We might be well liked. But in the end our lives will mean nothing. Let’s hear it from His own mouth.

If you have your Bibles open, you can turn to Matthew 7:24-29. This is also printed in your bulletin as the sermon text. I’ll bet you were wondering if we were ever gonna get to the sermon text.

To begin our series on the Sermon on the Mount we’re going to hear the last words of that sermon. After Jesus had taught about what a Christian’s character should be like, and after Jesus had taught the true meaning of the Ten Commandments, and after Jesus had taught about giving and praying and fasting and greed and worry and judging others and false prophets, then He said,

“24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV).

I’m not going to dissect this parable. It stands alone. Doesn’t really need much explanation does it?

If you hear and do what Jesus has just taught, your life will be stable and strong and you will succeed.

If you hear and don’t do what Jesus has just taught, your life will ultimately be a failure. Even if you make it to heaven by the Grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, your life on earth will be a forgotten house washed away by the storm. If you hear and ignore the teaching of Christ.

Now that’s speaking with authority. Verse 28-29 says:

28When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29 NIV).

And where did His authority come from? The Father. It came from God the Father. Jesus is speaking His Father’s Words. God’s Words. Jesus isn’t re-interpreting the commandments He’s declaring the original meaning from the Father Himself! That’s why He speaks with confidence and with absolutely no doubt.

If you have your Bible’s handy, turn to John 12, verse 44.

“44Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
47“As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:44-50 NIV).

Our forefathers believed that governments get their authority to rule from the consent of the people to be ruled. But Jesus’ teaching receives it’s authority from a much greater source.

Jesus’ teaching is authoritative because it is God’s teaching. The same loving God who sent Jesus to give His life so that we could be forgiven and life forever, that same God also sent Jesus to preach the words of the Sermon on the Mount. May that same God bless our hearing of those words so that we consider them God’s Words, holy and precious, to be believed and cherished, studied with care and kept.

Then, confidently trusting in Christ Jesus for our salvation we will build a life grounded firmly on Him. A life which has meaning and purpose. A life commissioned by God and constructed according to His good and magnificent plan.


The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.