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“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Matthew 5:27–28

Researchers in the field of music, specifically the effect of music on the brain, have documented that when listening to music virtually all areas of the brain are activated, even the portions dedicated to motor activity. These findings tell us that while simply listening to music the brain actually engages in pretended participation in the playing of the music. When the pretended activity is the performance of music, particularly frontal lobe enhancing music like hymns and classical music, the effect is positive, but when the pretended activity is destructive and sinful the effect our thoughts have on ourselves is just as destructive as if we’d actually done the act. 

The apostle Paul realized this and that’s why he counseled us in the book of Philippians chapter four and verse eight to think on those things that are true, noble, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. When these ideals become our standard for evaluating what we choose to meditate on our thoughts become the training ground that prepares us to live a godly and noble life. 

Jesus indicates the same reality in regards to our thoughts and imaginations in our focus text. Many of us combine the sense of sight with the power of imagination to vicariously engage in sin. This can become a highly destructive habit, one that some have found themselves helpless to break free from on their own. 

Friends, looking at another person to lust after them is a sinful trap that will disrupt and possibly harm and even destroy relationships we have with family and friends. We must learn to lean on Jesus for the protection and strength he can give to guard us from our damaging thoughts.

Advertising, much of television and internet media programming is designed to lead us into vicariously participating in actions we ought to never even momentarily think about. And it’s not just sexual sin, though this is a very common and powerful one. Sometimes the sin we virtually engage in is violence, deceit, stealing, profane and corrupt behavior, and disrespect. All of these imaginings don’t encourage or prepare us to have the mind of Christ. They, in fact, develop within us habits and responses that lead in exactly the opposite direction. 

How serious do we need to be about removing these avenues of vicarious sin from our lives?  The very next verses in the Sermon of the Mount say that if our hands or our eyes offend us we need to pluck them out or cut them off. It would be better to be blind or maimed in this life than to be lost because we held back from doing everything necessary to curb our thoughts and actions. 

Perhaps amputation is further than we need to go but maybe removing our TVs and cutting internet capabilities is a good idea for some. 

It’s all about bringing our thoughts into captivity to Christ. Whatever is required needs to be done because we are what we think. 

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:20

Be very careful of setting yourself up as a standard that others should compare themselves to and as an example of what it means to be holy and righteous. Very often at the exact moment you’re setting yourself forward as a person to be admired and emulated there are things about you that would disqualify you from being anyone’s role model. The apostle Paul’s warning in first Corinthians, chapter ten and verse twelve comes to mind, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

The scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day believed that the professional, financial and social success they enjoyed were evidence that they had pleased God, were righteous and were therefore enjoying his favor. Friends, money, popularity, and advancement don’t stand as evidence of our favored standing before God any more than trials and setbacks reveal our disfavor. It’s obedience to God’s commandments and directions that reveal our spiritual standing. Have we submitted to him and is our submission evidenced in what we do and what we say. 

It came as a surprise to those listening to Jesus that day to hear the words, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The rank and file had believed that their leaders and teachers were the standard they needed to set their eyes on and strive to equal. Jesus’ words revealed that that brand of righteousness is self righteousness and that kind of righteous is nothing more than “filthy rags.”

The focus of the next two and a half chapters, nearly one tenth of the book of Matthew, record Jesus contrasting his teaching and that of the scribes and Pharisees. His words reveal the shallowness of their pretended righteousness and the lofty expectations of God. 

As we consider Jesus’ teaching it’s easy to think that he’s set an impossible goal for us to reach. And he has if we attempt to reach it according to our own strength and ability. We’re no different from the Jewish leaders in that regard, our sinful natures prevent us from lifting ourselves up even one millimeter. We need Jesus’ help and he’s promised it to us. In John chapter fifteen Jesus tells us that without him we can do nothing but with him abiding in us we can do anything he asks us to. 

Let’s stop trying to become right on our own. Let’s reach out to Jesus and receive from him the riches, the healing, the righteousness we need. He’s waiting to give them to us. Let’s stop procrastinating and take what he offers today. 

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”  Matthew 5:17–18

The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were legalists and they like legalists of all ages were focused on doing the least that they had to do to convince themselves that they were being obedient to God’s law. The reason for this focus on doing only the least was because they were, in their own strength and ability alone, looking to their obedience to merit their salvation. In these efforts they had learned by hard experience that sinful man is incapable of achieving the large claims of the law of God, but instead of reaching out to God for the divine strength he was offering they diminished the claims of his law of love. In this lessening of God’s law, they in fact perverted that law, and in many cases wholly obscured the love that he had intended that it would safeguard. 

Our loving Savior, when he came to live, minister, and teach revealed once again the fullness of the love of God which is the very heart of his law. Jesus’ teaching pushed aside the instruction of the scribes and Pharisees, revealed it to be worthless and in some cases showed that it was destructive to God’s purposes. So marked was the difference between the teaching of Jesus and the established Rabbi’s of his day that there were some that were beginning to say that he was setting aside the law of God. To these critics Jesus’ answer was, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”

Christ’s purpose was not to remove even one particle of the eternal law of love. All creation is designed to function according to this law. In its keeping is peace, harmony and life, and departing from it only results in discord, pain and, ultimately death. For this reason our Redeemer’s teaching was focused on restoring the law to its true place so that it blessings could be experienced by all. Jesus’ desire was that his law would be fulfilled in every heart. It’s only as it’s fulfilled in us that we can truly experience the fullness of the salvation he has bought for us. 

Satan’s desire is that men would remain trapped in the pain and misery of sin. Many people, sincerely seeking a relationship with God, have been taught that they don’t need worry about keeping the law. “Just do the best you can,” they’re told, “Jesus’ grace and mercy will make up for the rest.”

Friends, Jesus’ life and death have purchased freedom from both the guilt and the power of sin in our lives. This means that he’s given us forgiveness and with that he’s given his Holy Spirit so that we can have the strength to overcome sin and discover the fullness of the love of God. This is a love that not only comes to us but one that flows through us and touches the lives of others as we love them in obedience to God’s direction. This love even touches the heart of God as we, in obedience to his commandments, join our lives with his in loving service and worship. 

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”  Matthew 5:13–14

When I was about six years old our family was taking part in a church work bee one Sunday. Everyone, even the children had begun the day with some task they could help with but very soon the children had dispensed with working and had gone to playing. My playing eventually took me into the church kitchen where I discover a bag of sugar. I knew I liked sugar, it was sweet and sweet was good and I wanted some of that sugar. So I took a handful of that sugar and stuffed it into my mouth only to discover that I’d made a mistake. It wasn’t sugar, it was salt. In that instant I learned a few very important lessons and one is that salt is best experienced in small amounts not handfuls. 

In Matthew chapter five Jesus is recorded telling the people that they are the salt of the earth and in the next sentence he makes a similar point using a different metaphor when he says that they are the light of the world. 

Notice that Jesus didn’t say that they were merely salt and light. No, they were the salt of the earth and they were the light of the world. The message here is that those possessing the experience of the saving grace of God in their lives now have the responsibility of sharing that experience with the world. Those whose lives are everyday being touched and molded by the life and power of Jesus are to expose the world to that influence they experience in their lives. 

Regarding salt that has no savor to share Jesus says that it’s good for nothing except to be cast aside and trod underfoot. Unshared light doesn’t get the same condemnation but Jesus does say that no one would ever light a lamp and then hide its light. Oh no, lamps are placed on pedestals where they can share their light with everyone in the house. 

Both light and salt are essential for life and health. Sodium is necessary for proper body function and too little salt has been linked to heart attack and death. Light is also vital for health and not just for the production of vitamin D. Experiencing bright light for about an hour early in the day triggers hormone cycles necessary for both wakefulness during the day and sound sleep at night. Our physical and mental health are dependent on our experiencing bright light. 

The world needs an experience with Jesus. For most people that experience begins with the relationships they have with people that already have a connection with him. We must not hide the relationship we have with Jesus. Never be embarrassed or ashamed by the connection you have with God. At the same time never be arrogant or overpowering with your witness either. Like Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon it ought to be known that the power in your life and your success and faithfulness are a product of the relationship you have with God. The lives of many, even kings and princes, were touched by these men. You can touch other lives for God as well. 

That’s what it means to be salt and light in this world. Our lives must make a difference to those that know us and even those that just meet us. 

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:10

Think about the times you’ve been in conflict with someone else. Consider the circumstances and the rest of the situation and see if you can identify the primary reason for the conflict. In most cases I believe that the reason comes down to competing differences. We all have overlapping needs but different ideas about how those needs ought to be met; we have different values and this too affects the way we want to address our needs. 

When it comes to the spiritual parts of life there is a natural incompatibility between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world. The values of these two kingdoms are very different from one another with a number standing in direct opposition to the other. These differences create an abundance of opportunities for prejudice, misunderstanding, competition and conflict. 

Often I here people in Christian circles talking about some clash they experienced at work or school between their conscientious spiritual principles and those of the secular world and they refer to these confrontations as persecution. In most cases I don’t believe that the situations fit what I would consider to be persecution. There was no intentional provoking of the Christian; the people involved in the other side of the conflict were merely pursuing a competing agenda. Such conflicts are normal and ought to be expected as long as we’re in this sin filled world. 

In the final beatitude Jesus tells us that we also ought to expect actual persecution. He tells us that his followers are actually blessed when those in opposition to the cause of God direct their attention and focus their attacks on them because they love and follow him. 

Many people think that something has gone horribly wrong when these trials come into their lives. And they’re right, but the problem isn’t a new one. It’s the same problem that’s existed for as long as there’s been sin, what they’re experiencing is just the latest manifestation of that conflict between God and Satan, sin and righteousness. 

Jesus says you’re blessed when you encounter these persecutions because they tell you that yours is the kingdom of heaven. Notice that he says that this is a present, not a future, condition. The conflict and persecutions regarding your relationship with God come because you have a relationship with God. The kingdom of this world directs its attacks toward you because you’re now a part of the kingdom of God. Jesus goes on to say that you ought to rejoice because the world has always directed its attacks against his warriors, the prophets, and now your a part of that number. 

It’s not easy, or pleasant, to go through trials and tribulations, but if you expect them you can be prepared, and if you’re prepared you’re ready to hold onto your faith and be an overcomer. 

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

I’m not sure many of us can really understand what peace is. Most of us simply don’t have any valid experiential reference point that can serve as a standard by which we can recognize what true peace really is. 

The peace Jesus is talking about can’t be what we would ordinarily expect it to be. John chapter fourteen verse twenty-seven records Jesus telling his disciples just hours before he would be arrested in the garden that he was leaving his peace with them, and he adds that this peace isn’t like the peace the world gives. 

We’re familiar with the world’s version of peace but Jesus has something more precious, more pure to give. 

Everyday he lived each moment submitted to the will and the purpose of the Father. Everyday he spoke and acted knowing that the words he said and the works he performed fulfilled an eternal purpose. He was helping people find the acceptance, forgiveness, transformation and hope that heaven was offering. He was helping the lost and desolate to find their way back to their Heavenly Father and to achieve victory over the mountain of trials and sins that had been smothering all the meaning and joy out of their lives. In Jesus, in the message he preached, in the healing he freely gave, in his unconditional acceptance and love they found a source of uninterrupted peace. 

Jesus didn’t just abide in the peace he had. He shared that peace with any who would receive it. In this he was a peacemaker. 

It’s our privilege to also be peacemakers. As we’ve freely found acceptance we’re called to proclaim that acceptance to a world full of rejection. As we’ve found forgiveness we’re called to proclaim forgiveness to a world living in fear of condemnation. As our lives have been changed by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit we’re called to bear witness to that hope for change to a world locked in cycles of destruction and futility. As we have found hope, not just for today but for eternity, we’re called to proclaim that hope to a world fill with fear. 

Jesus is calling you today to be a peacemaker.  As a son or daughter of God he’s calling you to multiply his presence and his peace in this world. 

Christ has overcome the world so we don’t need to fear the troubles we encounter here. Christ has overcome the world so we don’t need to remain trapped in the sin and meaninglessness we’re so often caught in. Christ is coming soon to take us to himself so we don’t have to be anxious about the future of this planet. 

Because of Jesus we have peace. Because we have Jesus we have peace to give. 

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

When we first come to Christ there’s a vague awareness that there’s something missing within our hearts but primarily our attention is focused on the things we’ve done and said, the steps we need to take to make them right, and the efforts we need to exert to learn to do what’s right. God knowing that we’re limited in our ability to understand his purpose has gently led us through this time of personal conviction, confession and reformation with the goal of getting us to the place where we’ll realize that our needs, our problems, and his desire for us extend much deeper than our surface actions. He desires that we become pure in heart. 

God through the prophet Jeremiah described the condition of our hearts when we begin our spiritual journey with Christ with these words, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)  The expression “desperately wicked” is in many translations rendered incurable, or beyond cure. The message God is trying to impress upon us is that unless we come to him now, give him unfettered access to our hearts, and allow him to make a complete transformation of our hearts we’ll never be able to see his face when he comes.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

It’s the pure in heart that see God. Merely moral actions aren’t enough. Having a strictly obeyed set of religious principles and rules is insufficient on its own. God’s desire and salvations requirement is that we have a heart that wants the same thing as God’s heart wants. We love what God loves and we hate what God hates; we’re attracted to what God’s attracted to and were repulsed by what repulses God. 

Is that to say that actions aren’t important? Yes and no. What we do is important because it reveals what’s in our hearts but in the end it’s the heart that dictates the actions and that’s why it’s the condition of the heart that truly determines our spiritual condition. 

In the verse from Jeremiah we learned that the heart is incurable. David realized this and in Psalm fifty-one requests that God create in him a clean heart. The clean heart he asked for he realized had to be a new creation. God spoke of this through the prophet Ezekiel with these words, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) The apostle Paul when he wrote about the converted person described him as a new creature. 

Only the pure in heart will see God, and God has made a way for everyone to have the pure heart of Jesus beating in their breast. It’s our for the asking. Ask Jesus to come into your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to remove the sin polluted organ that corrupts everything you do and say and to make his heart the well spring from which all your life is lived. Ask Jesus to come and make you new today. 

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

I’ll start today’s post with a question. 

What do others, our spouses, our children, our friends, our co-workers and even strangers make for us more often than anything else?

Some of you may guess the answer right away and others may take a bit longer, but the answer is mistakes. We’re given mistakes from others more often than any other contribution, and if we’re honest with ourselves we’ll admit that we contribute our share of mistakes as well. We break things, we say things that hurt people, we forget appointments and promises, we get things wrong, we’re wasteful of time and resources, and we can be impatient. And almost all of these fallibilities are unintentional. We really wanted to do things better. We really did try to do things right. 

Is it any wonder that as Jesus leads us deeper into our experience with him on the path of salvation that the first part of that transformation that impacts others is the grace of a merciful heart? His mercy has covered us, our mistakes, and even our rebellion, everyday of our lives and now as we draw closer to him we realize, more than ever before, that in this world of bumps and bobbles the thing others need most from us is a generous supply of mercy. And with Jesus’ example leading the way we set into each day with more of this healing gift. 

But we need to not rush to quickly through this fifth beatitude. If we do we’ll miss the subtle caution or warning tucked within its nine words. 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

Did you see it?  It’s easy to miss. 

Hidden in there is a reminder that it’s the merciful that will obtain merciful. If we’re not merciful ultimately mercy will be withheld. 

God, in his infinite love and mercy for us, continues to extend his mercy in the hope that we will learn from him, turn to him, and be transform to become more like him, but his forbearance won’t last forever. There will come a day when he’ll know that we’ll never change, we’ll never choose to love him, and he’ll stop trying to change us and then move forward in restoring his sin ravaged creation.

Mercy, is never deserved or earned. It’s a gift God’s given because we need it, and he asks us to share this gift with others because they need it from us. 

You’ll never run out of mercy. What God’s given you is enough to last forever and it seems to grow and multiply the more it’s shared. 

O God make me more like you. Make your mercy shine out of my life.  Help me to treat others with your strength, tenderness, understanding and compassion today. 

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

A few months ago I attended a weekend series of presentations by Dr. Neil Nedley and several other presenters primarily dealing with mental health issues and lifestyle factors contributing to the promotion of a healthy mind. Several times over the course of the weekend I heard Dr. Nedley say, and others repeat, the same nugget of wisdom, “You can never get enough of what you don’t need.”

The truth of this proverb is evident in the epidemic levels of dysfunction going on in the world. 

Some people are filling their homes to overflowing. Their lives are completely dominated by the things they own until you’re compelled to ask the question, “Do they own their stuff or does their stuff own them?”

Others try to self-medicate with alcohol, narcotics, or some other drug in the hope that they might at the very least escape to a place where they can feel better, but that state only lasts a little while and afterwards they feel worse off than they were before so they end up turning to more of their drug of choice so they can escape again. 

It seems that almost everybody is tired and overextended these days which no doubt has contributed to the success the caffeinated beverage industry. The majority of Americans have made this their addiction of choice and now you hardly have to drive more than a mile to find a coffee or soda so that you can give yourself a boost. 

But you can’t ever get enough of what you don’t need. No amount of stuff, entertainment, mind altering substances, stimulants or anything else will ever bring the satisfaction the human heart craves. 

But in our focus text Jesus promises that there is a source of unfailing satisfaction. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

For the spiritual traveler on the road of salvation the righteousness that Jesus has to offer is truly satisfying. Christ’s righteousness will never clutter your life or leave you feeling imprisoned. The presence of the Holy Spirit will always lift you to new heights and will never leave you feeling lower than you were before you met him. What your Heavenly Father will ask you to do will give your life greater satisfaction and a purer sense of purpose; you’ll never regret the time you spend with him doing what he’s called you to do. 

It’s true that you will want more of his righteousness. More of his love. More of his grace. More of his acceptance. More of the freedom and fulfillment you have when you love and work with him. It’s not that you weren’t satisfied. No the righteousness of God always satisfies, but it also  makes you grow and now you have a greater capacity to use the blessings God has to offer. So you turn to him again because only he can satisfy. 

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

Let me be a little kinder; Let me be a little blinder,

To the faults of those about me; Let me praise a little more.

Let me be when I am weary, Just a little bit more cheery;

Think a little more of others, And a little less of me.

Above are just a few lines from a youth song I remember being song when I was a boy. It was titled Less Of Me and it sings like a prayer for God to make us less focused on ourselves and more focused on the needs and the considerations of others. 

Today’s focus text stands as a sobering warning for those who would set out to follow in the footsteps of Christ. You will in this journey face many who would oppose your forward progress. What you have chosen stands in direct contradiction to their long established goals and expectations, and they will resist and fight against any change the Holy Spirit will bring into your life. But the greatest, the most cunning, the most difficult for you to resist and overcome of all these enemies is yourself. 

We’ve all heard people say, “I’m my own worst enemy.” In the spiritual life this is doubly true. 

The apostle John warns us in his first epistle that Satan, when he tempts us, will tempt us with what we already desire. 

I’ve observed that most of the time when a person commits or recommits their life to God that for a few days, perhaps even a few weeks, Satan will appear to leave them alone. He’ll let them grow and begin to become confident in their new found faith, and then he’ll begin to subtly undermine their reliance on God. Bible study time shifts from being a time for deepening their connection to our Heavenly Father and mostly about learning truth. Prayer time stops being about having a personal, intimate conversation with God and becomes mostly about presenting their list of needs and requests. Mixed in with this diluting of their connection to God is a spirit of rejoicing in the knowledge and strength they’ve gained. All this is carefully calculated to blind the seeker to their own vulnerability, to make them over confident in their own ability to stand in their place as a Christian, and to set them up for a fall.

This is why Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

When we first came to Christ it was with the knowledge that we are nothing without him. He is the giver of our value, he is the author of our success, he is the originator of our praise, and he is the source of our strength. It’s only as we in meekness continue to remember these realities everyday that we will be able to continue to be blessed and to grow in the grace of Christ. 

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

I could see the hurt in her eyes and I knew that I had been the one to inflict the pain that had pierced her heart. I heard her sniffles and muffled sobs as she cried out her brokenness and I knew that I had been the one to cause her wounds. I was the author of every tear that ran down her face. 

How I wished that I could take back those minutes and those words that I had spoken. It’s scary how quickly and how deeply we can hurt our friends and family members. It’s frightening how few words are required to drive an arrow home. And it’s sobering to know that those words will echo and reecho making it take far longer to heal those wounds, if healing is even possible. By God’s grace healing is possible. 

Every day, sometimes in big ways and often in little ways, our actions harm someone. The sins we do always cause harm to ourselves, they always cause pain to the heart of God, and they usually hurt someone else close to us. 

Our focus text reveals to us that one of the first fruits born by our admitting our poverty and accepting the riches of the kingdom of heaven is a sense of grief and an active mourning for our sin. And I’m not talking about a casual or shallow acknowledgement of our wrongdoings. The sadness, grief, and regret we feel for the harm and hurt we’ve caused is profound and sincere. In our hearts there’s a genuine yearning to make things right and to seek forgiveness, and we make every effort to secure both of those objectives. 

But you know, sometimes restoration isn’t possible. Sometimes too much time has past and it’s too late to say, “I’m sorry,” and then hear the words, “I forgive you.” 

In those times the promise of our focus text stands up as a mountain of assurance, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

O friend don’t hold yourself back from entering into the truth of your condition and what you’ve done. Don’t be afraid to open the chest of your hidden sin. When you grieve over and confess your sin you’ll only find one response from our Savior; forgiveness, acceptance, and comfort. 

Jesus can heal your heart like nothing else can. Time may let wounds close up and allow us to forget, but Jesus can soothe our hurts, wipe away our tears, heal our scars and infuse comfort and joy into our souls. 

New beginnings are his. Open your sinful heart to him and let his comfort usher in a new beginning this morning. 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The miracles Jesus performed comprised the bulk of our Savior’s ministry to the people of Galilee and Judah but in many ways the affect of those actions were transitory, the impact was only immediate and short lived. The same cannot be said about the words of his teaching. What our Savior said when he taught echoes down through the generations and still touches hearts and shapes lives today. 

Matthew chapter five begins what is perhaps the most complete account of one of Jesus’ sermons. He begins with a poem of his own making. At first it appears to be a series of proverbial statements but closer consideration reveals that it’s actually a summary each person’s experience as God work’s his salvation in their life. 

The first part of that statement, “Blessed are the poor in spirit … ,”tells us that spiritually we’re bankrupt, we have nothing to offer God, nothing within ourselves to rely on, or trust in, to merit or purchase acceptance before God. The statement also tells us that we’re blessed if we realize this fact. 

Far too often and for far too long we work to prove our worth to ourselves and to God. The truth is that whatever innate value we may have is totally eclipsed by the mountain of debt our sin has accumulated for us. Spiritually we’re so bankrupt we’ll never be able to even come close to digging ourselves out of the hole we’re in. 

So how are we blessed? 

Realizing this truth about ourselves has the potential of setting us up to stop trying to earn our way into God’s good graces and to simply accept the grace his love for us is already freely offering.  As soon as we do this, wretched, poor, blind and naked though we may be, the kingdom of heaven is now ours to claim. Sonship to the God of the universe is not something we have to earn it’s a standing that’s ours to accept. Citizenship in the Kingdom of God isn’t ours to qualify for it’s ours to embrace. 

Rest assured you’ll never be the same if you acknowledge your poverty, stop trying to become worthy of God’s favor and accept all that he’s offering, but the change cannot come before the acceptance it can only come after. We must become citizens of heaven and see that as our true home before we’ll ever let ourselves abandon the treasures of this world and our place in it.

That’s why the journey to grace begins with our accepting the fact that we’ve got nothin.  

Are you ready to acknowledge your poverty? Are you ready to let go of those worthless pebbles you’ve been clutching so that you can accept the diamonds Jesus is offering?

“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”  Matthew 4:23

Nearly fifteen years ago I went to India with a group of forty volunteers to conduct evangelistic efforts. The main focus of our labors was meeting with the people and praying with them during the day and in the evenings presenting an evangelistic sermon, but it was a handful of events that happened peripherally to this work that standout in my memory like a lighthouse beacon on a dark night. 

The first is the night a little girl was brought to the meetings with lungs so congested she must have had bronchial pneumonia. She could hardly get a breath and in her desperation for air her crying could not be calmed. Then Karen, the presenter for that night, stepped over to her and began to pray. What happened next took only about a minute. As Karen prayed I saw that child calm, relax, lay her head on her mother’s shoulder, and then peacefully go to sleep. Seeing that child healed created an excitement that nearly disrupted the meeting. 

The second event was not one I personally witnessed; it happened in connection with one of the other teams meetings. One day a large number of people were committing their lives to Christ in baptism and one of them was a little old lady. Everything was going just as you’d expect until she came up out of the water. As she open her eyes she began to exclaim and call out excitedly. When she had entered the water she had been blind but as she had come up out of it she could see.

Matthew tells us that healing was an important part of Jesus’ ministry. Ellen White commenting on this fact wrote that Jesus spent much more time tending to the physical needs of the people he served than in preaching to them. The book of Acts tells us that healing the sick, casting out demons, even raising the dead were also part of the disciples ministries. Somehow as the centuries have past, at least in the north western part of the planet, we’ve lost our confidence in God’s willingness, even desire, to meet our needs and heal our diseases. 

As I read today’s focus text a thought came into my mind that God wants to continue demonstrating his loving presence by the healing he can bring. Healing ought to be an important part of the ministry of God’s church. Jesus became famous because of the healing he performed and as a result of his fame those same people also were able to hear the Savior speak to them about eternal life. 

I know that it’s not fame we’re looking for, however, we should be known as a people that possess spiritual strength and power. Power to live holy lives. Power to heal. Power to cast out demons. Power, even, to raise the dead. It should also be known that we’re willing to freely share these blessings with anyone. Perhaps then more would be attracted to listen to that infinitely more precious gift Jesus has given us to share. Perhaps then the way would be prepared for more people to hear the gospel of Jesus’ love and prepare to be with him when he returns. 

“Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him.”  Matthew 4:19–20

Much of the work Christ was to do during his years of ministry was not his work alone. Part of his purpose was to draw men and women to himself so that they could join him in his labors. By the words of instruction he gave and by the example of his life they were prepared to become co-laborers with the Savior of the world. 

Many people live never feeling that their lives really matter or that they’re achieving any real purpose in the lives they live. I confess that many times I’ve felt that sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness in my own life as I’ve looked back at the end of the day and wondered if what I’ve accomplished really mattered or made any real difference. 

This morning as I consider today’s focus text I see within it our Savior inviting us to have a share in the most important work that’s ever been done on this sin torn planet. In Jesus’ invitation to his disciples, as it echoes down through the centuries, I hear Christ offering to us the highest purpose any person could ever possess. Jesus is calling us to closeness and companionship with himself, and he’s commissioning us to be his partners in the reconciling of the world to himself. 

The words “follow me” tell us that what we need is to alter our course. Perhaps our lives are directionless or maybe we’ve fixed our sights on the wrong goal. Jesus doesn’t leave anything to the vagaries of chance, the limitations of our perceptions, or the dubiousness of our sense of direction. Follow me is the call. Stay close to me. Look to me. Place your feet in my footsteps. Join me in this journey and I will lead you home. 

Following him also gives us responsibility and purpose. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Whenever a fisherman casts his net or line he does so with a single purpose. The action he takes also qualifies him to the title of fisherman.

So it is with the Christian. A Christian is one that follows Christ and joins him in his work. Christ’s every effort, his single purpose, is the saving of men and women.  If we’re not joining him in this work we are unqualified to the title of Christian. If our lives don’t contribute positively to the churches responsibility of advancing the cause of the gospel in the world we cannot say that we are truly following Jesus. 

I’m not saying you have to become a missionary and travel to the ends of the world. Jesus never traveled more that one hundred miles from the place he grew up. It’s people that need Jesus that need to be our passion and there are tens of thousands of them within just a few miles of where we live. 

Jesus’ call is follow me. Follow me as I give myself to the world. Follow me as I call the people I love to me. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

“Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ”  Matthew 4:5–7 

I’ve known people that exploit the affection and compassionate instincts of their parents, and sometimes siblings, by carelessly, and sometimes intentionally, getting themselves into trouble. They’d engage in underage drinking, shop lift, create a public nuisance by their loud and inappropriate behavior, pick fights, and vandalize other people’s property. These are just several examples of the things they’d do, and when they were caught, right away, they’d turn to mom, dad, or a brother or sister and beg them to bail them out just one more time. Many times their families would step in and shelter them from the consequences of their poor choices. 

Most of us when we see this kind of behavior happening know that it’s not a healthy situation. We can clearly see that these people is presumptuously taking advantage of the people who love them and that their loved ones are rewarding them for their disrespect and selfishness. 

In our focus text, Satan, having failed in his attempt to lead Christ to doubt and disbelief of this Father due to appetite, now tries to tempt him to doubt by enticing him to needlessly engage in behavior that would require God to intervene to save him. 

“If you’re the Son of God throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple. The Bible says that the angels will save you and you’ll prove that you really are who you say you are.”

Had Jesus done as Satan told him to do his behavior would have been no better than that of a weak or rebellious adolescent. He would not have been acting on faith. Rather, he would have been presuming on the promise of God for his own selfish satisfaction. 

The promises of God are not given so that we can be confident in our carelessness and disobedience. God has given us his “exceeding great and precious promises” so that we can have confidence and boldness as we step out to do the work he’s called us to do. Sometimes going to the places God calls us to go and doing the work he’s directed to do does entail significant risk. God’s promises are given so that we can know that we don’t need to be hesitant, anxious or afraid to follow God’s call. Our Heavenly Father is always with us providing for all our needs. 

Had Christ done as Satan suggested he would not have been doing what God had called him to do. Instead he would have been following Satan’s plans and his own doubts. 

God’s faithfulness doesn’t need to be proven, rather it needs to be trusted in and relied on. Genuine trust doesn’t require meaningless demonstrations of ability. Rather it trusts that our Heavenly Father, who has already proven himself capable, will, when a genuine need arises, be there to provide the support and care we need. 

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ ”  Matthew 4:1–3

As a teenager I remember many times doing things as a result of peer pressure, or out of a desire to be with people that I thought were cool, in spite of the fact that there was an alarm sounding in my head telling me that I’d be better off holding my distance. In many cases there wasn’t anything wrong with the initial plans the group was making and this fact served to convince me that I was justified in ignoring that “still small voice.”  It would only be later that I would be confronted with temptation I wasn’t ready to face and often I’d fall victim to it.  I’ve learned that that voice of warning is the Holy Spirit trying to guide and protect me. 

Think about the times you were in a place where you were subjected to temptation. Why were you there?  Was it because of a choice you made in spite of the Holy Spirit’s leading?  Or were you there because the Holy Spirit led you there?

In this world we can’t completely avoid temptation. Sources of temptation are everywhere and one of those places is located within our own hearts. However, there are temptations we’re ready to face and there are temptations we’re not ready for. On our own we’re generally unable to anticipate when and where overwhelming sources of temptation will come but the Holy Spirit can and he will guide us if we’ll listen to him. 

Our focus text tells us that Jesus had been led into the wilderness for an extended period of fasting and prayer prior to the starting of his years of ministry. Now after nearly six weeks of not eating Jesus is very hungry, his body is demanding food, and the tempter decides that now is the time to attack. 

Satan’s primary goal is to lead Jesus to doubt the Father. This same temptation was used effectively against Adam and Eve, and once again Satan uses appetite to camouflage his real objective, “If you are the Son of God turn these rocks into bread.”

Where Eve alone was unprepared to face the tempter Jesus, lead by the Spirit, was able to see the danger and meet it victoriously.  Satan was trying to lead Jesus to doubt the last words his Father had said to him right after his baptism, “This is my beloved Son.”

No miraculous sign could be greater proof than the word of God, and Jesus declared this to Satan with the words, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”

Jesus was ready to meet the temptation. God’s word had been hidden in his heart. His heart had been tuned to remember and trust his Father’s word. And the Holy Spirit had been faithful to lead him only to a place of difficulty he was prepared for. 

All this is available to us as well if we will avail ourselves of the gifts God has given. 

“Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him.”  Matthew 3:13–15

As parents, there are many things we do that are wholly for the benefit of our children. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve made trips to stores so that one or more of my children could buy something they just had to have. For most of those outings I would have preferred to stay home but the needs and desires of my child won the day and I went. Not all of those trips have been brief runs across town either. Sometimes travel of an hour our more, one way, was required to reach the store with the desired item. I’m sure every parent reading this post can recall their own set of outings solely for the benefit of their children. The truth is, while at the moment we might have wanted to stay home, we’re glad we were able to be with our kids and give them this gift of our love for them. 

Nearly everything Jesus did while he was on this earth was for our benefit rather than his. The entire purpose of the incarnation was to fulfill God’s twofold desire for a sinless universe and the salvation of sinners. However, once Jesus entered this world virtually every action he took, either individually or in combination with other actions, served to fulfill a need you and I have and not one he had. 

Entrance into heaven requires a sinless life. On our own we’ll never have one so Jesus came and lived a perfect life so that we could present his as a substitute for ours. 

Take for example our baptism. When Christians are baptized we do this to show the world that we want our lives to be washed clean of sin, that we want to die to sin, and that we want to have the life of Christ reigning in our lives. But the truth is that the message we send in our baptism is only part of what we want. Yes, part of us does want to clean of sin with Jesus guiding every step we take, but there’s also a part of us that wants to keep doing some of the sinful things we’ve been doing. Our baptismal witness isn’t the perfect witness we wish it was. 

So our sinless Savior was baptized as our substitute. His perfect submission takes the place of our half hearted submission, which isn’t really submission at all. His perfect obedience replaces our waywardness. His perfect surrender to the Holy Spirit stands as a substitute for our faulty one. 

Far more selflessly than any earthly parent ever loved their children Jesus has loved us. 

As parents we like to think that we’d do anything for our children, and when it comes to the big things I think we would; it’s the little things that betray the selfishness in the hearts we have. 

Christ has demonstrated his love for us in all the big things and all little things and in so doing has fulfilled the requirement of righteousness for us. 

Thank you Jesus for loving us the way you do. 

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”  Matthew 3:8–9

Not everyone who came to hear John the Baptist preach came because they were sincerely interested is experiencing the change of heart and life he proclaimed. Some came because it was the popular thing to do among religious people, and others came simply because they were curious to see what all the fuss was about. For the first group their motive was to maintain the appearance of spiritual respectability they’d been cultivating for themselves, while for the second group their motive was merely to be entertained

It was primarily to the first group that John addressed his comments in Matthew chapter three verses seven through twelve. This group felt no genuine need for personal repentance. For generations their families had been among the faithful, they’d grown up attending the synagogue every sabbath, they’d read the scriptures and recited their prayers every day. They felt secure that the reward of the righteous was theirs.  

“You brood of vipers,” John exclaims, “who told you to flee from the wrath to come?”

I’m not certain he could have characterized their true spiritual condition more plainly. They may have convinced themselves and one another that they had it all together but nothing short of true repentance will ever satisfy the requirement God places on earning the forgiveness he offers. 

Many believe that salvation is free but the truth is that salvation will cost you everything and on top of that it cost our Savior everything to purchase it for you. 

Most of us don’t need me to elaborate of the enormity of the sacrifice Christ made to win our redemption so I’ll explain what a I mean when I say that salvation will cost you everything. 

First, the sacrifices we make for salvation are not a price paid to purchase admittance into heaven. Jesus’ sacrifice was all that required for that. However, if we’re to benefit from his gift we must accept the changes receiving that gift brings. You see, salvation changes us and we must be willing to be changed, if we’re not we’ll ultimately reject the salvation Christ bought for us with his life. 

The scribes and Pharisees who came to Jesus weren’t looking for a change; they thought they had it all together and that no change was necessary. But John made it clear that radical change was required even for them. They needed to have the fruit of sincere repentance growing in their hearts. Pretense and make believe righteousness would never do. True repentance begins with humility because the humbled heart realizes that it’s not merely empty but full of rebellion and sin as well. 

John speaks to people like me today. People that have all their lives cultivated habits of morality and religiosity. There’s a danger in this. The danger of depending on ourselves and our understanding to fulfill the requirement of righteousness. “All our righteousness is like filthy rags.”  Only Christ and his righteous, living and radically changing our lives, will ever satisfy our need. 

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’. For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

Make His paths straight.’ ”  Matthew 3:1–3

The message God has given his people to proclaim to this poor, sin soaked world has never been more unpopular. 

Repentance is a call to leave the sinful life you’ve been living, to turn from it, and to turn to a life of righteousness and obedience to God. Inherent within this message is the pointing out to, and the identification of sin as sin. People have always preferred to be left alone to wallow in their sin. Guilt has never been a pleasurable burden to bear and if you can forget you carry it it’s believed that you’re a happy person indeed. Some countries and communities have even granted legal protections to some behaviors God has identified as sin and any proclamation against those behaviors is decried as hate speech and punishable under the law. Were John the Baptist living today I fear he would not have received nearly the following he received when he began his ministry two thousand years ago. 

To be a John the Baptist in this world requires faith and courage. Faith in God that he is leading and will give you wisdom and strength, and courage to face whatever backlash you will experience as a result of your obedience to God’s call. 

Never has it been more urgent for this world to hear a call to repentance. John when he preached was working to prepare a nation to receive the Messiah when he would come to purchase our salvation, but we are called to alert a world to the nearness of the coming of Lord to gather his saints to himself and begin the work of judging those that have rejected him, his love, his law, and his governance. John was announcing the beginning of God’s atonement we proclaim its end. 

But the repentance we are called to proclaim isn’t bad news. The heart of repentance is that God loves us even though we are wretched, sinful, rebellious, and poor. He loves us more that he loves his own life and he wants us to choose to love him in return. 

The call to repentance also has at its heart the assurance that God will accept us if we will turn to him. We’re not capable of actually repenting on our own. We can choose repentance but we don’t have the strength or ability to act on the choice. It’s God who gives us his Spirit so we can actually begin to live a life free from sin. 

It’s probable that we won’t have the popular acceptance that John experienced, Matthew records that the people of the whole region were coming out to hear him and to repent. But some, today, are waiting to hear the message of repentance God’s given us. Some will turn to God and repent, and it’s for these, and our Heavenly Father who yearns for them, that we make our call. God’s love is too good to not be shared. And even if we must risk all to share Him it’s worth it to see a heart reborn and a soul set free.

“When he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’ ”  Matthew 2:22–23

Matthew and Luke describe very different motivations for Joseph and Mary settling in Nazareth following Jesus’ birth. Luke, who makes no mention of Herod’s attempt to murder Jesus, lets us know that Nazareth was already Joseph and Mary’s hometown and makes it appear that returning there was always part of the plan. Matthew, on the other hand, definitely gives us reason to think that Joseph was seriously considering locating in Judea after their return from Egypt but that the presence of Herod’s son Archelaus as ruler there convinced him that they should return to Galilee. 

Matthew also makes it very clear that in choosing to settle in Nazareth of Galilee Joseph was fulfilling a somewhat obscure prophecy about the Messiah. 

To be clear, Old Testament, Messianic prophecy does not mention the village of Nazareth. It didn’t exist even when the last of the Old Testament prophets was writing.

So how does Jesus growing up in Nazareth fulfill prophecy?

Here’s how. At least three prophets: Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Zechariah, refer to the Messiah as “a branch” or “the branch”.  What does this have to do with the Messiah being from Nazareth?  Simply this. The name Nazareth means “branch” in hebrew. So while the village Nazareth may have never been mentioned in the Old Testament the fact that the Messiah was referred to as “the branch” several times does find a striking fulfillment in Jesus. 

Nathanael, later considering these prophecies about “the branch” must have felt a little foolish for having asked, “Can anything good come out of ‘the branch’?”  The apostle John must have appreciated the irony of the question, which was why, decades after the question was asked, he included it in his gospel. 

In truth, everything good comes to us from Jesus.  Forgiveness, restoration, the Holy Spirit and all the fruit he brings, these all come from him. Even those blessings of a practical nature are ours only because of his creative power still at work in this world thousands of years after he spoke it all into existence. 

We’ll find, if we let Jesus live and reign in our hearts, that he has the ability to do much more than fulfill prophecy. He can fulfill us as well. He can infuse today with all the purpose it has the potential of possessing for us, and he can give our whole live more fulfillment than we could have ever dreamed.