Praying in the Spirit

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

(Romans 8:26-27)

Prayer is the easiest thing in the world. Prayer is the hardest thing in the world. Children pray and great prayer warriors struggle. It is easy to talk about prayer but much harder to actually pray.

Prayer is the business of heaven, so we need heaven’s help. Our Heavenly Father who loves us has given us a helper, the Holy Spirit himself. We can look to and trust the Spirit as we pray knowing he will express our hearts to the Father according to his will. This knowledge frees us to pray with abandon.

The Light of Life

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

(Psalm 119:105)

Sometimes life feels like walking in the dark. Have you ever had that experience? Of course you have. We all have. Which way do I go? Which turn do I take? Will I bump into the wall or trip over something I can’t see?

We need a light. God is that light. He is the light of life in his word. Lamps provide a small light for the next few steps. Sometimes we need a lamp. The sun provides a large light for the path ahead. Sometimes we need a large light.

God’s word illuminates the next few steps and the long path ahead. But the light of the word of God must be in our hearts to guide us on the path of life. We need that light every day. Darkness can invade our lives at any moment. If we have the light of God’s word, we will not stumble and fall.

Burning Hearts

“They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures!?”

(Luke 24:32)

This verse holds a very special place in my heart. It has been my life and my ministry for many years. It encapsulates my own experience and my passion for Scripture. Of course, I did not receive a bodily appearance of the resurrected Lord Jesus. Yet, like many other people, I’ve experienced him non-the-less real, open the Scripture to me in an amazing and life changing way. It happens often, but I’m sad to say not every-time I engage the Word of God. It could, and that is my goal. But it is also my goal to help others experience that burning heart as the Lord Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, opens the Scripture to reveal fresh insights and a sense of the real presence of God.

This verse is set in the context of the resurrected Jesus appearing to two disciples on resurrection Sunday as they walked from Jerusalem to a small village, Emmaus. They were depressed, dejected and very disappointed. They had given themselves to Jesus of Nazareth as the long expected Messiah. They had followed him investing themselves and all they had totally to him and his ministry. Then, on that terrible day in Jerusalem, the Romans and the Jewish religious leaders had Jesus crucified. He was dead and put in a tomb. All of a sudden their world quickly came tumbling down. The shock was devastating.

As they made their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Jesus came along side of them and engaged them in conversation. While they walked along the road Jesus talked with them from Moses and all the prophets, showing them that all the Old Testament revealed the suffering and glory of the Messiah. When they arrived at the village Emmaus they were so enthralled with his teaching that they urged him to stay with them. As they sat at the table and Jesus took bread and blessed it and broke it they realized that it was Jesus and he vanished from their sight.

What these two disciples experienced that day many people over the centuries have experienced. It is not a one time experience. It is meant to be a daily experience as we prayerfully engage the Scriptures by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we go about the natural experience of reading and thinking deeply about the Scripture, the Holy Spirit gives us a supernatural experience. He illuminates our hearts and minds to grasp the truths we are reading. The insights we gain causes our hearts to burn within us. The Bible becomes meaningful and relevant to life. We see things about God, about ourselves and our relationship to God. The more we engage the Scriptures this way the more and greater are the insights we receive. It is through this experience of burning hearts that we are more likely to apply what we’ve learned to our everyday lives. Another great blessing from this experience is that we are highly motivated to go back to the source of that experience, holy Scripture, again and again. We are like a starving person finding food.

Are you hungry for God? Do you long to know him more, love him more deeply and serve him more completely? Invest yourself, your time and your heart and soul to fellowshipping with him in his word. The rewards far outweigh the cost in time and energy. If your experience is less than I’ve described, stick with it, be prayerful, be patient. God desires to speak to you in his word! He will meet you there!

Be Still and Know

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

(Psalm 46:10)

Psalm 46 is a beautiful expression and an awesome testimony to the deep trust we can have in the Lord even in the most difficult of times. Believers can find comfort and strength in the presence of the Lord and also in the experience of his work in their lives. This psalm has three stanzas seen in the text by the Hebrew word, Selah. The first stanza (46:1-3) introduces the theme of the psalm, we can trust the Lord with our troubles. The second stanza (46:4-7) emphases the Lord’s protection by his presence. And finally, the third stanza (46:8-11) is an invitation to consider the might works of the Lord and have faith.

Verse ten of Psalm forty-six falls into the third and final stanza. In this stanza, which calls us to look at the mighty works of the Lord, we see the Lord himself break into the psalm and speaks. He speaks two short sentences that shatters our fears and doubts, and forces our focus upon the Lord rather than our struggles. We want to look closely at each phrase of this amazing verse. Think about every word and what the Lord is saying to you.

“Be Still.” In these first words from the Lord he commands us to be still, to slow down, to calm our hearts and minds. “Stop your worrying and fretting!” the Lord tells us. He grabs our attention when our attention is on our problems rather than on him. The first words of the Lord’s message are critical. Let those words come into your mind from the Lord. Calm yourself with his presence. Don’t go on until you can be still.

“And Know.” This second phrase provides us with a point of focus after we’ve calmed our hearts. Focus on what you can know, the Lord says. We are to know, have conviction, rest assured, and trust what the Lord is about to reveal to us. We are not to allow the knowledge of our circumstances to overwhelm the knowledge the Lord gives us. Resolve that you will know and trust what the Lord reveals to you. If we fail to know this we will fail to experience this great blessing.

“That I Am God.” Now we have the content of the Lord’s revelation to us. And it is this: God is God! God is God! A more awesome and life changing truth you cannot encounter. God is God, but what does that entail? God is the greatest possible being, awesome, majestic and glorious. God is infinite and eternal. God is holy, sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise and all-present. God is faithful, righteous and just. God is love, gracious, merciful and kind. God is truth. God is good. God is all these things in the face of our deepest struggles and pain. Think deeply about who God is. Know this! Know God!

“I Will Be Exalted!” God’s glory is seen in his exaltation. God is above all powers! God is above all problems! The Bible says here that God will be exalted among the nations and in the earth. He will be exalted everywhere and by everyone. That reality is the ultimate reality of the universe. Everyone will finally exalt God either in this life or the next. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)

So when life gets overwhelming and surrounds us and closes in on us, we can remember this glorious truth, calm our souls and focus on God’s eternal person and on God’s eternal plan. God is in control, he is God. You can trust him.

The Power of Prayer

“ Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” 

(Matthew 7:7-11)

Everything needs a power source, whether electrical, mechanical or biological. Without a power source nothing works as it was intended to work. We also need a spiritual power source to energize our spiritual lives. If we do not have a spiritual power source, our spiritual live do not work as God designed them to. In our relationship with God one of the main power sources we have is prayer. Prayer is communion with God. We derive strength, comfort, help and guidance from prayer. We’ve all experienced times of spiritual weakness. During those moments we need the power of prayer. Prayer is by its very nature a dependent recognition of weakness. Matthew 7:7-11 speaks to us of the power of prayer.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus gives his kingdom manifesto on how to live a kingdom life. In this message Jesus teaches on prayer twice. The first is in the well known passage where we find the Lord’s prayer (6:9-13)., and the second is in the passage we have before us (Matthew 7:7-11). Here Jesus encourages us to actually pray. One gets the sense that Jesus is calling out prayerlessness in the lives of his hearers. The power of prayer must be used to be effective in a person’s life. We simply must pray!

In our passage (Matthew 7:7-11) we see the principle of prayer, the promise of prayer and the picture of prayer. First, the principle of prayer is in verse seven. Here we notice three commands each followed by a promise. We often see this with commands. Obedience to the command of God holds our a promise. The commands are: ask, seek and knock. The promise is that those who ask receive, and those who seek find, and those who knock the door will be opened. These command are really a call to pray diligently. Those who ask are those who recognize their needs and believe God will meet them. Those who seek are those who desire a deeper relationship with the Lord and believe that if they humble themselves God will guide. And those who knock are those who experience a closed door of some kind and believe God will open it if they call on him.

Second, the promise of prayer is seen in verse eight. We are exhorted to ask, seek and knock because those who do receive, find and have the door opened to them. This seems like a blank check, but it is for those who will pray believing God will answer. Those who pray with humility, dependence and persistence will receive what they need. And if our prayer are not answered exactly as we want, we know that our God is good and gives what is best.

And finally, we have the picture of prayer in verses 9-11. Jesus, the master story teller, drives home his point with a simple but touching story. Surely if a child ask his father for something he needs, he is safe to expect his father to respond with goodness and compassion. The point Jesus is making is how much more can we expect our heavenly Father to respond to our needs with goodness and compassion than any earthly father would. Since we know that the Father loves us, we can call on him in our needs and he will answer. It is a matter of faith. We trust God to pour out his blessings on us in the way he knows best.

The way we see this teaching of Jesus most clearly is when we feel deeply our need for forgiveness and salvation and call out to him in prayer. We ask for his forgiveness; we seek a love relationship with him; and we knock on heaven’s door and he pours out his grace and the Holy Spirit on us. “What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things.” (Romans 8:31-32)

Pain and Purpose in the Valley

And we know that for those loving God all things work together for good, to those called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Romans 8:28 may be the most known and best-loved promise in the Bible. Many believers throughout the history of the church have found comfort in this great promise. We all face hard and painful circumstances, some more that others. This promise can be balm for our wounded hearts. But, as with all promises, it is important to understand the promise in its context, if we are to receive the grace we need. Therefore, two things are important to understand.

First, the promise says that God works all things together for good. It does not say that all things are good. Many bad things, evil things and sinful things happen in this broken and fallen world. They are not good. It is not that God allows bad things to happen and then calls them good. God allows bad things to happen and then works in them to redeem them for the good of his people. The greatest evil in the history of the world was also the greatest good in the history of the world, the cross of Jesus Christ. When we suffer or grieve or struggle over hard things, when we feel deeply the pain of life, we are not negating this promise. God promises he will work in them for good. The sober reality is that we may never totally grasp the full dimensions of that good. But we believe it is there. The point is that God is working even in inexplicably painful situations.

The second thing we need to understand about this promise is the good to which God is working in all the various circumstances of life. What is the ultimate good (his purpose) towards which God is moving our lives and human history? It is important to know that our lives are closely intertwined with every other life, and that God is working in each life and all our lives for his purposes not ours. The world and God’s plan is bigger that our small slice of it. But the question remains, what is the ultimate good towards which God is working? We find the answer to our question in verses 29 and 30 of Romans 8.

Romans 8:29-30 begins with the word “because” and then lists a series of cosmic divine actions through which God brings the ultimate good for his people.

“Because whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son that he might be the first-born among many brothers; and whom he predestined, those he also called; and whom he called, those he also justified; and whom he justified, those he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)

The ultimate good to which God is working all circumstances in life is the salvation of his people and their presence with him in eternity. Paul calls the pain and suffering of this life, “this light and momentary afflictions.” They seem anything but light and momentary, but they are. He goes on to say that they are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). We must find the faith, with his help, to trust the promise. God is working out our lives for his purposes and glory as well as our good.

This promise does not guarantee our creature comforts, or that everything will work out as we please. It does promise that God is working in everything to bring us to heaven. This really can give us great joy and peace. When we face troubling and painful circumstances, we can claim this promise, trusting that God is at work on our behalf. We can trust him even as we weep and question why. He is there to sustain us. He does it through this and other promises.

What is it that’s troubling you now? What difficult set of circumstances are you struggling with in your life? These circumstances may be partially or mostly of your own making, or they may be completely undeserved and unforeseen. You may have to deal with that too. But whatever the case may be, if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, God is at work in your life. This promise can be used to stabilize your soul and bring you joy and peace. Meditate on this promise in light of what’s happening now in your life no matter how large or small the problem may be. Talk to God about it. He understands and he cares. He will walk with you through every dark valley.

Knowing God

Some individuals seem to know a lot of people. They have a gift for making friends. It’s a great gift to have if the friendships are more than superficial. But the really important thing is not how many people you know, but who you know, and how deep that knowledge is. God is the greatest possible person in the universe and knowing him is the greatest possible knowledge you can have. But how can we be sure we really know God? Different people see him and understand him in so many different ways. Could our knowledge of God just be a case of mistaken identity?

Mistaken identity happens all the time. It’s often of little consequence, but at times it can be a serious matter. What if, for example, someone mistakes the identity of a criminal for a police officer? That could be very serious. Or what about a butcher for a brain surgeon? You get the idea. Mistaken identity can be a very serious thing.

The greatest case of mistaken identity in all of human history occurred when Jesus Christ, very God himself, was mistaken for a blasphemer. This was a tragedy of immeasurable proportions, Yet, this unimaginable mistake happens every day when people see Jesus as merely a great teacher or a just good man or a mythic figure. Many people see him in these ways. But even Christians mistake the real Jesus for one they have fabricated out of popular traditions or false expectations they have of him. How cold such a mistaken identity ever actually happen?

When you love someone you think about that person. They are in your thoughts. So, when you think about that person you are thinking about them in terms of their attributes in some way. This largely goes on without our notice. But what do we mean by an attribute? An attribute is a quality or a feature regarded as characteristic of someone or something. When you think about someone you love, you are thinking about that person as being funny, or smart, or kind, or some other attribute that holds them in your heart.

Likewise, when we think about God we think about him in terms of his attributes. But when we think about God and ascribe to him some attribute he does not have , or distort some attribute he does have, we are not thinking about the true God, but one of our own creation. We are involved in the greatest possible case of mistaken identity. We really have to be careful how we perceive God and the sources of that perception. We want to perceive him correctly, though no one perceives him perfectly nor fully. We want to be in touch in our hearts with the true Jesus, the real Jesus. How can we be sure this happens?

We see the attributes of God revealed in Scripture. They’re not always easy to discern. It takes a commitment to spending time in the word. As we learn these attributes displayed in the real lives of real people in the Bible and apply them to the circumstances of our lives, we come to know the true God. Knowing God does not happen overnight, it takes time and work. Relationships alway take time and work.

We read in Colossians 1:9-10, “We have not stopped praying for you asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

It’s important that we never stop praying for ourselves and others that we grow in our knowledge of God. We pray for many important things as we pray for others, but few things can be as important as this prayer. Paul prays this prayer for the believers in Colossae, but we can and should pray this prayer ourselves. The prayer itself is that the ones we are praying for are filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding or discernment. Knowing the will of another person means that they either explicitly tell us their will or that we know them so throughly that we intuitively know their will without them telling us. God tells us a lot of his will in the Bible, but some things are not spelled out for us, thus we need spiritual wisdom and understanding. We get that by spending time with God in his word and in prayer.

Paul goes on to give us the purpose for being filled with knowledge of God’s will. And that purpose is, “so that” we may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. There are four dimensions to the one purpose in being filled with the knowledge of God’s will. When we know God’s will we have the potential of walking (living our lives) in a manner worthy of the Lord. What does it mean to live in a manner worthy of the Lord? It means living in a way that is consistent with his will. When we live in a manner worthy of him, he is fully pleased with us. We can stop and think, “Is my life fully pleasing to the Lord?” If it’s not, does that diminish his love for us? No way! He always loves us! But if we love him, we want to please him.

Paul goes on to say that we will then bear fruit in every good work. You can see how this develops. We first take the time and effort to know God through his word , praying to him and being filled with his Holy Spirit. That results in us being filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. This results in us living in a manner worthy of him and therefore pleasing him and bearing fruit in every good work. But there is one more dimension to being filled with the knowledge of his will. We increase or grow in the knowledge of God. This is where we began, by knowing God. Now we know him more and more, better and better, deeper and deeper. When this happens our love for him grows and our joy in him grows.

Knowing God as he truly is, we humbly submit to his will. He is glorified and we are blessed. There is no mistaken identity. God overtakes us and reorients our hearts and lives to his person. Praise be to his name!

The Book of Proverbs: The Wisdom of the Lord

The book of Proverbs is at the heart of the wisdom literature of the Bible. Its central theme and focus is wisdom. But the wisdom the book promotes is not worldly wisdom but divine wisdom, the wisdom of God. Divine wisdom gives one insight into the complexities and nuances of living in a fallen, sinful world. The book spares no effort to encourage, even demand, that people get wisdom at all costs. It is a biblical book with which most people are familiar. Many have read some of it, but how many have read it so as to digest it? If ones reads through their Bible every year, they have read the book of Proverbs. But the book requires a deeper reading. It must be read slowly and thoughtfully because it is deceptively simple. It is designed that way.

Since the focus of the book of Proverbs is wisdom, we might ask, “What is wisdom?” Wisdom, simply stated, is the fear of the Lord. Wisdom from God is the skill for living life according to the will of God. In fact, wisdom reveals God’s will. The writers of the proverbs want to communicate that living by wisdom is truly a blessed life. But the reality is, wisdom must be pursued. It does not come automatically or easily. Yet, the glorious truth is that wisdom is available to all.

Proverbs are of various types. There are longer sayings, but most of the proverbs are short pithy statements that bring home a powerful truth. They seem simple, but are very deep and require meditation rather than a brief reading. Most of these short sayings are of two parts. The two parts of each individual proverb draws either a comparison or a contrast. Sometimes, but not always, the comparison is made by the word “and” and the contrast by the word “but”. It is also important to understand that proverbs are general principles not necessarily promises, though some can be understood that way. These principles often hold true but are not certain. Life is complex. Unexpected things happen. The Lord is in control. This leads the wise person to be humble even in their wisdom.

Solomon is the writer of most of the proverbs. The Bible states that Solomon was the wisest man of his time. He humbly asked the Lord for wisdom and the Lord blessed him richly. Solomon followed the wisdom path for many years, but in his old age his many foreign wives turned his heart from the Lord. Wisdom has its limitations. We need redemption from our sins. There will be another Son of David in whom all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge resides (Colossians 2:3). He will provide redemption for his people.

The book is structured to promote the pursuit of wisdom. It is not a random ordering of proverbial sayings, but a well thought out plan to promote and provide wisdom. The structure of this amazing and beautiful book is found below.

                           1. The Introduction & Purpose of Proverbs (1;1-7)

                           2. Invitation to Wisdom (1:8-9:18)

                           3. The Proverbs of Solomon (10:1-22:16)

                           4. Thirty Sayings of the Wise (22:17-24:22)

                           5. More Sayings of the Wise (24:23-34)

                           6. Hezekiah’s Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs (25-29)

                           7. Sayings of Agur (30)

                           8. Sayings of King Lemuel (31:1-9)

                           9. The Godly (Wise) Wife (31:10-31)

Major Themes in Proverbs:

The book of Proverbs is filled with many recurring wisdom themes. But the foundation underneath all these themes is the two major themes of wisdom itself and the fear of the Lord. These two hold all the various ideas in Proverbs together.

Wisdom: The central message in the book of Proverbs is, “Get Wisdom! And God is the only source for it.” God has true wisdom and he desires to share it with people. Wisdom is something that resides inside a person, yet enables that person to live externally in a way that brings glory to God and good to the person and others. Wisdom does not shield people from hardship, but gives them the capacity to see life from a divine perspective. Wisdom protects one from the foolishness that can destroy ones life. The wisdom in Proverbs challenges conventional wisdom with a realistic understanding of the way life is in a fallen world. But wisdom does not come easily. The person who desires wisdom must be a diligent and vigilant seeker. God promises to give wisdom to the honest seeker. Wisdom and the Torah (the Law) are closely related in the Old Testament. In Proverbs Torah is not a major theme, but the connection is made (Proverbs 28:4-9). A heart for the Torah is what it means to live wisely. The wisdom of Proverbs guides the believer to faithful Torah living.

The Fear of the Lord: The fear of the Lord is a common phrase in wisdom literature, especially in Proverbs. The phrase is found 14 times in the book (1:7, 29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:26, 27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17), which shows the deeply God-centered nature of wisdom in Proverbs. Fear for the Lord is the humble response to the covenant responsibilities, as well as, to the presence of the Lord with his people. The fear of the Lord is to be understood as deep reverence for the holy God and not a paralyzing fear of an unknown threat. Rather than repelling, the fear of the Lord draws the worshipper to the Lord, but keeps the familiarity from becoming frivolous. The relationship between the fear of the Lord and wisdom is close. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is Solomon’s admonition (9:10). Any wisdom without the fear of the Lord is worldly wisdom. Worldly wisdom may have some utility, but has no salving benefit. The proverbs are designed to help the person who fears and follows the Lord to live a blessed life that brings glory to the Lord.

Conclusion

The book of Proverbs is precious and rich reading for the follower of Jesus Christ. Read slowly and meditatively the book can give the believer great insight into navigating this life successfully. I encourage everyone to read the book of Proverbs often. Take your time and soak in all the wisdom it has to offer. You will find deep waters of inexhaustible truth to bless the patient reader.

Jesus Came Teaching

In his day, Jesus was primarily known as a teacher. His disciples, the crowds and even his enemies called him teacher. He came to Israel with a message of salvation. He was a Spirit anointed teacher who penetrated the hearts of all who heard him. His disciples were transformed by his teaching so that in the end they worshipped him and were willing to lay down their lives for him. The crowds heard him gladly and were deeply moved by him. The religious leaders were cut to the heart by his teaching but rejected and hated him, and ultimately killed him. Jesus was a teacher like no other. His teaching changed the world. But Jesus’ teaching was explanatory in that it was a commentary on his person and his work of salvation, his death on the cross for sin and his resurrection from the dead.

The teaching of Jesus is thick throughout all four gospels. Even when he is dealing with questions or healing someone he is teaching. But the main focus of the teaching of Jesus is found in large blocks of teaching that are found predominantly in Matthew and John. Luke has a great deal of teaching but usually in smaller units. Matthew has five large teaching units, chapters 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 24-25, the most famous of which is the first, The Sermon on the Mount. The major teaching units in John are found in chapters 5-10 and 14-17.

In surveying the teaching of Jesus we will focus on six aspects of his teaching. First, we will look at Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God, then we will look at Jesus’ use of parables. Next we will observe his call to radical discipleship and his teaching on the end times. Lastly, we will emphasize two final teaching units: (1) the last instructions to his disciples, the upper room discourse, which he gave the night before he was crucified, and (2) the resurrected Lord Jesus sending out his disciples on their mission, the Great Commission. 

The Kingdom of God

The central message of Jesus’ teaching was the kingdom of God. Everything focused on that. Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God had an intimate connection to the Old Testament teaching of the kingdom of God through the covenants, especially the Davidic covenant.

The Old Testament teachings about the kingdom has two perspectives. One can be called the universal kingdom of God. God is king over all things even though some angels and all people rebel against his lordship. He is still king. And from this perspective we see the second sense of the kingdom of God in the Old Testament, the redemptive kingdom of God.

Some refer to this as the mediatorial kingdom. In the redemptive/mediatorial kingdom, God calls his covenant people to mediate his redemptive work to the world. The basic storyline of the Bible is, Creation – Fall – Redemption – Restoration. In the redemption phase of the storyline God works through covenants. In this way God is bringing about his plan of redemption to the world.

The kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching exhibit several tensions. First, there is the “when” tension. Is the kingdom of God in the present with the coming of Jesus, or is it in the future? This tension in the teaching of Jesus about the kingdom of God is resolved by saying that the kingdom is already here in the coming and ministry, and specially the passion of the king, but it is not yet fully consummated. It will be consummated in his second coming. This can be seen in the teaching of Jesus and in his parables.

The second tension in the teaching of Jesus concerning the kingdom of God is a “where” tension. Where is the kingdom of God? Is there some physical place the kingdom resides, or is it just in the hearts of Jesus’ followers? This is a reign vs realm question. Again, the tension is resolved by understanding Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world and is now among us, but will one day in its consummation be gloriously global.

The third, and final, tension is a “who” tension. By who, I mean who is in the kingdom of God? Is the kingdom personal and individual, or is it communal and social? Jesus said that one must enter the kingdom. The kingdom is entered by personal faith, so in that sense the kingdom is individual. But when a person enters the kingdom they enter the community of the redeemed. They have a relationship with the king, but also with all others in the kingdom. The kingdom has a wonderful communal aspect that cannot be neglected.

In Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God he presented himself as the king who came to establish the kingdom. The kingdom Jesus offered would be counter intuitive to what most expected, but it would be the perfect fulfillment of the promise of God in the Old Testament. Entrance into the kingdom turned on surrender to Jesus as king and Lord.

Parables

Jesus’ teaching was colorful, penetrating, and dynamic. People were astonished and amazed by his teaching and remarked that no one else taught as he did. One of the main features of Jesus’ teaching was his profuse use of parables. Parables were short stories, illustrations and even metaphors. Jesus had the amazing ability  to get to the heart of an issue with a simple, brief and picturesque parable. He took something everyday and understandable and used it to unravel complicated spiritual truths.

It’s unclear exactly how many parables are in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). People count them in different ways as to what they think constitutes a parable. There are probably as least 40 parables in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew gives 24 parables, while Mark only has 9. Luke records the most at 28. Some of the parables are repeated in two or all three synoptics. Matthew has 11 unique parables and Mark only 1. Luke has the most with 15 unique parables. Some of the most beloved parables are unique to Luke, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.

Biblical scholar Craig Blomberg believes the parables have one, two or three points depending on the number of main characters. Main characters do not have to be people. For example, in the parable of the Sower, the three main characters are the sower, the unfruitful seed and the fruitful seed. Each character in the parable has a point to make in the scope of the meaning of the parable itself. This makes a lot of sense and gives a richer and deeper meaning to the parables of Jesus. It is an interesting note that while some parables are given to reveal a spiritual truth, many are intended to hide it (Matthew 13:13)! 

All the parables of Jesus are related in some way to the central message of the kingdom of God. Many begin with the phrase, “The kingdom of God/heaven is like …” or “To what shall I compare to the kingdom of God.” The parables fleshed out the kingdom of God for the people. For some it was life, for others it was death.

Jesus’ Call to Radical Discipleship

Jesus demanded total commitment and surrender to himself as Savior and Lord. His disciples are to love him and follow him with such joy and delight that they are willing to lay down their lives for the kingdom of God. Those not willing to make such a commitment cannot enter the kingdom or be a disciple (Matthew 10:37-39; Mark 8:31-38; Luke 14:25-27). The call to radical discipleship is not a call to the bold and committed Christian, while other less committed Christians are saved but not serious. The call to radical discipleship is what it means to be a Christian. Jesus called those who would go make disciples. He loved and discipled them with that view in mind. Discipleship was, and is, Jesus’ master plan to redeem and transform the world. Every disciple/believer has a unique and strategic role to play in the mission of Jesus.

Jesus’ Teaching on the Judgment of Israel and the End Times

As we have seen, the focus of Jesus’ teaching was the kingdom of God. Related to that emphasis is Jesus’ teaching on eschatology (end times). This teaching appears throughout the synoptics in his general teachings and the parables but especially in what is called the Olivet Discourse. This teaching of Jesus is found in Matthew 24 (followed by related parables in chapter 25), Mark 13 and Luke 21.

This teaching of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse looks forward to two events: (1) The judgment of God on Israel (2) The coming of Jesus in the end times. The difference between these two events and where one stops and the other begins in the text is difficult to fully understand. Biblical scholars disagree on these issues.This is not to say that we should not work hard to understand these passages, we should. They are very important. We must be humble and teachable in our interpretation of these texts.

Most agree that the first part of the discourses deals with God’s judgement on Israel in AD 70 when the Romans defeated and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. This would happen 40 years after Jesus gives this prophecy. It would be a difficult time for the people living in Israel and for the church there. They had rejected and murdered their Messiah. It was unthinkable.

The second part of the discourse deals with the coming of Jesus in the last days. Here is where the difficulty comes in clearly understanding what part of the text refers to AD 70 and what part refers to the last days. Some scholars believe that these time frames go back and forth at points. What is clear, nonetheless, is that there will be a dreadful time of judgment in the near future and then, sometime future to that, the end will come. Some believe that everything prophesied by Jesus in the discourse was fulfilled in AD 70 with war of the Romans. Most scholars, however, believe that part of this teaching looks forward to a time of intense judgment form God just before Jesus returns.

The Upper Room Discourse

John chapters 13-17 comprise the largest body of Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament. All the words of Jesus have a unique quality and power, but along with the Sermon on the Mount these words are the most profound. This teaching is often called the Upper Room Discourse. This section begins with the Last Supper and continues through that night. This is the night before Jesus is crucified.

Jesus is preparing his disciples for the shock of his death. What will transpire in the next twenty-four hours will rock their world and threaten to shake them loose form their faith. He has much to say in comfort, but much more to say regarding their mission. Believers who read these chapters must do so with deep meditation and prayer.

Chapter thirteen deals with events during and immediately after the Last Supper. After the supper Jesus washes his disciples feet. Washing feet was a task reserved for the lowest servant. Jesus takes on the role of a servant to teach his disciples the attitude they must have towards one another and the people they will serve in their mission. The foot washing was also a picture of the cross.

After Jesus reveals that one of them will betray him, Judas leaves to do this deed. Jesus then issues the command to his disciples to love one another just as he had loved them. This would be their defining mark of a true disciple.

The first extended discourse is in chapter fourteen. This chapter is framed at the beginning (14:1-3) and the end (14:28-31) with comfort. Between the two words of comfort Jesus reinforces his disciples hearts with truth about who he is and his promise of the Holy Spirit who will lead and empower them in their mission.

At the end of chapter fourteen Jesus and the disciples leave the upper room where they have celebrated the Passover meal. Somewhere along their way Jesus relates to them the parable of the vine and branches (15:1-11). This moving picture of the relationship between Jesus and his followers is designed to encourage them to remain in him, in vital connection to him. It would serve the reader to meditate on the connection with Jesus. The chapter ends with Jesus’ honest warning that since the world hates him the world will also hate them. The chapter explores three relationships believers experience: (1) relationship with Jesus (15:1-11), (2) relationship with one another (15:12-17), (3) relationship with the world (15:18-27).

The discourse continues in chapter sixteen with three very meaningful promises of Jesus to his disciples. First, Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit (16:1-15). Second, Jesus promises his disciples that though they will experience great distress in the short tern, they will have great joy no one can take away (16:16-24). Third, Jesus promises his followers victory over the world. Because they believe in Jesus the Father loves them and though they will have struggles in this world Jesus will give them peace because he has overcome the world (16:25-33).

Chapter seventeen is often called the High Priestly prayer of Jesus. This is the longest prayer of Jesus we have in the NT. The prayer is shaped in three parts. Jesus prays for himself (17:1-5), for his disciples (17:6-19) and for all who will believe through his disciples message (17:20-26). He prays for himself that the Father would glorify him in his work. He prays for his disciples that the Father will protect & sanctify them. And he prays for future believer that they will unified.

The Great Commission 

The Great Commission is given by the resurrected Jesus in Matthew 28:16-20 and in Luke 24:36-53. The Great commission is the command of Jesus to all disciples to go make disciples who go make disciples. Jesus had spent over three years training his disciples for this mission. The Great Commission characterizes Jesus’ teaching as giving commands to be obeyed and instructs his disciples to teach future disciples to obey them all. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will come upon them since his power will be necessary to fulfill the mission Jesus gives them. Jesus’ personal presence through the Holy Spirit will be with his people until the end of the age when he returns.

Conclusion:

Jesus’ teaching in the Bible is widespread, profound and transformative. It speaks to our deepest needs and the longings of our hearts. Jesus’ teaching also challenges us with regard to our sin and lack of commitment. Every believer in Jesus Christ must spend serious time in study and meditation on the teaching of Jesus. He calls all believers to know him, love him and serve him. It is impossible to fulfill that call without growing in an intimate and personal knowledge, and an honest application of his teaching. Those who truly love him deeply desire to know him more. And he desires to speak into our hearts and lives. A commitment to carefully read through the four gospels will bear great fruit in our lives

The Sermon on the Mount

Jesus came as a teacher. He was known as a teacher. He devoted himself to teaching the truth of the word of God. It was of central importance to him. His teaching amazed the people of his day and had a profound impact on their lives. It has had the same impact on people down through the centuries. While the teaching of Jesus is a big focus in all four Gospels, it is especially so in Matthew. In the book of Matthew we find five teaching units. The first teaching unit is almost universally known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters5-7). It is famously known, but infamously unknown. We might say that this teaching is Jesus’ kingdom manifesto. Jesus came teaching that the kingdom of God had arrived in his person and work. The sermon explains Jesus’ kingdom vision and mission. Parts of the sermon are well known by many people even if they don’t know where they come from. Most people know of the iconic passages like the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and the Golden Rule, but perhaps many do not realize that they are all part of the SOM. The sermon is filled with passages that inspire, inform and convict.

Interpretations of the Sermon are legion. Several things are important to keep in mind. First, Jesus was speaking to the people living at that time and place. He was calling the people of Israel to himself as Messiah, inaugurating the promised and long awaited kingdom of God. It is important to remember that Scripture was not written to us but for us. In every passage there is the descriptive and the prescriptive. Each passage describes what God was doing in a certain time and place in the flow of redemptive history. Each passage also prescribes what we should do in light of what God has done. Understanding these two polarities is key to understanding any text.

Second, Jesus was speaking to his disciples. He was speaking to all his disciples, but especially to the twelve. He had not yet chosen and appointed the twelve as apostles, nonetheless, he was speaking to them as those in training for the leadership for which they would soon be responsible. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus the apostles will carry the mission of the kingdom forward. The SOM is important for that mission.

Finally, Jesus was casting a vision for a kingdom lifestyle. What does it mean to be in the kingdom? What are the values of the kingdom? Jesus called people to follow him. What did that look like? Life in a broken, fallen and sinful world is complex. How does one navigate the complexities of the world in a Christ honoring way?

A key theme in the Sermon on the Mount is righteousness. Be righteous and live righteously. The way of righteousness that Jesus calls for is very different from what most people assume. It is a humble hunger for God. It is the recognition that one is not righteous apart from God’s grace. It is following the narrow way of Jesus. The sermon is necessary for the growth of any follower of Jesus. One can learn profound truths for living from these words of Jesus.

After a brief introduction of the setting of the SOM (5:1-2), the sermon begins with the Beatitudes (5:3-12). These are eight short statements of the blessedness of those in the kingdom of heaven. Each beatitude has the same form. They begin with a pronouncement of blessing (“Blessed”) followed by those to whom the blessing is given (for example, “poor in spirit”) and ending with the results of this state of blessedness (for example, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”). The eight beatitudes express the dependence and devotion of Jesus’ disciples to him. The first four (poor in spirit, mourners, meek and hunger & thirst for righteousness) show the disciples’ dependence on Jesus, while the last four (merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and persecuted) show the disciples’ devotion to Jesus. The beatitudes end with an expansion of the last beatitude to the persecuted (5:11-12). This reveals what it means to be persecuted and the joy a follower of Jesus should experience in persecution.

Jesus then teaches his disciples the ramifications of their life in the kingdom as followers of Jesus (5:13-16). They are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Their lives have impact in the world as they live out the practical implication of following Jesus.

Jesus now gets into the body of his message by explaining why he has come and calling for a greater righteousness (5:17-20). Jesus wants no confusion as to why he has come into the world. He has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (the Old Testament), but to fulfill it. There is close continuity between the mission of Jesus and the message of the Old Testament. The Old Testament promises the Messiah and the Kingdom of God he brings, while Jesus fulfills these promises. In fact, those who say and teach otherwise are the least in the kingdom of heaven. This leads to Jesus’ call for greater righteousness. One’s righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees to even enter the kingdom of heaven. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was and external self-righteousness. The greater righteousness Jesus calls for is an internal, transformational, God-centered, humble righteousness.

The call for greater righteousness leads to the next section of the SOM (5:21-48). This is often called the six antitheses. They contrast six popular, but false, understandings of Old Testament teachings promoted by the Pharisees, with Jesus’ kingdom teaching. The six are: anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation and love. Jesus’ demands are high, but love for him leads to obedience. The way of God is the way of holiness and happiness. These must not be misconstrued as the way to earn salvation, but the way of life that flows out of the grace of salvation.

Next we see Jesus’ warning on practicing righteousness from an improper motive (6:1-18). Jesus demonstrates how the three main forms of piety in his day can be done in hypocritical ways to be noticed by others. A fundamental human desire is to seek praise from others. He talks about giving alms for the needy, prayer and fasting. One must be careful to do these things out of love for God and neighbor and not for personal praise. These are important practices, but must be done for the right reasons. In the section on prayer (6:5-15) we find Jesus’ model prayer (The Lord’s Prayer, 5:9-13). This is a profound prayer and must be meditated on and practiced.

This is followed by Jesus’ teaching on work and worry (6:19-34). A key question in life is, “Where is your treasure? What is most important to you?” Jesus says, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” A person cannot serve things and money and God at the same time. They both demand to be master. An inordinate focus on things and money can lead to anxious worry. We are distracted from the really important things of life. Jesus says the antidote to this is to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness as the first and highest priority.

Jesus rounds out his message on greater righteousness with a call not to be judgmental but discerning (7:1-6), an intense God-centered prayer life (7:7-11) and the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have then do unto you.”

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with the teaching on the two ways (7:13-27). This is a warning to hear and heed the teaching of Jesus. Nothing could be more important than following Jesus. One’s eternal destiny hangs in the balance. One way leads to destruction, the other way leads to life. Living by the SOM is not a works salvation, but the outflow of a life following Jesus. No one lives the demands of Jesus perfectly, but those who claim to follow Jesus but disregard his teaching show that they are not true disciples of Jesus.

The Sermon on the Mount is a very important teaching of Jesus. It must not be overlooked or treated lightly. It puts am emphasis on both grace and truth. We are saved by grace and truth and we live the Christian life by grace and truth. It provides for the believer in Jesus Christ a way of life that can have impact on others and bring glory to God.