Faith in What?

This week’s Gospel reading comes from Matthew chapters 12 & 13.

On Sunday Jalen and I addressed the topic of Faith in Our Families as part of our Grow in Faith sermon series. In that sermon I stated the following: “Everybody has faith…the question is faith in what?” This is the main question that Jesus addresses in Matthew 12.

The story begins with Jesus and his disciples picking heads of grain as they walk through a wheat field. If you’ve ever been in a wheat field you’ll know instantly how simple this is to do. You simply snap the head off with your hand as you walk along…you aren’t lifting, twisting, pulling, etc. Now the reason this had become an issue is this was being done on a Sabbath, and the Law of Moses did not allow working on the Sabbath day (Ex. 31:13-14, 35:2).

The big kicker here is how Pharisees interpreted “work.” You and I often do things around the house on a day off that we wouldn’t consider to be work, however the Pharisees had set themselves up as the ultimate interpreter of God’s word. They felt that they, and they alone had the right to enforce what work was or was not. Scripture did prohibit preparing food on the Sabbath (Ex. 16:22-30; 35:3), but Jewish people often had great feasts on the Sabbath where the food had been prepared the previous day. They created all of these very strict laws of interpretation as to what constituted as work or not. It even extended to medical issues, as can be seen in verses 10-14. The most extreme rule surrounding the Sabbath observance I have found surrounded eating eggs laid on a Sabbath. You shouldn’t do so because the chicken had to work to lay it. However, they said that you could eat the egg which had been laid on the Sabbath as long as you killed the chicken for Sabbath-breaking.

Do you see what has happened here? The Pharisees have put their faith in their ability to follow rules…rules that God never created. And they’re imposing the following of those rules as a judgement of righteousness upon others. The Pharisees had substituted their faith in God’s promised salvation for faith in their ability to follow strict legalistic self imposed rules. And Jesus’ response comes from an Old Testament reference: “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Mt. 12:7) The passage Jesus quotes is from Hosea 6:6. Jesus only quotes part of the verse, but I will share the whole verse: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”  Notice that Jesus quotes a verse that is all about acknowledging God rather than external actions. This was the biggest sin of the Pharisees.

When we try to put our faith in ourselves and our own abilities rather than God’s promise of salvation in the person of Jesus, we become just like the Pharisees…looking really good, but dead on the inside (Mt. 23:27).

For teaching on other parts of Matthew 12 & 13, you can watch or listen to the following sermons on our website:



Heart Problems

Our Gospel reading for this week is Matthew chapters 5 & 6. This is part of what we commonly refer to as the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in the Gospels. I’ve heard people say that this passage of Scripture is a checklist we need to keep in order to please Jesus, but if you view the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist, you’ve missed the point.

Jesus is addressing a number of topics in this passage: Attitudes (5:1-12), Actions/Witness (v13-16), Righteousness (v.17-20), Conflict (v. 21-26), Marriage, specifically Adultery (v. 27-30) and Divorce (v.31-32), Honesty (v.33-37), Revenge (v.38-48), Giving (6:1-4), Prayer & Forgiveness (v.5-15), Fasting (v.19-24), and Worry/Self Dependence (v.25-34). All that said, Jesus really addresses one topic in this whole passage, and applies it to different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.

In every instance, Jesus is teaching us how our heart should be focused. We can try to follow checklists all day, but without our heart being right we’ll never be able to accomplish God’s will. Let’s look at one example in particular.

Matthew 5:16 – “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 6:1“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”

How are we supposed to keep both of these? There’s no way to check these off a list. If people see me I can’t check one, and if they don’t see me I can’t check the other. What’s the difference? The heart. It all boils down to what our heart is searching for – honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves. If the heart is in the right place, we are doing what Jesus commands. It really boils down to this: do we treasure God, or praise from others?

Matthew 6:21- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If our hearts are right our attitudes will be right when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right we will be salt and light (both elements which change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are right we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are right we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are right we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are right we will deal in love with honesty and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are right we will give generously, not for our own glory, but to honor God (6:1-4). If our hearts are right we will pray heartfelt prayers that lift up others and don’t glorify ourselves…we’ll forgive others as we’ve been forgiven (v.5-15). If our hearts are right we’ll focus on God because of our want of relationship with him, not to impress others (v.19-24). If our hearts are right we’ll rely on Him for our needs without worry (v.25-34).

To quote the first words of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life: “It’s not about you!” The Pharisees and teachers of the Law in the first century had missed this. They had taken God’s word and twisted its application to be all about themselves and how righteous they were by how well they kept the rules.

Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

It’s not about you. It’s about God. Keep your heart focused on honoring Him in everything you do. Only then will we see the Sermon on the Mount carried out in our lives. – Matt

Nobody Else Can Claim This!

We’re doing something different this year with our church, and I’d like for you, my readers to join us. The goal is as a church family we will read through the Gospel of Matthew by Easter, and the other three Gospels by the end of the year. I will be writing at least one article per week that goes along with the reading…not really a complete commentary on the Gospels, but rather a reading guide. We’ll be reading roughly two chapters per week (four short chapters this week). This is an easy to accomplish reading plan for the year, but at the same time we will spend the entire year focused on the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I hope you choose to read with us! Click here to download the Yearly Gospel Reading Plan

This week we’re looking at the first four chapters of Matthew. The Gospel of Matthew was written by a Jew to a Jewish audience, so there are some major Jewish themes, explanations, and topics that Matthew brings up. The major focus of these first few chapters is who Jesus is, and where Jesus came from. The genealogy that many might skim over was very important to Jews, and is full of information that teaches us about Jesus.

Because space is limited I’ll only focus on the women mentioned, which in itself is odd. Women were never included in official Jewish genealogies because during this time they had no legal rights and were considered property rather than people. But notice that God doesn’t see it that way! He includes Tamar the adulteress (Gen. 38), Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2), Ruth the Moabite (Ruth), and Bathsheba the adulteress (2 Sam 11&12). Here Matthew shows us two things: 1) The barriers the religious elite had put in place are being removed, 2) Somehow God can even use those who have gone through tragic and sinful situations to accomplish His purposes, even bringing His Son into the world through their lineage!

Chapter 2 covers the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus and the fulfilled prophecies that further point to who Jesus was and where he comes from. Because this is January most of us have studied the Christmas story recently, and we’ll not dwell here.

Finally we arrive at chapter 3 where we meet John the Baptist who is preparing the way for the Messiah (another prophecy fulfilled) and we see the baptism of Jesus. (Personally I’ve never understood people wanting to be a follower of Jesus, to be like Jesus, but not wanting to be baptized. Even Jesus said he needed to do this “to fulfill all righteousness.” Shouldn’t we want to follow his example, and command? (Mt. 28:19)) In this passage we see two events we often overlook that would be important to Matthew’s readers: Jesus receiving smicha (pronounced smee-hah), which your Bible likely translates as “authority“, or “one who had authority.” 

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

Great teachers became Rabbi’s, meaning they had the “authority” to interpret,  apply, and create new teachings about scripture when they themselves were granted smicha by other Rabbi’s who had smicha. Apparently John the Baptist had smicha (Mt. 21:23-27). The other grantor of smicha? God himself!

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” – 3:17 

Matthew’s Jewish readers would realize that Jesus was the only Rabbi in history who received his smicha directly from God himself. Jesus isn’t some ordinary teacher. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God!

Our reading this week ends with chapter 4. Jesus faces temptation without sin in the wilderness, begins his ministry, and calls his first disciples. But the chapter ends with a message to Matthew’s Jewish readers, as well as to us today, that Jesus’ message and salvation was for a much broader audience than anyone expected.

“Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.” – Matthew 4:25

Here we have a listing of areas that were the home of the most well educated religious scholars, and the common folk.  Extremely traditional and conservative teachers, and extremely liberal and radical ones. But it also includes gentiles from the Decapolis. Matthew is reminding us that even early in his ministry we can see that Jesus came from God to save everybody!

Be blessed as you read Matthew’s story of Jesus this week! – Matt

We’re Losing the Battle!

1/168th. That’s the magic number. That tiny fraction is so small. You would feel cheated if we were talking about buying a slice of pie. Yet 1/168th is exactly what most people assume will fix all of their problems.

What is 1/168th? Pretty simple really. No matter how rich, how poor, what ethnicity, what background, what level of education…we all have 168 hours to live life each week. In general, church going people spend about 1 hour in church per week…1/168th of their week. That’s very little influence during the average week! Let’s look a little closer at what other things influence our average week.

The average American sleeps 6.8 hours (we’ll call it 7) per night. Not a whole lot of influence happens when we sleep, but it does consume 49/168ths or our week. Depending on your age or career, we average between 35-40 hours per week at school or work, meaning what we do during the day has between 35 and 40 times the amount of influence that church has on us in any given week! But there’s something that eats up our time even more than school or work.

Electronics. TV, cell phones, tablets, game systems, computers…you know, electronics. The average American spends between 45 and 50 hours a week on an electronic device. Some of that electronics time overlaps at work or school, but on average electronics usage influences us 45-50 times more than our worship service on Sunday. What are we doing with them? Growing in our faith, or watching cat videos and playing games?

If you’re good at math, you’re realizing this is somewhere between 130-140 hours per week. There’s more time, yet we’re really good at filling that time too. Time to worship (yes, worship) sports, hobbies, shopping, activities and fun of all types…and pretty soon, we’ve filled our 168 hours. What I find even more troubling than the 1/168th figure itself is that only 21% of adults spend any time to connect with God. Most aren’t even getting 1/168th!  Why don’t more people connect with God on a weekly basis? The response is simple really: “I don’t have time.”

If you’re a “super Christian” and go to church every time the doors are open, you’re still looking at only 4 or 5 hours of the 168 per week. Still not much influence is it? Yet everyone wants to come to church a few hours a week and magically everything else will fall into place. The truth is simply going to church won’t fix this problem. It’s going to take a complete refocus of our lives!

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

If our entire hope for ourselves, our children, the lost of our world, and the future of the Kingdom hinges on 1/168th, we’re losing the battle. We must be intentional about pursuing God first. Does the way we spend our time truly mirror what our values are? Do we honor TV and sports more than our Savior? 1/168th is only a drop in the bucket of life. Followers of Christ have to be more intentional with every moment of our lives in order to survive, let alone thrive in our faith. Be more intentional!

  • The majority of these statistics, as well as many others can be found in The DNA of D6

Can We Trust The Bible?

When I was little I remember my grandmother teaching my cousins and me a game called “Telephone.” Someone comes up with a sentence and whispers it into the ear of the person next to them. This continues being passed through several silly, giggling child-interpreters until it reaches the original person. Everyone gets a huge laugh because what started as “The gray goose flies at night,” turns into “My granny has an overbite.”

Tweet: People struggle with the Bible because they believe it was passed down like a game of Telephone. The truth is far more stunning!

“The Bible can’t be trusted. It was copied by hand so many times that it must be full of mistakes. After thousands of years of errors we simply can’t trust what’s there!” The problem with this argument is the assumption that the Bible was copied much like you or I would scribble notes during a lecture, which is simply untrue.

Ancient scribes dedicated their lives to copying the Bible by hand, letter for letter, word for word, line for line. And this is very important to understand. Men who dedicated themselves to this artform had the scriptures memorized, as well as having a multitude of very early copies from which to work. Over 24,000 of these ancient copies remain from the New Testament alone, far more than any other writing of its age!

The scribes worked meticulously copying each and every detail of the text. It was then checked for accuracy by line. The chief scribes (who had the text memorized) knew exactly how many letters and words should be in each line of text for a particular book. If the copy in question didn’t match up, it was not corrected…it was destroyed. They held the text in such high esteem that they would rather destroy an expensive parchment and throw away the work rather than have one mistake come through their work.

That being said, not every scribe worked so perfectly. We do have “textual variants” within the scriptures. Most of these are sequence variations. In the book The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Dr. Bruce Metzger describes it this way. “…it makes a whale of a difference in English if you say ‘Dog bites man’ or ‘Man bites dog’ – sequence matters in English. But in Greek it doesn’t.” Greek is an inflected language, and no matter what order you place the words, the meaning still comes across the same. The meaning isn’t changed in the slightest, but this counts as a textual variant. And if 10 copies of this same variant exist, then scholars count that as 10 textual variants even though they are the same variant (confusing, I know.)

Can the Bible be trusted? Strobel quotes scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix’s conclusion: “The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book-a form that is 99.5 percent pure.”

God has preserved His word for us in a fully trustworthy form. All we have to do now is read it!

Want to know more about the Bible? Try these other posts:
The Problem with The Bible
Where Do I Start? – Part 1
Where Do I Start? – Part 2

Life Back Then

This was posted by John Mark Hicks this morning on Facebook. I thought it was too good to not share. We get to take a look into the early life of the church!

Letter of Mathetes to Diognetus (probably around 130-150 A.D.)

“Christians are indistinguishable from other people either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life….With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign…And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through…Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country….They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all people….A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult.”

1 Peter 2:12, “Conduct yourselves honorably among the nations, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.”

Where Do I Start? – Part 2

From time to time people tell me they want to start reading the Bible, and they almost always share the same question… “Where do I start?” Last week we looked the way the Old Testament is organized, the purpose of the writings, and the topics covered. This week we’ll focus on the New Testament.

The first four books of the New Testament make up The Gospels (“gospel” means “good news.”) These books cover the life of Jesus, but they aren’t biographies you and I are used to. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the “synoptic gospels” because they are so similar in the content the events they cover, but each writer arranges the events in a different order so the story had the greatest impact on their original audience (very common to the writing style of the time.) John uses a different approach than the others for the same reason. All four books give us the details of Jesus’ ministry on the earth.

The book of Acts is written by Luke, the same man that wrote the Gospel of Luke. It’s a continuation of the Jesus story and it includes details about Jesus’ last days on earth, then covers the beginnings and spread of the first church. We see events and history recorded about the other writers of the New Testament, as well as read many stories of how early Christians cared for one another and were so dedicated to Christ that they were willing to face death because of their faith.

The Pauline Epistles is a fancy way of saying “Paul’s Letters.” These were letters written by Paul, an apostle that we first meet in Acts, to various churches that he worked with in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica, two letters to a young preacher named Timothy, and a letter written to a man named Philemon.

The General Letters function much the same way as Paul’s letters, they just weren’t written by Paul. These writings include an anonymous letter called Hebrews, a letter from James, the earthly brother of Jesus, two letters from the apostle Peter, and three from the apostle John.

The final book in the New Testament is the book of Revelation where the apostle John recounts a vision that he had from God. He writes specific warnings from Jesus for seven churches in Asia, as well as a very apocalyptic description of God’s ultimate victory over evil, as well as a beautiful description of Heaven.

Hopefully these past two posts have given you some insight into the organization of the writings contained in the Bible. “So where do I start?”  Well, it depends. If you have never read the Bible before, I always recommend The Gospel of John near the beginning of the New Testament. John does a fantastic job of sharing the life of Jesus with his readers.

If you’re looking for specific answers to questions you have, you can use this summary to look on your own, do a search on BibleGateway, or you can always email me.

Next time we’ll discuss if the Bible can be trusted.