Tomorrow (D.V.) I’m preaching on Matthew 5:10-12 in which Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Jesus later amplifies this teaching in Matthew 10:16-42. Below, Ryan T. Anderson’s treatment by Piers Morgan shows what those willing to stand for truth in the public square can expect in the years to come.
See also this exchange at a forum held at Stanford.
Our series on the Sermon on the Mount continues this Sunday at the Red Brick Church. Below are summaries of the sermons thus far. The audio for the sermons is available on our church web site.
1/25/15 – In the introduction to this series, we saw that when considering the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM), the greatest sermon ever preached, we should expect to be blown away and blessed by the authority of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:28-29).
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29
Jesus’s authority resided in Himself and it was and is breathtaking.
Matthew framed the SOTM with the Authority of Christ.
- Matthew’s genealogy documents Jesus as the perfect culmination of the entire Old Testament (Matthew 1-2).
- Matthew proclaims Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Matthew 1:22, 2:15, 17, 23, 3:15, 4:14).
- Jesus is presented as a new and better Israel (Hosea 11:1).
- Jesus is a new and greater Moses (Exodus 19:20). (Notice that the Christian imperative follows the indicative!)
In the scope of the first sermon, we compared Christ’s authority with that of Hinduism and the false god Genesha. We see that Christ’s authority is far different and in him we can have complete confidence. Indeed, seeing the authority of Christ gives us confidence to follow wherever he calls.
2/15/15 – In the second sermon in this series, we saw that the central subject of the SOTM is the Kingdom of Heaven / God. Christ, the King, announced the inauguration of the Kingdom. The Kingdom began, in a sense, with Jesus’s arrival. However, we await the consummation of the Kingdom when Jesus will establish His Kingdom.
The Gospel of Matthew shows us the centrality of the Kingdom of Heaven theme by bracketing this entire section of the Gospel with a Kingdom announcement (Matthew 4:23, 9:35) and with an immediate emphasis on the Kingdom of God in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3, 10).
While there is an “already” aspect to the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom has not yet been fully consummated. When considering the consummation of the Kingdom, we turned to Revelation 20:4 and saw the promise of the Millennial Kingdom when Christ will reign in this space and history and Satan will be bound.
The theme of the Kingdom of Heaven should give us great hope. Though much in this life is not as it should be, Jesus is coming back. So we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We need to meditate on the hope of the Kingdom of God because it is so wonderful. The message of the Bible is that something went terribly wrong. But God will defeat sin and one day we will be with Him on a new earth.
2/22/15 – Sermon on the Mount III: The Sequence of the Beatitudes
In the third sermon, we saw how the Kingdom of God is received. We must come to Christ recognizing that we have nothing to offer which is to say we should be “poor in spirit.”
The SOTM begins with the beatitudes. A “beatitude” is a blessing with an explanation of the blessing and a condition for it. To be “blessed” by God means to enjoy his favor. Some translate this happiness but “happy” is too superficial of a translation. Rather, it means to know the favor of God with the confidence a small child has in the favor of a parent.
The beatitudes begin with the beautiful truth that Christ extends his unmerited favor to who humbly receive it: the poor in spirit. Just as was the case with God delivering Israel out of bondage in Egypt (Exodus 2), Jesus begins with salvation / deliverance and then lays out the conditions of those who follow him.
The blessing of the beatitudes is the Kingdom of Heaven as we have seen. While the Kingdom has been inaugurated, we can look forward to the day when Christ will reign with his people on earth when the Kingdom is fully realized.
The beatitudes are extended to those willing to acknowledge their spiritual poverty. Blessed are the:
- “Poor in spirit” – Meaning those who recognize they have no assets to bring about a solution to the world’s problems – -
- “Those who mourn” – Those who see that the problems of the world are rebellion against God and consequently are grieved
- “The meek” – Those who see that the offense is not against them personally, but rather that it is against God and that we are complicit in the offense.
- “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” – Those who long for God to set things right. The people who hunger and thirst for righteousness are missions minded people who long to see the glory of God shine around the world.
There is a sequence of sorts to the beatitudes. One leads to the next. Those who are poor in spirit will mourn. Those who mourn will be meek and hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Lest we feel overwhelmed at how far short we fall of the beatitudes, at the conclusion of the sermon, it was stressed that those who think they have nothing to offer should run to the Cross where they will meet a gracious Savior.
3/1/15 – Sermon on the Mount IV: The Cycle of the Beatitudes
The SOTM should be approached with anticipation (astonishing authority), hope (the Kingdom is at hand!), joy (Jesus blesses those who are poor in spirit), but also soberness because we see later in the sermon that there are some who think they part of the Kingdom who are not.
 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23
Consequently, we should compare ourselves to the Beatitudes and see if they are characteristic of our lives – – or if their opposites are more characteristic.
Are we poor in spirit? Or self-sufficient?
Do we mourn? Or are we entertained by sin?
Are we meek? Or defensive?
Do we hunger for righteousness? Or are we apathetic about missions?
Are we merciful? Or impatient?
Pure in heart? Or thinking the wrong things?
Persecuted? Or afraid?
If, in reviewing this list, we find that we fall short – – then we are brought back to the first beatitude – – the gospel goes out to those who are “poor in spirit.” Let us recognize our need for Christ and Him alone.
So, we see in this sermon that there is also a cycle to the beatitudes. We begin on our knees in need of grace. But as God extends us grace, we are merciful peacemakers. Yet, we can anticipate that we will be knocked flat by persecution and find ourselves again reminded that we are poor in spirit.
Help me fairly understand the worldview which says that moral values are a function of cultures rather than a transcendent standard. I am not trying to be insulting. I assume that most people who believe that morals are rooted in culture believe that adult incest is wrong. What I am trying to understand is the secular basis for saying that something which takes place between consenting adults is wrong if there are no moral absolutes. What I am most looking for in the comments is a fair presentation of the secular position.
I am preparing to speak at a conference on the church and culture in a few weeks (More on that in the video shown at the end of this post). As a part of my preparation, I am working hard to understand secular thought and a discussion on the New York Times site has gotten my attention.
In a recent NY Times Article, Justin McBrayer (who I know neither personally nor professionally), expressed his concern that children are being taught that we cannot say that it is factually true that cheating is wrong. McBrayer summarized curriculum exercises in which children are asked to evaluate if the following statements are “facts” or “opinions.”
— Copying homework assignments is wrong.
— Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.
— All men are created equal.
— It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism.
— It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.
— Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat.
— Drug dealers belong in prison.
In each of the above cases, children are taught that these statements are opinions rather than facts. McBrayer is, rightly in my opinion, concerned. He concludes:
We can do better. Our children deserve a consistent intellectual foundation. Facts are things that are true. Opinions are things we believe. Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not. Some of our beliefs are backed by evidence. Others are not. Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct. That’s a hard thing to do. But we can’t sidestep the responsibilities that come with being human just because it’s hard.
Last time I checked 1,836 people had responded to McBrayer’s position. I didn’t tally responses, but many were not impressed with McBrayer’s concerns that we are not giving our children a proper moral foundation. The comments most approved by the Times staff and the readers (thereby making the top of the comments section) argued that morals can not be facts. Here are a few examples:
Grant Wiggins, NJ Yesterday
. . . Ethical statement are not facts, they are conclusions. They are principle-based judgments. So, it is a sound conclusion that one should not lie or steal if one bases one’s ethics on Kant’s categorical imperative or the Golden Rule more generally. To call such a conclusion a “fact” is to conflate facts with reasoned inferences.
Lauren, San Diego Yesterday
The fact is there are no moral facts. Morals are relative to the culture that created them. The problem is how they are being taught to ignore the morals of our society. . .
So the problem is not that they are teaching that there are no moral facts, its that they are teaching kids that they can have their own opinions on things that are not socially acceptable in the society and culture they live in.
Virgil (md) Yesterday
. . . The GLARING flaw of this article is that the author assumes moral fact is not only true but preferable. Not only does he over look a pretty significant realm of philosophic thought but he also offers no evidence to support his assertion that moral truths should be taught in school. Ultimately you are free to take whichever view you like but the problem with moral absolutists, people like the author, who believe things are right or they are wrong is that those views are not absolute. Exceptions can be found to every rule imaginable.
Ultimately, the author discounts the power of personal morals. I do not need to believe that killing another person goes against nature on a cosmic scale to believe it is wrong to do it myself. Yes it is an opinion that cheating is wrong, I share that opinion. But I see no evidence to suggest that is a fact.
Carl (Basel) Yesterday
If there were such a thing as a moral fact it would be consistent throughout the ages, different cultures and species.
Morality is in a stage of flux. Our Opinions and Morals have changed drastically in the last few years towards homosexuality, in the last few decades toward racism and sexism and in the past centuries towards slavery.
. . . We all understand that a society needs a moral structure that we can all (or at least most) agree and act on but this moral structure is not carved in stone and will constantly adapt to the needs and opinions of its society.
In my mind, these questions raise an obvious question. If morals are rooted in the beliefs and feelings of people – – then are we saying that polygamy is a legitimate option for cultures? Bestiality? Someone might respond, “But our culture does not believe those options are okay.” Understood. But what if a majority did?
The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived by Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor offers an accessible overview of Holy Week. This book would make a useful resource for families and a great gift for someone considering Christ. A free study guide is available.
Here are 7 reasons why I encourage our church family to buy and read The Final Days of Jesus:
1. Help with Harmonizing – Anyone who has closely studied Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John knows that at times it is difficult to see how the accounts fit together. For instance, compare the difference in wording of what was written above Jesus’s head on the Cross (John 19:19, Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38). Kostenberger and Taylor not only offer a harmonization, but they also give a wonderful explanation of how to read the gospel accounts responsibly and charitably (p. 19-20).
2. Parallel Gospel Accounts Brought Conveniently Together – The Final Days of Jesus is organized so that the Scripture for the events of each day is included in the text. Readers who want to read parallel accounts without flipping back and forth in their Bibles will benefit.
3. A Glossary and Reference Guide - If you are new to the Easter story, then simply the task of keeping track of the various Marys can send you over the edge of confusion. This is not to mention recalling who Caiaphas is or the Sanhedrin or Joseph of Arimethea. An alphabetized glossary and reference guide at the end makes it easy to look up anyone in the cast.
4. 21 Charts, Diagrams, and Maps – There is so much to “picture” when reading the Gospel accounts of Holy Week. Where did everyone sit at the Last Supper? Why was Peter motioning for John to ask Jesus who would betray him? Charts, diagrams, and maps provide resources that can quickly be reviewed.
5. Succinct Summaries – Kostenberger and Taylor blend depth and accessibility. Consider, for instance, their summary of Peter’s denial of Jesus.
Peter’s denial of Jesus stands as one of the most poignant and memorable events that transpired during Jesus’s final day. One of Jesus’s closest friends, a man who hours earlier had sworn to stand by Jesus no matter what the sacrifice or cost, denies even knowing Jesus and abandons him in his darkest hour. Pathos drips from the Gospel accounts— the tragedy is palpable, and Peter leaves the scene a broken man.
6. The Most Important Question Ever Asked is Directed to the Reader at the End – The first 202 pages of The Final Days of Jesus all lead up to the most important question about the most important person who ever lived, “Who do you say that he is?”
7. Holy Week is The Most Important Week of the Most Beautiful Person – Christ is the only true King. He deserves all our worship. There is nothing we could imagine that we would want in a savior that we do not find in Him. Nowhere is the beauty of Christ seen more vividly than in the biblical accounts of Holy Week. Seize this opportunity to look deeply at our Savior. The remaining items in this list are only miscellaneous observations. But this is the heart of the matter. Let’s think deeply of Christ.
- An Interview with Andreas Kostenberger about The Final Days of Jesus
- An Interview with Justin Taylor about The Final Days of Jesus
- The order of events during Holy Week
- The people involved in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ
- Places Associated with Holy Week
- Important theological terms
Suffering with incurable cancer, J. Todd Billings points out that contemporary hymnals tend to have a far smaller proportion of laments than the book of Psalms does (Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, 40).
While psalms of thanksgiving are wonderful, they are rarer in the book of Psalms than psalms of lament. Cherry-picking only the praises from the Psalms tends to shape a church culture in which only positive emotions can be expressed before God in faith. Since my diagnosis with cancer, I’ve found that my fellow Christians know how to rejoice about answered prayer and also how to petition God for help, but many don’t know what to do when I express sorrow and loss or talk about death. In some sense, this lack of affective agility in their faith is not surprising since our corporate worship has lost many of the elements that are so prominent in the psalms of lament.
J. Todd Billings is a theologian who has been diagnosed with incurable cancer. In his new book, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, Billings wrestles with the problem of evil and the question of why a good and all powerful God would allow suffering.
But Billings does not stop with the problem of evil. Even though he has cancer, Billings also points out that there is a “problem of good.” As much pain as there can be in this world, there is also so much beauty and goodness. The problem of good considers the questions, “How can we explain so much beauty?” Our worldviews must explain “goodness” as well as pain. Billings writes:
The incredible goodness of creation, including the hope in new life – – in a marriage, in children, in creation as a whole–exposed me to what some philosophers and theologians have referred to as the “problem of good.” I’ve reflected already in earlier chapters on the problem of evil. But there is a “problem” (if one does not believe in a good God) explaining the goodness in the world that goes far beyond the banal. “If the world is the chance assembly of accidental phenomena, where is there so much that we want to praise and celebrate? Why is there beauty, love, and laughter? God’s creation is drenched with wonder and goodness: lush waterfalls and sandy deserts; children who can blow bubbles and wear crazy wigs: material bodies that can dance, play sports, and express sexual intimacy in the secure freedom of marriage. Who are you going to thank for it? If you have no one to thank, then you have not done justice to the “problem of good.” The beauties and delights of creation point beyond themselves; they cry out to thank someone–a Creator. Indeed, apart from the specific philosophical “problem of good,” Scripture indicates that God’s creation is not just good–it’s very good!
For the materialist (who believes that there is nothing more than random collisions of molecules) the problem of good is insurmountable. Is it really possible that Beethoven’s 9th symphony is the product of a mass of meat?
You can watch J. Todd Billings talk more about his book below:
Dr. Heath Lambert serves as Executive Director at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. ACBC is the largest biblical counseling organization in the world with certified counselors and counseling training centers in 17 countries. Heath also serves as Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and their undergraduate institution, Boyce College where he has taught classes on biblical counseling and Christian ministry since 2006.
Heath is the author of the first book I recommend to those struggling with pornography, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace.
Heath is not only a counselor, he is also a parent. In the below video he shares some of the practical ways he and his wife teach their young children in age appropriate ways.
Q: As a father, how do you shepherd your children in our hyper-sexualized culture?
The issue of how you shepherd your children in a hyper-sexualized culture is what keeps me up at night, quite literally. I have three kids: a nine year-old boy, a four year-old boy and a six year-old daughter. I walk into their rooms and pray for them almost every night before I go to bed. And there are many things I pray for them. I pray that they will love the gospel, will love the Bible, will walk with Jesus; yet the thing I pray for almost every night is that the Lord would protect them from this pornographic culture that has a bull’s-eye on their head. I think the first thing you have to do is pray for your kids. There are so many forces after our kids and we have no control over most of those forces. As far as ministering to our children is concerned, there are a few things my wife and I do. And I don’t think I have all this figured out, so ask me again in ten to fifteen years and maybe I’ll have something more to say. But, here are the main things we are doing:
First, we talk about modesty all the time. When we are in our house, we dress modestly. I am modest in our house, my wife is modest in our house and we make sure our kids are modest in our house. We do that on purpose not because we are being prudish, but because we want to occasion the opportunity to talk about the godliness of modesty—the godliness of being covered up. It’s a way to express care to others.
When we talk about modesty, it gives us a starting point.
Read more here.
When studying the beatitudes, it is helpful not only to notice a sequence to the beatitudes, but also a cycle. Give my artistic limitations, I need someone to illustrate the point. Submit to me an illustration by Saturday and I may incorporate it in Sunday’s sermon. Salvation is by grace, but if you help the sermon out with an illustration, there is surely some sort of blessing that awaits. Maybe I’ll give you a mint.
Nearly everyone notices the sequence of the beatitudes (Lloyd-Jones, Keller, Bruner for example). But Bruner, in Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12, page 156) helpfully sees not only a sequence but also a cycle. A Christian begins empty (poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry for righteousness). He or she is then graciously blessed by God and extends mercy, is pure in heart, and makes peace. Suffering, however, is inevitable for the Christian and soon enough the believer is knocked flat. Amazingly, persecution brings us back to the place of being on our knees and empty: crying out to God.
Bruner calls this cycle “the aerobics of discipleship.” He says that when he teaches the beatitudes:
I first draw a little stick figure on its knees and with its hands reaching up to heaven to represent the blessed poor; then a little stick figure standing up with its hands reaching out to the world to represent the blessed helpers; and finally a little stick figure flat on its back, with its hands reaching back up to heaven again to represent the blessed persecuted.
Altogether, I see in the sequence of Blessings the grace of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who picks up all who are down and sends them out in the world to pick others up, knowing this lead these very helpers, mysteriously, to be thrown back down in persecution and, so into need; from whence they will rise again from their knees to their feet, where they will again be knocked down and so on the rest of their lives – – the aerobics of discipleship.
I am sure that many of you will agree about two points:
(1) Bruner’s insight into the Beatitudes as they relate to the Christian life is excellent. We should not be surprised at suffering as though something strange is happening.
(2) My illustration of Bruner’s point is terrible. Surely you can do better. Let me know in the comments if you have an image. Or email me a picture and help all involved!
The below video is by no means just for singles nor is it simply about the subject of being single. I’ll bet you will be encouraged by this if you take 15 minutes to watch it.
I heard Lizzette Beard at the 2014 ERLC National Conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” I continue to reflect on what she had to say and there are a couple of specific ways that her talk influenced my direction as a leader for our church. And, for the record, her influence wasn’t in reference to how we do singles ministry!