A Prayer God Hears (Matthew 7:7–12)

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Sermon Audio: A Prayer God Hears (Matthew 7:7–12)

How deep the father’s love for us / How vast beyond all measure
That he should give his only Son / To make a wretch his treasure

These words by Stuart Townend express in song what Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, namely that the Father in heaven loves his children and longs for us to come and find our greatest reward in him. Indeed, this is why Jesus Christ came, to bring the Father’s kingdom to earth by means of his death and resurrection. In the new covenant Jesus made a way for sins to be forgiven and for forgiven sinners to enter God’s presence.

In Matthew 7:7–11 specifically, we find another place where Jesus’s focus on the Father teaches disciples about the kind of access they have to God and the kind of prayer our Father in heaven loves to hear. On Sunday considered this passage and how Jesus teaches us to pray.

You can listen to the sermon online. Below you can find discussion questions and additional resources, including the majestic rendition of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us by the Austin Stone Church. Continue reading

Gospel-Motivated Giving

om-prakash-sethia-301978-unsplashThis summer our church looked at Jesus’s words concerning giving. In Sunday School, we studied Randy Alcorn’s helpful little book called The Treasure PrincipleYou can listen to the series here. And in our series on the Sermon on the Mount, we have looked at Jesus words about giving in Matthew 6:1–4, treasure in Matthew 6:19–24, and trusting God with our material needs in Matthew 6:25–34. You can listen to those sermons here:

Still, giving is not just something that Jesus talked about. It is something that goes back to the beginning of corporate worship. For in Exodus, when God redeemed his people from Egypt, he led them to contribute to the construction of the tabernacle. With the gifts God provided for Israel through the “plundering of the Egyptians,” God’s people gladly gave to the construction of God’s dwelling place.

Today, as the church has become the temple of the Holy Spirit, God’s people continue to give to its upbuilding, as the Lord moves our hearts. Jesus’s words about storing up treasure in heaven, and not on earth may even refer directly to this temple-directed giving (see Nicholas Perrin, Jesus the Temple), However, throughout the Bible there is a theme of God’s people giving to the upbuilding of God’s dwelling place because of the work of grace in their lives.

This is first seen in Exodus and continues until today. Accordingly, we can learn much by seeing the relationship between grace and giving, and how gospel-motivated giving is both similar and different from all other forms of philanthropy. Continue reading

The Gospel According to Moses: Three Reasons Why We Should Study Deuteronomy

deurteronomy01If you could only take one book of the Bible with you on a deserted island, what would it be? Psalms? The Gospel of John? Hebrews? What about Deuteronomy?

Amazingly, when we put that question to the life Jesus, we discover it was the book of Deuteronomy and the Psalms, which Jesus took with him when the Spirit led him into the wilderness. In Matthew 4:1–11 we find the account of Jesus temptation in the wilderness, and notice what words Jesus quotes.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” [Deut. 8:3]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“ ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” [Psalm 91:11–12]

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’ ” [Deut. 6:16]

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

In this temptation narrative, we learn something about Jesus and the way Jesus read the Old Testament, as well as the importance of the book of Deuteronomy. Continue reading

The Truth about Treasure (Matthew 6:19–24)

sermon05The Truth about Treasure (Matthew 6:19–24)

What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?

This is Tertullian’s famous question contrasting the difference between divine truth and man-made philosophy. And it highlights the challenge of living in this world with our eyes fixed upon another.

In a similar fashion, we might ask the same question about our rewards: What hath dollars to do with eternal destinies?

Indeed, in a world where money motivates, secures, comforts, and corrupts, we are painfully aware of the problems that money (and its lack) bring. Yet, as Jesus instructs us in Matthew 6:19–24, our earthly riches also provide an important avenue for discipleship and increasing our eternal joy. The question is how!

With that in mind, Sunday’s sermon considered Jesus’s teaching about earthly and heavenly reward. You can listen to that sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources can be found below.

Continue reading

God’s Currency Exchange: How God Funds His Gospel Mission

pina-messina-465025-unsplashOver the summer, our church considered many of the things Jesus said about money. In a Sunday School series following Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle, we learned much about how to invest our lives in things eternal. This Sunday, in our Sermon on the Mount series, we will again look at Jesus’s words about storing up treasure in heaven and not on earth.

Reflecting on this passage, I am reminded of an article I read more than 15 years ago on the subject of money and how it can be and should be “converted.” “Transmuted,” not converted, is actually the word R.A. Torrey used in his article, “Our Lord’s Teaching about Money,” but converting earthly riches into heavenly gain is the idea.

This article is actually more than 100-years old now, included in the historic 12-volume set The Fundamentals, but the truths contained therein are just as relevant today as they were in 1909. Indeed, God’s truth is eternal and his principles about all of life, including money, are evergreen. Yet, the point about converting currency into earthly treasure is one I haven’t heard often, thus I share Torrey’s point here.

Currency Conversion: How God Funds His Gospel Mission

In Torrey’s article on money, he lists nine “laws” Jesus taught about money. Each are worth considering, but it’s his final point about converting money into eternal rewards that has always stuck with me. And so I share it here: Continue reading

Are You Going To(o) Fast? (Matthew 6:16–18)

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Are You Going To(o) Fast? (Matthew 6:16–18)

Fasting.

If you have read the Bible, you’ve probably come across it. It’s mentioned about 75 times. Maybe you’ve even tried to it. But what is it?

Some testify to the miraculous results of this ancient practice. Others just skip over it, an impossible practice that is for “major league” Christians. And still others may be confused by the whole thing, or practice it for the wrong reason(s).

In Matthew 6:16–18, fasting for the wrong reason is what Jesus is targeting. Still, his words are not just relevant for his first century context; they also teach us important truths about denying ourselves and seeking God’s reward.

The truth is, everyone fasts every week, but I suspect most of us don’t think of it as fasting. Yet, how we deny ourselves and indulge ourselves is one of the most important things about who we are and who we are becoming.

Therefore in this week’s sermon I sought to answer a number of questions related to fasting and how Jesus’s words instruct all of us how to tune our fasting to seek the reward of knowing God. You can listen to this sermon online. Further resources about fasting can be found below, along with a few discussion questions. Continue reading

A New Covenant Perspective on Fasting

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“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
— Matthew 6:16–18 —

This Sunday our church comes to Jesus’s words about fasting in Matthew 16:16–18. In preparation, I have read many commentaries and articles on the subject, but one question lingers: How does the new covenant impact fasting?

In his immensely helpful chapter on fasting, Donald Whitney identifies fasting as numerically greater than baptism—77 uses of fasting in the Bible, compared to 75 uses of baptism. Yet, does that mean fasting is equally important for the new covenant Christian?

I am not sure. While the Bible regularly talks about fasting, most of the occurrences are found in the Old Testament. And while every word of Old Testament is useful for our instruction, I wonder how fasting relates to the covenants? Or to turn it the other way, is there a difference between fasting under the Law and fasting under the Gospel (i.e., the Law fulfilled)? Could that explain the difference in emphasis? That is what I will try to answer below. Continue reading

Drinking Deeply from Our Father in Heaven: Nine Observations about Giving, Praying, and Fasting (Matthew 6:1–18)

didin-emelu-329478-unsplashIn the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives instructions about giving (vv. 2–4), praying (vv. 5–15), and fasting (vv. 16–18). In our church we have taken one sermon per “spiritual discipline,” but really in the structure of Matthew’s Gospel, we should read these three disciplines together. And in fact, when we do there are some observations we discover that we might not find on our own.

So here are nine observations about Matthew 6:1–18 and Jesus’s instructions about these critical elements of worship, discipleship, and spiritual communion with God.

1. Giving, praying, and fasting make up the center of the Sermon.

Sermon on the Mount Overview copy

From the structure of the sermon, we discover verses 1–18 should be read as the center of the sermon. Even more specifically, giving (vv. 2–4) and fasting (vv. 16–18) should be seen as a concentric ring around Jesus’s instructions around prayer (vv. 5–15), which itself is centered around the Lord’s Prayer. And that pray too is shaped to put three imperatives on both sides the words “on earth as it is in heaven.”

In other words, the shape observed in the image above continues right to the summit of the mountain, where we discover that prayer in the presence of our heavenly father is the goal of the Law (5:17–48) and the Prophets (6:19–7:11), as well asthe center of Jesus teaching about discipleship (6:1–18).

Moreover, because of this intentional shaping and the balanced presentation of giving and fasting around prayer, we may find that these various disciplines are not as independent as we often think. In fact, to get the full meaning of Jesus’s words we should read them together. Continue reading

Like Father, Like Sons: A Father-Oriented Approach to Christian Maturity (Matthew 5:43–48)

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Like Father, Like Sons: A Father-Oriented Approach to Christian Maturity (Matthew 5:43–48)

“Be mature as your Heavenly Father is perfectly mature.” It doesn’t have the same ring as “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” but it may be closer to the reality of what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:48.

On Sunday we finished the last of six expositions of the law that Jesus gives in Matthew 5:43–48. And as Jesus addresses the topic of love and hate, we learn how to grow up in Christ and to become more like our Heavenly Father.

You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and further resources are listed below.  Continue reading

What Should We Think About the Imprecatory Psalms?

angel-clouds-weather-vera-161199Imprecatory psalms (e.g., Pss 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140) are those psalms which call upon God to destroy the enemies of God. They come from the anguished hearts of persecuted Israelites, and they include some of the most shocking words in the Bible. Take just a few examples.

Psalm 35 provides one of the most acceptable imprecatory Psalms. Verses 4–6 read,

Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
who devise evil against me!
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the LORD driving them away!
Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the LORD pursuing them!
(Psalm 35:4–6)

In Psalm 109, the language gets more severe as David calls for the personal ruination of the wicked.

Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin!
May his days be few;
may another take his office!
May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!
May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
nor any to pity his fatherless children!
May his posterity be cut off;
may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD,
and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!
Let them be before the LORD continually,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!
(Psalm 109:6–15)

Finally, in Psalm 137 David pronounces a benediction on those who destroy the children of the wicked:

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!
(Psalm 137:7–9)

Due to their graphic violence and divine approval—they are in the Bible, after all—many Protestant liberals have charged the God of Israel with violence unbecoming a deity. Other modern readers have written off Christianity entirely because of the imprecatory Psalms and Israel’s violent history. Even for gospel-loving, grace-proclaiming Christians, the inspired cries for vengeance make us feel uncomfortable. They don’t immediately fit our normal grid for a God who is love. What, therefore, should we think about the imprecatory Psalms?

A few years ago, my PhD Supervisor and good fried, Stephen Wellum, gave a Sunday School lesson on these psalms, and what follows is an amplified outline of his lesson. Continue reading