A Blessed Gift

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled”

Matthew 5:6

The beatitudes are the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount in which the theme is God’s righteousness compared with the standard of righteousness set by Israel’s religious leaders (v 20). The purpose of this comparison is to show the failure and futility of any standard set by men and the necessity of one receiving God’s righteousness. In the third beatitude, quoted above, Jesus says that the person who hungers and thirsts for God’s righteousness is blessed.

Blessed is speaking of position. People who hunger and thirst for God and His righteousness are in the best possible position. The latter part of the verse explains why: those who seek God’s righteousness will be satisfied. That they do hunger demonstrates that they have already received the gift of God’s righteousness.  That is why they are blessed.

The words used by Jesus indicate a craving that rules one’s desires and life. A key indication that a creature is alive is that it craves food and water. If it doesn’t, it is dying or already dead. Anyone who does not crave God’s righteousness is spiritually dead. That a person does crave God’s righteousness is an indication of spiritual life. Such a person will not only crave God’s righteousness but also communion with God through Jesus Christ in prayer, Bible reading and study, and fellowship with other faithful Christians.

How one receives God’s righteousness is clearly revealed in Genesis 15:6: “[Abram] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” God’s righteousness is not something we achieve; it is credited to us as a gift upon believing God’s word. When a gift is offered by anyone we demonstrate faith in the giver by receiving the gift. Paul writes, “For if by one man’s offence death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness give evidence of spiritual life and that they have already received the gift of God’s righteousness. They now long to live in the experience of it and Jesus affirms that they will be satisfied. The full experience of this satisfaction awaits us in the resurrection when Christ reigns and rules in righteousness.

First and Last

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus”

Revelation 22:20

This is the last recorded prayer in the Bible. In difficult and stressful times we are inclined to desire His coming just to be away from our current circumstances but that is just one side of the coin. The other side is a desire to be with Jesus and His righteousness. He is coming to bring an end to sin and death and to take His own to be with Him forever. Just as He did in His first coming Jesus will do so at just the right time, not early and not late (Galatians 4:4-5). Our desire is for Jesus to reign in righteousness and peace but that will only happen when Jesus returns and establishes His earthly kingdom. Then the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). From the beginning it has been God’s desire to dwell with and in His creation. Our desire is to dwell with God just as it is His desire to dwell with us.

The above prayer, the last recorded, contrasts greatly with the first recorded prayer in the Bible: “So he [Adam] said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:10). Instead of desiring God’s presence Adam and Eve fled God’s presence. Disobedience will always do that. More than once I avoided my parents as long as I could because I had been disobedient to them. It is the nature of fallen man to not want to face his disobedience and guilt but to try to escape the presence of God. This is the exact opposite of what he should do. Jonah, one of the more notoriously rebellious men in the Bible also wanted to escape the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3, 10) but God kept after him.

Between the first recorded prayer (the desire to escape the presence of the Lord) and the last prayer recorded in the Bible (the desire for God’s presence to return) something of tremendous significance happened. That something was Jesus Christ’s first coming to save mankind from sin and death and to restore his proper relationship with God. At Easter we give time to remember and reflect on just how He accomplished that. Instead of fleeing His presence we should draw near to Him because His forgiveness is the only way of taking away our sin and restoring our relationship with God. The book of Revelation reveals that many would rather die than seek forgiveness. However, there will be many who seek and receive forgiveness through Christ.

Pleasing the Crowd

“So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd released Barabas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified” Mark 15:15

In democratic countries of the world the political systems have deteriorated into essentially politicians seeking to please the people in order to be elected to office. One only has to take a casual look at the style of electioneering to observe this. When leaders of a country have only their own interest at heart and thereby seek to gratify the crowd then righteousness will be crucified.

In Daniel’s explanation of king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream regarding his and future kingdoms, the last kingdom in the image prior to the Lord’s return is a mixture of iron and clay (Daniel 2). These substances cannot hold together. We know that the iron represents the oppressive dictatorship of the Roman Empire but in the last days that will be mixed with a weak form of government depicted by clay in the feet and toes of the image. Just as iron and clay cannot mix, neither does a dictatorship and democracy. Just as iron is strong and clay crumbles, so a dictatorship is strong and democracy is weak. The weakness of democracy is in the fact that in order for politicians to be elected they must please the people. If the people seek righteousness it is strength but when they seek unrighteousness the weakness of democracy is revealed.

In Saul’s day the people demanded a king like the surrounding nations. In doing so they rejected God as their King (1 Samuel 8:7). The final renunciation of Jesus by the chief priests is expressed in their words, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). In these days we observe that politicians, in order to please the crowds of lobbyists, are choosing to crucify Jesus all over again by turning from righteousness to unrighteousness and oppression of His people.

God gave Israel the king they desired essentially saying, “You can have the king you desire but you will be sorry” and “You will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:18). Samuel had just told the people of Israel that the kind of king they wanted would tax their hides for his own luxury and a vast military force.

If, as a nation, we demand unrighteous leaders (by our democratic vote) God may give what we ask for but we will be sorry.

In the current alignment of nations and the raising up and pulling down of nations, we are observing the horizon of fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures drawing ever nearer. “… knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).

The Gift of God

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith” Romans 3:27

If obtaining God’s favor is based on our effort then those who gain acceptance would have something of which to boast. Paul makes it clear in this letter, especially the first few chapters, that there will be no boasting because acceptance is not gained in that way. He also says the same in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (2:8-9).

Some people believe that they will be able to mount a credible defense at the judgment but Paul says that “every mouth will be stopped.” No one will be able to defend themselves against the indictments of God. All will know they are guilty and without any defense (Romans 3:19).

The indictments of God are taken by Paul from the Old Testament and recorded in verses ten to eighteen. Alva McClain writes that there are fourteen indictments recorded here. One should take note of the words “none” and “all” in this passage. There are no exceptions. This is God’s assessment of each and every person against His measure.

When we make an assessment of ourselves we use our own idea of what is good or we may compare ourselves against other people who are esteemed by our peers. But are these valid measures?

In the last two chapters of the Bible we read that nothing that is corrupt or that defiles will enter God’s presence. God is holy, without corruption and defilement. Heaven would not be heaven if it did not match God’s purity, perfection and holiness. Jesus Christ is the measure and all judgment has been given to Him (John 5:26-27). Anything that is less than His perfection and purity cannot enter His presence.

Since the indictments taken from the Old Testament are all inclusive of mankind no one will enter God’s presence based on his own effort. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v 23). If anyone is to enter His presence then there must be another way.

This is the reason Christians celebrate at Christmas and why we give and receive gifts. Jesus Christ is God’s gift to mankind (John 3:16) and through faith in Him (John 6:40) He gives us His righteousness as an undeserved (grace) gift. The title of this article might well have read, “The Gift that is God.” Paul’s testimony is that righteousness is a gift so that no one will be able to boast in themselves. Paul writes that we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v 24).

We are glad that God does not demand that we attain purity by our own effort because it is evident that there is no way we can change what we are. That He changes what we are as a gift in Christ is cause for great joy. Our boasting is not in our own achievement but in the Gift of God and that Gift is Jesus Christ. “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Beware the Snare

“God, I thank You that I am not like other men.”

“God, be merciful to me a sinner” Luke 18:11& 13.

This parable was spoken by Jesus of a man who sincerely believed that he was living a life that pleased God. He kept the commandments with regard to morality, ritual and especially spiritual exercises. He went daily to the temple to pray, fasted twice each week and tithed all his possessions. He did not extort money or possessions from others and neither was he unjust toward others. He was faithful in his relationships. He was certainly faithful to his Jewishness and was thankful for his exalted position in the temple and community. This was a righteous man that the population would have looked up to and sought to follow as a role model.

There was nothing outwardly wrong with the things that he did. However Jesus points out a flaw in his motive. He saw himself as different from others with regard to righteousness. In his mind he had achieved this level of righteousness by his own effort and that God blessed him because he pleased God by his life. This is why he looked down upon one who did not have all the advantages he had.

We can fall into the snare of having the wrong motive. We may want to prove to Jesus that we are worthy of His name by disciplining ourselves to live a morally righteous life with all the right spiritual exercises. We may feel that we have to prove to Jesus that we are worthy of His love. We may want to prove to other Christians that we have advantages because we are worthy of them. This is the working of pride. The fact is we are not at all worthy.

We know we have this attitude when we become critical of others (like the Pharisee in the parable) who we consider don’t measure up. What we are doing is despising them as unworthy of Christ’ love and kingdom. In a personal context Paul writes concerning this attitude, “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7).

Jesus ends this parable by telling us that it is the one despised who went home justified. He came to the temple to pray but he knew he had no basis for God to show him favour or to even hear him. His only prayer was for God’s mercy toward an undeserving helpless sinner. Praise God that Jesus said that he went home justified or who could be saved?

Those of us who have had the advantage in life of coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour ought never forget that we were no different to others who are yet to receive Him (1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 2:3). Those advantages were not because we were better or more deserving than others (Deuteronomy 7:7, 8). They are the outworking of God’s grace of which we are stewards and for which we should be very thankful. Jesus said, “The Son of man has come to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) and that is our mission as well. It is not to look down upon others as the Pharisees did but to show mercy by lifting them into the presence of Jesus Christ just as another faithful servant once did for us.

Choosing a Master

“When you were slaves of sin …” “and having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:20, 18)

In Romans chapter 6 Paul gives his readers some choices though he only considers one of the options as being that of a true Christian.

In verses 1 and 15 he asks questions that we should never have to consciously answer because one of the options is unthinkable for a Christian. If we have to think about how we would respond there is concern as to whether we really are a Christian.

A person without Christ always sins all of the time and has no choice in the matter. Just because an act appears moral doesn’t mean it is not sin. We have such a wrong idea of sin. Sin is not wrong doing, it is wrong being. Sin is any moment when Jesus Christ is not allowed to function as our sovereign master from a glad and willing heart.

To ensure we have Christ as Master and not sin as master, Paul gives us some do’s and do nots in verses 12 and 13.

Do not let sin be sovereign over your body. The evidence that you are is that you let your body dictate to your mind to satiate its own pleasure and lusts. Do not surrender your body to satiate its sinful lusts and desires.

Do present your whole being in surrender to God for His will and purpose and do give your body to serve His righteousness and not its sinful desires.

Paul says that we have a choice to whom we present ourselves (v 16) but one of the options is absolutely absurd to a Christian.

Since we have chosen righteousness in Christ for eternity why would we want to live under sin’s power in the present since we have seen its fruit (v 21)?

In verse 16 Paul also writes that if we allow sin to have its way in us then it will lead to sin having a greater hold over us. On the other hand if we surrender ourselves to God for His righteousness it will lead to God having greater rule and power in and through us for righteousness To continue to remain under sin’s rule is absurd since we have been voluntarily set free from it (v 18, 22) Notice Paul writes this twice to make sure we don’t miss it.