Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to understand ..."

Day #265

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 23 - 25 …

Why doesn’t everyone read the Bible, understand what it says and believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life?  God Himself gives us the answer: some have been given "eyes to see," and others are left in their spiritual blindness.  Remember Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless He is born again.” And the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. ... The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them ... But we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:12,14,16).  Once again, God’s grace to us who are chosen to be His is amazing from beginning to end!!

Jesus came preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God and how to enter it, yet the Pharisees were too busy teaching the law and judging others to see what Jesus had to offer.  They were bound by their traditions and believed they could approach God clothed in their own righteousness, their own goodness.  Jesus confronted them with the reality of their standing before God in Chapter 23 of our reading today, and He confronts any who would do the same today.

While people outside the Church often throw stones at those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, and while they claim that we all think we're "better" than others, nothing could be further from the truth for those who have tasted of God's grace.  We KNOW that we are sinners and we know that we can never be good enough to earn God's favor and to enter His kingdom based on our own righteousness.  Rather, we claim the righteousness of Christ by faith and rest in God's grace and forgiveness.  It is arrogant to believe you can be good enough!

Jesus pronounced His "woes" on the Pharisees and rightly called them "hypocrites," because they did not "practice what they preached" (23:3).  What many do not understand today is that Jesus calls us to examine ourselves, to confess our own sins, and then to hold one another as believers accountable to His Word.  We are to point out sin, even to those who do not yet believe, but not to pass judgment.  That is left to God.  That means that we point out that sin leads to death, to final judgment in hell, but we offer God's grace and forgiveness through faith in Christ Jesus.  Leaving people in their sin is not love … pointing out their sin without offering them grace is no better.

Some of the Pharisees actually believed in Jesus later, as the Holy Spirit convicted their hearts of the truth of Jesus' words.  God still does the same today.  He sends His Word and Spirit to convict our hearts and to lead us to Christ for forgiveness and life.  And He opens our eyes so we can see the beauty and glory of His kingdom, moving us to desire life with Him above anything this world has to offer.

In Chapter 24, Jesus taught the disciples about how His kingdom would finally come.  While many give various explanations to this Chapter, in this brief space let me point out some obvious (or what should be obvious) truths:

Verses 3-8 describe the "beginning of birth pains."  These are parallel to the opening of the first four seals of Revelation 6.  Verses 9-12 describe the opening of the fifth seal, the Great Tribulation, and the persecution of the Church by the Antichrist.  But Jesus promises, "He who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and THEN the end will come" (verses 13-14).

For those who do not believe Jesus is talking about the end times, verse 15 SHOULD make it clear, as He refers to Daniel's prophecy in Daniel 9:27. Verses 15-28 describe the Great Tribulation in greater detail, and then Jesus says, "IMMEDIATELY after the distress of those days …" (vs. 29).  What follows is a description of the opening of the sixth seal and the Rapture of the Church (verses 29-31).  Any other explanation does not "fit" with what God reveals in the prophets, in Paul's letters and in John's Revelation.  Study this chapter along with the rest of God's Word and pray for wisdom.  God does not contradict Himself and Jesus clearly predicts what will happen.

Jesus goes on to tell those who believe to WATCH!  Why watch if there are no signs to look for?  (Check out I Thessalonians 5, verses 3 AND 4). Meanwhile, we are not to live like the Pharisees, but to live as servants of the King.  "It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns" (24:46).  And Chapter 25 describes the importance of being ready by serving the Master.  While we are saved by grace through faith, true faith in Jesus Christ that is produced by the work of the Holy Spirit making us "new creations" in Christ always produces "fruit" that brings glory to God.

Chapter 25:31-46 describes the importance of living as citizens of God's kingdom in this life.  Once again, Jesus is not describing here a way to earn your salvation or to be righteous enough to gain entrance into His kingdom.  Rather, He is describing the way those who know Him will live.  Meeting the physical and spiritual needs of those around us is a natural response for those who have received God's grace and forgiveness and who now want to show God's love in word and deed to those around them.
We have to be careful not to make this the standard for entrance into the kingdom, otherwise we are doing the same thing Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing - setting up a standard that no one can meet.  Jesus is pointing out that those who are His will believe in Him and will serve the world in His name.  

In what we call "The Lord's Prayer," Jesus taught His disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  May that be our daily prayer, as we offer ourselves in the service of our King, awaiting the day when He returns to establish His eternal kingdom and we reign with Him.  O glorious day!!

"Father, it is a humbling thing to understand that if we know Jesus Christ as King and can "see" Your kingdom, it is only because You have opened our eyes by Your Word and Spirit.  I thank You for Your grace and ask You to continue Your work in me, helping me to understand all that You have revealed in Your Word, and to live in such a way that my faith in You results in service to others.  In Jesus' name, Amen" 

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