Matthew 4:17 | The Way Forward

What is the primary message of Jesus when he was on earth teaching? Would any of the following be able to sum up what Jesus taught… God is love, help the poor, don’t judge, love everyone, be a good person? While true to a degree none of these summaries is even close to true on their own. Many want to use their conception of Jesus as a talking point to support an agenda, a political view, or to justify some lifestyle. The reality however is that the message of Jesus demands a radical change of heart in the hearer.

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 ESV

When Jesus started his ministry before he calls any of the disciples Matthew writes that Jesus preached a message of “repentance”. This word “Repent” means to reconsider the morality of your life. Jesus preached saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Jesus started his ministry telling people that they needed to change the focus and priority of their life from one of selfishness to one that is focused on the priority of God in heaven. For example are you focused on making money because you want to be rich. Repent! Money will buy you nothing in God’s kingdom. Are you seeking to fulfill lusts of the flesh by living the mantra if it feels good do it? Repent! Your lusts will lead you to death and will have no part in God’s kingdom. Do you hate those who have wronged you? Repent! Hate reveals a murderous heart and murders have no part of the kingdom of God. I could go on. Paul sums things up better than me…

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 ESV

Jesus taught the disciples a message of Repentance. Paul continued that teaching and the disciples continued that teaching. Peter in his first sermon after Jesus ascended to heaven concluded his preaching with a message of repentance.  

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 ESV

The “gospel” of Jesus Christ (his main message) is a message of repentance. The gospel is not a message that God loves but you can continue to do whatever you want. The gospel message of repentance means that you will want to turn away from anything that is wrong and turn to God who is right.The gospel is not do good stuff and maybe God will let you into his kingdom. The gospel is good news that God became a man (Immanuel = God with us) named Jesus (Jesus literally means “God Saves”) to provide a way for us to repent and restore ourselves in right standing with God. In church talk this is summarized by saying Jesus Saves.

4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. Romans 2:4-8 ESV

God loves so much and He has been so kind to us that he is giving men and women a chance to repent. The good news is that repentance is possible. Turn from the way the world operates in selfishness and sin. Run from the death of whatever feels good do it and turn toward the selfless, servant like morality that Jesus offers. Peter in his sermon clearly states that Repentance leads to forgiveness from God and that God who is loving will give to you His Holy Spirit that will change us to an acceptable citizen of the kingdom that is at hand.

You are Evil.

Racist alt-right Nazis marched. Media, political partisans, and evangelical churches condemn the evil of the marcher’s ideology. The fuel for the condemnation is the hateful and angry subjects in the photos from the march. The fuel for the condemnation is the outrageous murder of an anti-alt-right protester in Virginia. And the condemnation experienced even more combustion by the always inflammatory president when asked about the events by reporters looking to blame him because of their own partisan narrative. I am not going rehash any descriptions or pictures of that now infamous protest but I will say anyone who attended an event hosted by White Nationalist has no ground to claim they were only there to protect the history of memorials. Hate hides in their heart. Any attack on the worth or nature of fellow humans is against God. If you attack or demean the humanity of any person, then you are attacking the very image of God that rests on each person.

8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. James 3:8-9 ESV

Jesus pulls no punches about our evil. Mind the words that come out of our mouths. Mind the thoughts that dwell in our hearts.

34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:34 ESV

The words spoken on social media and the words spoken to family and friends about what one hates is just the surface of what dwells deep inside one’s core. This hate is evil. Mankind is evil. Both Jesus and James call words evil because the words flow from the source, our hearts, concluding in men and women sinning against God himself.

What I want to focus on is the unity and the positive words of the President Obama in what is now the most liked tweet ever tweeted. “No one is born hating another person”. With the implication being that society, culture, families, and individuals, teach hate and evil.

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It is true. People where taught to enslave and belittle other people created in the image of God. The KKK is an organization that must teach its members how to act and how to live. The president’s words and truth are wonderful. I thank him for speaking them. But his words taken alone will resolve the issue. Taken alone his tweet will not be a sound formula to fix the problem. Hate is always discovered by the next generation because the world, the media, and both presidents will fail to recognize and deal with the root of the problem.

The hearts of men and women are evil. All men and women are sinners. Hear Jesus again if you think yourself righteous.

34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:34 ESV

Examine your heart. Is your conscience clear to lead people to give up the hate in their hearts? Think yourself a good person? I can with certainty say no we are not. Look at the comparison that Jesus makes between ourselves and God.

9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:9-11 ESV

The prophets recognized our evil.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6 NIV

The apostles recognized our evil.

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:9-18 ESV

The question I ask now. Answer the key question if one wants to see hate removed from the hearts of men and women. Do you recognize the source of our evil words? Do you see the anger, hate, and lashing out rooted in the heart, in our soul, of our rebellion against the Creator? If so then repent of the evil in your own heart.

The anti-white supremacy protesters that showed up to oppose the evil of racism should pray that the racist would repent and that the source of the evil, their hearts, would be made alive. Christians should pray for the nation and the people they know who harbor hate in their hearts. Christians should pray that they themselves would let go of hate and stop harboring evil desires. Repentance and Jesus are the solution. Teaching and laws serve only to control people and will not fix the heart that is evil and broken.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus Romans 3:21-24

A Gift to be Free

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Is singleness a “gift”? Is a lack of desire to party and drink a gift? What about the person who has no desire or need for a drug fix? Would that be a gift? Have you ever personally known someone who was a compulsive liar? They just could not help themselves and were always inventing stories and lies as a habit of life? Would it be a “gift” to not have that burden? The fact is restraint and personal boundaries come easy for some but are much more difficult for others. In the middle of Paul’s practical rules for marriage, relationships, and sex he makes an obvious but seldom realized point about the nature of people. We all have different strengths, weaknesses, and “gifts” from God.

7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. 1 Corinthians 7:7 ESV

The “gift” Paul is talking about here is a lack of desire or need for a sexual relationship in his life. Paul wishes right before this statement that all men would remain single to focus on their relationship with Christ alone, but he knows in real world practicality that is not possible. William Barclay in his commentary on Corinthians provides solid evidence that Paul most likely was married at one time. Unknown is what happened to his wife. Did they split up over his conversion to Christianity or maybe an untimely death? Whatever the reason the result is that Paul living the brutal road life of a missionary sets an example and he views as a “gift” to be single and singularly focused on God’s priorities.

For me I wanted to be married and I wanted it at a young age. A partner for life to have my back, someone to be relationally and emotionally invested in, and of course the want of sex made it all the more desirable. Restraint and the mercy of God helped me wait until college was complete but it was not easy. If because of religious reasons I followed a path of singleness it would have ended in failure. My strength and my “gift” at that time was not celibacy. So what is the real application here? What point should one take way?

Freedom. God has given us a freedom to be something other than what the world demands we be. The world would tell us that Paul’s “gift” was a curse. How could he live a life of singleness? Sex after all is the most desirable pleasure one could seek after. There must have been something wrong with Paul or he was lying about his own sex life the world will argue. But what Paul is really talking about is Freedom.

In recent years I have noticed Christians embracing things that were culturally taboo a generation ago. Some Christians proudly show off tattoos, others piercings in odd places and social beer clubs through a church. These Christians champion that Christ has made us free to be and do what we want. Paul on the surface seems to advocate the same but it is really a misunderstanding.

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV

I am a Christian now I can live and be anything because the law no longer has power over me. Through Christ I am alive. If I want to drink then I will drink. If I want to watch Game of Thrones then get out of my way. If I want to use profanity at that right moment when it will have the most effect to get my point across then *%$ I will. I have freedom in Christ. Sounds not so wonderful this kind of attitude. But freedom of this kind is practiced in subtle ways throughout the church. The rationalization is that one should relax that legalism is creeping into one’s worldview and that this act, this language, and these images are not hurting anyone.

But this is not the kind of practical freedom that Paul was talking about. Paul’s freedom, his “gift” is the strength and desire to no longer conform to this world. Paul’s freedom was to be removed from the temptation to lust and seek after sexual pleasure. He became transformed through Christ to be a new man.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 ESV

Now Paul’s gift of freedom may or may not apply to the reader. So in all practicality Paul then reinforced the natural plans God had already laid down. God created Men and Women to be supportive loving relationships. Those relationships also allow one to flee sexual immorality by having a spouse to support that ability. Some have one gift others have another.

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 ESV

I do not need to be what I once was because I have now been given the freedom and the gift to flee and turn away from that life. That gift comes from faith and submission to the love Christ has for me. Freedom is not something to be abused for my own selfish gain as if I were still living as one not transformed. Freedom in Christ is the gift and desire to seek holiness in the presence of God.

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11a ESV

Acts 2: Repent and be Baptized!

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When I think about Acts Chapter 2 I am immediately drawn to verse 38 where Peter responds to the crowd’s question and concludes his first Holy Spirit directed sermon.

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 ESV

The crowd was cut to their heart by his message, they realized the weight of their sin against their Creator, and they asked Peter what could be done. He responded with two actions that would result in a solution to the problem. Repent and be baptized. Repentance is first and it is a key to the heart being humbled and ready for God to work. Second is Baptism the first act of public obedience to celebrate what has happened in the heart already. Both work together and the model was established by John the Baptist when he was clearing the way for Jesus.

4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Mark 1:4 ESV

So what is repentance and how does one get to that state? Repent the word Peter used in the Greek simply means to “change one’s mind”. It is an attitude and a fundamental reversal or 180 degree direction change in what one believes is acceptable or permissible for that individual. Peter is saying repent of your sins. Flee from them, turn from them, renounce them, and confess them before the Creator. The concept of repentance is woven all through the Old Testament and God has always looked for this change of heart in his people.

30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? Ezekiel 18:30-31 ESV

Paul warns that there are two types of grief in regard to sin. There is the type of grief that the world creates and leads to ruined lives and then there is a grief that comes from God himself and leads to repentance. What the Israelites did not have that Peter and the Apostles gained in Acts chapter 2 is the power of the Holy Spirit creating in God’s children a new heart and a new spirit.

10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV

Judas after betraying Jesus felt guilty about what he had done. However his grief was not based on godly grief as Paul describes but Judas took his grief in a direction that produced death namely that he committed suicide (Matthew 27:5). The grief that Paul talks about is a gift from God that leads to repentance. The crowd listening to Peter preach was “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). The Holy Spirit was working on their hearts and they were ready to repent from their sins. Repentance then is possible because of God’s mercy and grace to us in this present time. Take advantage while you may.

4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? 5 But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. Romans 2:4-5 NLT

The second part of Peter’s answer to the question “what must we do” is to be baptized. Baptism is a mark of obedience that recognizes in public in the physical what has already occurred in the heart and in the spiritual.

21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 3:21 ESV

There are few elements that make up this act of obedience as it recognizes that repentance the old self the unrepentant self is dead going under the water. The new self the saved Holy Spirit directed self has come alive. Just as Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be “born again” (John 3:3) so baptism is symbolic of the new life gained through repentance and salvation through faith in Jesus.

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:3-5 ESV

What had been done in the past prior to Acts Chapter 2 was all leading up to this moment when the promised Holy Spirit is unleashed creating this church age that we currently live in. This church age is directed by the Holy Spirit, is empowered by the Holy Spirit, and is possible because of the Holy Spirit living in God’s children. Have you repented? Have you been baptized? Now is the time to accept the Holy Spirit from Jesus and be baptized to proclaim what has happened in your heart.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:11 ESV