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Salt & Light

Metaphors are powerful figures of speech that use familiar things to shed light and bring knowledge about unknown things. A metaphor describes an object or action in a way that is not literally true, but helps explain an idea by comparison. A teacher may say, “My classroom was a zoo”—which, though not literally true, may have rightly described the teacher’s day.

Jesus used metaphors, comparing physical things to spiritual realities, so people could better understand truth. He referred to Himself as the “bread of life” (John 6:48), to show He was as essential to spiritual life, as bread was to physical life. He said “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7), to teach that He was the only way to heaven.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and “You are the light of the world” (verse 14). These two metaphors describe the influence His followers were to have on the world.

Salt and light are totally different, yet closely related. Salt is a tangy, flavor enhancing preservative whose effects are only noticeable when it makes contact with something else. Light penetrates and dispels darkness as it shines. Salt that is not salty is useless—and light that is hidden is hopeless. Jesus used salt and light to picture the essential work of His followers in this world.

Both salt and light impact whatever they touch. Similarly, the Christ follower should influence people around him or her, with flavor and light. President Woodrow Wilson told about being in a barbershop when a man entered and showed such care for others, that they were affected. The man took a personal interest in the barber who was cutting his hair, along with others in the shop. Every word he spoke expressed genuine kindness. President Wilson purposely lingered after the man had left. The barbers did not know the man’s name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts. Later the president learned that it was D. L. Moody who had been in that chair. His manner and conversation evidenced both salt and light.

If Christ’s followers are to be salt and light in the world, what can we learn about that? In the metaphor we can see:

1 The Problem of the Word—Corruption and Darkness

When Jesus called His disciples the “Salt of the earth”—it was because the world was corrupted and needed the preservation only He could provide. In this world, we are surrounded by the moral and spiritual corruption of sin. All of mankind is infected with this deadly virus. God says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The compounded effects of sin can be seen in our society, declining morals, and increasing violence. Jesus calls on His followers to be salt—a preserving and cleansing agent.

Jesus called His disciples the “Light of the world” because the world contains moral and spiritual darkness that needs the light of Christ. Jesus said, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For everyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (John 3:19-21). The world without Christ is in darkness.

2 The Plan of the Savior—Salt and Light

The world is corrupt—so Jesus calls Christians to be like cleansing, tangy salt. This means if the Lord’s people are to minister to the world, they must be separate from the world and its corruption. Christians cannot offer cleansing if they are participating in the pollution. Jesus said, “but if the salt has become tasteless (lost its savor)…it is no longer good for anything” (Matthew 5:13). Christ calls his followers to be holy and obedient to Him in everything. The only way Christians can be “salt” is to be different than the world.

The world is darkness—so Jesus calls Christians to be like a bright light, illuminating the moral darkness. Light emits brightness that causes darkness to flee. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:14, 15). As Christians follow Jesus they too emit light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12)

3 The Peril of our Failure—No Savor and Hidden Light

If the salt loses its savor, becomes stale, it is useless or “no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Matthew 5:13). A born again Christian cannot lose his salvation, but can lose his influence and usefulness to Christ. A savorless Christian is a great loss. He or she will fail to lead others to Christ or influence others toward Christ. What a tragedy!

Another peril is the loss of light, which has a natural attraction—“A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). When light shines, things become visible, but when it is hidden, darkness prevails.

4 The Purpose of our Commitment—to Glorify the Father

When Christians are salty—and their lights are shining—God is glorified! Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Good works are never to magnify the Christian—but always to glorify the Father! After clarifying that salvation is by God’s grace through faith, Paul wrote, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Followers of Christ are to “show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). With God’s help let’s be salt and light to this corrupt and dark world, showing the love and salvation of His Son in all we do!

Permanent Things

Are you afflicted with Metathesiophobia? Me too. I have to fight it all the time. There are no medications or vaccines that will cure it. It can bring on depression, anxiety and hinder personal growth. The only cure for it is a change in attitude and outlook. You see, like many of you, I hate change. That long, technical word describes people who fear change or changing things.

However, things in life are always changing. Despising change won’t stop it. Complaining about change will only bother the people who hear you. Altering the way we do things is uncomfortable. But in the flux of variable reality, for all of us with Metathesiophobia, it is great to know there are some things that do not change. A 2018 article by Larry Kim got me to thinking about this. So, what are some things that do not change?

No matter what happens in life…

…You are accountable to someone. Somebody is watching you, hearing your words and measuring your deeds. You may have a lot of someones, but eventually you will give an account to the all-knowing Someone.

…Your life will end some day. No matter how hard you work to stay in shape, we are all infected with a terminal disease that will win in the end.

…You cannot please everyone. Trying to make everyone happy is a hopeless, thankless endeavor that will give you ulcers, and bring discontent. This problem may get in your way of pleasing the only One that really matters.

… You can never keep up with the Jones’s. Someone will always own a nicer car, have a bigger house, or work at a better job. Life is not a competition; it is an adventure. Enjoy it with those you love and don’t compete with those you don’t.

…You cannot get even by holding a grudge. Nursing injuries and pains of the past only prolong them in the present. The grief they bring ends up making you unhappy. Just forgive and forget.

…You cannot control anyone else—how they think, what they say, or how they live. You can demand, implore and scream a lot, but it won’t change another person’s mind.

 …You cannot relive the past. Yesterday is over. Dwelling on successes or failures of the past handicaps what you can do in the future. You can’t get it back. So let it go.

 …You cannot change your upbringing. Privilege is a real thing, there’s no denying it. But you cannot change the way you were raised, where you lived, or the circumstances that affected you. You can, however, control where you are going. You might have to fight harder than others, but it can work to make you stronger.

 …You cannot really enjoy privacy. Emails, cell phones, photos, online footprints and social media facts about you are permanently recorded somewhere in cyberspace. When email was new, a wise man told me: “Don’t email anything you don’t want the whole world to read.” It never goes away.

 …You cannot retrieve what you have lost—whether opportunity, loved ones, time or money. Nearly always, what is lost is gone from this life. So don’t beat yourself up over things you cannot get back, or you cannot change. Make the best of it, then seek to make a difference in your life, and the lives of others.

Being a chronic Metathesiophobiac, I find great pleasure in spiritual things that do not change. Though change is often beneficial, there is great blessing in things that are permanent, dependable, and unchangeable. These things that cannot change mean they are completely trustworthy.

God Himself, does not change. The prophet wrote, “For I, the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6). In the study of Theology, God’s changelessness is called His Immutability. The Lord Jesus is also unchangeable, because Hebrews 13:8 reveals, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today and forever.” The old Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us: “God is a spirit, whose being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal and unchangeable.” Because God is perfect, sinless and unchanging, we can trust Him totally. James reminds us that, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jam 1:17).

God’s Word does not change. The Psalmist wrote, “Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). All of God’s Word is inspired (2 Tim. 3:16-17) by Him, and will stand unchanged forever. Every word of God is true and eternal. It stands firm, secure, and fixed in heaven. Isaiah put it this way: “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever” (Isa 40:8).

God’s love does not change. In fact, the Bible teaches that, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God’s love is the center of His very character. Because He “so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son” (John 3:16). This sacrifice of His only Son for our Salvation shows us How much He cares because, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

And God’s way of salvation does not change. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). This means the only way of salvation from the consequences of sin is through faith in Christ. He is not “a” way to Heaven, but “the” way. God’s plan of salvation has not changed, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Though we live in a changing world, and endure a changing culture, it is great to know this does not change: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). That promise is still true!

Not Here…But Risen!

I Googled the word “Easter” on my computer, and what came up was page after page of pictures of eggs and bunnies; more and more colorful eggs and bunnies. Rabbits and Technicolor eggs are fine. We hunt Easter eggs with our grandchildren. We also always have ham for Easter dinner. But Easter is about much more than eggs, bunnies and ham. 

 Christians world-wide celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the Sunday following Palm Sunday, designated, “Easter.” It was during this week of the Jewish Passover 2,000 years ago that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem.

When the authorities were making accusations against Jesus, neither the High Priest nor the Sanhedrin could not enter the Roman court. John wrote that “they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover” (John 18:28).  John recorded too that Jesus was crucified on “the day of preparation for the Passover” (John 19:14). This was the reason His accusers wanted His body off the cross, into a tomb before sunset: “because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day)” (John 19:31).  Passover was considered a high Sabbath, and dead bodies on crosses would desecrate that holy day.

Palm Sunday was important, the crucifixion was vital, but, thank God, the resurrection was essential! Jesus, who was crucified and buried, was raised on the Sunday following the Passover.

The famous Italian Renaissance sculptor, Michelangelo, once turned to fellow artists and said with frustration, “Why do you keep filling gallery after gallery with endless pictures on the one theme of Christ in weakness, Christ on the cross, and most of all, Christ hanging dead? Why do you concentrate on that passing episode as if it were the last word, as if the curtain dropped down there on disaster and defeat? That dreadful scene lasted only a few hours. But to the unending eternity Christ is alive; Christ rules and reigns and triumphs!”

“He is not here, but is risen” (Luke 24:6), was spoken by angels standing at the empty tomb where Christ’s body had lain. Think of that statement: “Not here…but risen!” They penetrate our thinking and alter our eternity: “He is…Not here…but risen!”

So, what makes the Resurrection of Christ so important?

1.  His resurrection means believers in Christ will have life after death.

Because of Christ’s victory over death, every believer has the same promise of life after death.  Paul wrote, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).  Paul told the Corinthians: “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you” (2 Corinthians 4:14).  Believers in Christ have hope because of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

2.  His resurrection means believers in Christ may have hope in this life.

Many times things go wrong in this life and tragedy comes to steal our joy. But Christ’s resurrection means things, no matter how tragic, are never hopeless. Peter reminded the persecuted Christians of northern Turkey that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Because Christ is a resurrected, living Savior, we have an overcoming, life-giving hope.

3.  His resurrection means believers in Christ are justified in God’s sight.

Though we are all sinners by nature and practice, every believer in Christ will stand justified in God’s sight because of His resurrection. Each is “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). It is a wonderful truth that when Christ arose from the dead, He assured our justification for He was “delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). He was crucified for our sins and was resurrected for our justification.

4.  His resurrection means the sins of all believers in Christ are forgiven.

God promises full forgiveness of sins to every person who trusts in Jesus. Peter said, “through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).  However, if Christ had been crucified, but not raised from the dead, our sins could not be forgiven. Paul wrote, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:17-18).

5.  His resurrection means every person will give personal account to God.

Unbelieving skeptics may think: “That sounds good, but does not apply to me.”  However, the consequence of Christ’s resurrection applies to everyone. When Paul preached to unbelieving pagans on Mars’ Hill, he said, “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30, 31). Because Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again, all people are accountable to Him!

Every person who has ever lived can have life, hope, justification, and forgiveness of sins because of Christ’s resurrection. Additionally, everyone will give account of himself to God, because of Christ’s resurrection. Aren’t you glad “He is not here, but is risen”?            

So, have fun hunting for eggs, and enjoy that Easter ham, but don’t forget to rejoice in His resurrection and share this message of hope with others. It is true that: “The best news the world ever heard came from a cemetery in Jerusalem!”

Palm Sunday

Christians around the world celebrate the Sunday before Easter as “Palm Sunday.” This year it falls on March 29. The events that occurred on this day are described in each of the four gospels. You may see this day called His “Triumphal Entry.” Palm Sunday begins what is also called “Passion Week” when Jesus was betrayed, abandoned, arrested, tried and sacrificed on the cross.

Palm Sunday begins as a time of great rejoicing and celebration. In Jerusalem, it marked the beginning of the week of Passover – the high point of the Israelite year. Jewish worshipers came to their holy city from all over the world to celebrate this special week. The Jewish historian, Josephus, recorded that the population of Jerusalem during Passover often approached one million.

The Gospel writers describe how Jesus, entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, riding a donkey, amid shouts of praise and adulation. Luke wrote that Jesus came, “near the descent of the Mount of Olives” and “the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice” (Luke 19:37). Matthew added that, “Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest’” (Matthew 21:8-9). “Hosanna” was a word used in Psalm 118:25-27, meaning “Save Now,” which Israelites sang during the Feast of Booths. In New Testament times, the Jewish people, under the heavy hand of an oppressive Roman government, wanted salvation from that tyranny. However, Jesus came the first time to offer spiritual salvation, but it soon became apparent that was not what they wanted.

If you read all the gospel accounts of Palm Sunday, you will learn that no one but the Lord Jesus grasped the full significance of that day. The rejoicing multitudes thought this event was an entrance into the Kingdom Age. Luke wrote, “They supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11). The truth about that day became obvious a few days later, when the shouts of “Hosanna” on Sunday, turned to cries of “Crucify Him” on Thursday. Israel longed for a kingly-Messiah, who would throw off the shackles of Rome, but Jesus came as the suffering-Messiah, who would enable believers to throw off the condemnation of sin.

As a whole, the people of Israel did not understand that this was the Messiah’s first coming, which involved His death as a sacrifice. In 750 BC, Isaiah had prophesied about the Messiah: “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

No doubt, on that Palm Sunday, most Jews believed Jesus would fulfill the prophecy of the returning Messiah given by Zechariah: “Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east” (Zechariah 14:3-4). This nation-conquering, King-of-the-world, Messiah will come again in the future because, forty days after His resurrection, the disciples saw Jesus ascend from that same Mount of Olives. Luke wrote, “He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). The disciples were assured that Zechariah’s prophecy would be fulfilled exactly, by the words of two angels who said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into Heaven” (Acts 1:11).

Jesus had tried to correct the thinking of those who thought He would rule and reign then, by giving a parable that began, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself; and then return” (Luke 19:23). He will rule and reign, but not until after He was crucified and resurrected. The old saying is true: “First the cross—then the crown.”

As the crowds cheered Him on Palm Sunday, Jesus realized what was coming, and wept. Luke wrote, “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41-42). Palm Sunday proved to be, instead of the awesome reception, the official rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. However, Palm Sunday was no surprise to God, who planned for Him to be crucified and resurrected so that we can be redeemed. Jesus suffered for our sins on that cross so that we might be saved, forgiven and accepted by God. Paul wrote, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Things are not always what they seem to be. What appeared to be a glorious welcome in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday was, in fact, the first day of Christ’s sacrificial passion and ultimate crucifixion on the cross. But the cruel cross was not the end of the story, because the Palm Sunday of rejection was followed by the Easter Sunday of resurrection! We will rejoice in that next week!

Headed to the Cross

Have you ever dreaded an upcoming event in your life?

A few years ago I was facing a deadline…(don’t you hate that word? “Dead” “Line”?)  It was a date I had expected for six years. I knew it was coming. During the years leading up to it, I rarely went through a day without thinking about its arrival. I was trying to prepare, but as it approached, I would often wake up at 3:00 AM in a cold sweat. Finally, I survived the ordeal, and am thankful every day that it is in my past.

Since you can identify with anticipating an unpleasant event, can you imagine what it was like for Jesus, Who, from the creation of the world, knew the day would come when He would be made sin and give His life for humanity? John wrote that Jesus was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).

This great sacrifice of Christ for us was known by Jesus, planned by God and directed by the Holy Spirit, long before He walked the lonely path to Golgotha. Peter wrote that Jesus “was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Peter 1:20). His manifestation for us happened when He offered His “precious blood…as of a lamb unblemished and spotless” (verse 19).

The writer of Hebrews thoughtfully notes: “For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world has He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

As we draw near the holy week from Palm Sunday (March 28) through Easter Sunday (April 4), let’s stop to remember the life of Christ, as He approached those sacred days.

For months, Jesus had told His disciples about His soon-coming sacrifice, but they had not grasped His teaching. Matthew wrote: “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16:21). But Peter’s response to the Lord’s words was to rebuke Jesus, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You” (verse 22).

Shortly after that event, when they met in Galilee, Jesus said to them “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day. And they were deeply grieved” (Matthew 17:22-23). Mark’s account of this event notes: “But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him” (Mark 9:32).

Then several weeks later, as Jesus “was about to go up to Jerusalem” (Matthew 20:17), He pulled the disciples aside and told them clearly: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up” (verses 18, 19).

As the time drew near for His great sacrifice, Jesus was focused squarely on the ministry He had to do to accomplish God’s will in His life. His determination was so great that Luke wrote: “When the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). The Lord’s intentions were so obvious as He traveled through Samaria, that “they did not receive Him, because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem” (verse 53). Imagine what it was like to see Jesus, with his “face” set on the task He had to accomplish. There could be no distractions. There would be no alternate course. He was headed to Jerusalem; to the Cross; to the Sacrifice.

During the week before Palm Sunday—two weeks before Easter Sunday—Jesus was single-minded in His actions. Mark wrote: “They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him” (Mark 10:32).

For the Lord Jesus, the long-awaited event—the pivot point for humanity—the atoning sacrifice for all people of all time—was directly in His sight. His upcoming humiliation did not surprise Him, for He revealed that “He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again” (Luke 18:32, 33).

As Jesus headed to Jerusalem—to the Cross, He was perfectly fulfilling God’s plan for His life, that affects every other person who has ever lived. It was God’s will that Jesus die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. We can see this purpose as later, He prayed in Gethsemane regarding the cup of His suffering: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Then He prayed again, “Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done” (verse 42). Jesus willingly offered Himself as payment for our sins, so they can be forgiven by God, which allows us to enter His presence in Heaven.              

This week we see Jesus, heading to Jerusalem—to the Cross. Next week we will see Him on Palm Sunday, willing to be king, but rejected by His people. Then we will see Him on Easter Sunday, following His sacrifice, raised from the tomb. Let us be thankful for Christ’s love and sacrifice!

Jesus and the Law

 The Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7) was not contrary to the Old Testament Law. In fact, the teaching of Jesus fulfilled the Law. When He died on the cross, He had so accomplished the keeping of God’s Law that He removed it from sentencing mankind to death for not keeping it. Because He so perfectly fulfilled it, He paid the penalty for all sinners and transgressors who break it.

Paul put it this way: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

 When Jesus died for our sins, not only was He nailed to the cross, but the “certificate of debt” or the “decrees against us” that always condemned us, was also removed. Believers in Christ are “made alive together with Him” because God has “forgiven us all our transgressions” and has “cancelled” our debt to Him. The condemnation deserved by our failure to keep God’s Law is forever washed away, removed by the cleansing blood of Jesus.

Because of such mercy and forgiveness, our hearts overflow with thanks. With John Newton, every believer in Christ can sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

The wonder of God’s extravagant grace and forgiving love is beautifully captured in the New Living Translation version of Romans 5:8-9: “But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, He will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.”

When Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17), it may have surprised some of His listeners. Yet, Jesus always elevated Scripture and the teaching of the Bible. He took God’s Word seriously. He quoted from it freely. And He always spoke absolute truth.

The only time we get a glimpse of Jesus between His birth in Bethlehem and His ministry beginning in Nazareth thirty years later, was when He visited the Temple in Jerusalem as a child of twelve. There His parents “found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). The Lord’s knowledge and love of Scripture amazed them as, “they were astonished at his understanding and answers” (verse 47). Jesus knew He had to be busy about His Father’s business, which required knowledge of God’s Word (verse 48).

When Jesus said He was about fulfilling the “Law and the Prophets”—He was talking about what we now call the Old Testament. After His crucifixion and resurrection, but before His ascension, Jesus told his Disciples, that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

Through His ministry, as well as in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus always elevated Scripture, while He sought to destroy false interpretations of Scripture. He had no reverence for man’s “traditions” as He held supremely to God’s revelation.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their lack of Bible knowledge. He said, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). These enemies of Jesus were so focused on the traditions of men; they failed to comprehend the clear teachings of God. Jesus said, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt. 15:3). He went on to say they “invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (verse 6). The KJV reads: “you made the commandment of God of none effect.” In reality, Mark notes they “neglected” God’s commands (Mark 7:8), “setting them aside” (verse 9), “invalidating the word of God” (verse 13); all so they could follow man’s traditions.

We may judge the Pharisees harshly for their rejection of Christ, while at the same time, ignore God’s Word ourselves. To do so would place us in the same category as them. God wants us to know that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). God has given us a fully inspired book to guide our lives.

These inspired Scriptures we call the Bible, or the Word of God, can change our lives. Paul reminded Timothy, “from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). These sacred Scriptures—this holy Book—these God-breathed words—can lead us to salvation by faith in Christ.

This Word from God is eternal, and will not change. “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). God’s Word is inspired, inerrant, settled and “fixed.” You can trust it.

His Word will also bring conviction, direction, holiness and wholeness—if we will read and heed its direction. Let us pray with the Psalmist: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your Law” (Psalm 119:18). If we make this our prayer, then spend time in His Word, God will truly show us “wonderful things” as He blesses our lives.

When Leaders Fail

When leaders fail, it creates ripple effects far from the fall itself—like tossing a rock into a pond causes waves to circle out from the source until the whole pond is affected. It is impossible to measure the effects of the fall of a spiritual leader. Whether it happens to a small-church deacon, or to a mega-church pastor—it is catastrophic to the cause of Christ.

In May 2020, a celebrated, world-famous, Christian minister died of cancer. His ministry’s total revenue for 2015 was 25.7 million dollars. Prior to his death, social media and public requests for prayer were uncountable. Following his death there was an astounding 2.3 million expressions of thanks for his life on Twitter. Vice President Mike Pence attended his funeral, along with Tim Tebow, Lecrae, and many other celebrities. 

He died in May. By August, revelations of his secretly sinful, abusive and abominable lifestyle began to leak out. Much of the gruesome details came to light, not exposed by conscientious Christians who surrounded him, but was unearthed through the research of an atheist blogger, who questioned his extravagant lifestyle. How sad that is.

These revelations of abuse brought flashbacks of the moral implosions of other Christian celebrities of the past. But we are also reminded that, “to err is human; to forgive divine.” Every honest person understands that failing is part of the human condition. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), we all fail (Ecclesiastes 7:20), and we all need forgiveness (1 John 1:9). If that is so, why is it such a big deal when a leader fails?

To understand the impact when leaders fall, we need to know:

What God Expects of Leaders

God has no double standards. However, the Bible teaches that Christian pastors, deacons, leaders and teachers are held to a higher standard of conduct than others in the church family. For that reason, the Word says: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).

The Lord expects more from those who exercise authority over others. Jesus said, “unto whom much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). Spiritual leaders “keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). More responsibility leads to more accountability.

Paul put it this way: “Moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Stewardship requires faithfulness.

Why God’s Standards are Higher for Leaders

God’s work, above all work, is sacred. The Christian minister, deacon, teacher or leader, represents Him, and does His work. So, when a person engaged in ministry defies God’s holy standards, he brings reproach on His Master and shame to His cause.

In the Old Testament, Israel’s priests were to live according to a higher standard. Those men who served as priests wore sacred garments, worked around sacred furniture, read the sacred Scriptures and carried out sacred sacrifices. When priests failed to maintain holiness, they were removed by God or by His people. Moses wrote: “They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they present the offerings by fire to the LORD, the food of their God; so they shall be holy” (Leviticus 21:6). God’s human spokesmen had to be godly.

Likewise in the New Testament, God’s requirements for Pastors and Deacons were based on high standards (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5—2:15). God’s servants are to be all about God’s glory. His ministers are to lead to the church’s edification—they are, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).

What to do When Leaders Fail

First, pray for your leaders before they fall. “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men; for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). People are to, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). Thank the Lord for godly pastors, leaders, teachers and deacons, who overcome temptation and choose the holy path.

Second, realize all human beings fail in varying degrees. Only God is perfect; the rest of us are mere mortals, no matter our office or position. This is no excuse for sin, but is an honest and necessary step in dealing with the failure of leaders. God commands: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Restoration of the fallen is to be pursued, as the “spiritual” realize that nobody is exempt from sin’s temptation or the consequences that follow giving in to it.

Third, confront their failures. Praying for leaders does not mean ignoring falsehood or failure. It should be confronted. We should not turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of our leaders. The biblical standards for confrontation and forgiveness apply just as much as those for honesty and repentance. 

Fourth, stay open and in communication with your heavenly Father. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24). Confess your sins and keep your trust in Him.

Fifth, devote your life afresh to the service of Christ. Don’t let the sin and failure of others discourage you, slow your steps, weaken your knees, or lower your spirit. God is still holy, Jesus is still King, and the Holy Spirit still empowers.

No matter what others may do, keep on proclaiming the good news of Jesus, our only Savior!

When Good is Just Not Good Enough

(The following piece was written by Lonnie Wilkey, Editor of the “Baptist and Reflector,” the official news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, used with his permission).  

As December wound to a close, I received word that my great uncle, Blake Wilkey, had died at the age of 98. He was my grandfather’s last remaining brother. I remembered “Uncle Blake,” having visited him many times as a child, but I had not really maintained a close relationship over the years.

Still, I felt like I should attend his funeral, so on New Year’s Day, my wife Joyce and I made the approximately four-hour trip to Robbinsville, N.C.

Upon arriving to the funeral home, I visited with his wife and two children but didn’t really know very many others who were in attendance. They planned a simple country funeral conducted by two pastors. Both men were good friends with my late uncle and spoke highly of him and his family.

One of the pastors began his message by saying, “Blake Wilkey was a good man.” He then went on in great detail about how he was a good husband, a good father, a good family man, a good church member, and the list went on.

Then, the second pastor clearly communicated the point he was trying to make: No matter how good Blake Wilkey was, he was not good enough to go to heaven, EXCEPT for a decision he made decades ago when he confessed his sins and gave his heart to Jesus Christ making Him both Savior and Lord.        

What a great reminder for all Christians as we begin 2021. How many of us know some really “good” people? They may be your neighbors. They could be people you work with or see at the local baseball and football games where your children play. We all know “good” people — people who would give you the shirts off their backs or come over to help you fix the leaking faucet in your house.

But, are they good enough? If they were to die tomorrow, would they go to heaven? Hopefully, we know, but sadly, many of us do not because we never asked. Sometimes Christians assume a person’s spiritual condition because of how he or she lives his or her life. We don’t take the time to ask if they know Jesus.         

In our own state, it is estimated that four million of Tennessee’s more than seven million population are lost, having no relationship with Jesus Christ. I would dare say that thousands upon thousands of those four million lost Tennessee Baptists are “good people.” But being good is not enough.

Here are a couple of other statistics that might interest and, hopefully, frighten you. Only one out of 10 of our world’s youngest and largest generation (Gen. Z, those currently between the ages of 4 and 24), will come to faith by adulthood.

Look out your car window when you drive to church on Sunday. Eight out of 10 of your neighbors will not be in any church on any given Sunday. And, if you conducted a survey, you probably would discover that many of those folks are “good” people, but good is not good enough.

 As we enter a new year, make a resolution to really get to know the people you think you know already. Get acquainted with your neighbors and others you are in constant contact with. 

By doing so, if you ever have the opportunity to attend a funeral one day, you won’t have to wonder, Were they “good” enough? You will know because you shared the good news of Jesus Christ with them. –L.W.

Amen to what Lonnie wrote! His words echo the statement of Paul in Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Our best deeds, our finest intended actions, cannot bring us righteousness or save our souls.

God wants everyone to know that people can only know God’s salvation through “the washing of regeneration”—that soul-cleansing, life-giving new birth by faith in Christ Jesus. Being born again into God’s family only comes one way: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26).

Paul wrote that we could only be saved by, the “renewing of the Holy Spirit.” God wants us to realize that the work of God’s Holy Spirit in salvation makes believers new creatures before God. Believers in Christ get a new start in life. Sins and failures are forgiven, and a new life begins, right here and now. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul put it: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Every conscientious person wants to live right and do well. But sometimes being good is just not good enough! It takes God’s goodness to save. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)

Blessed are the Persecuted

Suffering often surprises Christians—but it shouldn’t. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Among the seeming paradoxes of the Beatitudes, this one may be the most contradictory to human logic. Persecution and happiness do not seem compatible. Yet, the Lord warned His disciples that, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). He said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (verse 20). And, He told them, “all these things they will do unto you for My name’s sake because they do not know Him who sent Me” (verse 21).

So, exactly how can it be a blessing to be persecuted?

1. Persecution is a blessing because righteousness triggers it.

People are persecuted for many reasons. Sometimes it is because of their ethnicity, race or national origin. Other times persecution comes because of particular bigotry or bias. Some are even treated unjustly just because they are different. But Jesus said the kind of persecution that is blessed by God is that which happens because of Him.

Jesus promised blessing to those who are “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” (Matthew 5:10). The righteous person is the one who is doing what he should, living in a way pleasing to God. He is one who has been made righteous by the gift of God through faith in Christ, and is living right with God and others.

If someone is being persecuted because they are righteous, that is a good testimony. Jesus taught that persecution for righteousness sake was common for the Christian. Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians, “to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith so that no one would be disturbed by these destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3).  Paul wrote, “we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass as you know” (verse 4).

Righteousness brings persecution because it can make others look bad by comparison. Jesus said “men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Remember that Jesus was called a glutton, drunkard, and friend of sinners (Matt. 11:19). His enemies accused Him, a man who did nothing but good deeds, of being demon possessed (John 8:48).

2. Persecution is a blessing because Christ is seen through it.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” The Christian’s identification with Christ was and is the source of persecution. Intolerance and accusations came against those who were most like Jesus in lifestyle, deeds and words—and that is a good thing. Paul told Timothy, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Note: It is not just good deeds, but living godly in Christ Jesus that triggers persecution.

Persecution among early believers in the first church came upon followers of Christ, who openly avowed Him and identified with Him. Enemies could not reach Jesus to persecute Him, so they reached out to believers who followed Him and lived like Him.

The apostle Peter clearly identifies reasons for persecution in the early church. If a Christian suffered for wrongdoing, that was considered retribution, not persecution. However, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (1Peter 4:14-16).

In all reality, the more Christians are like Jesus, the more they will be persecuted. But, this persecution opens a door of testimony: “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (1Peter 3:14-15).

3. Persecution is a blessing because God will reward it.

Jesus promised: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12). Our reaction to persecution should be unrestrained gladness because it brings rewards in heaven later, and identification with Bible heroes now.

 John Chrysostom, a fourth century preacher and dynamic man of God, offended Emperor Arcadius by preaching Christ to him. The preacher was summoned before the emperor and was threatened with banishment if he didn’t stop his strong, uncompromising preaching. Chrysostom responded: “Sir, you cannot banish me, for the world is my Father’s house.” The emperor responded: “Then I will slay you,” but the preacher said, “Nay, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” Infuriated, the emperor said, “Your treasures will be confiscated” to which the preacher answered: “Sir, that cannot be either, my treasures are in heaven where none can break through and steal.” Finally, frustrated, the emperor yelled, “Then I will drive you from men and you shall have no friends left.” The great preacher said: “That you cannot do either, for I have a friend in heaven who has   said ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” In exasperation, John Chrysostom was banished to Armenia, then to an Island in the Black Sea, but died on the way. The things he valued most—no emperor could take from him.

As you face persecution for Christ, may you also “rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matthew 5:12).

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Peace in this world is a rare commodity. The Bible begins with man at peace with God in Genesis and ends with mankind at peace forever in Revelation. But between the beginning and the end, there is very little of it. The entrance of sin brought an end to lasting peace in this world until the day the Prince of Peace returns.

The subject of peace is popular to talk about, but rarely experienced. Someone calculated that from 36 BC to AD 1968 there were 14,553 known wars.  Since 1958 over 100 nations have been in some kind of armed conflict. Since 1945 there have been 75 wars and over 200 outbreaks of violence. One cynic said, “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.”

Why do we have such a lack of peace? James wrote, “What causes wars and fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2). A lack of peace is produced by greed, lust for power, pride, and selfishness.

In the section of the Sermon on the Mount called the Beatitudes, Jesus pronounces blessing on various acts of service done by His followers. A promise of happiness follows each of the beatitudes exemplified in Matthew 5. In verse 9, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Jesus calls on His followers to be peacemakers—to be about sowing harmony. However, the peace He desires has nothing to do with politics or armies. Kings, presidents or diplomats will not bring God’s peace. It will not be hammered out around a table at “peace talks.” God’s peace begins internally, on a personal level, and can only be given by God. But when received, it becomes visible in His children.  

1. The Meaning of Peace

The peace Christ desires is more than an absence of conflict. His desired peace goes much deeper. It brings a calm, restores fellowship, and reconciles opposing parties. It recognizes the enemy of peace, which is sin. Sin separates people from God and from one another. Sin results in disharmony, sadness and guilt. Sin brings wars, fights, disputes, arguments and chaos among people and nations.

 If the cause of disharmony is sin—the first step to peace is repentance. To repent of sin  means recognizing and confessing it. When John the Baptist came, he preached “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Jesus began His ministry preaching, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Later He said, “except you repent you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Peter preached “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). A step toward peace is a step away from sin.

2. The Maker of Peace

God, Himself, is the source of true peace. He is called “the God of peace…through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20). The Messiah was prophesied to be called “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Our Lord Jesus, by His death on the cross, brings us peace with God. “Having made peace through the blood of His cross…to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight” (Colossians 1:20, 22). When sinners repent and trust Christ as their savior, they are justified by faith, and have peace with God. Paul wrote, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

3. The Messengers of Peace

Everyone who belongs to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can enjoy the peace that only God gives. During turmoil and crisis, children of God can have, “the peace of God which passes all understanding” and it will “keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). This “peace of God” is to “rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15); it is to comfort and control believers during difficult times.

The God of peace longs for those who belong to Him to be messengers of peace to the world in conflict around them. Christians are to be peacemakers. Paul wrote, “God has called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15). In fact, God calls believers to bring peace and reconciliation to others. They have been given “the ministry of reconciliation” and “the word of reconciliation,” and as His ambassadors are to urge people, “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). The message of the saving Gospel can bring sinners into that place of peace and reconciliation with God through Christ.

So, what does a peacemaker look like? Peacemakers have three characteristics:

One: They are people who have made peace with God themselves. Faith in Christ brings peace with God. Peace with God is that calm assurance that, through believing in Jesus, you belong to God, and things are well between you and your Maker.

Two: Peacemakers are people who lead others to make peace with God. All Christians are just sinners saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). True believers are not smug, self-righteous or proud. They want to see others enjoy peace with God. They communicate “peace by Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:36).

Three: Peacemakers are people who lead people to make peace with others. A peacemaker is a bridge-builder between people who are at odds. A bridge requires access and support on two sides. Peacemakers find common ground on which to build communication and coalition.

Peace is a precious treasure. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. When you receive Him, you have all you need to bring peace to others. Jesus promised: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).