#9 - What the Gospels Teach - Not on bread alone - Matthew 4:2-4

And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." But He answered and said, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'"

One thing that is so encouraging about the life of Christ is the credit we receive from it. This sounds awkward, but it is true, just as we all sinned in Adam, and are all partakers in his original sin, and even made guilty by it, so also at the second birth are we made partakers of Christ’s righteousness and even given the benefits of it. In other words Christ’s resistance of temptation in this event is credited to us! To think that all of the great things He has done have indeed been given to us as well should drive you into active righteousness (not just imputed righteousness) and give you incredible and insatiable desire to serve the Lord.

Now on to the topic: Immediately after Christ’s baptism and the Holy Spirit lighting upon Him He is lead into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil, and that is where the verses above begin. Now I understand that these verses have been written about thousands of times, and I doubt I will offer any groundbreaking or wonderful insights you have never heard on them, but it is important to visit these verses because they give us insight in to the work of the devil against the Spirit filled believer, and how to deal with temptation in the same manner which Christ did.

Jesus had fasted 40 days and nights, and the first offer of Satan is that of sustenance. Jesus would not break his fast at the bidding of the devil, and used the opportunity to give the devil a little education on the fact that He lived on more than just bread. Moreover, Satan prompts Christ with, “If you are the Son of God...” attempting to illicit pride. Without a doubt the basic concerns of life, what to eat and what to drink drive people in to heinous sin. This is a primary method of Satan in the temptation of mankind, and it is crafty on his part considering the majority of the world lacks an abundance of food. One of the primary reasons crime is so prevalent in impoverished areas is lack of nourishment. Now I will never downplay the teachings of Christ to feed those in need, this is a critical requisite action for the Church of Jesus Christ. At the same we must recognize that no one will ‘live’ on bread alone. Moreover once someone is filled, the devil will simply move on to the next method of temptation. The liberal notion is that ending poverty ends crime. That the reason for most crime is poverty therefore poverty is the enemy, this is a total head fake by the devil. Jesus clearly refutes that notion that poverty is the cause of crime by first of all impoverishing Himself for 40 days and nights, and then looking the Devil in the face and telling him that man does not live by bread alone. The enemy does not change; the enemy is the forces of darkness and the evil one himself. Poverty only allows the Devil an excellent opportunity for tempting. You will notice tawdry sin, at all rungs on the socio economic ladder, so the notion that feeding our neighbor and ending world hunger will bring lasting peace or end violence is wrong. It is not poverty that causes sin, it is depravity that causes sin, and poverty is merely a great motivator towards sin. Yes we must fight for social justice, yet we must fight for that justice in the name of Christ bringing bread for the stomach and the bread of life.
Now on the flipside you must never downplay the need to feed those who are hungry. Jesus is clear that in doing that we are essentially feeding Him. There is drive among fundamentalists to spread the gospel by passing out tracts, getting new testaments in people’s hands, preaching on corners, and so on, and all of those things are good, but it cannot stop there. The scriptures are clear about spreading the gospel, and equally clear on meeting people’s critical needs.

That is all for this post, and unfortunately I probably took a lot more from this text than what is really there. I think the driving passion in my writing lately has been to restore balance to our Christianity, to fight against dead fundamentalism, and liberalism. It seems a paradox but I think I am vehemently moderate, as I also believe Christ was.


#8 What the Gospels Teach - Temptation - Matthew 4:1

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)

This verse alone should shatter the pathetic ‘Best Life Now’ Churchianity that so permeates American Christendom. Following the baptism of Christ, and the Holy Spirit lighting on Him, He is led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. Please realize the Holy Spirit does not make life easier! The Holy Spirit is not a tool to ward off evil, or a happy pill to make us feel good. Think about this: When did the intense persecution of the disciples occur? After Pentecost! In fact immediately after being filled with the Spirit they were labeled drunks. Saul had authority and riches, and people under him, until he was filled with the Spirit and then he spent his time in prisons and on sinking ships. All the disciples faced intense persecution after being filled. Jesus was led by the Spirit into great difficulty, the disciples were led by the Spirit into difficulty... what makes us think we are different?

The filling of the Holy Spirit always leads to temptation, persecution, and discomfort. Yes the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Realize however that God is most glorified when these fruits are displayed in the most difficult situations, and recall the primary reason a person is filled with the Holy Spirit is to bring glory to God. So if you lead a person to Christ, rest assured you have led them into a trap, a place of temptation, persecution, and ridicule... but also a place of blessed fruitfulness joy and peace.

We will talk a little bit more about all of this when we get to the beatitudes in Matthew 5. Christianity is a paradox, our wholeness is only found in our brokenness. The Holy Spirit is not a guide to your Best Life Now, but a guide to real and true contentment, which only comes in brokenness, and glorifying God in difficult situations.

#7 What the Gospels Teach - The Baptism of Jesus

Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he *permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17 NASB)

I imagine that volumes have been written on this text, and if there were ever a text where I would love to be able to provide some profound insight it may very well be this one, but I must be honest it is well beyond me to do that.

I will say this, can you imagine what John the Baptist must have thought? John the Baptist was 30 years old, he comes on the scene and breaks the 400 year silence of prophetic word preaching about the One who was coming. He was the first authoritative prophet since Malachi, and he had one task, to announce the coming king. His life was utterly devoted to this task alone, and he goes on and on about the excellence of the coming Christ, the majesty of Him, His authority, and His power. John the Baptist speaks of how all of eternity is Christ’s hands, and that ultimately Christ is judge of the earth. John the Baptist diverts all attention from himself, and places all attention squarely on the Christ. And then... Christ shows up. If you look at verse 13 you see that “John tried to prevent Him...” It is hard for me to imagine what this must have been like. Clearly being baptized requires some submission to the one doing the physical act of baptizing, and here is John the Baptist who has been preaching in the wilderness to crowds about the authority of Christ, and his own unworthiness in comparison to Christ... and yet the first thing Christ does is places Himself in the hands of John to be Baptized. Of course John would resist, and say “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” Yet look at the humility of Christ from the very beginning, getting glory for Himself, by not glorifying Himself. Christ is a paradox from the moment His public ministry starts. Why does he submit to baptism? “To fulfill all righteousness...”

Now that is the point on which I cannot commentate at all. You see the Spirit, The Father, and Christ all in the same scene, and I believe this is the only place in scripture where the entire Trinity is explicitly represented together. The Baptism of Christ is such an amazing moment, it is the beginning of something incredible, and I do not want to spoil it with lame comments from a less than mediocre armchair theologian.


#6 What the Gospels Teach - Threshing Floor - Matthew 3:12

"His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:12 NASB)

I included this verse in the last post, but did not address it, so for #6 we must speak on this at least a few moments. First recall that the speaker of this verse is John the Baptist and the subject of his speaking is Jesus Christ. John is basically introducing Jesus. He begins by saying He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire, and now he is speaking of Jesus thoroughly clearing His threshing floor. I have written on this in the past (November 2007) but I would like to visit it again today.

First, let’s be clear what is being spoken of in this verse. John is speaking on the judgment, very similar to Jesus' teaching on the sheep and the goats later in Matthew, or the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, or even the preceding verses speaking of the axe being at the root of the tree. When John is speaking about the clearing of the threshing floor, he is speaking about judgment day. Now realizing that John is speaking of the judgment and Christ’s role in it, let’s see what this verse actually means.

The winnowing fork was a tool used for separation of wheat and chaff, the metaphor is clear to be the saved and damned respectively. Whose hand is the fork in? Jesus, holds the fork, in other words it is Jesus that will do the separating, the entire judgment rests on the shoulders of Jesus and He will perform the separation on that day. Can you see why John considered himself unworthy to remove His sandals?

The threshing floor, is simply the place where threshing or separation of wheat and chaff occurs, this is in reference to the judgment seat of Christ. One thing that needs to be noted here is that the threshing floor will be thoroughly cleared, no one will escape, and no one will be missed. If you are a genuine believer this is a great hope, because no true believer will be forgotten, and at the same time no unbeliever will be missed. The threshing floor will be entirely cleared.

Of course the final aspect of this verse is that the wheat, or believers, will be gathered into the barn or heaven, and the chaff or unbelievers will be cast into unquenchable fire, or hell. Did you notice who casts the chaff into the fire? It is Jesus himself who does the casting.

Recognize this whole post has been very basic teaching, and none of it should be a surprise, but sometimes stating the obvious is important. Moreover, look at the preceding verses about the axe being at the root of the tree and you will see that fruit is the condition of the destiny of the tree. Moreover, the very thought that the threshing floor will be thoroughly cleared ought to disallow you to be silent concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This post was very basic, but likely necessary.

Just as a personal note, I am finding going through the Gospel and writing on it this way to be very refreshing as opposed to firing at various topics. I can understand why many push for expository preaching as opposed to topical preaching, it actually captures the flow and context of scripture as it was written. Topical preaching can take a thousand verses out of context to serve some topical purpose without ever approaching the true meaning of the verses.


#5 - What the Gospels Teach - Baptisms - Matthew 3:11-12

#5 What the Gospels Teach - Baptism for Repentance and Baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire

“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12

John baptized people with water for what reason? Repentance, water baptism is all about repentance. Even later in the epistles, you see baptism representing the death of the old self and its pursuit of sin (essentially repentance defined), with coming out of the water representing resurrection to new life. There is a difference and certainly there are two baptisms. Unfortunately this passage of scripture leads to all sorts of assumptions and questions. Does someone need baptized to be saved? Are all believers baptized with Holy Spirit? Is baptism by the Holy Spirit the same event as baptism by fire, or are they different?

Remember water baptism is all about repentance. Repentance is all about a turning away from sin and towards God. Water baptism without repentance is meaningless... the meaning and value of baptism is not in the ‘immersion’ or even in a public declaration of faith, baptism finds its meaning and value in repentance. John said “I baptize you with water for repentance...” in other words John is saying, ‘The reason I baptize you is your repentance’. So we get into the debate between believers baptism vs. infant baptism, and mode of baptism, sprinkling, pouring, immersion, etc... nonetheless you miss the point of baptism when you miss the ‘why’ of it all. John baptized with water for repentance... the validity of someone’s baptism does not lie in its mode, or even in its time, the validity of a baptism lies in repentance.

What about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire? In a few verses we will read of Jesus’ being baptized and see that the Holy Spirit came down upon Him like a dove immediately following His water baptism. Does this indicate that water baptism is immediately followed by receiving the Holy Spirit? Clearly Jesus did not need to repent so his baptism was not a baptism of repentance, which would explain why John seemed confused about why He should baptize Jesus (but we will get to that on the next post.) So what is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Recall that the validity of water baptism is marked by repentance, the validity of Holy Spirit baptism is... holiness. Moreover it is safe to say that all ‘saved’ individuals are ‘baptized’ in the Holy Spirit, because all true believers are holy... (please, please, please, I speak not of sinless perfection, but of supernatural separation from being dominated by the desires and devices of this world.) Remember the scriptures teach in Hebrews 12:14 that without holiness no one will see God.

If someone has a mean spirit... they act mean, if someone has a lustful spirit... they lust, if someone has a lying spirit... they tell lies, if someone has the Holy Spirit... they act ____. You know the answer. So water baptism is for repentance which marks the turning from sin towards God, and baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire marks the beginning of purification and increasing holiness. Fire being the symbol of refining, and the Holy Spirit being the 3rd person of the trinity dwelling in the repentant believer leading them in holiness towards perfection.

I hope I did not pull more out of that scripture than what is really there. If I am way off base then please be as iron sharpening iron, and let me know.


#4 - What the Gospels Teach - Matt 3:8-10 - Fruit is the Condition

John the Baptist continues speaking out against the group of Pharisees and Sadducees who came to be baptized. He just finishes calling them a brood of vipers, and then asks them who told them to flee from the wrath to come and he continues with this...

"Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. "The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:8-10 NASB)

John is being crystal clear hear that it is not about who you are, what your back ground or genealogy is when it comes to the kingdom of God. Clearly the Pharisees and Sadducees had every reason to believe they were the chosen of God because of their lineage. John basically smashes that notion when he reminds them that God can raise anyone up to be Abraham’s child (lineage). So of course you can imagine everyone looking on wondering what exactly the condition was for the kingdom of heaven.

The condition is clear, “...every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Now people can spin that anyway they want, but John is perfectly in sync with Jesus on this, and the teaching is clear that the condition is good fruit! Good fruit always indicates a lifestyle of good deeds, or works performed according to God’s will. If someone does not bear good fruit, well they will be cut down and cast into the fire. There is a dependence on good fruit for salvation.

Unfortunately we have a tendency not to read the scriptures as they are, and we try our best to systemize all the scriptures together (not a bad thing to do) in order that we come to a logical understanding that does not contradict itself. Unfortunately the first thing everyone ‘systemizes’ away is this notion that works, or bearing good fruit is a requirement for salvation, yet this very fact is clearly taught in the gospels. Instead, we take Paul’s letters apply them to the gospels in order to somehow lighten the command to produce fruit. I imagine if Paul were here today it would make him sick to see how we have used his teachings to dull the words of Jesus and John the Baptist.

I do not know how many times I have to iterate this, salvation is by faith alone, faith will produce good fruit, if there is no good fruit, there is no salvation. “...every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” It really does not get clearer than that.

#3 - What the Gospels Teach - Matt 3:7 - Brood of Vipers

Matthew 3:7 – But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

When looking at Matthew 1:19 we looked at Joseph’s righteousness, and that it caused him to desire to put Mary away quietly and not expose her to public disgrace. It appears that the very opposite is occurring here. You have Pharisees and Sadducees showing up to be baptized and John is exposing them to public disgrace, calling them a brood of vipers. One thing we ought to notice in Matthew 3:7 is this, “...he saw MANY of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming...” this was not an isolated Pharisee showing up for baptism, coming to confess sin. Reading this gives a sense that a group of religious leaders, and a large one at that, showed up to be baptized. We will see later in John’s gospel if we ever get there, that Jesus certainly shows compassion on the isolated Pharisee, Nicodemus, and even on the isolated Pharisee of Pharisees Saul of Tarsus later to be known as Paul. In this situation you have a crowd of religious leaders coming and John must publicly call the entire bunch a brood of vipers, not to place shame on any individual Pharisee or Sadducee, but to place shame on the whole ‘brood’ of them and the system they represented... or at least what they had made that system into.

It is very important to see that God deals kindly with individuals, at least in the sense that he extends mercy on an individual basis... of course when mercy and grace are rejected God will not deal kindly... at least at the judgment, nonetheless when Jesus is dining with and relating to sinners it is mercy he seeks. At the same time God rails against institutions that are not acting in accordance to his will. Thus the prophet John the Baptist rails against the Pharisees and Sadducees as a group. Why does he do this? To prepare the way for Jesus, just as it was prophesied he would do. The religious institution of the time need to be flattened and the way needed to be made straight, thus John the Baptist dealt harshly with it. His railing against the Pharisees and Sadducees was the very act of preparing a way in the wilderness and make straight the paths.

Again there is application to this. As Christians our battle is not with flesh and blood, but against the powers and forces of darkness. Our battle is not with the individuals but the forces behind them and above them. To expose a group to disgrace or to show the sinfulness of a group say the KKK is entirely in keeping with the scriptures, and there is precedent to do such a thing. At the same time to expose and individual, even an individual from the KKK to public disgrace without first dealing with them compassionately giving a chance for repentance is wrong. (I am saying this from a stand point of individual interaction, not speaking of forgiving in the court of law, or saying a person should not be turned in.) Of course we know that at some point an individual must be exposed but the first line of attack is mercy.

As you look at Matthew 3:7, you will not find John the Baptist calling the nominal people from Jerusalem a brood of vipers. Does that mean they were not wicked? Of course they were wicked and sinful, they came confessing their sins, moreover as far as devotion to God, the individual Pharisee or Sadducee was likely far more devout than the typical Jew. This is entirely a matter of an institution that must be labeled a brood of vipers in order to prepare the way for Jesus.


#2 - What the Gospels Teach - Matt. 1:19 - Compassion

What the Gospels Teach #2 – Matthew 1:19 – Compassion

We finish the genealogy of Christ and then we hit Matthew 1:18-19

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19 NASB)

Now Joseph understandably was ready to put Mary away, but why? Well it is pretty obvious, she was pregnant and he never had relations with her therefore as far as he could see she had relations with another man. Now I imagine this was an arranged marriage, they did not date like modern culture does, so to assume that Joseph and Mary had this close intimate friendship at this point is not a safe assumption. At the same time we must understand that a young man getting ready to be married ought to be pretty steamed if he believes his wife to be has been messing around. Moreover, the simple fact (as he saw it) that his wife to be was not a virgin, especially in a society that still remembered the importance of virginity, had to have been devastating.

“Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly...” If what Joseph had thought was true, then the Law required the stoning of this woman. The righteous man should have sought the law to be enacted, right? The righteous man does not seek to duck the law does he? Should not justice have been done? But look at the verse 19, it is clear that Joseph’s righteousness was the very characteristic that caused him to plan to put her away secretly. Now we know what happens next, the angel gives Joseph a heads up about what is going on, so he remains faithful and acts as the earthly father of Jesus, nonetheless we should not overlook verse 19 too quickly.

So what about your righteousness? When you are sinned against, what is your response? Is it compassion, forgiveness, and a desire that the one who sinned against you be sent away secretly in order that they be not disgraced? Or do you feel the need to expose the sinner in order that justice be served, and they feel the shame of their sin? Righteousness results in compassion. Now in the next segment I will write about John the Baptist, and you will find an entirely different thing, John is exposing the Pharisees publicly... so what is the difference? The difference is simple, the Pharisees were righteous with regard to the law, but unlike Joseph, they, in their zeal sought to expose all sin. The Pharisees being brazen and public in their lack of compassion needed to be addressed in such a way. Unrepentant sin eventually must be addressed publicly, but the repentant sinner should receive nothing but compassion.

#1 - What the Gospels Teach - Intro

What the Gospels Teach #1 – Intro

I have been writing much lately where works fit into the salvation of a man, and the conclusion I have drawn is that a saved man will produce works of righteousness, and that those works of righteousness must exceed even that of the scribes and Pharisees. At the same time it is clear that works of righteousness have never saved a man for salvation is only by faith, nonetheless faith without works is dead, and faith cannot exist apart from works and remain alive. Faith produces works, and must produce works else it is dead. Just like your body creating amino acids... all the amino acids in the world will never create a body, but a body without amino acids is dead. So are works required for salvation? Yes, but acceptable works are only produced by faith which is a gift of God which no man can produce on his own. In other words salvation is entirely of grace through faith which produces the works upon which faith is dependent. Now call me a heretic or a rambler or whatever you want it really is OK with me, but in reading the teachings of Christ concerning the judgment I am finding that there is always some reference to works, or even dependence on works for eternal life. Look at the sheep and the goats, or Matthew 7, or even John the Baptist’s teachings and so on.

So begins this series of posts, I hope it grows into a fairly long string of posts, and I hope I learn a lot in this process. I have been reading Matthew’s gospel recently and trying to read it analytically, but with simple acceptance of what it says, and I have found the teachings of Christ to be utterly astounding, and have come to the realization that taking what He says at face value severely alters my perspective in a number of things. I am finding that coming back to the teachings of Christ brings the rest of the New and Old Testament into focus. I am sure if you are reading this, you are thinking, duh Jay... well maybe you ought to read on as these posts continue. Sometimes the ‘duh’ is exactly what we need to hear. These posts will not be limited to the teachings of Christ, but to all that is contained in the Gospels, or at least Matthew’s Gospel.

So begins this series...