Pharisees, pagans, and counterfeit Christians

SermonOnTheMountHornsOfHattimThis was not your usual Sunday sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew chapters 5-7)

For one thing, there wasn’t a building available big enough for the crowd. No convenient pews, comfy cushioned chairs or rough planks. No microphone.

Just a rough dirt path uphill through rocks, weeds and underbrush, finally a relatively flat plain with a few scattered boulders to sit on or lean against.

There was no call to worship. No special music, no passing of the offering plates. No opening joke, no three major points, no pithy illustrations. No routine altar call. No ushers to seat latecomers or keep order, just four or five called disciples among the curious crowd.

Jesus opened his remarks with a matter-of-fact description of their current condition, followed with a comforting promise. Tired? Broke? Hungry? Grief-stricken? Beaten down? Depressed? Desperate?

You came to the right place, your needs will all be met!

The next section of the sermon was about keeping rules. The law. The Law of Moses, that is. Jesus didn’t say, your need for rule-keeping will soon be eased up. No, he said, these rules don’t go far enough. Not strict enough! Huh? You have to be perfect and perfectly righteous, he claimed. If you even think about breaking one little law, you’ve broken it!

Adultery, for example, punishable by death according to the law (Lev. 20:10). But Jesus says if you even think about it, you’re guilty! (Matt. 5:27-28)

I can visualize the crowd now, jostling elbows and whispering to each other. “This fellow is nuts.” “Yeah, let’s leave.” Some may have left but others stayed. Tax-collector Matthew was not yet a disciple. He had not yet been called to change careers and follow Jesus, but he may have been in that crowd taking notes. Someone was.

Jesus compared and contrasted the teachings or behavior of three groups of people: The Pharisees, the pagans, and counterfeit Christians. He lambasted them all. All wrong, he stated. But not to worry, things will begin to make sense after a while. Keep listening.

And they did. When Jesus came down from the mountain, the crowds didn’t shrink, they grew. “No matter what odd things he says,” they thought to themselves, “he’s got something – power! Power to heal, to deliver, to raise the dead even!”

Jesus soon needed help. So, he picked out twelve disciples from among the crowd, twelve ordinary working men to go say those same things, do those same things. And they did.

My interpretation of the Beatitudes:

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will be citizens and residents of a different kingdom. God’s kingdom.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, the supernatural, all-sufficient Comforter will be inhabiting their soul and body.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, the one who regained ownership of planet earth will share it with them.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will have been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they are entitled to go to the Throne of Mercy whenever they want.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, Father God will reveal himself freely and fully to them.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will grow more like their Father, the ultimate peacemaker.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will reign with Christ, co-laborers with him in his kingdom.

Of course, the Pharisees, pagans and counterfeit Christians didn’t like any of that. They still don’t.

Eye of the beholder

GraceletMerge01What do you see? Where you see images from space telescopes, news broadcasters or ordinary people appreciating nature, I see “gracelets,” little and big glimpses of beauty, expressions of God’s love for his most treasured creation, human beings.

GraceletMerge02Without his help human beings would not be able to capture images such as these, would not be able to appreciate beauty at all in the first place, and would not be able to share them with other people around the planet.

Have you ever considered the edges of leaves? Not just the innumerable sizes, shapes, colors and dimensions of leaves themselves, but the configurations, thickness or delicacy of leaf edges? Gracelets indeed.

Proof of identity

Supernova explosion

Supernova explosion

Glory. Interesting word. What does it mean?

“Christ in you, the hope of glory,” the apostle Paul said. (Col. 1:27) That’s how he described God’s great mystery, the hope (confident expectation of future success) of glory – Christ in you.

We know that when someone accepts Jesus Christ as savior and Lord, Christ actually begins to live inside that person. He is in Christ and Christ is in him.

But what is glory?

To me, the simplest explanation of glory is “proof of identity.” God’s glory is an attribute only God has. When you see it, you know that’s God.

In the original Bible languages, glory means brilliance, splendor, radiance, magnificence, such as we see in stars shining.  It also means honor, majesty, a good reputation, even fine clothing and jewelry.

There are a number of Old Testament Hebrew words translated glory:

H3519 = kabowd (ka – vode); noun; honour, splendor, reverence, abundance, riches, reputation. From primary root for heaviness, always used figuratively. It occurs 200 times in 189 verses in the O.T., the most used. The idea of brilliance, splendor and radiance is primary in many verses, such as:

2 Chr. 5:14: “So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.”

2 Chr. 7:1: “Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the house.”

Kepler supernova remnant

Kepler supernova remnant

H1926 = hadar (ha-dar); noun; ornament, adorning, goodliness, decoration; splendor, excellency, comeliness, beauty, honor, majesty.

H8597 = tipharah (tif-a-ra); noun; beauty, splendor, finery of garments or jewels, renown, fair, bravery, comely, excellent. It is used to describe the Ark of the Covenant in Ps. 78:61.

H1939 = howd (hode); noun; splendor, majesty, vigor; to  become lofty, as in Ps. 3:3: “But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me, my glory and the lifter up of mine head.”

H3513 – kavad (ka-vad); verb form of kabowd; to be heavy, weighty, grievous, burdensome, to be hard (able to bear up under anything); rich, honourable, glorious, to be honored.

H6286 = paar (pa-ar); verb; to glorify, beautify, adorn. To be proud, vaunt yourself, boast.

H7623 = shabach (sha-vakh); verb; to soothe, still, stroke (as water in swimming); to laud, praise, commend, congratulate, boast, triumph.

New Testament Greek words translated glory are very similar in meaning. The primary one is doxa.

G1391 = doxa (do’-ksä); noun; honor, praise, dignity, worship; a good opinion concerning one, resulting in praise, honor, and glory; splendor, brightness of the moon, sun, stars; magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity, grace; majesty; a most glorious condition, most exalted state.

Here are several examples where glory means brilliance, radiance or splendor:

Luke 2:9: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”

Luke 9:32: “But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.” Matt. 17:2 says that Jesus “was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.”

Here’s an example with a different meaning:

John 2:11: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”

Jesus’ face didn’t shine brilliantly in Cana as on the Mount of Transfiguration; he demonstrated his identity by the miracle of turning water into wine for a wedding feast. The result? The disciples believed on him.

Whenever Jesus traveled back and forth across Galillee, Judea, Lebanon, Syria, or Jordan, this is what he did. He demonstrated his identity as God. Creator of the universe, he easily created some things that had not been there and changed the nature of other things.

He appeared and disappeared at will, easily escaping from the hands of the Pharisees when he wanted to. He commanded and changed the weather. He suspended the laws of physics to allow Peter to join Jesus in a walk across the waters of Galilee.

Whatever he did, where and when he did it, was to glorify his father God. (John 17:4) It was to prove his own identity, and the identity of the one who had commissioned him. That was one of his critical assignments.

And then he stated, “The glory which thou gavest me, I have given them…” (John 17:22) What glory had he given them? A brilliant appearance? No.

He gave them the assignment and the ability to carry it out, to do the same things he had been doing, healing, miracles, thereby proving the identity of Jesus as the son of God, as God himself.

He was getting reading to leave them. But he would send the Holy Spirit to the believers to continue that activity – “He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you.” (John 16:14)

That is what it means, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Future glory in heaven, certainly, but present glory also. The guarantee, the confident expectation that God’s glory will be demonstrated by believers. Proof of Jesus’ identity, demonstrated by the actions of those the Holy Spirit indwells.

Doing things any ordinary human can do will not prove the identity of Jesus.

Other gods

MoneyThou shalt have no other gods before me. (Ex. 20:3)

That short sentence is the very first Commandment. Which brings up a question…

Are there other gods — real ones, that is?

No-one counterfeits a three-dollar bill, but they do make fake tens and twenties. As any bank teller knows, the best protection against being deceived by a fake, is to know the real thing, really well.

In light of some counterfeit, esoteric, secret, good-sounding mysteries and “new” revelations going around today, I think we need to be reminded of the real thing: God’s word.

“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” (Deut. 4:2 KJV)

“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” (Prov. 30:5-6)

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19)


“And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” (Matt. 24:11)

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:22-23)

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.” (Matt. 24:4)

Now to that question, Are there other gods — real ones?

“For all the gods of the people are idols: but the LORD made the heavens.” (I Chron. 16:26)

“Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour.” (Isa. 43:10-11)

“Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” (Isa. 44:6)

“I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me.” (Isa. 45:5)

“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” (Isa. 45:22)

Note: There are actual deceiving spirits masquerading as god, but they are created entities, angels who fell along with their master. They don’t go around looking like evil spirits, of course, they are charming, attractive, persuasive con men. If they didn’t exist, the Bible wouldn’t warn us about them.

“Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works.”  (II Cor. 11:14-15)

Okay, who is Jesus, really – is he God?

“(God) Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;” (Heb. 1:2)

“And, Thou, Lord, (Jesus) in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.” (Heb. 1:10)

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3)

But aren’t there many ways to be saved?

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:17-18)

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name (Jesus Christ of Nazareth) under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

To reiterate:

“And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.” (Luke 21:8)

“And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” (Matt. 24:11)

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:22-23)

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.” (Matt. 24:4)

These cautions are especially relevant to believers today.