Tag Archives: unrighteousness

Honor

Meditations in the Psalms

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? (Psalm 4:2 ESV)

Jesus’ prayer, cried out in this Psalm, and the prayer of the Psalmist, is inspired by the thinking of the hearts of the people who rage against Him. They are wicked and ungodly people, the kings and rulers of nations, who surround Him, intent upon inflicting violence against His person. Their unrighteousness wars against His righteousness. God gives Him both grace and mercy when He answers His prayer and relieves His distress.

David, speaking for Jesus in this Psalm, asks those who dishonor Him with their lies, pointed, parallel questions. Honor means glory, glorious, abundance.Shamemeans disgrace, reproach, confusion, insult, ignominy, discredit. These combative people use propaganda to attack Jesus’ character and person. They embrace vanity or vain words, which are empty and idle speech, that lifts themselves up while tearing Him down. They seek and desire to believe and espouse lies, false, deceptive, untrue teaching and training. These are the same people who “plot in vain” (Psalm 2:1 ESV) against the “LORD and against his Anointed” (Psalm 2:2 ESV). How long are they going to continue their rebellion and vilify, belittle and slander Him?

Throughout the Jesus’ earthly ministry He consistently confronted and opposed the Jewish leaders and teachers of the law. They saw Him as a threat to their power and authority over the people. He viewed them as false teachers, who led people away from God.

Jesus performed a miracle, raising Lazarus from death after four days in the tomb. Lazarus’ body naturally started to decay and decompose. People reacted to Jesus’ miracle in two ways. Either they embraced Jesus, convinced He was who He said He was, or they did not believe Him and denied Him. What did Jesus declare about Himself? In the presence of the people, Jesus declared to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV). Even though Jesus’ miracle is undeniable, executed in public, witnessed by many people, some of those who could accurately testify to Lazarus being dead and then not being dead, denied Him. “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done” (John 11:45-46 ESV). They did not deny He performed a miracle. They denied His divinity, for only God can raise the dead.

How did the Jewish leaders react? “From that day on they made plans to put him to death” (John 11:53 ESV). But Lazarus was still walking around, a living proof of the miracle performed by Jesus. People came from all around to see him who had died and been raised. They wanted to see both Jesus and Lazarus. Not only did the religious leaders plot to kill Jesus, they also arranged to kill Lazarus, the living, undeniable evidence of the power of God flowing through the Man from Nazareth.

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11 ESV).

They plotted and schemed to murder two people who had done nothing against the law of God deserving of death. What was their motivation for premeditated murder?

“So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation’” (John 11:47-48 ESV).

They, who wanted the Roman occupiers to suffer the wrath of God, were afraid the Romans would remove them from power. They were afraid the Romans would remove their place, which is their temple, and their nation, already dominated by the enemy occupiers. Comfortable in their position in the world, the Jewish leaders did not really want to obey God and trust Him. People rumbled about making Jesus their king so He could defeat the Romans and feed them (see John 6:15). Jesus would not let them. This attitude of the people was not unknown to the Jewish leaders. They were afraid of Jesus, who represented a corrosion of their authority. At least under the Romans they had some control. They loved vanity and by their plotting to murder Jesus, sought to shame Him whom they should have honored.

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Bearing the Cross

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. [Luke 14:27 ESV]

I am not afraid of death. I am afraid of the process of dying. My assurance of eternity with God is firm. He has guaranteed my place with Him through the death and resurrection of His Son and the gift of His Holy Spirit. God’s whole being is determined to gather His chosen into His kingdom.

What He does not guarantee is an easy life. He will do what is necessary to ensure I am, and all who are His are, prepared for eternity. He guarantees a level of suffering in this life, possibly physical, definitely emotional and mental. He wants us to mourn over the consequences of sin and to suffer for righteousness’ sake.

To be His disciple requires embracing righteousness and excising unrighteousness. Easier said than done. In fact, embracing righteousness is impossible for us. We are bent away from Him, twisted toward sin. His guarantee places all responsibility upon Himself for our salvation. We do nothing. But we do everything.

When Jesus said we must “pick up our cross” to follow Him He was the only one who knew how He was to die. It wasn’t until just before entering Jerusalem that He explicitly told His disciples what would happen.

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” [Matthew 20:17-19 ESV]

Everyone knew what a cross was, what it meant. The cross was an instrument of execution used by the Romans. Roman executioners created a word to describe the pain and suffering endured before death on a cross. No one crucified lived. They all died. They died in “excruciating” pain and humility.

Those crucified were considered dangerous to the authority of Rome. Murderers, thieves, revolutionaries, criminals, all crucified according to the decision of Rome. They were killed as an example to others, to encourage those who may want to be like those crucified to change and submit to Rome’s total authority.

Jesus was none of these. He murdered no one but raised those who had died from the dead. He stole nothing but gave all He had to those in need. He never rebelled against Rome but did lead a revolution of spiritual thought and action against the spiritual adultery of the religious leaders among His own people. He kept the Law, fulfilled the Law and lived beyond the Law. He was perfectly righteousness because He was God in the flesh. Being God He was dangerous in the eyes of the world for He tested the world against His own eternal, righteous standards. And the world failed.

He did not come as an example to be followed, but as a sacrifice to be offered. Still, He is an example.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. [1 Peter 2:21 ESV]

Perhaps His words to us are also hyperbole. Cut off a hand. Hate your father and mother. Pick up your cross.

For Him, picking up a cross was not hyperbole but a deadly, excruciating reality. His death, the shedding of His blood, covered our sin and released us from the consequences of sin. Instead of wrath God’s grace is poured out upon us. He did not redeem the world, created to hold people, but the people created in His image. We all know the phrase “dying to the world” but “living for God.” The person trudging up the hill, after being flogged, with a cross on his back, is not worrying about his job or her home or his possessions or her reputation. Those who follow Him must be like Him, even in His death so they will be like Him even more in eternal life.

The cross was placed upon His righteous shoulders by an unrighteous world, used by God to fulfill the righteous requirements of His broken Law. Our cross, then, is not something of our own choosing, or a suffering because of sin in and around our lives. It is not a burden we think God has asked us to bear. He never asks. The cross we carrying is a result of suffering for righteousness’ sake. We are salt, His righteousness in us exhibited before an unrighteous world.

Illustrations of Righteousness

Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. [Mark 9:50 ESV]

Illustrations used by Jesus are meant to drive home the point of His teachings.

Jesus has just come from being transfigured, changed back into who He really is, and then expels a demon from a child. He then explicitly tells His disciples what is going to happen. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” [Mark 9:31 ESV].

While they are walking, seeming to forget all which had just occurred, they argue amongst themselves about which of them is greater in the kingdom. Jesus tells them the greatest in the kingdom are those who serve, who place God before anything and anyone else. He draws a child into His arms and tells them whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” [Mark 9:37 ESV]. They must be like a child, who naturally loves Him, to even enter the kingdom. Children are easily taught. People would be better dead than to teach a child to not love Him and to sin. He illustrates the gravity of sin by stating it would be better to physically cut off an appendage, which causes sin, than keep the appendage and continue to sin. By extension, whatever causes sin teaches sin and stymies God’s peace.

He tells His disciples that “everyone will be salted with fire” [Mark 9:48 ESV]. If I am correct in my assessment then “salt” is Christ’s righteousness, a fire which burns away sin.

Everyone is covered with Christ’s righteousness but not everyone stays covered. As the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and points to the grace offered by God through Christ the individual may respond with obedience or rebellion. God commands all to eat from the tree of life, which is Christ. His command is given but not repeated, issued by the direct command of the Holy Spirit to those created in the image of God and able to receive and understand the command. Obedience carries no merit but does bring the blessing of being in His eternal presence. On the other hand, disobedience does carry punishment, the consequence of existence away from the life sustaining presence of God.

Once righteousness has rooted itself in the citizen the affect is more righteousness. Pursuing righteousness produces righteousness. We are called to hunger and thirst after righteousness and in doing so God fills us with that which we need. Righteousness is not a desire or a want but a need. God has created us, and recreated us, in a manner which spiritually needs His moral character more than we need physical food and drink. We need His life to stay alive. It is the evidence of His life in us which the world sees. We are the “salt of the earth” [Matthew 5:13 ESV] which makes us the evidence God uses to show the unrighteous their sin. Because we pursue righteousness we love as only God will and we either draw people to God or they hate us because they hate Him.

But what happens to those who rebel. Salted with the fire of God’s righteousness they are snatched away by Satan because they do not understand it, or are enticed or driven away by the pressures of the world, or are choked and deceived by their own flesh. (See the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:18-23.) Mixed with the impurity of the world and sinful flesh the salt, through trial and testing, is leached away leaving worthless dirt. Those who had salt lost the salt through disobedience until what remains is a person condemned by God because of their one sin of rebellion.

It is no coincidence the last of the seven characteristics Jesus gives is peacemaker. He wants us to have peace with God which results in peace with those with whom we live and work. This is a dilemma. God’s righteousness in us will either draw people to God or drive them away. How can Jesus say “have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another”?

Jesus attracted people to Himself because He was righteous and at peace with God. Soon, others who pursued unrighteousness and hated Him would kill Him. Facing this depth of anger and hatred and bitterness from those who rebelled against God did not break His righteousness or His peace with God. He was willing to give everything to do God’s will and command. Again, we are faced with a mystery.  He cried out while on the cross “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mark 15:34 ESV] and then “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” [Luke 23:46 ESV].

He rose from the dead, conquering death.

If our lifestyle and beliefs are not evidence of God’s righteousness as we go then we will either face God’s discipline or His wrath. Peace is the evidence of righteousness working in our life, first with God and then with those around us. Our peace with God, even while facing persecution for righteousness, is attractive. Being a peacemaker is a natural characteristic of the citizen of the kingdom of God.

So is eternal life.

Removing the Impurities

… how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. [Matthew 5:13 ESV]

For everyone will be salted with fire. [Mark 9:49 ESV]

Here is the second of three places Jesus uses the analogy of salt to describe the evidence of the thinking of a person’s heart. Those who are naturally born have the morphe of a sinner, the inner bent to sin, under the control of the thralldom of sin.  Those reborn by the Spirit of God are recreated and given the morphe of a Christian, under God’s control as a citizen of His kingdom. Salt illustrates the inclusion of righteousness, inherent to the image of God, mixed with the presence of rebellion, unrighteousness, found in everyone.

As always, the context and understanding the context is vital to understanding the meaning of Jesus’ words. The immediate context of Mark 9 is found and enhanced by Matthew 18. Jesus revealed His glory to three disciples  on the Mount of Transfiguration. He healed a young boy, casting out the demon which tormented him and his family. Peter has confessed Him as Christ and is then rebuked for responding to Him like the world and not like someone who truly understood who stood before him.

Then, as they walk along, the disciples argue about who among them is the greatest in the kingdom of God, for none other outside of their clique could possibly attain such an exalted position. What arrogance. Their misunderstanding of Him is deep and potentially deadly.

Calling a child to Himself He admonishes His disciples and us. To enter the kingdom requires being like a child. Children are sinful, born with the natural bent to sin. They do not have to be taught to sin. Before pronouncing this warning Jesus declares His prescription for sin. His words are hyperbole, but the action required is even more mentally, emotionally and spiritually harsh. Whatever causes, inspires, is the vehicle for sin, whatever is used to move temptation into full-blown sin, must be excised. Children lean toward sin but if you are the one who teaches a child to how to sin it would be better for you to kill yourself.

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” [Mark 9:42-48 ESV]

Does your hand, your foot, your eye cause or lead you into sin?  Cut it off. It is better to spend eternity with the Giver of Life and without a hand, foot or eye than to spend eternity in existing death without God. But what if it is my heart which draws me to sin and the various physical appendages are simply the tools needed to accomplish the sin desired?  How do I cut out my heart?

People make excuse to not be responsible. Jesus’ teaching demands a shared responsibility with God. While God is responsible for everyone all are responsible before God. Our works carry no merit. Yet, obedience to God’s commands is expected because He is the Creator and we are the creature, His creation.

He wants us to hate sin and love truth and righteousness as a natural part of being a Christian. We do not belong to ourselves but to Him. Our actions, the thinking of our hearts, must reflect the likeness of His Son. It is better to cease conforming to the world by cutting off or away whatever demands unrighteousness. What we think we lose here has no eternal value and is even eternally detrimental to our spirits. Our responsibility is to act like a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

What you do reflects who you are and dictates what you will become. God is adamant we are responsible for our actions and motivations. Yet, He  has not left us to our own devises but given His Spirit to lead and direct and empower the Christian in the war against sin.

The Object of Persecution

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  [Matthew 5:10-11 ESV]

Persecution for righteousness’ sake is always undeserved suffering which means it is not deserved. Christ’s death was undeserved. This does not mean all violence against a Christian is because of God’s imputed righteousness. Christians are covered with the blood of Christ, the sentence for their sin placed upon His shoulders. But, Christians still sin. We still say things we should not. Do what we should not. Do not do what we should. Suffering which comes as a consequence of personal sin is not suffering for righteousness’ sake.

Suffering for righteousness’ sake does not come because of the Christian but because of Whom the Christian represents.

Living according to the righteous leading of the Spirit is the evidence of God’s blessing upon the Christian. Yet, God does not force the Christian to live according to the leading of the Spirit. Christians have wills. It is possible to grieve the Spirit of God by our rebellion. We must still obey as His servants would obey but often do only the bare minimum and sometimes not even that.

He tests those who are His. These tests are internal and external. How do we struggle against temptation and sin? Where is our resolve and our love for Him who redeemed us? Are we truly servants of the only God? Relinquishing control is internal, an act of the intelligence and the moral/emotional self shown through obedience which is shown in what we do daily. This daily living for Christ draws people to us, questioning our actions, forging opinion about why we do what we do. Our internal life is a preparation for eternity. Our external life is a witness for God who calls people to Himself.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” [1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV]

We are holy because of the God who created us, recreated us, and claims us for His own. If there is one thing Scripture teaches it is God’s holiness, His demand for holiness, and the complete rebellion of the world against Him.

Genesis 4 suggests there are only four people alive. They are Adam and Eve and their first two children, Cain and Abel. Abel offered a righteous sacrifice, according to the intimately known moral standards of God. Cain’s sacrifice was not righteous because Cain was not righteous. Cain killed Abel because God judged Abel’s sacrifice righteous, not because his brother was righteous. God’s work in us, in fitting us for eternity with Him, takes the murderous unrighteousness of Cain, found in everyone, and purges it through continuous testing and refining. We become obedient, leaving behind all acts of unrighteousness, embracing His holiness.

Yet, the world hates God’s holiness and His righteousness and all those who obediently follow Him. Being loved by God automatically means being hated by the world. Those who have rejected Him will reject anything which belongs to Him. The evidence of Christ’s life and sacrifice is neither meager or compromised but substantial and solid. We should never be surprised by the evidence of the world’s hatred for God. We should be concerned when the world does not “revile” and “utter all kinds of evil against you” because of obedience to Christ.

The object of persecution is not the Christian, even though it is Christians who receive the brunt of the physical, emotional, and intellectual violence. All persecution is directed toward God. Whether we admit it or not, everything begins with Him, revolves around Him, and ends with Him. We should not view ourselves but the God whom we serve as the object of persecution.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. [1Peter 4:1-5 ESV]