Exceeding Righteousness

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20

With multitudes following Him early in His ministry, Jesus sat down to teach them. He taught not as the scribes, but as one having authority. He stated that He had not come to destroy the Law, but fulfill it. Till heaven and earth pass away, the Law shall remain, He taught. Anyone who breaks one of the least of the commandments shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

Following these eye-opening statements comes an even more remarkable one. To even be in the kingdom of heaven to be called least, He stated that one’s righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.

This was most remarkable because as far as keeping the Law was concerned, the scribes and the Pharisees had dedicated their lives to studying, memorizing, and living the most minute details of the Law to the best of human ability to do so.

Jesus stated in no uncertain terms that one’s righteousness must exceed the scribes and Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Implicit in this statement is the fact that the scribes and Pharisees were not going to enter the kingdom.

If those who had dedicated their lives to keeping the Law could not do it well enough to enter the kingdom, what chance did ordinary men and women who were busy working and raising families? The obvious conclusion: NO CHANCE!

This was exactly the truth that Jesus was trying to get us to see. By works of the Law shall no flesh be saved!

The obvious question? How can anyone be saved? Here again was the truth that Jesus wanted them to ask, and seek, and knock to find. We need a Savior! God was in Jesus the Messiah providing Him. The truth, the answer to their every hope and question was standing before them. To the one who believed in Him, though he died, yet he is alive.

The same truth faces us today. The Law still stands. How can we who have not even tried to keep it hope to be saved by it? We cannot. How then can we enter into the kingdom of heaven? There is only one name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. That is the name of Jesus.

Why Do You Do?

The story is told of a woman who cooked wonderful hams for her family. When she cooked a ham, the first thing that she did was cut off one end of the ham and throw it away. Presently it came to pass that someone questioned her about why she always cut the end of her ham off when preparing it. This person was obviously not content with just enjoying good ham, but was probably documenting the mysteries of the universe, one of which was why cutting off the end of a ham prior to cooking would make better tasting ham.

The woman replied that she cut off the end because her mother had always done so. Becoming curious herself, she asked her mother why she cut the end of her hams off before cooking.

The mother replied that she did so because her mother had always done so. They went to the grandmother and asked her why she cut the end of her hams off before cooking them. What was the secret of culinary excellence wrapped up in this ritual? The grandmother replied that she had a short baking pan and that she cut the end of the ham off because that was the only way it would fit in the pan.

The tradition of cutting off the end of the ham by the daughter and granddaughter added nothing to the wonderful flavor of their meals. Rather it was just a waste of another delicious sandwich or two.

Jesus gave the apostle John the instruction to send letters to seven churches in the first century. These churches which are churches that belong to Jesus because He bought them with His own blood were both commended for the things they were doing right, and criticized for the things they were doing wrong.

The first church that had a letter sent to it was the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7). This church with a rich history was commended by Jesus for the many things that they were doing right and well. They worked hard. They were still laboring patiently after 40 years of expecting Jesus to return at any minute. They could not bear evil people. They knew this was Jesus church and should be holy because He is holy. They tested all that taught there and revealed any that were false teachers. Finally, they were commended again for their perseverance. They were still doing all these good things faithfully just as they always had.

Jesus just had one criticism. He told them, “you have left your first love.” They were still doing good things. They had just lost sight of the reason they were to be doing them. They had forgotten what it was like when they first saw that Jesus was the only begotten Son of God, the Creator of the universe, and yet He loved them so much that He offered His body as a sacrifice for their sin. He became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

What otherworldly love He showered on them. Was it any wonder that they joyfully gave themselves into His service out of love for Him? Can you imagine any other response possible if you really behold the unbelievable love that God has bestowed on us?

Their service continued until the present. The reason and motivation for the service had not. Jesus said that this was unacceptable! Unless they remembered that first reason of love, repented, and started doing it for the right reason again, He warned them that they would cease to exist as a church.

Jesus is more interested in our love than any other thing. If we love Him the right actions will follow naturally. Is your love for Jesus such that you are joyfully serving Him, or are you just going through the motions because that is what you and others have always done?

Confessions of a Transgressor

There are some who would say that denial is a river in Egypt. Unfortunately most of those people are in fact living in denial (hope they don’t drown in it). In fact a good portion of mankind is in a continual state of denial about the existence of sin, and of its very real presence in their own lives.

John writes in his first letter, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Many people walk around continually in this state of denial and self-deceiving.

My grandfather had a saying, “It doesn’t affect me – affect me – affect me …” He would use it when there was some self-denial going on. The point being that we could claim something had nothing to do with us, when in fact its effects were profound enough to cause serious dysfunction to be occurring. Denying the truth did not negate its effects.

The greatest sickness of man is the fact that our sin has separated us from God. Denying that reality does not negate the devastating effects of the separation. Nothing can be truly right when we are denied the relationship with our Creator for which we were created.

How do we find the cure to this sickness? The first step to a cure is confession. When David was miserably affected by the denial of his sin, the first step to relief was confession.

I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah Psalm 32:5

There is great power in finding the relief of guilt coming from the forgiveness of God. He will not offer that relief until we confess the sin.

Confession is not telling God something He does not know. Confession is agreeing with God about the reality of the sin in our life. Why deny that reality? Who are you really fooling? Who are you really hurting?

Thank God we have a Savior who loves us and gave Himself up to pay the full penalty for our sin. Thank you Jesus! Confess your sin today and receive the gift of forgiveness offered by the loving Savior.

Heavy Hands

For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah Psalm 32:4

A fighter who is said to have heavy hands is one who has devastating punching power, one who is able to hurt you or knock you out at any time. There is no one in the entire universe that has heavier hands than the Lord. He could take any of us out at any time.

Thankfully the Lord is long suffering and full of mercy. He doesn’t give us what we deserve. In fact He is so gracious that He gives us what we don’t deserve, the free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus’ sacrificial death in our place.

That grace doesn’t mean that God will tolerate His children living in sin. Any one who has tried, has found out like King David just how heavy the Lord’s hands are. Bow your neck and continue to go your own way and the loving blows of the Lord will turn your vitality into a sea of misery, or as David puts it “into the drought of summer.”

Why do we inflict such pain on ourselves through our stubborn rebellion? The Lord is just trying to get us to go the way that is best for us anyway. Truly “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?

We are such fools to want that which will only hurt us, when we can have all that the Lord wants for us which will be such a blessing to our soul. Lord, let your heavy hands train us quickly to confess our sin and turn to you for your great blessing.

Women and Children First

When watching a movie that has a seagoing setting and the cry goes out, “Women and children first,” you know that the peril is great and the ship is sinking.

This tradition of putting the utmost urgency to saving the most precious among us reputedly goes back to the experience of the HMS Birkenhead. The ship sailed along the coast of southern Africa in 1852 with 638 aboard including 476 British soldiers and 20 women and children.

The ship struck a rock off of Danger point and her metal hull was torn open. Over a hundred of the soldiers drowned while still in their bunks. The rest assembled on the deck. They tried to help free the lifeboats, but only 3 of the 8 could be wrested from the paint encrusted rigging. The women and children were put into the three lifeboats.

As it became clear that time was running out, the captain shouted, “Every man for himself.”

Immediately the soldier’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Seton drew his sword and ordered his men to stand fast. He knew that a free-for-all rush to the lifeboats would mean that they would be swamped and the women and children would likely perish.

He had no need to use his sword as the soldiers stood fast in ranks even as the ship broke in two. Only 193 of the 638 souls aboard survived that day. Neither the captain nor Lieutenant-Colonel Seton were among the survivors.

There is a tremendous contrast in the attitudes of the two men when facing this disastrous situation. Captured in the words, “Every man for himself” is the attitude of selfishness. Forget everyone else and save yourself. If someone gets in your way or needs your help too bad for them because you are the one who matters.

On the other hand you have immortalized in the saying, “Women and children first” the second attitude, an attitude that has formed the bedrock of western civilization for the last 150 years. Men will put themselves at risk to protect the most precious and the weakest among us.

When the disciples would have forbidden the children from being brought to Jesus, He was very displeased. “Let the little children come to me and don’t forbid them,” He said. Then He took them in His arms and blessed them. Jesus loves children!

Peter also was guided to write that husbands give “honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life.” It is right to protect and give greater honor to the women and children.

You have to wonder what reception before Jesus awaited the captain and the commander as they started eternity on the same day. Neither could be saved except by the grace of God as they accepted Jesus death as the only satisfactory payment for their sins. We don’t know whether either one of both had done that while they had the chance.

I think we can agree that if both were saved, that one was probably acutely embarrassed by some of the final words that he uttered. If Jesus had followed the mantra, “every man for himself” he would have never offered himself up for the likes of us. Thankfully he loved the weak and gave Himself up for us.

Thankfully also, western society has held on to a degree of the rightness of protecting our women and children. “Women and children first,” words immortalized in tragedy, but words that shaped a culture for good.

That by all means we may save some