Why Blessing?

Bless me. Bless him. Bless them. Our prayers are full of cries to the Lord for his blessings. WE ask God to bless food, medical care, or tired moms. We ask for God to bless our churches, our outreach, and our services.

But here is a question: Why? What reason do we give to the Lord for why we want to be blessed? Is our desire simply that things will be easy for us? If so, that is something we should recognize. Is our desire that God bless us for another outcome? If so, we should realize that too.

This morning, I was reading through Psalm 67. It’s short, so I’ll just include it here. What got my attention is the reason that the psalmist asks for blessing. He has a very clear reason, repeatedly mentioned in the psalm, for why he wants God to do his people good.

Psalm 67

1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
2 that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
6 The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
7 God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!

The psalm opens with a cry for blessing in verse 1 and follows immediately with the reason, “that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” With the word “that,” hear the reason. It is a so that or an in order that sort of concept. Bless us. Why? So that your way and saving power may be known all over the world.

In verses 3-4, we see that an apparent result of the nations knowing of the glory and way of God is that the peoples will praise God and the nations will be glad.

Then, in verse 7, we see something similar, just without the explanatory term. The psalmist concludes, “God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” So, on the one hand, we again see the blessing of God on the people of God. What is the result? On the other side, the result is that the nations will fear, rightly reverence and honor, the Lord.

So, why ask for God to bless you. Be careful here. It might seem that the answer is simply that we are going to want God’s blessing for evangelism. And that is almost right, though it is incomplete. The psalmist is not saying that he wants God to bless the people of God with earthly ease so that others will see that ease, want that ease, and then come to God to get that ease. That type of thinking is the mistake behind a great deal of church outreach in the 21st century. Many churches put forth the blessings of God as the carrot to try to draw people into the church.

What I think is missing in the idea of asking for blessing so that people will be drawn to the blessing is that this can quickly become about the benefits given by God more than about God himself. If you pay attention to the psalmist’s reasoning, he is asking for God’s blessing so that God’s ways, the fear of him, the glory of God might spread. The psalmist is asking for the people of God to be blessed by God so that the world around might see and understand the glory, the goodness, and even the justice of God. The idea is that, when people see God and his glory on display, God will draw to himself a people, thus making the nations glad in him.

Now, go back and ask why we ask for blessing. I’m not at all saying that it is wrong for us to pray for God to bless our families with health and even ease. I am not opposed to praying that God bless a doctor with wisdom to care for a patient. The point that I am making is that, when we think most biblically, our request for blessing is going to be motivated by the glory of God. We want God to bless so that in that blessing, he might display his attributes both to us and to a watching world. We want the glory of God to shine over all the nations. We rejoice as we experience that glory. Our souls are filled and satisfied when we know the majesty of God. And so we pray for blessing in order that the main goal of the magnification of the glory of God be accomplished. Results of that glory include our joy and the spread of the gospel to the nations.

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Jesus Fulfills the Law and the Prophets

When Jesus walked up the mountain with Peter, John, and James in Matthew 17, something glorious and supernatural occurred. Jesus displayed for the disciples to see his divine, kingly glory. Jesus was transfigured, shining bright with holiness. And, in an interesting piece to the story, Moses and Elijah appear and talk with the Savior.

Matthew 17:3 – And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

When you think about this scene, keep this fact in your mind. In Jesus’ day, the Old Testament of the Bible was often referred to as the law and the prophets. The law was even sometimes simply called Moses, since Moses wrote the books of the law, the first five books of the Bible.

Suddenly, with Jesus, the disciples see two other figures. Moses and Elijah arrive on the scene. This is truly an amazing and holy moment. Moses, the Old Testament figure most connected with God’s law and Elijah, the Old Testament figure most connected with the prophets, are both standing with the Son of god and having a conversation.

How fitting is this? Jesus came to earth and would perfectly fulfill the law of God. Jesus came to earth and perfectly fulfills the prophecies of the coming of the Christ. All of Scripture points to Jesus. All the law and the prophets are perfectly completed in the person and work of the Son of god. And here God shows us that a reason to love Jesus is that he is the one to whom all Scripture points. He is superior to Moses. He is superior to the prophets. Jesus is God in flesh.

The Unpardonable Sin: Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

Matthew 12:31-32 – 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

In this passage, Jesus gives the most dire warning we have ever heard him give. Simply put, the Savior lets us know that a person can come to a point where the forgiveness of God is no longer available to him or her. A person can push so hard against Jesus and toward their sin that they leave themselves eternally destined for hell just like the devil.

These two verses have been discussed for centuries, and many people find them very confusing. Jesus presents to us here the possibility of committing an unpardonable sin. We must be aware of the significance here and be sure to be under the grace of God.

So, what is this sin? Jesus says that some people will utter things against him that can eventually be forgiven. But some can blaspheme the Spirit of God in such a way that, no matter What, they will never be forgiven. But how does this work? Since Jesus and the Holy Spirit are persons of the holy Trinity, how can blasphemy against one not be the same as the other? It gets a little complicated.

Here is an important rule of understanding the Bible. When a passage of Scripture is unclear, you must allow the clearer portions of Scripture to help you interpret it. Since the Bible is inspired by God and without error, the clearer passages will shed light on those which seem dim to our understanding.

The Bible is clear that any person who repents of his sin and entrusts his soul to Jesus will be saved. The Bible is also clear that no person is saved who refuses to trust in Jesus for that salvation. This is clear in all of the teaching of the New Testament, and it must be the light by which we understand the confusing concept of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as the unforgiveable sin.

What, then, is Jesus pointing at here? He is obviously aiming at what the Pharisees about whom he is speaking are doing, or are at least in danger of doing. They have seen Jesus perform miracles, acts of God’s grace and kindness. However, instead of praising Jesus for those miracles and coming to him in faith, the Pharisees are saying that Jesus and his works are from the devil. They are looking at the Son of God, the ultimate good, and they are calling him Satan, the ultimate evil. This is the blasphemy that is unforgiveable, to determine that God is ultimately evil and not good, and so therefore to oppose him.

But, this still leaves the question of how Jesus can say that words against him can be forgiven but blaspheming the Spirit cannot. The best resolution to that difficulty I can pose has to do with the difference between those who are misunderstanding Jesus in his earthly ministry and those who are actually seeing it and calling the work of God the work of the devil. Jesus is truly God and truly man. During Jesus’ ministry, here where Matthew is writing, people are only gradually beginning to see who Jesus is as the man Jesus travels around and preaches the gospel. To speak out against him could be forgiven. How? Forgiveness comes to all who repent of their sin and trust in Jesus for mercy. But, for the one who ultimately and finally decides that God himself is evil and that Jesus, God the Son, is evil and that the Spirit of God by whom Jesus did his miracles is evil, there is no other hope of salvation.

Also understand that this blasphemy is not a simple blasphemy. It is not a single speaking of evil but an unrepentant and unchanging set of one’s self against the Spirit of God in the person of Christ. After all, Peter denied ever knowing Jesus. Paul used to persecute Christians, believing that following Jesus was evil. But both men were forgiven when they repented and believed. But to blaspheme the Spirit is to place yourself in a determined position of declaring God to be evil and not good. It is to have a heart so hardened by sin as to stand in opposition to God until death.

I have heard people ask if they have committed the unforgiveable sin. I have known some people to be very worried about this because of the way that they have spoken out against the Lord in the past. But I will say this to you with confidence: If you are afraid that you have committed this sin, you have not done so. No person who has gone so far as to place themselves under the eternal wrath of God is going to care about whether or not God might forgive them. They will shake their fist at God until they die and enter into eternity under his wrath. But no person who desires God and who desires to be forgiven in Christ will have committed this sin.

At the end of the day, Jesus is speaking to us to show us that to oppose him is tremendously dangerous. Do not set yourself against God. See the danger, turn to Jesus, and find life in his grace.

Simplicity in the Gospel

Matthew 11:25-26 – 25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

Just after telling people that they are in deep trouble with God for not responding to the revelation of God they have been given, Jesus speaks aloud a prayer to his Father, a prayer of gratitude. He is thankful for the fact that God, the Lord over all, has done two things.

First, God has hidden the truth of the gospel from the smartest of the smart. Second, God has made the gospel available to people with childlike minds. And the Savior tells us that this glorifies God.

Jesus thanks the Father that he has hidden the truths of the gospel from the wise and understanding. Something about the ones that the world thinks are the best and brightest goes against the gospel message. The Christian faith is not for the super-smart, self-sufficient scholarly types. For God’s own reasons, those who are most praised for their brains in this world are the least likely to be the ones who come to faith.

1 Corinthians 1:18-21 – 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

Similarly, we know that the most successful, the rich and the famous, have always been among the slowest to believe.

Matthew 19:23-26 – 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Why is all this so? Is it because there is something inherently wrong with Christianity so that it only draws the uneducated, the foolish, the outcast? No, the faith is not dumb. But the wisdom that the world celebrates and the success that the world seeks after is going in an opposite direction of the truth of God. It is when we think we are smartest that we are making our gravest mistakes. It is when we think we are strongest that we are in most danger of falling.

Instead of making the gospel only for the extra bright and super successful, God has given the gospel to little children. God has made the plan of salvation gloriously uncomplicated. You do not need a PhD to grasp it. You do not need some sort of special secret knowledge to believe it. You do not need to be of the wealthy, ruling class to get into the kingdom of God. No, God has sent salvation to the simple, because this is the most glorifying thing he could have done.

Let us be a people who thank God and praise him for his choice. He glorifies himself in a sweet, kind way. He does not focus his grace only on the strong and powerful. He focuses his grace on weak ones like me. Only a God secure in his own glory and power and position could do such a thing. And we should be truly grateful.

God With Us

It is interesting to see how Matthew’s gospel opens as it closes. There are so many things that parallel between the birth of Christ and his death and resurrection. God’s fingerprints are all over this story in a way that I doubt very seriously a common tax collector had the art to put together on his own.

For example, angels show up both at the time of Jesus’ birth (chapter 1) and again just after his resurrection (chapter 28). Just after Jesus’ birth, a wicked king schemes to kill him (chapter 2). Of course, in chapter 27, Jesus is put to death by command of a Roman official. At the garden of Gethsemane, the disciples run just before his death (chapter 26). Just before Jesus’ public ministry, he calls the disciples to himself (chapter 4). The devil tries to tempt Jesus with “If you are the Son of God” (chapter 4) while the crowds at the cross do the same thing (chapter 27).

It is as if God is showing us that Jesus’ story is a glorious and complete accounting of the life of the Son of God. Putting those bookends, those parallels in the first and last chapters show us that God has been carrying out a clear plan all along.

The one that caught my attention today was in one of the clearest parallels that we can find in chapters 1 and 28.

Matthew 1 :20-23 – 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).

Matthew 28:20b – And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Jesus will be called Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus said he will be with us to the very end of the age. We see promise and fulfillment. We see prediction and completion. We see the Lord Jesus take upon himself the mantle that was promised by an angel and which we must have as truth if we are to live in this world.

Jesus is God with us. Because he lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and rose from the grave in victory, he can be with us. We have hope and life because of the presence of Jesus. We can face the world because of the presence of Jesus. We can obey the commands of God because of the presence of Jesus. We can seek forgiveness for our sins and restoration to fellowship with God because of the presence and the intercession of Jesus.

Let those beautiful bookends give you courage today. God is showing you that part of his purpose in the Gospel According to Matthew is to let you know that Jesus is God and that he lives present with his people forever. We are not alone if we are in Christ. We are not defeated, regardless of what this world throws at us. We have hope for eternity because of the actual presence of the Savior right now.

Intermarriage: A Look at a Dangerous Sin and a Significant Command

When Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, he romanticized a tragedy between two young lovers separated by warring families. How heartbreaking it is that two families who could not set aside ancient grudges would keep these two and their passion apart. And if that felt wrong in Shakespeare’s day, how much worse might it feel today? Today, we assume that all romance, all passion, all desire is good so long as one cannot define a victim of wrongdoing in that passion.

But when we look at the word of God, we see barriers put in place. IN the Old Testament, God told Israel not to intermarry with the people of the land into which the nation was moving. The Canaanites were off-limits for romance.

But wait. That has to be wrong, right? How dare God set a limit on love? Who does he think he is?

Interestingly, the limitation was very poorly interpreted by readers of the Bible for many generations. Men used the prohibition of Israel intermarrying with the people of the land as a prooftext to forbid any marriage between people whose skins were of different colors. This was never a faithful interpretation of Scripture, but it surely made an impact on a culture.

What was God forbidding? What should we learn from it today?

Joshua 23:11-13 11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12 For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.

God is absolutely clear that the people of Israel were not to intermarry with the Canaanites. Why? Is this about skin color? Is it an ethnic, a race, thing?

Joshua 23:6-8 – 6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day.

No, this has never been a skin color thing. The issue is one of worship. And that issue has never gone away, not even in New Testament Christianity.

Understand that all people worship. There is no such thing as a non-worshipping human being. All are committed to a faith of some sort. The supposed scientific naturalist worships human reason. The supposed libertarian may worship autonomy. Many worship human sexual freedom in all its forms. Some worship other named deities. But all people in all the world worship something, even if that something is nothing more than self.

What God forbad was his people, people who had committed themselves to worship him, intermarrying with people who were committed to worship someone or something other than God. God would not have his people make families with idol worshipers. God would not have children raised to give a bow to the Lord on one day and an offering to an idol on the next. God will never allow for his children to worship anyone other than him—see the first commandment.

Paul warned the church of the same thing in a discussion of more than marriage. We must not bind ourselves together with those who have totally different objects of worship.

2 Corinthians 6:14 – Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

Paul was talking about a broad array of our earthly affairs in that passage, but it is unquestionable that entering into a deep romantic relationship or the covenant of marriage applies here. Believers are not to bind themselves together with unbelievers. We worship different deities. We have utterly different values, different life purposes, different sources of authority, different standards of morality.

Do not hear me saying that Christians are the good people and everybody else is bad. Christians are bad people. The difference is that Christians are bad people who have been rescued and forgiven by God. And true Christians are committed to following God’s holy word. We fail often. But we are committed to that which God has declared to be right. And God’s word has always been plain that one of the greatest mistakes we could make, one of our greatest negative temptations, would be to intermarry with those who oppose God and try to figure out a way to live without compromise. It does not ultimately work. It will tear our hearts in two. It will either lead us to compromise or great sorrow.

Of course, I know of believers who are presently married to unbelievers. And I know that many of these couples love one another greatly. That is a grace from God. But the fact is, these couples cannot have the joy of Christian fellowship together. Neither can they have the same commitment to biblical morality. Their lives have different purposes. And, if the Lord does not intervene in a gracious way, they have different eternal destinations.

Of course, I also know of believers who were married to nonbelievers and who then saw their nonbelieving spouses come to faith. Praise God for that mercy. But we do not violate the word of God by choice just because, from time-to-time, it has worked out when others have done so. We do not advocate drunk driving just because we know of some who have made it home alive. We do not advocate swimming with alligators just because one guy made it across the river. No, we must be a people who cling to the word of God and his standards regardless of whether or not things have worked out mercifully for some.

If you were a nonbeliever who became a believer after your marriage, my heart goes out to you. I know this must be a difficult state to live in if you truly believe the word of God. And God has told us clearly that you are to remain in that marriage and pray to be a witness to your spouse so long as your spouse wants to remain together (c.f. 1 Cor. 7).

If you have gone against the word of God here and entered into marriage with someone outside the faith, understand that I’m not writing to put you down. You should confess where you went against the word of God. Repentance includes owning that you did something wrong, even if that wrong has resulted in things which truly are very good such as a happy marriage or sweet children. Again, God’s word says that you are to remain married so long as your spouse is willing. Do not think that God’s forgiveness is beyond you. But neither allow yourself to pretend that there is no sin in violating God’s standard. Confess to the Lord, if you have not done so already, and be grateful for grace.

But if you are presently in a romantic relationship with a nonbeliever and you claim Christ, repentance looks different. Yes, confess. Yes, believe the word of God. And, yes, get out of that relationship. Do not wait. Do not make excuses. Do not let yourself argue that breaking up might drive your nonbelieving partner further from the Lord. Your salvation included a commitment to the Lord and his commands first. You told Jesus he was your new master. Obedience includes not being unequally yoked together. And yes, this may do damage to relationships. But the truth is, sin always does damage. But we cannot allow that damage to prevent us from repentance.

God forbad his people from intermarrying with people who worship someone or something other than him. Forbidding intermarriage is not what the old racists used to claim. But just because one era perverted the command does not mean that the command and standard does not have a right application.

When Shakespeare wrote of Romeo and Juliet, he ended the tragedy with the possibility of a peaceful future between the Montague and Capulet families. But God has made it plain in his word that there is an eternal separation between himself and those who oppose him until death. God has made it plain that there is only one way to have eternal peace with him. And thus, God commands those who are at peace with him not to bind themselves together with those who are at enmity with him. There is no Montague and Capulet reconciliation between God and those who die opposing him. And God most certainly has every right to warn his own not to dishonor him by building lives together with those who stand against him.

To demand the right to marry anybody you choose, regardless of biblical restriction, is to worship someone other than the Lord. It is to give your allegiance to your passions, your heart, or even your physical drives. God calls it sin, and he is the one who determines such things, not pop culture.

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Is All Scripture Profitable?

We know that 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable. We know that every single verse of the Bible is inspired by God. But we also know that some profit is easier to find than others.

Take for example the book of Joshua. We get pretty excited about the whole conquest of the land stuff. God parts the Jordan River to let the nation cross. God knocks down the walls of Jericho. God judges the nation when they are disobedient. Caleb is a man!

But then things shift. We get chapter after chapter of boundaries and borders. WE get chapters about the doling out of the land. Yes, from time to time we see that one of the 12 tribes is faithless and will not drive out the people from the part of the land they have been promised. But, for the most part, for several pages, all we see are names and places we do not recognize. How is that profitable?

Joshua 21:43-45 – 43 Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

How those chapters are profitable is summed up right here. God is faithful. Not one word of all God promised the people failed to come to pass. God said he would do it. God did it. And here, Joshua lets us know he did it.

If you were of the people of God in ancient times, perhaps living under the judges or even the early kings, how great would the book of Joshua be to you? How wonderful would it have been to have read to you the real word of God allotting your particular tribe the inheritance that God promised? In honesty, though the first half of Joshua would make a better movie, what would make you celebrate is hearing about God giving your people their land.

And even when we live in a foreign land, oceans away from those boundaries, we should be able to recognize the teaching of the word of God. God is faithful. God makes promises and keeps promises. The word of God, whether law, prophets, or writings, whether gospels, Acts, epistles, or Revelation, all of the word of God is true and trustworthy. What God promises, God does. God is able to do the seemingly impossible. God is faithful to keep his word.