Gospel

The Gospel: Acts 2:12-41

After Jesus’ ascension into the sky, the angels told the apostles that He would return the same way (Acts 1:11). The first Gospel Sermon introduces ‘these last days’ with the core message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

It’s Pentecost Day and the apostle Peter is presenting the Gospel for the very first time.  The prophet Joel had prophesied about this day with a glimpse of the future (Joel 2:28-32).  Now, in ‘these last days’ Peter introduces the gospel message that will stand until Jesus returns.  This is the ‘Good News’ and it is echoed repeatedly in the remainder of the New Testament.

REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED

As Peter said, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God” (Acts 2:38, NLT).

Above is the Youtube posting of the music video entitled “The Gospel” by Ryan Stevenson.  The video can be purchased and downloaded at Worship House Media.

Fall Festival Is Coming!

Our annual Fall Festival will be in our church building, 525 W. Barney Ave., Muskegon Heights.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26

6:00-8:00 P.M.

ADMISSION

One non-perishable food item or pantry item (like paper towels, toilet paper, tooth paste, soap, etc.)  to include in our Thanksgiving Baskets.

Kids can wear costumes.

Free Hot Dogs and Chili!

Everyone is invited!

Fire!

God’s Fire would mark major events in the days of Israel. God’s Presence was marked by fire with Moses and the children of Israel (Exodus 3; 19-20; Deuteronomy 4), Elijah  (1 Kings 18:16-46), and Solomon ( 2 Chronicles 7).  John the Baptist had announced that the Messiah would come with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:15-18).  Now the Holy Spirit announces His presence with tongues of Fire (Acts 2:1-4).

PENTECOST’S FIRE

Luke continues the crescendo of activity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as God’s unfolding kingdom takes on new dimensions.  Thus begins church.  Indeed, preparations for the Day of Pentecost began with the coming of Christ.  After His death, burial and resurrection He  spends 40 days with His disciples.  Then, Jesus ascends back to heaven.  Now, a mighty wind is heard in Jerusalem and tongues of fire confirm God’s presence through His Spirit.

TONGUES OF FIRE

Suddenly equipped to speak languages to the different people-groups there in Jerusalem, the apostles begin the process of ‘speaking the wonders of God in our own tongues’ (Acts 2:11).  Of what wonders did they speak in advance of Peter’s sermon?

Today, we pray for the wind of the Holy Spirit and His fire in our hearts.  We pray for the ability to speak of God’s wonders as well by our lives, our words and our actions.

Church on Fire – Introduction

In this Introduction to a “Church on Fire” we note two significant bookends that will mark the beginning and end of our study in Acts.

HEROD ANTIPAS

The first of two bookends begins in Luke 23 when Herod Antipas places his royal robe on Jesus while mocking and ridiculing Him.  Jesus, of course is silent.  The second of the two bookends is found in Acts 12:20-23 where Herod Antipas appears before an audience who proclaim him to be like a god.  Luke tells us that because Herod accepted the people’s worship instead of giving glory to God (vs. 23) he was consumed by worms and died.

Herod Antipas

Josephus is a helpful with more detail of this event, noting that Herod’s robe was woven with silver and that in the bright sun his image was radiant.    Further, he observes that Herod’s death was both excruciating and lasted for five days (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book XIX, 343-352).

In Acts 13 Paul’s first missionary journey begins and so does Luke’s chronicle of the Gospel as it spreads beyond the borders of Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria (Acts 1:8).  So, these two bookends inform the scope and sequence of our studies in Acts.

A CRESCENDO’S FIRE

Luke 23 walks us through the trial, execution and burial of Jesus with special notice given to not only the Jews but also to Jewish women and non-Jews as they witness the events of that day.  The 3-hour darkening of the noon-day sun, the tearing of the curtain of the temple and the death of Jesus conclude with specific mention of the reaction of the crowd who “went home beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48).  It is as though they leave the scene of the cross asking themselves, “What have we done?!”  As two religious rulers quietly take Jesus’ body from the cross and lay it in a grave, the women are watching to see where Jesus’ body is interred so they can return, after the Sabbath, to lay the spices beside Him.

With this observation, I believe, Luke describes a pall that falls across the land as people reflect upon the events of the day, contemplating the possibility that they themselves had, indeed, murdered their own Messiah! A perfect setting for the unfolding story as we begin Luke 24 with an empty tomb, the men on the road to Emmaus, Jesus’ appearances to the disciples, and His ascension.  Acts 1 picks up the story from there, then, and Luke describes the explosive crescendo of events of Acts 2 that will carry us through Acts 12 and beyond.

Build

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

-Matthew 7:24-29


THEREFORE BUILD

“Therefore” is a great word to use when you wish to issue a final summary comment based upon everything said before.  In this case, summarizing Matthew 5:1-7:23, Jesus is ready to conclude the Sermon on the Mount.

To whom do these concluding comments apply to?  Jesus says “everyone” who listens and does will be building a house that will stand up against the storms of life.  Conversely, “everyone” who listens but does not do what Jesus says, will be constructing a house that will collapse in life’s storms.  The word everyone obviously means every single person who hears what Jesus has to say.  The only question is whether or not those who hear will do what He says to do, or not.

BUILDING

So, what did Jesus say that everyone is supposed to hear and do?  While it is tempting to go to other places in the gospels or the writings of Paul I think it is important to stay within Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount as the starting place.  This keeps us away from the temptation of chasing our own rabbits rather than hearing a clear message from Christ, Himself.

That is what this lesson is about.  To know what Jesus has said and to know that to which He is most certainly referring it is important to survey the Sermon of Matthew 5-7.  To do this as simply as possible I have condensed the teachings of the sermon into a simple list summarizing each point for quick reference:

BUILDING INSTRUCTIONS AND MATERIALS OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

The process of listening to what Jesus has to say and applying His teachings to every aspect of our lives is a process that is life-long.  The key understanding rests in His grace.  Without it, these lists become legalistic commands that leave us feeling empty and condemned, incapable of living up to God’s expectations.  Under His grace, however, we are free to grow in surges and spurts as life leads us through insights, opportunities and challenges that shape us more and more into the image of Christ.  This skit illustrates how this works:

BUILD WISELY

Building our house wisely on the correct foundation is so important. Jesus has just told us in the previous verses that it is a matter of choosing the right path (7:13-14), discerning truth from error (7:15-20) and forming a relationship with God so that His Son will recognize us on Judgement Day (7:21-23).    Not only will the obedient citizen of the kingdom successfully weather the storms of life but they will be welcomed home by name!

Choosing

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:13-23


How horrifying to contemplate showing up on Judgement Day only to have Jesus say, “I never knew you” (vs. 23).  In this passage He is talking to people who thought they knew Jesus well enough to use His Name to prophesy, drive out demons and perform miracles.  Their expectation was that they had done enough to admit them into the kingdom of God.  So, Jesus is addressing His followers: Christians who were religious; but, never strove to form an intimate walk with God.

The contrast He is making is between those believers who do what He says and those who do not. This passage, also, is primarily referring to all Jesus has said to this point in the Sermon on the Mount.  This is not to exclude what He said in the rest of Matthew’s Gospel or in any other gospel, for example.  While it is tempting to draw on Paul’s letters to expand on Jesus’ teachings the risk is making these teachings bend to our own agendas.

Matthew 5-7 is a great place to start our walk with God.  Coming back to this Sermon again and again helps us keep the edge of Jesus’ words sharp for the ‘heart surgery’ that we so desperately need.

WIDE OR NARROW GATES

There will be believers who will not take Jesus seriously and will not do what He says in the Sermon on the Mount.  They did all of the right things and they outwardly gave every impression of walking with the Lord.  Nonetheless, broadly speaking, their walk involved justifying ungodly attitudes (Matthew 5), a superficial relationship with the Lord rather than an intimate walk (Matthew 6) and a habit of asking God for the wrong things (Matthew 7).

GOOD AND BAD PROPHETS

There will be believers who just do not submit to the self-examination that is required in the kingdom of heaven.  Rather, they do the right things in the right way but harbor attitudes that do not belong to citizens of the kingdom (Matthew 5).  They are not interested in examining their beliefs and traditions so they can walk more closely with the Lord (Matthew 6).  They are judgmental towards others but eschew the self-examined lifestyle that is required (Matthew 7).  Their fruit betrays their relationship–or lack thereof–with the Lord.

LISTENERS WHO CHOOSE

Jesus is talking to people  who have been attracted to Him, appreciated His teachings, and chosen to follow Him.  At this point, however, Jesus makes it clear that these teachings about the kingdom are critical life or death decisions for our eternal destinies.  The contrast is between those who take Jesus seriously and those who do not.   Choose to listen and do!  This is what kingdom people do because their deepest desire is to be like their Father.  For Jesus to not know someone simply means there was no relationship.

THE GREATEST TRAGEDY

From Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement”

It seems to me that the greatest tragedy of tragedies will be for a person to have followed Jesus; but, from a relational distance that led them to totally miss the most important things.  Being religious will not suffice.  Doing great things for the Lord will not be enough.  Doing all of the right things in the correct ways will fail to save us. The real question, in the end, will be whether or not Jesus knows me as I have striven to know Him by listening to Him and doing what He says.


Doing

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12


MY NEIGHBOR

The great Jewish scholar, Hillel, was asked if he could summarize the Law and the Prophets for a potential convert to Judaism.  Hillel told him:  ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it” (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbath, Folio 31a).  This passive love stands in contrast to the proactive love that God had commanded the Israelites in Leviticus 19:18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

The kind of love that Hillel describes is one of non-engagement.  An example of the logic involved would begin with the observation that I do not want another person to physically harm me.  It’s logical conclusion would, then, be Therefore, I will not physically harm that other person.  This understanding is common in a wide selection of ancient literature.

This interpretation was under debate at the time of Jesus causing a Jewish teacher of the Law to inquire, “And who is my neighbor?” This question prompted Jesus’ telling the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and, I believe, stands behind Jesus’ reaffirmation of the teaching in Leviticus.

DOING LOVE

“The Golden Rule” underlines that citizens of the kingdom of God proactively seek to do good for others in the same way they would want someone else to do good to them (Matthew 7:12).  Jesus accurately interprets the passage in Leviticus 19:18 and states that this one rule of the Kingdom “sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  With this final phrase, I believe, Jesus summarizes and concludes The Sermon on the Mount which began back in Matthew 5 where Jesus first refers to the Law and the Prophets.

TWO BOOKENDS

The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-10 depict the qualities of the Kingdom’s citizens, concluding with the observation that persecution will be the result whereupon they are called to rejoice. Why? “…for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were  before you” (Matthew 5:12).

These Kingdom citizens practice these beatitudes in their daily lifestyle.  They do it publicly in the world in much the same way as light and salt function to enhance their environments (Matthew 5:13-15).  Then Jesus makes it clear that this is not new.  These principles are anchored in the Law and the Prophets.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19

These comments about the Law and the Prophets, I believe, marks the first bookend of the teachings that are to follow.  The other bookend comes with Jesus’ final observation about the Law and the Prophets in Matthew 7:12.

DOING KINGDOM

In between these two bookends, then, we see Jesus giving clear teaching that both clarifies the Law and Prophet’s teaching.  He  amplifies it and makes it personal.  It pierces the heart.  It challenges us to carefully examine our motives and intentions.

WORSHIPING GOD

Beginning in Matthew 5:20, Jesus establishes that true worship to God is more than paying lip service and looking for loopholes in the Law.  These attempt to justify one’s anger, marital unfaithfulness, oaths and vows, revenge and hatred (Matthew 5:21-47).  The call of the kingdom is to: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

INTIMACY WITH GOD

Then, in Matthew 6:1, Jesus warns people of the kingdom to beware of trying to exalt their religiosity before others in order to gain notoriety.   This path is a dead end before God.  When it comes to the common religious practices of charity, prayer and fasting it is best to keep these things between you and God in order to grow in intimacy with Him (Matthew 6:2-18).

SEEKING GOD

Matthew 6:19-34 then asserts that there is only one treasure, one light and one Master that is to control our direction in life.  Do this and there will be no need to worry about anything because you have entrusted God with everything.

FINDING GOD

Finally, in Matthew 7:1-11 Jesus insists that we must resist being judgmental towards others  and look at ourselves so we can be truly helpful.  This discernment will then enable us to determine how to approach those who cannot appreciate the path we have chosen.  It is far more important to seek God’s will in everything so that when you ask, seek and knock you will find a God who will answer “Yes!” every time.

This leads us to Jesus’ summary and conclusion; the other bookend.

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want [b]them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12 (NASB)

The first word in this sentence, “So” is also translated as “Therefore” in the New American Standard Bible.  It means that what I am telling you now is based upon everything I have said to this point.  It is a word that introduces a concluding statement.  For Jesus, that concluding statement is the Golden Rule. This rule wraps up everything God has been trying to tell you about His Kingdom and His People.

THE LAW, PROPHETS, JESUS, PAUL….

Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul would echo this teaching in his ministry to churches across the Roman Empire:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14

The Bible Project: The Law

Answers

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

Matthew 7:7-11 (NLT)


Ask, seek and knock for answers.  Sounds simple enough.  But how do we explain answers that do not come, finding that never seems to happen and doors that do not open?  “God answers all prayers:” we say, “Yes, No and Maybe.” Perhaps it would be a good idea to check into whether or not we are asking for the right things.  Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 might be helpful for learning about asking for the right things.  God’s holiness, His kingdom and His will are Jesus’ points of emphasis in His model prayer.

Discerning the ins and outs of God’s will can be a daunting task.  So many dimensions to describing God’s will make the study overwhelming and rather confusing.  To simplify, we will simply consider two aspects of His will that are really all we need to know: 1) God’s  Ultimate Will and 2) God’s Conditional Will.

GOD’S ULTIMATE ANSWERS

In Ephesians 1:4-12 (NIV) Paul describes God’s will before the beginning of time:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

God’s ultimate will has a beginning and an end punctuated by a cross that made it possible for us to be included in His plan.  It will not be thwarted, and it is impossible to cause Him to deviate from His plan.  It is in place, permanent, exclusive to Him only.

GOD’S CONDITIONAL ANSWERS

In Romans 12:2 Paul tells us that “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

As we receive the Good News and begin the process of obedience to all that Christ has commanded, God begins the life-long process of transforming us into the image of His son.   As such we become God’s billboard to the world about the amazing work He can do with people like us.

Of course, this aspect of God’s will can be rejected or taken lightly and the consequences will be severe and eternal.  But to those who accept the gift of God the transformation begins.  They begin working to become holy as God is holy, they strive to make God’s kingdom real in their own hearts and minds and they seek God’s will in the world around them.  Once this process begins and we pray for the things that further His will, Paul tells us, God’s answer will always be ‘Yes!’

18 But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas[c] and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

2 Corinthians 1:18-22

ASK, SEEK & KNOCK

When we learn to ask for the right things, God’s answer is always going to be ‘Yes’ in Christ.  All other appeals to God may be ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ or ‘Maybe;’ but, when we seek His will His answer will be ‘Yes.’  We become part of the stream of God’s ultimate will that presses on through to eternity and cannot be thwarted.

Hallelujah! Father be Holy! Father, make me Holy!

Judging

 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Matthew 7:1-6


DO NOT JUDGE

Jesus’ statement “Do not judge….” could sound like we need to suspend wisdom and discernment about other people.  Yet, verse 6 tells us to discern the nature of our audience when we share the good news.  In addition, verses 15-20 address the wolves that creep in among the sheep and the necessity to judge them by their fruits.  In Matthew 6:1-18 Jesus tells us to beware of imitating the hypocrites who outwardly try to impress others but inwardly are bankrupt before God.  To do these things requires the wisdom and understanding that allows us to judge correctly.

Perhaps one of the better translations of this passage renders this phrase as “Do not judge others….” (NLT) or even “Don’t condemn others….” of the Contemporary English Version.  God the Father has given Jesus, His Son, the words that will judge the world (John 12:47-49) and on Judgment Day the Son, Himself, will divide the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-33).  To assume God’s role in judging others has a consequence that is pretty intimidating: “ For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2).

The truth must be somewhere in between this judgment with the authority of God Himself and, conversely, “to suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people, to turn  blind eye to their faults (pretending not to notice them), to eschew all criticism and to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil.”*

THE CHURCH IN ROME

Roman Emperor Claudius

When the edict of Claudius against the Jews of Rome was instituted (50-51 AD) the church in Rome suddenly transitions from being a primarily Jewish church with non-Jewish Christians to an exclusively non-Jewish church.  This edict was in force until the death of Claudius around 54 AD which means that the church in Rome settled in over the next 4-5 years as a Gentile church with all of the gradual changes that would evolve in leadership, in worship, and so much more.  So, it would be expected that significant challenges would emerge when the Jews returned to pick up where they left off only to discover that things had changed; they were now the second-class members of a predominantly Gentile church.

I believe this occasion stands behind Paul’s sitting down to compose his letter to the church in Rome.  How was the church going to manage the tensions that would have naturally emerged?  After introducing himself to a people he had not yet met (Romans 1:1-7), he begins laying the groundwork for his intended first visit with them face-to-face (Romans 1:8-17), closing with his bold assertion:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[e] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).

LEVELING THE FIELD

Paul is leveling the field to nullify any attempt at “one-upmanship” through Romans 3.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24).

How does the apostle Paul take this highly polarized group of Christians and bring them to common ground?  I believe that he does this, in part, by hearkening to the teaching of Jesus that we find in Matthew 7:1-6, our present text.  For we find similar phraseology in Romans 2:1-4 where Paul talks about the Roman Christians judging others harshly while practicing the same things about which they are making judgments about others.  The word ‘therefore’ in Romans 2:1 is important because Paul begins his discussion by pointing to those lost in the darkness in the world around them.

PAUL APPLIES JESUS’ TEACHING ABOUT JUDGING

The ‘therefore’ of Romans 2:1 refers back to his previous observations in Romans 1:18-32 as he recounts the degree of darkness that begins to descend upon those who refuse to acknowledge God (Romans 1:18-20).  When men choose to make their own path in life apart from God they begin a predictable descent into moral rebellion, sexual confusion and reprehensible behavior (Romans 1:21-32).  With each level of depravity, God withdraws His blessing and gives them over to the desires of their hearts and the consequences that come with them (verses 24, 26, 28).  Under the wrath of God this represents the lowest levels of man’s moral existence along with its attendant pain and suffering.

TSK, TSK TSK

In Romans 2, Paul depicts the Christians standing on the sidelines, looking over the darkness and suffering with their arms folded, going ‘tsk tsk tsk’, judging the depravity of men and women and their suffering, feeling righteous.  They may tell them that there is a God who loves them; but, their message is disregarded and meaningless to the godless like pearls before pigs (see Matthew 7:6).  And the Christians write them off because they won’t listen.  They turn their backs and walk away.  And, by the way, if you go beyond the outward behavior and start looking at the heart, Paul tells them: “…you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1).

Romans 2 seems to be pretty harsh coming from a man of God to a people he has never met.  How does he know what is in their hearts?

he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2:7)

I think it is because he is hearing reports from those he knows in Rome (cf., Romans 16).  The spirit Paul describes in Philippians 2:1-18 is struggling to emerge in the conflict in Rome.  This spirit of Christ will not triumph until everyone comes to realize the truth of Romans 3:22: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

CONCLUSION

In Matthew 7:1-6 Jesus makes it clear that we are, indeed, responsible for the speck in our brother’s eye.  He simply stresses that before you try to help your brother see the error of his ways, make sure you have attended to your own blind sides, first.  On the other hand, make sure you discern the heart of the person you are wanting to correct.  If their hearts have chosen to disregard God’s appeal to their lives they will not appreciate what you have to say.  The only appeal that will work for them will come at a time of intense suffering either on their part or on your own.

I like the way The Message paraphrases Jesus’ words:

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

Matthew 7:1-5


*John Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, ILL; Inter Varsity Press, 1978), p. 175.

Jesus is Our Shoreline

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