John 8: The Woman Taken in Adultery

I’ve seen several recent posts mentioning this Scripture.  Admittedly, this is a controversial portion.  Earlier, it was thought possibly to encourage immorality because the woman seems to have “gotten away with it,” and Jesus didn’t enforce the Mosaic Law.  (Actually He did; we’ll see this shortly).  More recently, it’s disputed because of textual criticism: the “best” manuscripts don’t include it.

For what it’s worth, and I’m no “scholar,” it seems to me that textual criticism, which tries to determine the actual text of the Old and New Testament from the variants that are found in the manuscripts and the early translations – and they are there – borders on sanctified unbelief.  For example, one of the most highly regarded authorities on this subject has clearly said that 2 Peter is not canonical, that is, it shouldn’t be in the NT.  A friend of mine had a book on the Elephantine papyri, ancient Jewish manuscripts dating from the 5th century BC, published by Brigham Young University.  I’m sorry, but what does Mormonism, with its additional “holy books,” a large portion of one of which is a verbatim repeat of the King James Version, down to verse and chapter divisions and punctuation, what does Mormonism have to do with determining the text of Scripture?  But, I digress….

Back to John 8….

The usual understanding of this portion is that it’s all about forgiveness.  Jesus forgave this woman of her sin.  Others have said that it teaches that we’re not to judge others.  Jesus didn’t judge this sinful woman.  Are these what it teaches?

The Setting, v. 2. 

The Feast of Tabernacles had just concluded the day before, John 7:2, 37, so there would still have been larger than normal crowds in Jerusalem.  Jesus was sitting in the Temple, teaching those who had gathered to hear Him.  Perhaps the Jewish leaders thought this would be an ideal time to expose and get rid of this threat to their power, cf. John 11:48.

The Set-up, vs 3-6.

In the midst of the quiet with only the sound of the Master’s voice, suddenly there was a commotion.  A group of men, scribes and Pharisees, leaders of the people, were dragging a struggling, disheveled woman toward the front of the gathering.  A strident voice rang out over the shocked silence:

“Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses commanded us that such should be stoned.  But what do you say?”

A challenge to the Savior.  Perhaps these men, or at least some of them, had heard Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount saying several times, “You have heard that it was said…, but I say to you….”   The “you” is emphatic:  “Moses commanded…, but YOU, what do YOU say?”

The only reason these men were interested in what the Lord would reply was that they might have something of which to accuse Him, v. 6.  These men were never there actually to hear what the Lord had to say; they were just looking for something they could use against Him.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t engineer the whole thing.  Granted, the men probably knew the woman could be tricked into this – a godly Israelite lady would never have done what she did, but that still gives them no excuse for their mistreatment of her.

The Silence, v. 6. 

But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear them.

I love this verse.

There have been numerous suggestions as to what the Lord wrote.  Of course, no one can really know, because John doesn’t tell us what He wrote.  Any conjecture is just that, conjecture.  My own “conjecture” is that He wrote, “Where is the man?”

You see, Leviticus 20:10, which is probably what the men were referring to, says, among other things, the adulterer and adulteress shall surely be put to death.  So it seems reasonable to me that Jesus wrote, “Where is the man?”  If the woman had been caught in the very act, there had to be a man involved.  Where was he?

The sentence, v. 7, 8. 

Many who read this portion of John don’t seem to realize that the Lord told them to go ahead and stone her.  Granted, and this is important, He put a condition on it. Nevertheless, he told them to do what Moses had commanded them to do.

The “condition” was that the one throwing the first stone at her had to be without sin among them.  Now, was the Lord requiring that they be “sinless” in order to execute this guilty woman?  Not at all, otherwise such sentencing could never have been carried out, even in Moses’ time.  My own view, and I won’t be dogmatic about it, is that Jesus was really saying to them that the one who was without sin in this particular matter should be the first to throw a stone at her.

After all, they had set her up, and they were trying to set Jesus up.  Though not participants in the actual act of adultery, they were as guilty as she was.  And the Lord know it, cf. John 2:24.

Again, He stooped and wrote on the ground.  And, again, we don’t know what He wrote. This time, I won’t “guess”.

The Struggle, v. 9.

Again, silence.  The strident voices of the woman’s accusers were quiet.  The Master was again writing on the ground.  Silence.  Perhaps the men looked at the ground and/or at each other.  Perhaps they shuffled their feet or cleared their throats.  The Scripture says that, though there may have been silence on the outside, their consciences were quite loud on the inside.  Suddenly, there was movement.  After a few uncomfortable moments, the eldest of them began to move toward an exit.  Then another, then another, then all of them, with as much “dignity” as they could still muster from the oldest even to the last.  Again, silence.   Just Jesus, the woman and the crowd, waiting to see what would happen next.

The Sequel, vs. 10-11.

This is the climax of the whole story.  Jesus finally raised Himself us, to see only the woman standing in front of Him.  Her accusers were all gone.  He said to her, “Woman, where are your accusers?  Has no one condemned you?”  You see, in cases where the death sentence was to be imposed, and there are more than 40 such cases in the Law, at least two witnesses had to testify to the guilt of the accused party.  But in this case, the case of the adulterous woman, there were no accusers.  Legally, there was no ground for her to be condemned or to be executed.  It is on this basis, and not because He “forgave” her, that Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”  It’s not because we’re not “to judge.”   There were no witnesses to her guilt.  She could not be condemned.  It was the Law.

The woman was not standing before Jesus in His capacity as the Judge of all mankind.  He will be that one day, and she will stand before Him again.  So will we all.  She was standing before Him as a Jewish Rabbi, who was required to uphold the Law.  He did so. The “scribes and Pharisees” did not, but were simply using it in their efforts to “get” the Lord Jesus.

The Single Word, v. 11.

The woman only said three words so far as the record goes.  And we have no further record of her at all.  But one of those three words gives us hope that this experience had also worked conviction in her, conviction which brought her to the Lord, not conviction like that of the scribes and Pharisees, which drove them away.

She called Him, “Lord.”

What Will We Leave Behind?

I guess I’m getting old.  Actually, there’s not much “guessing” about it.  I think about death a lot more than I did when I was younger.

Besides, it’s kind of been brought to my attention lately.  I wrote a post a few weeks ago about an elderly neighbor who was found dead in his home.  My next-door neighbor was the one who told me what had happened.  Two weeks later, he died.  He was my age.  [added a day later: Now there’s a “sale” at his house.  Cars parked up and down the street.  People going through the house; strangers dissecting a life now gone.  Got me to thinking about such things.]

Our daughter who lives in Florida was here last week to visit us.  While she was here, she went through a container of things which had belonged to my grandmother and had been in her china cabinet – which we still have, with some of her things, with some of ours, on display.  The daughter has a china cabinet now herself.

While we were up in the attic, I came across a box of old letters, etc.  Report cards, all kinds of stuff.  One problem with all that.  Several years ago, my other daughter came across one of my report cards from elementary school.  Said she knew where her kids got their problems from.  🙂

I have a little box of things from my grandfather – razor, cuff links, things like that.  That’s all, plus a memory of him lying in his casket.  I was six.  Never really got to know him.  I regret that.  He was handy with tools and building.  Grandma told me that, in today’s terms, he flipped houses.  Maybe I’d have learned something from him.

Grandma and Grandpa were Mom’s folks.  Never got to know my Dad’s folks.  Dad, either, for that matter.  They divorced when I was too young really to remember.  I have two memories of my dad.  That’s all.  We have Grandma’s dining room table, a nice desk that stood in her living room for as far back as I can remember, a couple of other desks…. Nothing from Mom, just a couple of pictures.  And some potholders she used to crochet.

I stood by Mom’s grave in 1970 and thought about all the arguments we’d had while I was a teenager.  All the heartaches and sleepless nights I must have caused her.  I was not a model son.  If I’d’ve lived in OT times, I might even have been a candidate for stoning to death.  I regretted it all.  But it was too late to tell her that.

Grandma gave me something more valuable than “stuff.”  I spent most summers with her.  During that time, she saw to it that I listened to Christian radio.  Nothing like we have today, but still there were good, godly men teaching on the radio.  M. R. DeHaan, founder of the Radio Bible Class, Theodore H. Epp, First Mate Bob and the crew of the good ship Grace, and others whose names I’ve forgotten. *sigh*  (good, happy memories)  It didn’t matter if I was outside playing or what, when time came for these programs, I was called in and had to listen.  She saw to it that I went to SS and church.  Gave me as much of a start in the Christian life as anyone, till the guy I worked with who kept inviting me to church and I finally went, just to shut him up!  Strange, that’s where the Lord met me and called me to Himself.

Grandma was a SS teacher herself.  The church was fairly liberal, even though she was conservative herself and taught that way.  Now, she didn’t have the radio on all the time. To this day, I dislike having the TV or radio on in the background.  I have nothing against peace and quiet.

Mom never minded if I went to church, or not.  She was happy when I went to Bible College.  Came to my graduation.  I’m sorry she never got to meet her future daughter-in-law or be a grandma to our kids.  She’d’ve been a good one.  But she died, too.  Two months before I got married.  But she had had trouble with church.  I don’t know the story, but she was told she wasn’t welcome at the church Grandma went to.  Kind of soured her on the whole “church” thing.

The point is,  we all leave this life.  And we leave stuff behind.  Things and memories.

What are we leaving behind for our kids, and their kids?  And their kids?  God grant that it’s good stuff, good memories, good upbringing, most of all, the “good things” of God.

A Violin With Three Strings

Morning Story and Dilbert

On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City.

If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches. To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an awesome sight.

He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play.


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The Last Beatitude

I  hadn’t really intended to do a series on “Beatitudes,” but apparently the Lord had other ideas.  In my case, He often does.  When I began to think about this post, I thought this beatitude truly was the last in the Bible, but when I checked to make sure, it was only the second of seven promises of blessing in The Revelation.

So why did I keep the title?

In a sense, it is the last beatitude, because it speaks of death, which is the cessation of life.  There are a couple of others which may be taken to refer to events after death, but this beatitude lays the groundwork for those others.

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write:  ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on,'”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” Revelation 14:13 (NKJV).

To be honest with the verse, though, this blessing seems to be limited to people who die “in the Lord” at or after a particular time: “from now on”.

What does this mean?

The Revelation is a difficult book to understand.  Without getting into all the viewpoints about what it says, this portion describes a time of great wickedness in which, it seems, the whole world is engulfed in the worship of Satan and those who refuse to do so are killed, 13:15.  Chapter 14 describes God’s message of judgment on those who follow this worldview.

Though these believers are judged and condemned by an ungodly world, God promises them the blessing in 14:13.  It follows v. 12, which says, Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”  In other words, though there may come a time when it seems like it’s impossible to serve the Lord without dying for it, though it seems like the world is completely saturated with evil, God says to be patient.  It isn’t over yet.  Judgment is coming and those who deny and rebel against God will get what’s coming to them.

So, are these verses saying that those who die in the Lord before this time aren’t blessed?

Of course not.

These verses are written for a specific time and to a specific people.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t blessings for those who die in the Lord – those who are saved – at other times.

Paul put it like this:

…we do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man in perishing – our body is aging and deteriorating – our inward man in being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.  For we know that if our earthly house, this tent – this body – is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this [body] we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven….  For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.  Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
     So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.  For we walk by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord, 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8.

Even Job, the first book in the Bible as far as the things it records – understanding Genesis records the very beginnings of this earth; Job likely lived before Abraham, there being no mention of him or his descendants, and certainly before Moses and the giving of the Law at Sinai – even Job said,  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me! Job 19:25-27.  Love that last sentence!

So, from very early on, God’s people have known that this life isn’t all there is.  There has been hope and assurance that the grave isn’t the end.  If I were to be buried, I would like my tombstone to read:  “This, too, shall pass.”

But, isn’t everybody headed to “a better place”?

That’s a very popular and prevalent view, but, alas, it isn’t true.  The Lord Jesus clearly said so:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”  Matthew 7:21-23.

Not everyone who preaches is going to heaven.

Not everyone who casts out demons is going to heaven.

Not everyone who performs miracles is going to heaven.

These are terribly sobering words, especially in this day and time, when casting out demons and performing miracles seems to be the focus of many ministries, and is said to be the Lord’s blessing and a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.  All these things, highly esteemed among men, and sought after by them, – yet our Lord calls them “lawlessness,” or as the KJV has it: “iniquity.”



And these things were all done in “the name of the Lord!”  These weren’t atheists or members of some religion that denies the Lord Jesus.  These are professed believers in the Lord!  Yet, the Lord rejects them and their works and casts them out from His presence and from His blessing.

How can this be?

Our Lord taught fairly early in His ministry that there are tares among the wheat.  The modern translation of “weeds” is terrible.  It misses the point altogether.  Now, tares resemble wheat so closely that it’s very difficult to tell them apart.  In the parable, the Lord told the people to wait til the judgment, when angels would do the dividing.

Simply put, not everything in church is of God.  Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:12-14.  Paul, writing of those who opposed his ministry, wrote this: For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.  And no wonder!  For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.  Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. 

How can we tell the difference?  Everything must be measured by Scripture – not just a few favorite verses here or there, not just a couple of verses on some subject, or some collection of “proof texts,” but by the Scripture.  The Bible has clear teaching on salvation, on the church, on the future, on the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit.  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them, Isaiah 8:20.

But what about us?  What is our hope of heaven – yours and mine?  Are we looking to our works, our best, our whatever, to gain us entrance into heaven?

We do not want to be among those in Matthew 7:21-23.

There’s only been One who ever had a “Best.”  Who had works God would accept.  He is the only Way into heaven.  That’s not popular today.  “All roads lead to heaven” is a common thought, even those “roads” which completely deny or contradict Scripture.  Not so.  Not so.  The road is very narrow.  Only those who come through the Lord Jesus are on that way which leads to life.    And only the only way to come to Him is through repentance and faith.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.  God grant it to many today, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

To those, and those alone, is there “blessing” after death.

The Ninth Beatitude

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you,”  Matthew 5:11, 12 (NKJV).

I suppose there’s some reason why these verses aren’t included among those verses commonly called “The Beatitudes.”  We looked at them over a couple of posts.  I think, though, there’s a reason why the Lord in His wisdom said these words immediately after those words, or at least why He inspired Matthew to include them here.

The Beatitudes are addressed, if you will, to “them”.  Now, those whom the Lord has called by His grace seldom think of themselves as “worthy” of such blessings as they have received and which are promised even to them.  They find it difficult to receive what God has promised as being to, and for, them.  They don’t deserve it.  And they are right.  We don’t deserve even the slightest blessing from our God.

And there is a point that we need to consider in all this.  The Old Testament, at least from the time of Abraham, and especially from the book of Exodus onward, was written to the nation of Israel.  I used to attend a church which would read a portion of the Old Testament, often Isaiah, as part of the service.  This is a great idea.  I wish more churches did it.  However, in this church, verses in these chapters which indicated that the contents of the chapters were to “Israel,” or “Judah and Jerusalem” were never read.  Now, I understand why they did that.  As far as the pastor of that church was concerned, God is done with Israel as a nation.  They have no promises left.  Further, according to him, all the OT promises are “fufilled in Jesus.”  So there was nothing wrong with appropriating those verses as being to and for Christians.  I cannot agree – if words have any meaning at all.

In spite of what the song says, “every promise in the book is” NOT “mine.”  There might be an application to us of promises made to Israel, but that doesn’t negate the primary message and interpretation as belonging to them.  There are plenty of promises made to and for Christians in the New Testament.  “The ninth beatitude” is one of them.

But we have trouble believing that such promises are for us.  This is why the Lord changed emphasis between the first eight beatitudes and this one.  The first eight are indeed to “them,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if He looked directly at His disciples when He said, Blessed are YOU….”  He wanted to make sure that they understood that this promise was for them, the disciples.

There are a couple of things to note in this beatitude.  Charges against believers are to be false, and they are to be for His sake.

If we have Christ, we have all we need in the area of “promises”.  In 2 Corinthians 1:20, Paul wrote, For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.  So we have nothing to worry about.  It’s a shame that doesn’t stop us.

Blessedness: The Beatitudes, concluded.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In our first post, we listed the first four Beatitudes.  Here are the other four, dealing with actions of the hand, or person, actions which arise from the attitudes of the heart, as we noted last week:

[These] “are the heart attitudes and characteristics of those who are blessed.  Acutely aware of their spiritual need, mourning over their faults, failures and shortcomings, yet not selfishly focusing on themselves, hungry and thirsty for only that which the Lord can provide, yet knowing that one day, if not now, they will be comforted and satisfied beyond this world’s ability to understand or provide.”

That is how the previous study ended, summarizing the heart attitudes of those who are blessed.

The last four beatitudes deal with the response of the heart as seen in outward actions.  What is in the heart cannot be hidden.  Those who are wicked and sinful do wicked and sinful things and those who are righteous do righteous things.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Someone has said that grace gives us what we do not deserve; mercy does not give us what we do deserve.

Our Lord expanded on this though a few sentences later when He said,“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you not to resist an evil person.  But whoever slaps you on your right cheek [an intolerable insult in that society], turn the other to him also.  If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  And whoever compels you to go one mile [Romans soldiers would commandeer the services of civilians to carry their heavy equipment], go with him two.  Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.  You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward is that?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if your greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Matthew 5:38-47.

The reference to tax collectors must have stung, for they were below the bottom in the society of that time.  “What do you do more than others?” must have stung as well, as it pointed out the worthlessness of actions aimed only at those we like.

Our Lord is the prime example of “doing more than others”.  Writing to those who were suffering unjustly, Peter wrote, For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in His steps:  “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; Who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body…, 1 Peter 2:21 – 24a.  Talk about suffering that wasn’t your own fault!  – the death of Christ is the prime example of that.  Yet He did that willingly, loving His enemies, doing good to those who hate Him, doing “more” than anyone else could ever do, because we certainly do not deserve it, and don’t get what we do deserve.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Does this mean “purity” in an absolute sense?  No, it doesn’t, because we’re not there yet and won’t be until eternity. What it refers to is a heart that has been cleansed according to His mercy [there’s that word, again] through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5.  It has been washed and renewed according to God, so that it desires the things God desires for it.  There is still, however, a battle “because we’re not there yet” as it comes to complete salvation.  Our bodies still have physical desires which in themselves may be perfectly all right, but too often we want to satisfy them in ways which are not all right.  It won’t be until the adoption, the redemption of our body, Romans 8:23, that the battle will finally be over.  Read Romans 8:1-27 for Paul’s teaching on this.

When the battle is over, believers – the “pure in heart” – will see God and fellowship with Him and worship and serve Him as He deserves.  They will finally and forever truly be “pure in heart.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. 

This was a favorite verse of the anti-war activists during the Vietnam conflict.  However, as with other verses taken out of context – e.g., “judge not” – and used as “slogans,” the meaning was completely missed.  The verse was used as if it said, “Blessed are the peacelovers….”  That’s NOT what it says.  It’s not enough just to “love” peace; there are many people and things who and which disturb and destroy peace.  Sometimes you have to “make” peace, and the only way to do that is to battle and defeat the enemies of peace.

This is a much needed message in this day of tolerance of everything, it seems, but the truths of God’s Word.  Moral declension and religious error must be battled, even if it seems impossible that they could ever be defeated.  It’s not over, yet.  Sometimes, it seems like it will never be over.  However, our Lord anticipated this reaction (cf.John 15:18-25), and has one more “blessing” for His people.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Do we expect that those whose sins and error we oppose will be happy about it?  Of course not; any more than the leaders of His time were happy about the Lord Jesus.  But we have to be careful that their hatred is “for righteousness’ sake” and not just because of how we act.  An example of this is the “church” which pickets the funerals of soldiers, trying to get across their message.  The sins this church opposes, and others, were prevalent among Roman society at the time of Jesus and Paul, yet there is not a single verse of the New Testament telling us simply to oppose such sins.  We’re to preach the Gospel and the Gospel will take care of the sins – if preached in the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit – which is so much more than just about experience and excitement and emotion. 

Those whose heart attitudes are described in the first four Beatitudes act to one degree or another according to the last four Beatitudes:  changed lives, aiming at purity and holy living, treating others as they themselves would like to be treated and not necessarily as they “deserve,”  as much as possible living in peace with others, and yet expecting that our efforts and lives will not always get a warm reception.  We live in enemy territory, an enemy who isn’t willing peacefully to “co-exist”.

Nevertheless, the promise to believers is the kingdom of heaven.

The “Work of Faith,” 1 Thessalonians 1:3

There’s a lot of discussion among Christians about the nature and place of faith and works.  Some folks, in saying that we’re saved by “faith alone,” take that to mean that there is no place for works at all in our salvation.  Any attempt to include works is viewed as “legalism.”  As long as one “believes in Jesus,” that’s all that’s necessary.

On the other hand, there are those who say that we must have “works” in addition to faith.  These folks tend to have a long list of do’s and don’ts which must be followed.  Or they will add baptism or communion or keeping the Sabbath or tongues or a lot of other things mentioned in Scripture as necessary to our being saved.

Adding to the difficulty of understanding all this is the fact that there are different “kinds” of faith.  There is, for example, a “doctrinal” faith, which is just an intellectual agreement with a particular statement of faith or Catechism.  There is an “historical” faith, which believes in the “facts” of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  There is a “religious” faith, which simply agrees with the practices of a particular religion – which may or may not have anything to do with Scripture.  There is a “natural” faith, which expects the car to start when you turn the key in the ignition or push the “start” button, or for a chair to hold you when you sit down.  I heard a lot about this kind of faith in my days in Fundamentalism.  There is even, if you will, a “devilish” faith, James 2:19, in that even demons believe in one God.  I may do a post one day on “the orthodoxy of demons.”  It’s an interesting study in the New Testament.  (Though I don’t recommend spending a lot of time thinking about demons.  I think that’s where people can get into trouble, thinking about Satan instead of our Lord.  Such people tend to see demons everywhere and in everything, but Scripture says that Satan is a defeated foe and can only do those things which God gives him permission to do, especially with God’s children, cf. Job 1.  But that’s another whole different subject.)

The difficulty is that none of these “kinds” of faith is “saving” faith, which comes only from God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

Paul clearly taught us what “saving faith” is when he wrote to the Galatians that in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avail anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6.  He wrote something very similar just a few verses later when he wrote, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything but a new creation, Galatians 6:15.  The latter – “a new creation” – can only be known through “faith working through love.”  You see, “natural faith” works through or because of religion or necessity or habit or ritual or even fear.  The faith which comes from God works through and for the love of God.  The faith which comes from God is an active, living faith, not just a one-time “agreement” with some religious proposition – or even a life-long such agreement.

This is the whole argument of James, who was not disagreeing with Paul.  After all, James wrote first.  He argues that faith can only be seen by what it does.  If there is no such evidence, then there is no saving faith, James 2:26.  Dead faith cannot come from the living God.  It only comes from spiritually dead people.

It’s not a matter of “faith and….”  It’s all about a “faith which….”

Blessedness: The Beatitudes – Attitude for Blessing

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Matthew 5:3-6 (NKJV).

As you see, we’ve only listed the first four beatitudes.  That’s because we believe they can be divided into two groups.  In the first four, our Lord describes the attitude required for blessedness.  Indeed, some have called the Beatitudes, “Be-atitudes.”  The second group refers to the activities resulting from the blessings brought by the attitude.

We’ll only look at the first four because of the length of the posts about them.  We’ll look at the other four, Lord willing, in a later post.

Just a couple of things before we get into the study itself.  First, the word translated “blessed” is plural: “makarioi” instead of “makarios,” which is the singular form.  Some have translated it “oh, the blessedness of….”  I think it speaks of abundance, of the lavish blessings God pours out on those our Lord describes in these eight verses.

Second, some translate this “Happy are the….”  One author even titled his book on the Beatitudes, “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  I think this is inadequate, and he himself said that “happy” doesn’t translate the word accurately.  “Happy” is related to words like “hap” – an obsolete word, I grant, but it means “that which comes suddenly or unexpectedly; chance; fortune; accident; casual event.”  (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, unabridged, p. 824.)  I don’t think these words are what the Lord had in mind here.  “Happy” depends on our circumstances, our situation, what “happens” around us.  If they go well, we’re “happy,” if they’re not, we’re not.  To the ancient Greeks, the word was used to describe their gods, who were unaffected by the goings on in the mortal world.

The Lord was teaching that true blessedness is not dependent on things outside of ourselves: our wealth, our health, our families, our job, our house, etc.  Indeed, the worldling may have these things, but they are not blessings to him, cf.Luke 16:25.  True blessedness from God comes from things on the inside, which then affect things on the outside.

Having said that, the beatitudes seem to divide themselves into two sections, as we noted above: the first four, which describes attitudes of the heart, and the second four, coming from the first, which describe activities of the hand.

Attitudes of the heart, vs. 3-6

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I think this attitude was supposed to be the result of centuries of the Mosaic Law.  Looking at his nation and himself, the wise Jew would say, “Who can do that?  Who can do those things the Law requires?”  The sacrificial system itself was designed to teach them that, that no one kept the Law perfectly and only through the sacrifice of an innocent substitute were they able to be forgiven of a particular sin and to continue to live.  It was designed to show them their need of a Savior.

“The poor in spirit” literally means “those who are spiritually bankrupt.”  Such know that they have nothing to offer to God, that they are unable to do even one thing He requires perfectly – and imperfectly won’t do.  They’re like the tax-collector in Luke 18:33 who standing afar off [as if he weren’t fit to approach], would not so much as lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”  I wonder if there isn’t something here in the word translated merciful.  It means “propitious” and was the word (“hilasmos”) used to describe the mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle and then in Solomon’s Temple.  The mercy seat was where, once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice.  The tax-collector wasn’t pleading for mercy because of anything he was or could do, indeed those things brought him under judgment.  He was pleading for mercy on the basis of that sacrifice.

On the other hand, the Pharisee in the story was proud of himself and his accomplishments.  Just listen to him, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax-collector.  [Here I think there was a derisive gesture toward him].  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess,” Luke 18:11, 12.  Yes, sir, he was something – and not slow to tell you and God all about it.

The Apostle Paul had been like that.  Before his conversion, he himself said that he must do many things contrary to name of Jesus of Nazareth, Acts 26:9.  He had a whole list of things he thought were on the positive side of the ledger, so to speak, 1 Philippians 3:5, 6.

A strange thing happened to him.  Though he doesn’t specifically say when it happened, something happened to him.  In Romans 7:9, he wrote, I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.

I died.

What does that mean? Certainly, it doesn’t mean physically.  I think it means that he began to understand the comprehensive nature of the Law, that it requires more than just form and ritual and habit; he also began to understand that all those things he thought were good were of no use at all in giving him the righteousness he thought he had.  Like Nicodemus before him, he learned that he needed something he didn’t have and couldn’t produce.  He was bankrupt.  And he was dead, spiritually.

There are many descendants of the Pharisee and Saul today.  Their hope of heaven is based entirely on their belief that they have done something which will get them there.  The list of such things is endless.  They’ve never seen that, like Paul, they have absolutely nothing to commend themselves to God.  They haven’t yet declared spiritual bankruptcy.  And they don’t understand that they are “dead” as far as God is concerned, cf. Ephesians 2:1.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

This is the result of the realization of our sinfulness before a holy and righteous God.  Instead of being so proud of our religious accomplishments, so ready to list them on the credit side of the ledger, we see them for what they are in God’s sight: filthy rags, Isaiah 64:6.  That word translated “filthy rags” refer to a menstrual cloth or to a rag that a leper might use to wipe his sores.  Not a pretty picture, but graphic, demonstrating what “our righteousnesses,” those religious acts, that we’re so proud of, are like in the sight of God.  Our very best, religiously and apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, is as offensive to God as those rags would be to us.  And these are “our righteousnesses.”  When it comes right down to it, we have to admit that we really have very few of those, and a lot more of the other kind.  If our very best is offensive to God, then what must these other acts, the ones which aren’t so “righteous,” be like in His sight?!

Perhaps even more offensive to God is the idea that we CAN do something to get to heaven; that we can work up some sort of righteousness which will get us into the pearly gates, because God has already provided a righteousness, the only righteousness He will accept: the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus.  Besides that, there is no other righteousness, period.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 

Meekness.  It is not the same as weakness.  Our Lord referred to Himself as meek and lowly of heart in Matthew 11:29 (KJV).  Other translations say, “gentle and lowly of heart.”  The Lord was anything but weak.  He was humble and gentle, but never “weak.”  Read His scathing denunciations of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, His throwing out of the Temple those who had turned it into a kind of WalMart, John 2:13-17.  The word is the opposite of those who are always demanding their “rights.”  Such people will never understand the saying by one of the Puritans that anything outside of hell is better than we deserve.  Meekness will defend other people’s rights, but isn’t so concerned about securing her own, or about herself.  Meekness isn’t “MEekness.”

What does being “meek” have to do with “inheriting the earth?”

Simply this.  Those who are “meek” are the ones likely to be taken advantage of, cheated, by those are not meek, not selfless.  Our Lord is just assuring such that they will not be the losers in the long run.  After all, this life isn’t all there is to “life.”

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. 

This is the other side of being poor in spirit, being hungry for that which we lack and can’t provide for ourselves.  It’s instructive that our Lord uses these figures of speech.  Hunger and thirst are characteristics of life; the dead never hunger and thirst.  That’s why there is so little, or no, desire for the things of God in the world.  Religion, yes; the true God, no.  It is dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1. But there are those in whom the Spirit of God operates, which is evident in their hunger and thirst after righteousness.

In the words of the hymn:  “O to be like Thee! blessed Redeemer, This is my constant longing and prayer….”  This is the longing of every true believer: to be more and more like the Savior.  And the Lord promises they will be filled; they will be satisfied.  Not the “foretaste of glory divine” that we have now, but satisfied, full to the brim.  Though true believers are truly saved, they are not yet “entirely sanctified,” as some put it.  John put it like this: Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be [we’re not there, yet], but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Such are the heart attitudes and characteristics of those who are blessed.  Acutely aware of their spiritual need, mourning over their spiritual faults, failures and shortcomings, yet not selfishly focusing on themselves, hungry and thirsty for that which only the Lord God can provide, yet knowing that one day, if not now, they will be comforted and satisfied beyond this world’s ability of understand or provide.

Such are the blessed.

Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou my Vision. O Lord of my heart –
Nought be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night –
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word –
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I thy true son –
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I need not, nor man’s empty praise –
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart –
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

This 8th century Irish hymn is one of my favorites.

Additional, later edit:

There’s actually another, not so well-known, verse in this popular 1912 rendition by Eleanor Hull.  It would be v. 3, so the vs. 3 and 4 we know become vs. 4 and 5.  Wikipedia has some fascinating information on this hymn.  Here is the additional verse:

Be Thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight.
Be thou my whole armour, be Thou my true might.
Be Thou my soul’s shelter, be Thou my strong tower.
O raise Thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

A Mother’s Occupation

LOVE this. No woman is ever “just” a mother!

Morning Story and Dilbert

A woman named Emily renewing her driver’s licence at the Transport office was asked by the clerk to state her occupation. She hesitated, uncertain how to classify herself. “What I mean is,” explained the clerk, “do you have a job, or are you just a ……? “Of course I have a job,” snapped Emily. “I’m a Mum.” “We don’t list ‘Mum’ as an occupation…… ‘housewife’ covers it,” said the clerk emphatically.

I forgot all about her story until one day I found myself in the same situation, this time at our local police station. The Clerk was obviously a career woman, poised, efficient, and possessed of a high sounding title like, “Official Interrogator” or “Town Registrar.” “What is your occupation?” she probed. What made me say it, I do not know…

The words simply popped out.”I’m a Research Associate in the field of Child Development and Human Relations.” The clerk…

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