WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?     SEE MATTHEW 16:13-15 (8)


Dear Friends,

        As we continue to study the life of our Lord we must remember our purpose or we will miss the point: we are not seeking information about Him but transformation of character to be like Him. God calls us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son (Rom. 8:29) and His Word says that as we behold Jesus by the Spirit (through the Word – hence our lengthy and detailed study) we will grow in His likeness from glory to glory. (2 Cor.3:18) Thus we must continually pause and reflect on Jesus as a Man – a human being, and ask how we need to change to be more like Him. I have been struck by how confrontational He is and not just with the Pharisees but even with those closest to Him – e.g., His mother and His disciples.
(See Matt.12:46-50; 16:23) From observing Him, I have a better understanding of what relationships need in order to grow and thrive – love and truth. Love without truth isn't love. Yet truth without love can be harsh and wrong-spirited. Jesus combined them perfectly and calls us to do the same. (See Eph. 4:15) In a politically correct world, even among our friends, speaking truth can be risky and difficult. But without truth we will continue to wear our masks and remain stuck in our false self. Keep this in mind as we continue to look at our Lord through His Word in The Sermon on the Mount.

       "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.  I tell you the truth, 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."  (See Matt. 5:17-19)  Jesus was a "Man of the Book". He read, studied, memorized and obeyed God's Word. To be like our Lord we too must be "people of the Book".  "For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance (obedience) of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel." (Ezra 7:10) Some say the constitution of the United States is the most valuable asset we have as Americans. What is your personal "constitution"? (Constitution means, "principles, structure, essentials, ones make-up, something we are subject to or dependent on.") What principles do you live by: 1) the traditions of your family, friends and/or church; 2) your own reasoning; or 3) the Word of God? What is your ultimate and final authority for how you choose to live your life as a person, a husband, parent, friend, or businessman? If we, like Jesus, live under the authority of God's Word (obey it) we will be changed into His likeness. God's Word is like a hammer that breaks us and a sword that penetrates and exposes our deepest motives. (Jer. 23:29; Heb. 4:12-13) The Scriptures tell us that we are in a battle against the world, the devil and our flesh (and their lies) every day and that our most powerful weapon is truth – the Word of God. (See 2 Corinthians 10:3-5) Jesus won every battle as He knew and obeyed the Word of God. "It is written" was His constitution and battle cry from the wilderness temptation to the garden of Gethsemane. And Paul reminds us that the Word of God is part of our armor, both the "belt of truth" and the "sword of the Spirit". The greatest good we can do then is to know, live by and teach others by our life and lips the Word of God. "But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:19)

         "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
(See Matt. 5:21-26). Jesus taught us how to be right in relationships not just perform religious rituals. He was relational not religious. Relationships with people affect our relationship with the Lord and vice versa. Jesus was speaking to his disciples in Galilee and telling them that if they went all the way to the temple in Jerusalem to offer a gift to God (in order to be right with Him) and yet remembered that they had wronged someone, they would need to go all the way back to Galilee first to make amends with the wronged person and then come back to Jerusalem to "get right with God". The point here is that God puts an urgency and high priority on our relationships with other people. Remember the high priority God put on reconciled relationships – the death of His Son. And Jesus shows us that the intent of the Law dealt with inner attitudes not just outward actions as the Pharisees had defined it, i.e., sinful anger even apart from murder is wrong. Angry attitudes and hurtful words damage people. Harsh words actually hurt more than "sticks and stones."  To call a person "Raca" (empty-headed) or "you fool" (moron) is self-righteous, censorious judgment and strips a person who is made in the image of God of their personal identity and makes them into something they are not. And unconfessed and unchecked sinful anger can lead to killing people with our tongues and in some cases even murder. God warned Cain about his anger (it is "like sin crouching at the door") and it led to the murder of his own brother. (Gen. 4:5-9) Scripture warns us to "not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." (Eph. 4:26-27) Unconfessed and unrepented of anger gives Satan an opportunity to make it worse so we need to repent of it quickly. We are to deal quickly with the anger that comes about through relational conflicts versus holding a grudge for days (and even years) and letting the anger build. How to do this? When offended by someone we are to speak the truth in love versus holding a grudge. We do this by using "I" language versus "you" language, i.e., reporting our feelings versus blaming the offender for them. "I feel upset" or "I feel hurt" or "I'm getting angry", rather than, "you make me so mad," etc. This gives the offender an opportunity to see his possible fault and repent.  If the offender doesn't think he is wrong and we have expressed our feelings directly to him our next move is to forgive.

       So, let's skip to the end of Matthew 5 and look at Jesus' words on forgiveness.  "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:44-45-KJV)  Returning evil for good is demonic. Returning good for good or evil for evil is human. Returning good for evil is divine. Forgiving those who wrong us is becoming like our Lord which is God's plan for our life. (Rom. 8:29) It is supernatural and requires our yieldedness (death to self) to the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. But as Christians we can and should forgive after the enormous debt we have been forgiven and at the cost it required God to forgive us. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) The following points are taken from Steps to Freedom in Christ by Neil Anderson: "Forgiveness is not forgetting, although after we forgive God begins to heal our emotions over time. Don't wait until you feel like forgiving a person. Forgiveness is a choice, an act of our will to 1) Love (agape love is an act of our will) your enemies, 2) bless (say good things about) them that curse you, 3) do good to them that hate you, and 4) pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. Forgiveness is choosing to not seek revenge (even in our minds) and living with the pain of another person's sin (which we will do anyway) but without the bondage of bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness is letting the person off our hook and trusting God to rightly deal with the person – something we cannot do. But we must not pray for God to "get them". Don't wait for the person to ask for forgiveness before you forgive them. Jesus didn't with us. Yet to truly forgive "from the heart" (Matthew 18:35) we must feel the pain, the injustice, the anger and take our emotions to the Lord and ask for His grace to heal us and set us free. (See 1 Peter 5:8) Forgiveness brings freedom and God wants us to be free – and there is no other way to be free than to forgive. Unforgiveness breaks fellowship with the Lord and we lose His grace and peace and the enemy can use this to take us further into sin." (Matt. 6:12, 14-15; 1 John 1: 5-10; Heb. 12:15)  Forgiveness is following the example of Jesus and becoming more like Him. "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.  But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:19-23) In Christ we have the power to forgive.     

Until He comes, Len and Kristen
Recommended books on forgiveness:
Total Forgiveness by R. T. Kendall
A Grace Disguised by Gerald Sittser

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