Category Archives: Jeremy Stopford

“I Swear!”

FROM THE SERIES,

“THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT – AND BEYOND !!!”

From Matthew 5:33-37

Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

Bible Text: ”33 “ Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”Matthew 5:33-37

Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, I SWEAR!”. Often, those 3 little words are followed by a very much expletive NOT deleted. How do you respond? We who love the Lord Jesus as Savior should be interested in how – or even WHY – the Savior takes the time to deal with this subject!

FIRST, we must ask the question, BY WHAT STANDARD?

(With apologies to Brother Rushdoony – I’m not stealing his title! Nor apparently the title used in the 1980’s by our Southern Baptist brethren as they entered the fray for the sanctity of the authority of the Scriptures!).

The time of our Savior was filled with the words and “authority” of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. They were considered the religious leaders of the day. Their word – and interpretations of their word – were the supposed governor of all religious thought, teaching, and direction of both church and spiritual society. They had the self-imposed authority to enforce the Scriptures ALONG WITH the 613 laws that they added to the Bible. And yes, often those added laws carried more weight than the Scriptures themselves.

So what was God’s true standard of which Jesus reminded His hearers?

First, Deuteronomy 6:13: “You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name.”

And, Leviticus 19:1, 2, 12: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy…And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.”

And what about OUR day? There is an international church which says, concerning marriage: “Marriage is God’s standard. We are against divorce. BUT if conditions warrant, we simply annul a marriage and say IT NEVER EXISTED.”

What did Jesus say? Later in Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 23:1-4, He addressed His attention directly to the scribes and the Pharisees:

“Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”

And hence came the popular phrase, “DO AS THEY SAY, NOT AS THEY DO.”

Second, we must ask, BY WHAT SERIOUSNESS?

In verse 34, our Savior says “Swear not at all.” What is He NOT saying? Our Quaker friends refuse in court to “swear to tell the truth.” That becomes as legalistic as the Pharisees! Does it not create a form of “legislated holiness”? Why, can you not hear the old timers say, “Do not go to movies and you will be holy”?

Why, several Old Testament saints DID take oaths, and the Bible acknowledges those oaths as most honorable! Remember Jacob? He received an oath from Joseph that he was NOT to be buried in Egypt. By faith, Jacob trusted that God would one day honor His Word and the Israelites would go home to Israel. Jacob’s bones were to go with them!

Furthermore, remember David and Jonathan? They took an oath of each other, that the one of the two who survived would care for each others’ descendants. In truth, after Jonathan died, David would take care of Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth! IF you are ever looking for an unusual name to name your son, there you go! In fact, Mephibosheth would not only sit at David’s dinner table. He would also possess all the lands that King Saul once owned. All because of the honoring of an oath.

So what DOES Jesus mean here? He is saying: “DO NOT base your truth, your position, on the greatness of anything!” Rather, recognize the consequences. Legislated holiness is of the evil one, of the world system, which is in active opposition to that which is GOOD!

Our third question is, BY WHAT SANCTITY?

The Lord Jesus said that our conversation – our “communication” rather than our “manner of life” – should be “yes” or “no”. Clear as mud, right? That is, our communication should be truth from the heart because of our living and active relationship with the living God. We need to swear by an Object of divine significance!

Ephesians 4:30 says, “And do not GRIEVE the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Note how the Apostle Paul introduced his section on Romans dealing specifically with the future of the nation of Israel:

“I tell the truth in Christ, I AM NOT LYING, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 9:1)

Check out the Apostle James’ instruction, in James 3:14:

“But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, DO NOT boast and LIE AGAINST THE TRUTH.”

(For further examples, see also: 2 Cor. 11:31; Gal. 1:20; Col. 3:9; and2 Tim. 2:7).

TO CONCLUDE: “How do we point others to Christ?” could be the question that our Savior is asking in this passage. And He answers it in a way that is highly applicable to today! Do we win people to the Savior by showing them the rituals of our faith? OR to we win people to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus by showing them a changed life as a result of our relationship with the Savior?

Do we point people to rituals, or do we point people to the cross of Calvary?

What is your STANDARD?

What is your SERIOUSNESS?

What is your SANCTITY?

IS IT NOT THE LORD JESUS AND YOUR TRUST, YOUR REST,

IN HIS ETERNAL FAITHFULNESS?

Jesus said, “Come unto ME, all who are weary and heavy burdened,

And I WILL give you REST.” (Matthew 11:28)

WE CAN SWEAR BY THAT AUTHORITY!

“Are Adultery and Divorce Scriptural?”

Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

“SERMON ON THE MOUNT – AND BEYOND !!!”

Sometimes we can make the Bible say anything we want it to. For example, “adultery” and “divorce” ARE in the Bible. But are they right? Do they please God? Did the Lord Jesus say anything about these vital, yet often divisive, subjects?

Read these words of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 5:27-32:

”27 “You have heard that it was said [a]to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

As strange as it sounds, this is a true story! In the early 1900’s in churches throughout the United States, preachers were concerned with a new fad among woman: the “top knot”. No, they were NOT [not “knot” – no pun intended!] the “man buns” of today. But the preachers were concerned that the world’s fashion was creeping rapidly into the church. One Sunday, one famous preacher took it upon himself to give the ultimate Biblical proof that the ideals of the world were not meant for the fundamental child of God. “The woman is not to be wearing the styles of the world, “ he boldly proclaimed. “Why, it says so right in the Bible, Matthew 24:17: “Let him which is on the houseTOP (K)NOT COME DOWN to take any thing out of his house.” Hmmm. I wonder if in 2021 he would have used that passage for the current “man bun” phase!

But to answer the lesson title, YES! Adultery and Divorce ARE in the Bible! But are they right? Are they scriptural? Do they please our Heavenly Father? Amazingly, it was important to our Savior to include in the Sermon on the Mount His insights on these most potentially divisive subjects. In our text, the Lord Jesus covers this topic giving several amazing and insightful points.

FIRST, SIN IS NOT AN ACTION BUT A NATURE (verse 27). For the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day, adultery was an outward act. Therefore they could proudly say of themselves – even before the Lord – “I’m not an adulterer. Therefore, I don’t sin.” But for the Lord Jesus, adultery is an outward sign of an inward heart, a human nature which is hungry TO sin! It is not so much that I DO a thing. Rather, it is what makes me do it, what urges me to do it, that matters.

The Bible makes several distinctions about sin. The unsaved – those who have never trusted the Lord Jesus as Savior – are sinners by nature and by choice. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…”. Further, Romans 6:23 adds, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The saved have been freed from the penalty of sin, but they still have a nature which is in a battle between the Lordship of Christ and the dominion of that sin.

The Apostle Paul tells pointedly of his own spiritual struggles, as recorded in Romans 7:13: “Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.” Will this battle always be victorious for the enemy, or is the Savior strong enough [how dare I write so!] to overcome the enemy? Paul concludes, in verses 23-25a, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

In Galatians 5:19, where the Apostle Paul lists what he has called the “sins of the flesh”, note the first one on the list: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery…”. Paul sees adultery as a work of the flesh which is in opposition to the operation of the Holy Spirit! Thankfully, the battle has a Victor in our Savior. Even John the Baptist wrote of Him in John 1:29, “…“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Indeed, SIN IS A NATURE, and the Savior and the power of His death and shed blood “take away the sin of the world” for all who trust Him as Savior and Lord of their lives.

Is He YOUR trust? If you love Him as your Savior, do you trust Him as LORD of your life?

SECOND, SIN IS TREATED, NOT BY THE ACTIONS, BUT AT THE ROOTS (verses 28-30). In Matthew 15, the Lord Jesus has a confrontation once again with the religious leaders of His day. They were concerned that His disciples were not obeying not only the law but also one of the many 613 RULES that they had added to the law! In verse 8, He quotes from Isaiah 29:13, “‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” Quoting from a prophet that the Pharisees and other leaders respected, the Lord Jesus put them in their place. The Pharisees were condemning the disciples’ actions. Jesus’ – using their own Scriptures – condemned the root of their religiosity.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior uses the illustration of the eye and the hand. They were created for good! They were designed by their Creator to be used to bring glory to Him. With His words – “pluck it out”, “cut it off”, “cast it from you” – He was not encouraging a gruesome self-surgical procedure. Rather, He was showing a phrase which Paul would use often through His epistles: “mortify”, “put to death”. An unknown author once wrote, “That which God has created for good must be placed on His altar.”

Paul wrote in Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

One of his most famous verses is Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” And in Galatians 5:24, Paul goes on to say, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

The outward battle is won by destroying the inward roots!

THIRD, HOLINESS IS NOT IDEALS BUT STANDARDS (verses 31-32). The same theme here is found in Mark 10:1-9. Once again, while the Savior is teaching, the Pharisees – who were SUPPOSED to be the religious leaders and thus God’s representatives of their day – questioned Jesus’ teaching. They tried to trap Him, asking Him, “is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”. The Savior did not go to any one of the Pharisees 613 EXTRA RULES. Rather, He went to creation! Verses 5-9 pointedly say:

“Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

God had given an allowance in the Old Testament, an allowance for the hardness of man’s heart. However, in the Old as well as New Testament times, God’s hunger is for marriage. That is His standard.

OUR CONCLUSION today is wrapped around the heart of our amazing Savior: ALL SIN FINDS ITS HOPE IN THE FINISHED WORK OF CHRIST! Here’s a tough question: are divorce and adultery forgivable? A situation is vividly described in the confrontation of the scribes, the Pharisees, the people, the Lord Jesus, and an helpless woman “caught in adultery” (John 8:1-12). The Pharisees wondered what the Lord was going to do to this one so “caught”. He wrote on the ground. What did He write?”, one would wisely ask. It is implied that He wrote with His finger! Why is that important? In Exodus 31:18, it is said of God, that He wrote the 10 Commandments on stone with His finger! Don’t you wonder if those watching Him understood the implication: what they were accusing this girl of, of that and more they all were guilty!

So ARE DIVORCE AND ADULTERY FORGIVEABLE? All sin finds its forgiveness in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

The invitation is available to all.

The hope is available to all!

9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Romans 10:9-10

Is the Lord Jesus YOUR trust?

If you love Him as your Savior, do you trust Him as LORD of your life?

“To Kill or Not to Kill – is that a question?”

May 26, 2021

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – AND BEYOND !!!”

By Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

From Matthew 5:17-26

The story is told about a snail who was in a horrible accident. How horrible was it? Well, he lost his shell! So he went home to recover. Several days later, a good friend stopped by. “I heard about your accident,” the friend said. “How do you feel?”

“Well,” said the snail, “to be honest I feel a little sluggish.”

Don’t you think that we occasionally feel a little sluggish in our appreciation and respect for, as well as the regular application of, the amazing love and grace of God for us?

The Sermon on the Mount, and in particular the verses which follow the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), have much to say about the practical application of the teachings of our Savior!

But PLEASE remember this: while the Lord Jesus IS a Great Teacher – He first of all is LORD OF ALL! His desire is not for us to be good students of the Word. His desire is for our WORSHIP of Him FIRST of all!

Into that scenario come the verses of today’s text,:

”Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one [b]jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 5:17-26.

In this section, our Savior begins a vivid attack/counterattack with the false teachings of the religious leaders of the day. Those leaders were suffocating the grace of God with their rules and regulations!

Do BELIEVERS have rules and regulations that are suffocating? I once walked into the gym of a neighboring church. As one enters the gym there were written on the wall next to the door the “Twenty Rules for Gym Use”.

Ok, I get it. There should be rules for courtesy of our fellow gymnasts. But THESE rules were even more specific than that: what clothes to wear, what length of hair for boys, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. From the minute I walked into the gym after reading those rules, I felt I couldn’t breathe! I was fearful that I might intentionally or unintentionally break one of those 20 rules!

AND dear friends, that was how the religious leaders of Jesus’ day affected the populace of Israel!

It behooves us to see the Savior’s insights into a number of the leaders’ views on something as foundational to the state of the nation as murder. What is His heart?

FIRST, God’s view of murder and killing has never changed! Exodus 20:13, a part of the 10 Commandments, says, “Thou shalt not kill” [or “murder” in NKJV]. To kill means “to break or dash into pieces; to slay in a violent or unjust manner; to murder without cause”. The phrase “without cause” is a key! God never applied “killing” or “murder” to the slaying of brute beasts! Can you imagine what the Lord, much less Old Testament theologians, would have thought about today’s “animal rights” activists? He would have said that while the 10 commandments do NOT cover that, He would rather have a respect for all life. Furthermore, in Genesis 9:6, written well before the law, the Lord says,

“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; For in the image

of God He made man.”

God takes a high view of ALL human life! So, for example, when you read in the paper about an airplane crash where there were no survivors, what is your first thought? It SHOULD be not only for the families of those victims, it should be this: “where are those victims now spending eternity? Were they ever under the hearing of the Word of God, and of the love of God in Christ? Did they ever receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior?” We need to have God’s view of people! People are eternal beings!

So since God’s view of murder and killing has not changed, even the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus day should have been surprised when the Savior made a more practical application in Matthew 5:22:

“But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be

in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in

danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell

fire.”

Wow! So SECOND, God’s view of murder includes more than just a physical slaying! It is more than just the letter of the law! It involves causeless anger against a fellow human being.

The psalmist wrote in Psalm 97:10:

“You who love the Lord, hate evil!

He preserves the souls of His saints;

He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.”

Ephesians 4:26 directly quoted Psalm 4:4:

““Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath…”

Do you feel anger or rage, even against someone who has done nothing to you? The Lord Jesus is saying that that is equal in His sight to…MURDER.

What about “RACA”? “Raca” is the word for “worthless fellow, a senseless empty head”. If you were to call your brother that – apparently something that those of the religious right of the day felt free to do – Jesus says that you are guilty as if guilty of murder.

AND if you call someone “FOOL”, that in our Savior’s eyes (and heart!) is the utmost in human abuse. Consider again all the animal cruelty laws that are in the books. When I worked for the City of Norwich (NY) police department, I was authorized to enforce those laws. But here is the Lord’s “HUMAN CRUELTY LAW”! He said that if you call someone a “fool”, you are guilty of “hell fire”, or “Gehenna”. The citizen of Jesus’ day would know that He was equating the awfulness of the city dump – with its constant burnings and otherwise heinousness – as a human picture of an eternal truth. He was showing that it is possible for someone to be in danger of more than just man’s judgment. Someone can be guilty of God’s judgment: hell fire.

THIRD and last, there must be reconciliation. Verses 23-26 can be summed up well with His one pointed statement:

“Agree with your adversary quickly…”!!!

God’s view concerns outward relationships! There MUST be reconciliation, something the heart of man often overlooks. Think of this: God demands a reconciliation between man and Himself through the cross in order for a person to have fellowship with the eternal God. So it shouldn’t surprise us that God also wants reconciliation between man and man in order to have a relationship with one’s fellow man!

As we close our lesson for this week, please note a small word, only 7 letters.

QUICKLY! (v. 25)

Remember the account of that airplane crash? Life is full of the unexpected.

QUICKLY!

“Behold, NOW is the accepted time; behold, NOW is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2)

QUICKLY!

“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20)

QUICKLY!

“Light in a Dark Place”

Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – AND BEYOND !!!”

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

We have now come to the second lesson in the “AND BEYOND !!!” part of the Sermon on the Mount.

Let me introduce this week’s lesson with a most unusual illustration. The date was Friday September 25, 1992 and the place was Beaver Meadow, New York, a very rural community about one hour south of Syracuse in the central part of the state. I was in the 7th year of my service there as pastor. It was about midnight. My wife and I were “long gone” in sleep when we were suddenly awakened to the noise of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles. We quickly dressed, ran outside, and followed the noise of the trucks. At the same time, we also heard a most unusual sound – one which we hoped we were wrong in our evaluation.

But we were correct – the garage of the neighbor directly across the street AND next to the church was on fire! The night was enjoying a confusing blend of light (from the fire) and dark (from the night). Mingled with the light and dark were the voices. There were voices of anguish from the family and community members who were concerned not only with the location of the fire, but also with the preservation of the family’s house to the north and of the community church immediately to the south of the burning garage.

It was a COLD early fall night. We quickly went to work! We set up tables and chairs and throughout the long night supplied drinking water and brewed massive quantities of coffee for the firemen and other emergency workers.

By morning the garage was a complete loss. Not only was the owner’s business gone – his woodworking shop from which he created amazing pieces of oak furniture. The elderly family dog – well, actually, he was the entire neighborhood’s dog! – had succumbed to the smoke just inside the garage door.

The next day we all commented how much light and darkness mixed together without distinction. My wife and I were blessed to serve in the pastorate here, and yet, and yet!, for a brief moment the light of the fire and the darkness of the night combined to show us just how quickly light and dark can mix in the hearts of those to whom we were called to minister, and to whom we were trying to make an eternal impact.

In a nutshell, that is what Matthew 5:14-16 is all about. LIGHT and DARK. They are designed by God to be distinct from each other. But our Savior is quick to note that sometimes, SOMETIMES, in His children they appear confusingly together. Sadly, though, the distinction God wants for His children is forgotten. Listen to that distinction during the Egyptian plagues in Exodus 10:23, “They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” And when describing the separation of Israel from the Egyptians who were following, Moses wrote (Exodus 14:20), “So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.” As the Israelites were always in the light, God’s design is that the Christian as well is always to be in the light.

As I prepared for this message/lesson, I learned much about His usages of LIGHT and DARK in the Good Book. Allow me to collate a few of those amazing passages.

FIRST, let’s look at WHERE WE ARE – IN DARKNESS! Job said of the leadership of the nations (12:25a), “They grope in the dark without light…”. The prophet Isaiah warns (5:20a), “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil who put darkness for light, and light for darkness…”. Our Savior gives the heavenly assessment (the complete passage is John 3:19-21), “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil… But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” The prophet Isaiah put it all in perspective as he looked forward to the coming of the Messiah (9:2)- a prophesy which our Savior said referred to Himself (Matthew 4:16): “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” In direct contrast with the offer of His light, the darkness of the world is a vivid picture of death without Jesus.

SECOND, let’s look at WHOSE WE ARE – IN CHRIST! Even in the Old Testament, the psalmist David cried out about his relationship with his Savior. Note the amazing start of Psalm 27:1a, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” Once again, our Savior gives His interpretation, His application to Himself (!!!) (John 8:12), “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” Throughout the psalms, the authors show the connection with our identification with the Savior, Listen to this sampling: “Oh, send out Your light and Your truth! Let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your tabernacle.” (43:3). “For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.” (36:9). “Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! They walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance.” (89:15). So how is the child of God to reflect Whose we are, an identity that should be on display from the moment we trust Jesus as Savior? Listen to the Apostle John’s wonderful words (1 John 1:7): “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” We belong to the King of kings! He is pure LIGHT. And in His light we are, for we are “in Christ!

THIRD, let’s look at WHO WE ARE – THE LIGHT! We are a refreshing brightness! (How can that be?). David quoted the Lord’s words about himself in 2 Samuel 23:3b-4, “‘He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises, a morning without clouds,

Like the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain.’” The Christian in turn is a REFRESHING BRIGHTNESS in a dark world! In 2 Kings 8:19, in spite of the description of King Jehoram’s wickedness, God gives a sobering evaluation of the nation: “Yet the Lord would not destroy Judah, for the sake of His servant David, as He promised him to give a lamp to him and his sons forever.” The Christian in the world is like the remnant of Israel – he is to be a REMNANT OF GODLINESS AGAINST SIN. In the book of Esther, the nation had won the victory against the evil of one of the members of its leadership. In turn, it was said of itself, “The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor…”. The Christian in the world is to be what we have – LIGHT: HOPE AMONG THE HOPELESS! And the Apostle Paul gives a reminder of the Christian’s position, as he says in Romans 13:13, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” Armor? What does that make the Christian? He is a SOLDIER OF LIGHT AMIDST THE DARKNESS OF THE WORLD!

TO CONCLUDE, let’s look at WHAT WE HAVE – EXAMPLES OF

ENCOURAGEMENT! How is it even possible for soldiers of LIGHT to be light in this dark world? Where are we to look when we KNOW that we ARE to be LIGHT, when there is so much DARKNESS around us? We look to the Good Book to see others who have gone on before, those who were LIGHT while living in the real DARKNESS of their world! Let’s listen to two of the classic lines of two of God’s choice servants:

Listen to DANIEL: “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.” (Daniel 6:10). In the midst of DARKNESS, Daniel knew where to find LIGHT – by maintaining his custom of walking with the Lord in prayer,

Listen to JOB: “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22). Do you hear him, dear people? Eventually in this wonderful book, we will walk with Job as he loses EVERYTHING, even the support of his wife. Yet in the big picture, when he had NOTHING in the world, HE HAD THE LORD! And so do we.

The children of LIGHT who serve the King of kings in DARKNESS can follow our SAVIOR Who IS LIGHT! The children of LIGHT can be encouraged with those who have also served the King of kings in DARKNESS. Choice servants like Daniel and Job – and many others – are there in scripture to remind us that we are not alone!

Press on, child of LIGHT, in the DARKNESS of the world around us, a world without God and without hope. Be the LIGHT in the DARKNESS that will point those who are lost and without hope to the One Who is PURE LIGHT, the One Who gave Himself for our sin at Calvary,

Remember WHO YOU ARE…

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Ask yourself: “WHO AM I and WHOSE AM I?”

“Christ’s Culinary Cautions”

Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT – AND BEYOND !!!”

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor,

how shall it be seasoned?

It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out

and trampled underfoot by men.”

—Matthew 5:13

We have now come to the “AND BEYOND !!!” part of the Sermon on the Mount. Having finished the 8 beatitudes (“blessed…”), the Savior now invests several of our chapters discussing how the believer is to be different in the world wherever He has wisely placed us.

Today’s study takes us initially to the kitchen, and with the subject matter being “SALT”. Now, I’m a real aficionado when it comes to the kitchen. Back in 2002 when I was pastoring my first charge in a small town called Beaver Meadow, NY, my wife suddenly developed cancer. She would need surgery and as a result would be bedridden for several weeks following the surgery. [BTW – that cancer no longer exists, PTL!] The church ladies asked if they could help to make meals while my bride was recovering. I wisely said, “I’ve got it all taken care of! We’ll have hot dogs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; and we’ll have hamburgers on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. On Sundays? Oh then we’ll have leftovers. I’ve got it all taken care of!”. Needless to say, the kind ladies and their families fed us well!

SALT! The Lord Jesus is taking us into the kitchen of His usefulness. When He says, “you are the SALT of the earth”, He is making a number of distinctions:

* The “YOU” is the Christian – the individual making an impact in the day to day living.

* The “YOU” is NOT primarily the Church (local or universal); while a lighthouse in the community, it is not as evident as the Christian on a day to day basis.

* The “EARTH” is the world and its system, quite distinct from the Christian.

* The distinction is always to be evident. We are in it to win it but not a part of its system – we were bought out of it!

But when the Christian has lost its “FLAVOR/SAVOR” – its strength, its distinctions – he is now useless, and the world (and Satan) has gained another victory.

THIS MAY SOUND HARSH: The world is FULL of useless Christians who have given up being SALTS. Today’s verse is designed to REFRESH, to REVIVE, and to PRICK as a warning of what could happen.

I’M NO CHEF! Thankfully the Bible shows several uses – pictures – of SALT which should remind the Christian of what he is to be:

First, SALT shows an AGREEMENT.

“As for the offering of the first fruits, you shall offer them to the Lord, but they shall not be burned on the altar for a sweet aroma.  And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.” Leviticus 2:12-13

This is the harvest season! And the description of “first fruits” means that these are lifted up to God at the start of the harvest. It is an act of faith – letting God know that the farmer/citizen is trusting God for the bounty of the REST of the harvest!

The “SALT of the covenant” is a recognition of GOD’S provision. SALT thus becomes a wonderful picture of what God has provided.

“There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ

Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:5

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His

mercy He saved us…” Titus 3:5a

This is the Father’s greatest agreement, that He has provided a Savior AND He has provided salvation in the Savior – His Son the Lord Jesus – ALONE!

But further, it is an agreement that salvation is in Christ and NOT in the church.

NOTE THE WARNING HERE: When the Christian forgets, casts aside this agreement, he has lost his focus, his SAVOR, and he is now USELESS.

Second, SALT shows a JUDGMENT.

In Genesis 19, we find God’s judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities which He was going to destroy due to their extreme and willful wickedness. By the grace of God, Lot’s family was spared from the destruction. But they were given a warning. Listen to the Holy Writ:

“Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain.” [v. 17c].

Of course, we know Lot’s wife’s ultimate response:

“his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of SALT.”

It reminds me of the story of the little Sunday school boy listening attentively to the teacher describing the above incident. He politely raised his hand, and when called upon recounted, “the other day my mom was driving, and she looked back and turned into a telephone pole.”

Of tremendous interest is the look of Abraham just moments later:

“ Then he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain; and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace.” [v. 28].

Why was Lot’s wife judged and turned into a pillar of SALT, but when Abraham looked at the destroyed towns, he was NOT judged? The answer is simple: Lot’s wife looked with longing; Abraham looked with horror while observing the holiness of God on display.

SALT shows a JUDGMENT.

Third, SALT shows an HEALING.

In 2 Kings, a situation developed where water was no longer drinkable. This was a most dangerous situation – for without good water, the ground could not be cropped and the people would also die of thirst. Elisha the prophet was used of God in a most unique way. His instructions were most unique:

“Bring me a new bowl, and put SALT in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he

went out to the source of the water, and cast in the SALT there, and said, “Thus

says the Lord: ‘I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or

barrenness.’ ”

As the SALT was used of God to be an instrument of healing bad water, so the Christian is to be a SALT, an healing influence of hearts for eternity. He is also to be a healer of lives for today. He makes a difference. He IMPROVES his world, his job, his community. Do WE?

Finally, SALT shows a SEASONING.

I’m no chef, but a little SALT DOES make eggs taste better!

Listen to this amazing verse:

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with SALT, that you may

know how you ought to answer each one.” [Colossians 4:6]

The Christian is the GRACE – the presence of Christ – here through the tongue. He adds flavor to the arena in which he has been wisely placed by the living God.

As SALT also acts as a preservative, keeping food from decaying – even so, the Christian is an instrument who holds back sin and in turn changes lives into something useful for God! You’ve seen in personally: when you walk into a room, what happens? The swearing stops! Or you hear, “oh, I’m sorry, pardon my French!”.

The reality is that where SAVOR is lost, SIN WINS.

The Christian is in a battle to be SALT. How are YOU doing in this battle?

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor,

how shall it be seasoned?

It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out

and trampled underfoot by men.”

—Matthew 5:13

“Blessed are the persecuted?”

Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

“THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT – AND BEYOND !!!”

Beatitude #8: “Blessed are the persecuted – REALLY?”

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you,

and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.

12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven,

for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:10-12

We have come to the last of the 8 beatitudes of our Savior’s “Sermon on the Mount” {SOTM!) found in its entirety in Matthew 5-7. This study has a question mark (?) at its end – for who in his right mind would want any part of being persecuted? Sounds, well, PAINFUL!

I HAVE MY RIGHTS!” Well, we’ve been through much – not only in the past year or so with the Covid-19 pandemic. In the past 30 plus years, we have been inundated with RIGHTS: Woman’s Rights (well, what about “men’s rights”? Just asking for a friend). Gay Rights. Animal Rights. Whale Rights. Manatee Rights. Raccoon Rights. To everyone involved in each of these issues, these are important rights.

BUT the worse rights of all: MY RIGHTS!

The Lord Jesus Christ approaches this subject in a most unusual way, through the eyes of…PERSECUTION!!!

What is it? Webster’s Dictionary defines “persecution” this way:

  1. To harass with cruel or oppressive treatment
  2. To maltreat or oppress because of race, religion, or beliefs
  3. To annoy or harass

OK, I GET THAT. So who gets persecuted, according to the Scriptures? Let me give a few illustrations, right from the Word of God:

DAVID In the midst of persecution, he found encouragement in the WORD of God. See Psalm 119:86: “All Your commandments are faithful; They persecute me wrongfully; Help me!” And Psalm 119:161 “Princes persecute me without a cause, But my heart stands in awe of Your word.”

David also found hope through the WORKS of God:

3 For the enemy has persecuted my soul;

He has crushed my life to the ground;

He has made me dwell in darkness,

Like those who have long been dead.

4 Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me;

My heart within me is distressed.

5 I remember the days of old;

I meditate on all Your works;

I muse on the work of Your hands.

I spread out my hands to You;

My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Selah

—Psalm 143:3-6

PASTORS Listen to Jeremiah:

As for me, I have not hurried away from being a shepherd who follows You,

Nor have I desired the woeful day;

You know what came out of my lips;

It was right there before You.

17 Do not be a terror to me;

You are my hope in the day of doom.

18 Let them be ashamed who persecute me,

But do not let me be put to shame;

Let them be dismayed,

But do not let me be dismayed.

Bring on them the day of doom,

And destroy them with double destruction!

Jeremiah 17:16-18

EVEN THE APOSTLE PAUL! Listen to a portion of his testimony:

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;

9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—

2 Cor. 4:8-9:

But the question must be asked, WHY DO THEY GET PERSECUTED? There is a common bond, a linking thread which connects all of the above: GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS, or, better, HIS RIGHTS (Matthew 5:10) and HIS SAKE (v. 11).

But what about MY rights? Have you read Isaiah lately?

But we are all like an unclean thing,

And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;

We all fade as a leaf,

And our iniquities, like the wind,

Have taken us away.

—Isaiah 64:6

So WHY do I get PERSECUTED? First, I have God’s righteousness! Have you read Psalm 4:1 lately? “Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness.” How about Psalm 7:17? “I will praise the Lord according to His righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” And how about Psalm 15:1-2?

Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?

Who may dwell in Your holy hill?

2 He who walks uprightly,

And works righteousness,

And speaks the truth in his heart…”

God’s righteousness doesn’t leave me empty. In Him I have all things! I encourage you to read through the book of Proverbs each month! How? Read the chapter which corresponds with the day of the month! Today is the 5th, so today I read Proverbs 5! Look at Proverbs 28:25-26:

He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife,

But he who trusts in the Lord will be prospered.

26 He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,

But whoever walks wisely will be delivered.

Let’s wrap this up! Our text says “REJOICE” when persecuted for His rights. For His sake – NOT for our rights nor for our sake.

The Lord Jesus already gave us great insight in John 15:20:

Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’

If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they

will keep yours also.

The one who has turned over to God all of his rights, his goals, his ambitions, will find that the rights and glory of the Lord to be more than satisfying!

The one who makes God’s rights his own rights will become all that is summed up in one word: BLESSED! “Makarios”! “Happy” because I belong to the King of kings!

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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.

“CHALLENGES OF AN EARLY MORNING”

CHALLENGES OF AN EARLY MORNING” (Matthew 28:1-7)

An Easter Sunday Message by Semi-Retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford

Originally preached April 12, 1998 (really!)

Beaver Meadow (NY) Christian Church

OUR TEXT: Matthew 28:1-7

1 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn,

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.

2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.

3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.

And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.

But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid,

for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.

He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

How many of you are MORNING people? You know who you are – you just love to get up as early as possible. You function best in the early part of the day. You’re the kind that when all your friends are just getting with it, you say, “I’ve got 8 hours of work done already!”. Then there are the NIGHT people! Are you one of those? You are the kind that think nothing of staying up well past midnight, sleep for 8 hours (or longer), and then start all over again.

The story of the Savior’s Resurrection Day is a morning person type of story. Matthew initially looks at the resurrection through the eyes of two people. No doubt, THEY are morning people! (My 20th century guess is that all people of the first century were “morning people” – what else did they have to do?). They are identified as “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1). We know a little about each one.

“Mary Magdalene”, or better, “Mary of Magdala” – a region in Israel – is set aside in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as one “out of whom He had cast seven demons”. Who knows what horror her life “before Christ” was like!

But we DO know, according to Luke 8:2-3, that along with two ladies named “Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna” (and apparently many others) “provided for Him from their substance.” Whatever funds she had in her life now were under the Lordship of Christ! (ARE OURS? Hmmm.). John’s gospel gives a wonderful picture of the poignant meeting with the risen Lord and this Mary (John 20:11ff).

The second visitor to the tomb in Matthew’s account is a woman called “the other Mary”. The gospels of Mark and Luke describe her a little more fully as “the mother of James the less and of Joses”, disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Though little is known of these ladies, it is apparent that the Lord did a GREAT CHANGE in their lives – so great, they sought to be both at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus and as well at His graveside even days later.

There are at least four brief lessons that every seeker or follower of the Lord Jesus should learn from the lives of these two women that first Easter morn.

First, we have the need to remember the day and still walk by faith! In the gospel of Matthew we have met these two Christ followers before. Do you remember when? Go back to 27:56 where these two were among those who beheld the events of the cross “afar off”.

And after the Savior died, they also sat “over against the sepulcher (27:61). They knew exactly where the Savior’s tomb was. They would remember that day. WHAT DAY? What day of the week was it? Well, we do know that the Savior rose “on the first day of the week” (28:1). That would be on the Jewish – and our – calendar as SUNDAY.

And we do know that He said He would be in the tomb “three days and three nights”, according to the prophecy of Jonah (Matthew 12:40). So on what day of the week did the Savior die? Our problem is that we look at this through Western civilization eyes and not through Jewish eyes.

Fortunately for us, we can understand time through the words of Jonathan, Saul’s son. Look at a blurb from 1 Samuel 20:12: “When I have sounded out my father sometime tomorrow, or the third day…”. So Jonathan saw time through today (Day #1), tomorrow (Day #2) and the third day (Day #3).

Through that visual, the day of the week that the Savior died was…FRIDAY! The Lord loves to challenge His followers through the use of the expression “the day” or “this day”. “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). “Sufficient unto the day is its own evil” (Matthew 6:34). “I must work His works while it is day”. (John 9:4). “Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). And the favorite of many, “This is the day that the Lord has made” (Ps. 118:24). Remember the day – and walk by faith!

Second, we need to be available to see the holy among the ordinary (re-read Matthew 28:2-5). Do you have any idea how often angels appear in Scripture? An amazing 283 times! Angels surrounded our Savior – we see them in Scripture at His birth, at the time of His temptation; throughout His earthly ministry; at His death; and now at His resurrection. These girls were in on a majestic viewing, weren’t they? That reminds me of the new pastor’s visit upon a younger woman of the church. He knocked on her front door. She was expecting one of her suitors and so shouted out to him, “Is that you, ANGEL?” The quick pastor responded, “No ma’am. But I’m from the same department!” And yet, Hebrews 13:2 challenges us: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” The ladies saw the holy – the angel – among the ordinary – a tomb. And so must we on a daily basis! We must have our spiritual eyes OPEN to the hand of the personal, loving God on each day! Have you put to practice the words of Psalm 119:62? “At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You, because of Your righteous judgments.” Wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep? You should review the day you’ve just gone through. When did the Lord show Himself in real ways, yet you simply took those ways for granted? You pray for safety on the roads before leaving the house? Do you ever THANK HIM for giving you that safety once the trip is over? We need to see the holy among the ordinary!

Third, we need to cast aside earthly fear that we may see only Jesus (Matthew 28:6). Read that passage really slowly. Besides these two, there are the guards – ROMAN guards. They are there guarding an “empty tomb”. They were to FEAR no one! Yet when the angel appeared, “the guards shook for FEAR of him, and became like dead men.” But what about the girls? The angel brings comfort by saying those royal words of heaven, “FEAR NOT”. I looked it up – do YOU have any idea how many times the expression “FEAR NOT”appears in Scripture? An unbelievable 67 TIMES! Yet you and I live in a world filled with what? FEAR! What – or better WHO – is the Answer to the fear of man? The Lord Jesus! Just as these ladies found at the empty tomb the promise of eternal hope is through the Risen Savior, even so should we. And if we have, we should be like the woman at the well (John 4). When she met Jesus, she wanted to tell EVERYONE about Jesus! We need to cast aside earthly fear that we may see only Jesus!

Finally, we need to be obedient to simple tasks that higher purposes may be realized (Matthew 28:6-7). The angel’s words were simple: He’s not here…He is risen (as He said)…Come (see for yourselves)…Go (quickly!) and tell! Did the angel say “walk 1000 miles and tell everyone you see along the way that Jesus is risen?”. No, he began with a simple task: see for yourselves that what Jesus said would happen HAS happened! As the Apostle Paul would later define the gospel, in 1 Cor. 15:1-4, Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again the third day JUST AS HE SAID. That is the gospel, the GOOD NEWS! The angel’s simple task was to begin with those with whom they were familiar – the one’s hurting because of life. The disciples – all of whom had fled at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion – were fearful men. But now, but NOW they would soon be not only in the presence of these first eyewitnesses. They would be in the presence of their risen Savior! Yes, God through this angel gave them a simple task. The resurrected Savior gave them the power to share. And Who gets the glory? HE DOES!

Remember the day – and walk by faith!

Be available to see the holy – among the ordinary!

Cast aside earthly fear – and see Jesus!

Be obedient to your simple assignments – and see the higher purposes!

And Jesus gets the glory!

“Blessed are the peacemakers”

Beatitude #7: “Blessed are the peacemakers”

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – AND BEYOND !!!”

Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9).

We have come to the 7th of the 8 beatitudes of our Savior’s “Sermon on the Mount” {SOTM!) found in its entirety in Matthew 5-7.

Blessed”. Do you remember what “BLESSED” means? The Latin word for “blessed” is properly translated… “BEATITUDE”. AND the Greek word for “blessed” is “makarios”. “Makarios” is…GOD’S HAPPINESS, HIS JOY! It is GOD’S kind of “happiness” which is not dependent upon “happenings”. It is dependent upon…GOD HIMSELF!

So in this beatitude, the blessing is for the “peacemakers”. Do you remember one of the Old Testament titles for the soon coming Messiah? Remember carefully as you read these verses:

For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given;

And the government will be upon His shoulder.

And His name will be called

Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, PRINCE OF PEACE.

Of the increase of His government and peace

There will be no end,

Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,

To order it and establish it with judgment and justice

From that time forward, even forever.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. [Isaiah 9:6-7]

The Messiah, the Lord Jesus, is the One Who is the ultimate Peacemaker! He is the One Who can make peace between countries and even between peoples. But most importantly, because of the cross, He can make peace between God and me!

Jesus paid the price of peace! Listen to Isaiah 54:10,13 where the prophet Isaiah is looking forward to the day when the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, will be orchestrating peace because of the price He paid:

For the mountains shall depart

And the hills be removed,

But My kindness shall not depart from you,

Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,”

Says the Lord, who has mercy on you. [v. 10]

All your children shall be taught by the Lord,

And great shall be the peace of your children. [v. 13]

So our Savior is the Author of peace, which is effected when His death on the cross is applied to the sinner who trusts that that death and shed blood was indeed done in his, the sinner’s place!

Have YOU trusted the Lord Jesus as your Savior, your peace?

Have you ever heard the story of Peter Bilhorn? He was born in Mendota, Illinois in 1865 (and lived until 1936). Since his father died when Peter was about 8, Peter quit school and did all he could to support his mother. When he was 15, the family moved to Chicago so he could be near where his voice could be used as an attraction in concert halls.

But then at age 20 an amazing thing happened – he was converted to saving faith in the Lord Jesus! Over the remaining years of his life, he would be used to write songs or their music on behalf of such evangelists as Dwight L. Moody (founder of Moody Bible Institute, as well as a worldwide evangelist).

Peter Bilhorn was asked by a friend to write the words for a song. He asked the friend what the theme should be, and she replied “any sweet piece.” Years later, the music for a song came to him, but he didn’t have the words for it. Shortly afterwards, while he was riding on a train to Iowa, the train came to a sudden stop. A dead body had been found on the train tracks. As the body was carried away, it left behind a pool of blood.

A friend, Major Whittle, suggested to Peter, “Do you know that is all Jesus Christ left on this earth? His body rose for our justification, but His blood was left to atone for our sins.” Peter replied back, “Yes, that is what gives me sweet peace.” Here comes the song, “Sweet Peace, the Gift of God’s Love”:

There comes to my heart one sweet strain,

A glad and joyous refrain,

I sing it again and again,

Sweet peace the gift of God’s love.

Through Christ on the cross peace was made,

My debt by His death was all paid,

No other foundation is laid,

For peace, the gift of God’s love.

When Jesus as Lord I had crowned

My heart with this peace did abound

In Him the rich blessings, I found

Sweet peace the gift of God’s love.

Our Savior offers His PEACE to every sinner. And all who come to Him through the shed blood of Calvary’s cross will immediately have that sweet peace.

When we have that SWEET PEACE then we are called the “children of God”. Hmm…that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Even the Apostle John records, in John 1:12-13:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

We who have found that peace with God are called “children of God”, or better, “sons of God.” !!!

The early disciples were to make a difference in the world in which they lived. Perhaps in their limited “worldview”, they were thinking mainly Jerusalem, or even Galilee. But you and I can look back and see that in the BIG picture, when the Apostle John wrote in John 3:16 that “God so loved the WORLD”, He was talking about a picture well beyond the first disciples’ comfort zone!

But what are WE to do with that SWEET PEACE?

There are at least 3 pre-requisites to our being a peacemaker for Jesus:

#1—be at peace with God

#2—be at peace with yourself

#3—be committed to bringing others to Christ and showing them the Prince of peace.

Be at peace with God – IF/SINCE your have come to know the Lord Jesus as your Savior/your Peace, you have Peace with God! Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…”. This is a present position! It is not some future “hope so” but rather a present “KNOW SO”! We have peace with God.

But further, we are to be at peace with ourselves. That means that we have “nothing between our soul and the Savior”, as the old song says.

And then? We are to be committed to bring others to Christ, the Prince of Peace! We are to show our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, enemies, strangers, EVERYBODY – what Jesus has done for us, and for THEM! We are to have the Lord Jesus’ view of people. We are to look at people through His eyes. We are to be instruments of reconciliation between the sinner and the Savior, pointing the sinner to the cross and His available redemption in Him.

And when we do that, do you know what we’ll be? Yep! We’ll be…PEACEMAKERS! Because being a peacemaker is what God’s children are and do!

Blessed are the peacemakers,

For they shall be called sons of God..”

“Blessed are the pure in heart”

Beatitude #6: “Blessed are the pure in heart”

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – AND BEYOND !!!”

By Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8)

We have come to the 6th of the beatitudes of our Savior’s “Sermon on the Mount” {SOTM!) found in its entirety in Matthew 5-7.

Blessed”. Do you remember what this means? By way of review, our English word “happy” begins with 3 letters – “hap” – which show that our emotions are based upon …happenstance or better, circumstances, The Latin word for “blessed” is properly translated…you bet, “BEATITUDE”. But the Greek word for “blessed” is “makarios”. You are now Greek scholars, right? “Makarios” is…GOD’S HAPPINESS, HIS JOY! It is GOD’S kind of “happiness” which is not dependent upon “happenings”. It is dependent upon…GOD HIMSELF! Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) which is a God-thing, created by Him for His purpose.

In today’s lesson, we are told that the blessed here are the “PURE IN HEART”.

(And did you remember: Dr. Becker’s 81st birthday was on Monday, March 8)

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

So how do we illustrate this truth? Permit me a feeble attempt! The date was July 8, 1968, almost 53 years ago! A small group of about 30 of us high school students – along with several teachers and their spouses – spent the summer of 1968 touring France, Germany, and Spain, spending 6 weeks of our 8 week travel in a chalet in Switzerland. Studying, of course. I took one year of Spanish in those 6 weeks, and finishing the summer for a week in Madrid made for a wonderful opportunity to practice what I learned! One of our side trips while in Switzerland was to “Les Diablerets”, quickly and easily translated “the devils”. From the ground looking up, it simply looked like one of those New Hampshire mountains – only maybe a little higher. Well, maybe A LOT higher! It was 65 degrees at the base. A beautiful Swiss day! We all rode in “gondolas” (cable cars) up the side of the mountain. Straight up, mind you. At the top were two glaciers, and within seconds we were all…having a snowball fight! 20 degrees and a blizzard! Then minutes later, a biting wind blew the blizzard past, and then, and THEN…you could see forever – most of Europe the guide related – from the top of what once was the scene of a tremendous struggle!

So how do we apply this simple (simplistic?) illustration? Let’s work our way through this. The “BLESSED” were all of us finding a newfound joy in the journey. The “PURE IN HEART” was the fruit of being without the storms (and without the threat of being hit squarely between the eyes by a fast sailing snowball!). And those who “SEE GOD”? They are the ones who reach the goal – the experience of seeing the purpose of the journey up the mountain to the glacier. We made it through the trials, through the VERY harrowing gondola trip up the side of the mountain. We made it through the storm of the sudden blizzard. We even made it through the snowball “battle”! And then? As the song says, we could “see forever”. We could see the handiwork of God. Even though it would be another 3 years before I would come to the Savior by faith, that experience was HUGE in my visualizing the magnitude of the God of creation. And, according to Romans 1:20, “ For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…”. I was without excuse. God’s display on top of that mountain showed me His hand. His presence. Wow!

So let’s make some evaluations. “BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART”. For the Jew, it was part of the Scriptures to use a bodily part like the heart to display an attribute. For example, the “heart”, as one of my college professors wisely noted, “may be understood here as “the interior life of the personality.” Jesus used this same thought again in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your HEART will be also.” The heart, the seat of the emotions, as it were, can be either “PURE” or “IMPURE”. Do you remember what the Lord Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-35? He was NOT very kind to those whose foundation was tradition and their own made up laws (613 of them in addition to the Jewish Scriptures!). Jesus said to them,

Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the HEART the mouth speaks.

A good man out of the good treasure of his HEART brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.

And again in Matthew 15:19:

“For out of the HEART proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”

Thus, the born again Christian who is “PURE IN HEART” is one who realizes the above battles for that purity. How does the one who is “PURE IN HEART” access that hope, that goal for his walk with the Lord? The Bible says in Romans 10:17, “so then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”! The battle between purity and impurity – between light and darkness of the heart – demands a heart that is transformed daily into the holy image of the Lord Jesus! And HOW am I to do that?

The Apostles Paul and Peter are quite helpful here. First Paul:

“Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a PURE HEART.” [2 Timothy 2:22]

And Peter:

“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a PURE HEART, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…” [1 Peter 1:22-23]

BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART”! Flee youthful lusts. Pursue holiness. Love one another because you’ve been born again by the living Word of God. It wasn’t until the Lord brought us through the (snow) storm that He surprised us young ones. He was there with us through the storm, even though we may not have appreciated that at the time! And then?

FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD”.

To “see God” is a two-fold experience for every man, woman, boy, and girl who has come to know the Lord Jesus as Savior. First of all, we can SEE GOD now!!! How? Listen to Philippians 4:4-5:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.”

What does it mean when Paul says that the Lord is “AT HAND”? Well, we’ve done this lesson far enough to know, don’t we? It means that we SEE GOD…NOW! We know His presence, His blessings regardless of the…HAPPENSTANCES that the world may have to offer. We are BLESSED…MAKARIOS…ENJOYING GOD’S JOY.

But there is another guideline. We can see God NOW only under one MAJOR condition, as the writer of Hebrews relays in Hebrews 12:14:

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which NO ONE WILL SEE the Lord…”

Peace with all people. Holiness before God and in the world. Rejoicing in the Lord. He is “AT HAND”!

But we are ASSURED to SEE THE LORD when we GO HOME TO BE WITH HIM!

In the midst of Job’s trials, sufferings, and tremendous LACK of comfort by those who were supposedly his closest friends, he utters some of the most classic words of the entire Old Testament, in Job 19:25-27:

“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!”

Do I hear an “AMEN”?

We will close with 1 John 3:1-3, where the Apostle John expressed Job-like hope:

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for WE SHALL SEE HIM as He is.

And everyone who has this hope in Him PURIFIES HIMSELF, just as He is pure.

Now “Les Diablerets” is not for the faint of heart. Neither is life, for that matter. But our Savior invites us into His presence, to SEE HIM NOW. He invites us to His purity. He invites us to see Him every day – through the storms, in the valley, and occasionally from the mountaintop. And one day we will SEE HIM AS HE IS. Are you excited? Are you striving to be one of the “PURE IN HEART”?

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8)

Beatitude #5: “Blessed are the merciful”

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – AND BEYOND !!!”

Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)

We have come to the 5th of the beatitudes of our Savior’s “Sermon on the Mount” {SOTM!) found in its entirety in Matthew 5-7. With even a casual reading of this verse, it wouldn’t take long to discover what the main words are here: “MERCY” and “MERCIFUL”.

What is YOUR understanding of “MERCY”? Amazingly, I was most surprised to read the word “mercy” in print yesterday in of all places, ESPN! It seems that it appeared in a spring training baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves. In the first inning, the pitcher for Boston threw 23 pitches (!). And then? The Red Sox manager called for the end of the inning! After the Red Sox had their time at the plate, the Braves came back to hit in the second. And guess who was pitching for Boston? YOU BET! The SAME pitcher who pitched for Boston in the FIRST inning! It seems that Major League Baseball has initiated a “MERCY rule” during spring training. Now I must confess, when I was in high school back in the dark ages (well, a few years after Dr. Becker!), the “MERCY rule” was called when one team went ahead by 10 runs. Then the game was over! But here in the major leagues, it is enforced in order to give the spring training pitcher practice!

And MERCY is our word for today!

When YOU hear the word “MERCY” or “MERCIFUL”, what first comes to mind? One of my college professors said that the word “MERCIFUL” describes “someone who has a genuine heartfelt compassion.” However, it means more than just to feel sorry for someone else. That same educator said that the Hebrew word is untranslatable into the English. Why? Because it would literally mean “getting right inside another person’s skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.” The Savior is thus inviting each of us, imploring with each of us, even giving us a BLESSING (you DO remember “BLESSING” don’t you?)! Before we judge another person for whatever word said or action done that disagrees with us, take a moment and…try to see things as THEY see things! Get “inside their skin” and ask yourself, “what has caused them to say what they did, to do what they did, to feel what they did? What?”.

When our Savior talked about “MERCY” or “MERCIFUL”, our Savior’s hearers would immediately have a picture, a taste of what He was referring to! Their minds would instantly go to the image inside the veil of the temple to the “MERCY seat”, a gold plated “box”, if you will, which at one time housed the 10 commandments (yes, the original!), Aaron’s rod that budded – indicating his position as God’s representative inside the veil of the tabernacle, and a pot filled with manna – putting on display a picture of God’s faithfulness to the Israelites throughout their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. I would encourage you to read Leviticus 16:11-16. The people would have a vivid mental image of Aaron as High Priest going once a year inside the veil, carrying a pot of incense (representing our prayer AND God’s holiness), and ministering on behalf of himself AND the people before the Lord. He would confess not only the nation’s sins but also his own! He would be wearing bells at the base of his robe. The people outside the veil would be listening for those bells. For if they DIDN’T ring, it would mean both that would Aaron have died AND that his sacrifices – for himself and for the people – would NOT have been accepted before the Lord.

Do we have to do that today?Do we have SOMEONE Who extended MERCY toward us so that we don’t have to go into a temple and pay for our sins on a regular basis? Do the scriptures have ANYTHING to say about that?

HOW ABOUT THIS:

“For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, FOR THIS HE DID once for all when He offered up Himself.”

[Hebrews 7:26-27]

OR HOW ABOUT THIS:

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, HOW MUCH MORE shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” [Hebrews 9:11-14]

SO WHAT’S THAT TO ME?

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, YET WITHOUT SIN. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain MERCY and find grace to help in time of need.” [Hebrews 4:15-16]

OK, LET’S GET PRACTICAL!!!

Our Savior said that the one who is MERCIFUL – who extends MERCY by looking at people through their eyes, hearts, and hurts – is not only BLESSED but will also himself receive MERCY!!!

HOW is that possible. Let’s listen:

“The MERCIFUL man does good for his own soul, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh.” [Proverbs 11:17]

“He who has PITY [“MERCY”] on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given.” [Proverbs 19:17]

“We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did NOT please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” [Romans 15:1-3]

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness (MERCY”), considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

[Galatians 6:1-2]

My older brother and I – when we were both MUCH younger – used to get in wrestling matches. Mind you, he is (still!) 8 years older than I. AND he was on the high school wrestling team. So invariably there came a time when there was only ONE WAY for me to get out of his seemingly “death grip”. I had to cry “MERCY!”. Well, you know, I learned the meaning of that word pretty fast! In order for ME to receive MERCY, my brother had to extend MERCY in return. Thankfully, he always did.

And so does Jesus! And so should we!

And don’t forget, Dr. Becker’s 81st birthday is on Monday, March 8.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”