The Hope of Eternity is in Christ

(Mark 13:1-2)

There is nothing in this world that will last forever. This world has been doomed to decay and will pass away. Jesus showed in this scripture that even those bricks and mortar structures that seem so permanent will not last. Paul wrote also, “…for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20-21)

rubble ruins

As the disciples walked with Jesus in the temple, they pointed out all of the marvellous buildings and the wonderful stones from which they were made. But Jesus said to them, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” (Verse 2)

Jesus knew full well what was to come and occur in the future, and that was exactly what happened many years later. The temple was destroyed and all the buildings and stones cast away leaving only what we now know as the “Wailing Wall” in Jerusalem.

But in Jesus’ statement there was another message too. He indicates that what was there at the temple site was temporary and would not last forever. So too what the temple stood for, which was the worship under the law, was not going to last either. Paul showed in Galatians 3:23-27 that we were confined under the law until righteousness by faith was revealed in Jesus. Once faith came, we were no longer confined under the law but now worship God according to the New Covenant, based upon faith in Christ Jesus.

It was shown also that the Old Covenant confinement under the law ended with the death of Jesus as the curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom indicating the way was open for all mankind to enter the presence of God, not just the priests.

So all of the traditions and institutions of this world are temporary too, along with the buildings, bricks and mortar. The disciples were impressed by the buildings, but Jesus showed them that these were to pass away. However His word was permanent and would last forever. The word of God and the words of Jesus are eternal and they are the teachings of eternal life.

So do not be impressed by the wondrous buildings and churches today. Cathedrals, church buildings and all that go with them are nothing compared to the truth of the New Covenant. Focus your attention and priority rather on what is said in them and find the truth that is in Jesus. For it is in the permanent structure of the spiritual church that we are built into in Christ that is forever. Bricks and mortar crumble and return to dust.

(Photo sourced from stock.xchng stock.xchng taken by Michal Zacharzewski, SXC)

Old and New Wineskins

(Mark 2:18-22)

In this section of scripture the people approach Jesus over fasting. The disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees promoted fasting, but Jesus disciples were not fasting. I have already covered the issue of fasting in an earlier post, which you can read here. So in this post I will focus on the following teaching, which was to do with old and new wineskins.

Jesus taught the people that you cannot put new wine into old wineskins as the skins will burst and the wine and skins will be lost. When wine is first made and stored it goes through a fermentation process. Gases are produced which expand and thus the containers must either be able to withstand this pressure or be flexible enough to expand with the gases produced. Old wineskins have already been through this expansion process when they were first filled and so they are no longer as flexible as new skins. Thus new wine is not put into old wineskins so that neither the skins nor the wine will be lost. The new wine needs to also remain in the skins for a period of time to go through the fermentation and maturing process to age it so it develops its flavour. New wine often does not taste as good as old wine for it has not developed (although I take this on advice from others as I do not drink wine or other alcoholic drinks).

Now Jesus uses this analogy of old and new wineskins to speak about the receiving of the old and new covenants. The people are the wineskins and the covenants are the old and new wine. He shows that it is very difficult to teach a person who is steeped in the old covenant the matters pertaining to the new covenant. In fact the two should not be mixed as they do not exist together and a person trying to live under both covenants at the same time will struggle.
The Old Covenant is based upon bondage under law and condemnation for sin. It also required the keeping of many days, feasts and fasting. But the New Covenant is about freedom from law and release from sin and does not require the keeping of feasts, days and fasts as required under the law, which Paul showed saying, “You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years!” (Galatians 4:10) When the New Covenant came, the Old Covenant is ready to be obsolete as the writer of Hebrews says, “In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13) And also, “…then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.” (Hebrews 10:9)

Paul also shows us that to try to live under both covenants is like living in adultery. He said in Romans 7:1-3 that a married woman cannot live with another man while her first husband is alive or she will be committing adultery. But if the husband dies she can remarry anyone she chooses. Then in the next verse he shows us that this is the same for Christians moving from the old to the New Covenant. He says, “Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4) So we too are set free from the law through the death of Christ so that we can leave the Old Covenant behind and come and belong to the new risen Christ not under the law of the Old Covenant, but under the teachings of Jesus in obedience to the Father under the New Covenant.

For those brought up under the Old Covenant it is very hard to make this change. Paul himself who had the teachings of the Old Covenant deeply ingrained into him as he was a Pharisee showed he had great difficulty in his walk to God in Jesus Christ. He had to account all things of his former life and the teachings he had been taught as garbage because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. (Philippians 3:8)

But as we see in Paul’s case, it is possible that a person brought up in the Old Covenant ways can make the change to the New Covenant. Even though old wineskins may burst when filled with new wine, nothing is impossible for the Lord. He can shore up the old wineskins and make them flexible and receptive to the new teachings of the New Covenant, but even so it will be difficult for a person who is steeped in the old teachings.

The Great Commission Part 3

(Matthew 28:16-20)

The third element of the Great Commission given by Jesus to his disciples was, “…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Verse 20) He told the disciples to teach the people what he had taught them. These are the teachings of the New Covenant, which he instructed the disciples to teach to those who came to them.

He did not instruct them to teach the law and prophets or the Ten Commandments or anything that pertained to the Law of Moses. As we saw in the last post, baptism is meant to set us free from law so why would that form part of the New Covenant? There are many sections in the New Testament where Jesus and the apostles taught or had disputes about the teaching of the law to the new disciples. The law is not part of the New Covenant and in fact it can have a damaging effect on those who are under the New Covenant.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not preaching to oppose the law nor do I oppose the law. There is great wisdom contained in the law for it was the words of God given to Israel to show them right from wrong. We can learn much from the law about how to live a life that is in harmony with God and those about us. But within the law comes the knowledge of sin and the law cannot set a person free from sin. That is only possible by faith in the grace of God and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to take away the sins of the world and this cannot be achieved under the law since it is the law that condemns man as a sinner. If sin is to be removed, then the law must go too.

The commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples under the Great Commission was to teach the people to observe all the “HE” had commanded them. There is a conflict between the teachings of Jesus under the New Covenant and the Mosaic Law under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant law was about bondage and sin, but the New Covenant is about freedom, release from sin and life. These two cannot exist together. You cannot be in bondage and freedom at the same time. As oil and water do not mix, neither can freedom and bondage.

Paul wrote in Romans 7:1-6 that to try to live under both covenants at the same time was like living in adultery. It cannot and should not be done. Again I have discussed this in much more detail in my free eBook, “The Foundations of Christianity” which you can download and review if you choose and I refer you there for a more detailed study of these matters.

Is it then any wonder that so many Christians are confused and suffering needlessly? If they are trying to live under the two covenants at the same time, and thus trying to live a life of freedom while under the bondage of the law, they have no chance of progressing in Christ. They will live as good a life as they can and will be accepted for what they have rather than what they do not have, but they will suffer needlessly under condemnation because it is only when the law is removed that the Holy Spirit can begin the work of transformation into the image of Jesus Christ.

And all of this occurs because the teachers and the churches (not all mind you) have not heeded the words of the Great Commission to teach the people, “…to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Verse 20) They are being taught things that were NOT commanded by Jesus. Thus we see the confusion in the church. If it were only the teachings of the Old Covenant that were clouding the minds of Christians it would be hard enough, but they also bring in many other teachings and lies that have no basis in scripture whatsoever. So it is important for all of us as individuals to seek out the truth for ourselves. In the final judgement we will all have to stand before God and give account and there will be no one to act as intercessory on our behalf. It is our responsibility to find the truth.

And at the end of this final section of Matthew 28 Jesus gives us a great promise. He says to all of his disciples, then and now, “I am with you always to the close of the age.” (Verse 20) Jesus has never left us. He is always here if we will seek him out. He said for us to seek and we would find him. This was not “maybe” you will find him, but a definite, “you WILL find me.” (Matthew 7:7) It is up to us to seek the Lord for he is there to be found when we search for him diligently. Jesus will come to us to teach, guide, strengthen, protect and comfort us. In due course as we listen to his commandments and follow his ways he will transform us into his image through the Holy Spirit and will give us eternal life if we will walk in his ways.

Jesus is with us now and forever until the close of the age. His return is drawing near, so we must also be diligent and prepare for his return. Give him praise and thanks for the opportunity to know and be known by him.

This now ends my commentary on the Gospel of Matthew and I shall move on to the Gospel of Mark in the next post.

Cleanse the Inside of the Cup First

(Matthew 23:25-26)

The Pharisees were very concerned about position. They wanted to look good to men. They wanted the praise of men rather than the praise of God. But Jesus taught that it is not what is on the outside that matters but what is on the inside. That is the essence of this teaching to cleanse the inside of the cup first so that the outside would be clean too.

When you think about a cup, if it has been used you will always wash it out before re-using it. And when you wash it your focus will be more on the inside of the cup than outside, for it is the inside that will hold your drink. You do not want your drink contaminated by grime so you will always focus a greater attention on cleaning the inside first. Even if the outside were unable to be properly cleaned, you could always use a spoon or a straw to eat or drink the contents, but the most important thing is that the inside is clean first.

In this analogy Jesus uses the cup as a representation of men, specifically the Pharisees. His beef with them is that they will go to great lengths to clean up the outside but spend little or no effort on the inside. Back in Matthew 23:5 he said, “They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.” They focussed on wearing the cloaks and clothes of their office as priests so that they would look “righteous.” They wanted people to look at them and say, “Look at him in those clothes. He must be a righteous man of God.” But contrary to a common saying, clothes do NOT maketh the man. Jesus did not go about in robes that made him stand out from the crowd. He did not were the clothes, cloaks and garments of the clergy. He just wore the same kind of clothes that the rest of the people wore.

In Jesus it does not matter what you wear or what you look like on the outside. The focus of the New Covenant is not about making us look good, it’s about training us how to be good. The New Covenant and the teachings of Jesus are aimed at transforming us into his image. They are meant to bring us to maturity in Christ in our spirit, not in the flesh. Jesus said, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63) If we are to have our spirit changed and if we are to receive life, then it is our inside that must be transformed. It is our spirit that must be cleansed.

The Pharisees were focussed on making a good show in the flesh. They were trying to look good on the outside. Paul also upbraided those who did such things saying, “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh.” (Galatians 6:12-13) There were some in the early church insisting on converts being circumcised according to the law. But Paul opposed them and repelled such actions for circumcision is not necessary under the New Covenant. As he said, they were doing this so they could glory in the flesh.

This is exactly what Jesus was saying too. They were trying to cleanse the outside without first cleansing the inside. It does not matter if a person is wearing the cloth of the clergy or is circumcised. These things do not make you any holier. It is only by focussing on the inside and being set free from sin that you can come to the Lord. It is only by accepting Jesus as Saviour and learning his teachings that we may be cleansed from sin and set free from law. Then our spirits will be changed and this will work from the inside out. We will be cleansed within which will cleanse the outside as well.

Parable of the Marriage Feast – The Great Invitation

(Matthew 22:1-10)

The parable of the marriage feast is interesting for several reasons. It was given to the chief priests and Pharisees and showed how they and those who acted similarly to them were unworthy of the kingdom of heaven. It also shows how the great invitation to all mankind was given so that every person may have the opportunity of coming to God and entering the kingdom of heaven.

First we see the king in the parable of the marriage feast send out servants to call in all of those who were invited. The ones who were invited in this sense were those who were supposed to be the followers of God. This included the chief priests and Pharisees and those who followed their teachings. They were the office bearers and those in control of God’s house and the teachers of the Old Covenant and so should have been in a position to know and understand his ways.

However we see from this parable and other teachings that these people had gone away from a pure devotion to God’s ways and turned aside into other things. They were holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Thus we see Jesus say of these people who were invited that they made light of the invitation, they refused to come to the marriage feast, they went off on other business and worst of all they beat, killed or treated shamefully the servants sent to call them to the marriage feast. These servants were the prophets, teachers and apostles of Jesus and God who were treated badly by the supposed people of God.

So they were all found to be unworthy. They made excuses why they could or would not attend the marriage feast, or they turned on the king by attacking his servants. Thus the king sent and destroyed those murderers and their city. God broke down the power base of the temple by bringing into effect the New Covenant through Jesus Christ. The New Covenant has now replaced the Old Covenant.

Now we see the great invitation go out to all of mankind. The king in the parable tells his servants not to go to those who were invited and found unworthy, but to go to the world, to the streets and thoroughfares and invite all of mankind. In Jesus Christ under the New Covenant we see the way is open for all mankind to come before God. There are now no intermediaries between man and God. There is no clergy and laity in God’s kingdom, no group who are to have authority over other and stand between man and God. All are equal in God’s sight and come to him through Jesus Christ only. Jesus is the only intermediary between man and God and the only one through whom we may be saved.

The servants of Jesus Christ have delivered the great invitation. The preachers, teachers, apostles and so on of the Lord are the servants going out to the thoroughfares and streets of the world to invite all mankind to the marriage feast. That is, they are all offered the opportunity to come to God through Jesus Christ and enter into his kingdom.

We have still yet to see the full effect of the great invitation. The time is soon, but has not yet fully arrived. Jesus says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) This is to occur just prior to the time of the end. When he says, “this gospel,” he is talking about the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Not the many things that is preached as truths but have no basis in Christianity or backup in the Bible. There are many things taught in the name of Christianity that are false and sometimes even opposed to the New Covenant. When the time comes I believe we will see the truth of the gospel preached. It will come attended with the signs and wonders as testimony to the truth of the words spoken.

There will also be pretended signs and wonders from Satan to lead astray the people. So it is important now to ground yourself in the knowledge of the truth. You must find out for yourself the truth of the New Covenant and to follow the ways of Jesus Christ. Thus when the truth is preached and the great invitation goes out, you will be ready to hear it and accept God’s invitation to the marriage feast.

I do not pretend for one moment to know all of the truth of the New Covenant or the ways of God. But as Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12) Likewise we must all press on to make it our own. We must listen to the words of God and learn from the Bible. Listen to the teachers and preachers and compare what they say with what the Bible says. Find the tests in the Bible by which you can compare these teachings and apply the tests to understand if what is said is truth or error. As an example, the New Covenant calls us to freedom in Christ Jesus. Thus any teaching that brings you into bondage is not of Christ. Always look to the Lord for guidance and leadership and you will find the truth and gain entry into the marriage feast and the kingdom of heaven when the great invitation is sent out.

Transfiguration of Jesus

(Matthew 17:1-8)

There is an important symbolism in this section of scripture about the transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain, witnessed by the three disciples, Peter, James and John, is an important revelation of the New Covenant. There is an explanation of the New Covenant versus the Old Covenant contained in this event.

We see during the transfiguration of Jesus that his appearance was transformed. His face shone like the sun and his garments became white as light. (Verse 2) We see also that Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and were talking to him. Needless to say the disciples were greatly astonished and did not know what to do. In his amazement, Peter offered to make three booths, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah.

Now this is an interesting insight into the mind of Peter and the disciples. All of their lives they would have been taught about Moses and the prophets. The deeds of Moses and the prophets were part of their history, and were almost the stuff of legend. Through their works they received release from bondage in Egypt as well as the law that the Israelites cherished deeply. Seeing Moses and Elijah would have been even more profound for a Jew than it would for the average person today because of their learning and heritage.

Part of the symbolism of this event is in what each person represents. Moses was the giver of the law and represents the Old Covenant. Elijah was probably the greatest of the old prophets, and he was the only one of the prophets who never died but was taken by God. Elijah represents the prophets of old. And finally Jesus represents the New Covenant and the new way that was being introduced.

In Peter’s offer to make three booths for Moses, Elijah and Jesus he treats them as equals. But the intervention of God the Father at the transfiguration of Jesus sets a different path. The Father’s words are crucial to understanding the transfiguration of Jesus for he gives a powerful message in a few words.

A bright cloud overshadowed Peter and the disciples as he was speaking and the voice of the Father came from the cloud. He said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Verse 5) There are three messages in this statement for the disciples and for us.

First, God the Father identifies who Jesus is. He is the Son of God. If ever there was any doubt that Jesus is the Son of God and the Christ or the Messiah, it is done away with by the testimony of the Father himself.

Second, we see that the Father is well pleased with what the Son is doing. It is a pleasure to the Father for the Son is obedient to the word of the Father and the work he has been given to do. In another version of the transfiguration of Jesus we see that Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus about his impending death and resurrection in Jerusalem. (Luke 9:28-36) It is this that the Father is well pleased about in this instance for it is by Jesus death and resurrection that the New Covenant would be established and sin dealt with.

Finally, we see the Father give instruction to the disciples directly. He tells them to, “Listen to him,” speaking of Jesus. He does not say to listen to all three of them, but to listen to Jesus only. This point is emphasised even more when we see the disciples fall to the ground in awe, but when they arose they see Jesus alone. Moses and Elijah were gone and they were left only in the presence of Jesus.

The allegory in this teaching is that with the advent of the New Covenant, the Old Covenant, which is the law and prophets, as represented here by Moses and Elijah, is done away with. The Old Covenant has been made obsolete and is superseded by the New Covenant. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13) This does not mean there is no value in the Old Covenant. There is great wisdom in the Old Covenant. But for Christians, we are to listen to Jesus, as instructed by the Father himself in this section on the transfiguration of Jesus.

To mix the two covenants is like mixing oil and water. The Old Covenant identifies sin and puts man under laws to attempt to control sin. But the New Covenant offers freedom from sin, freedom from law and the ability to transform the nature of man to be like the nature of God, so that we do not sin. We do not sin not because the law says not to, but because we are transformed into the nature of Jesus Christ and of God who cannot sin. The Old Covenant was incapable of doing this transformation for it dealt only with the flesh of man, not the spirit of man. It is only when we “listen to Him”, that is, when we take in the words of Christ that we can achieve the freedom on offer in the New Covenant. That is why the teaching of the transfiguration of Jesus is so important and fundamental to Christianity today.