Ephesians 3:17-19, John 3:16

For the Love of God!

My mother would speak about “The Love of God” a lot. She’d say, “for the Love of God, be nice to your sister!” Or she’d say, “for the Love of God, stop picking on your little brother.” More than once I heard her say, “for the Love of God, please do your homework.” Yep, my mother thought that the love of God should have been a motivating force in my life for good. But honestly it didn’t really motivate me at all. I never was very nice to my sister. I never stopped picking on my little brother and seldom did I do my homework.

I always thought that the saying “For the Love of God” was addressing my love for God.  My mom’s exhortation was that I should be a better person because I loved God. The truth is, however, my love for God was never sufficient enough to cause behavior change.  My fear for God worked a lot better. If I didn’t love God, I sure did fear Him. The fear of punishment was a much better motivator in my growing up years. When we’re children the Law is the guardian of our behavior. We need all the do’s and don’ts to keep us in line and the fear of the switch (in my case) or the corner or some punishment had a greater impact on my choices than love ever did.  But we’ve all got to grow up someday.

I finally did and now I believe the true motivation for good living is not my fear of God or my love for God. It is God’s love for me. Once we fully comprehend God’s love for us our lives do change. This was Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. He prayed that, “Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” I’ve become convinced that true life change is the product of understanding how deeply God loves us. He so “loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son so that anyone who believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” 


Matthew 11:28-29

The “Yoke’s” on you!

In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus invites us all who are weary and overburdened to come to Him so He can give us rest for our souls. In Jesus’ call to us who are overburdened, He speaks of taking His yoke upon us. Now we all know that a yoke in that agricultural society was a wooden press that bound two animals together who would then contribute equally to the pulling of the plow by putting their strength together. Some yokes were extremely heavy according to some commentators and some were lighter but all involved some kind of a burden. But the yoke that Jesus was referring to was the heavy burden that the religious leaders had placed around the necks of the people binding them to a law that was unbearable. That yoke, the Yoke of the Law, only drove us to the recognition of our true sinfulness. Jeremiah made this clear when he used the idea of a yoke in his lament. In Lamentations 1:14 we read “…My transgressions were bound into a yoke…they were set upon my neck.”

Many commentators suggest that Jesus’ yoke is still a yoke and still represents something we must bear up under but it’s slightly lighter or radically lighter than the yoke of the law. This is not possible! If Jesus is exchanging one yoke, the yoke of the law which condemns us of our sin, for His law, how can we fail to recognize that His yoke is much more severe than the yoke of the law that the religious leaders were strapping to the backs of the people. In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus says (my paraphrase) the law teaches that you must not kill, but I teach you that if you have hatred for someone you’ve already committed murder. He then added that the law teaches that you should not commit adultery but I teach you that if you harbor lust in your heart when looking at a woman you are already guilty of adultery. No, Jesus’ law was much more severe than the law of the Pharisees in my opinion.

Jesus’ yoke is not a yoke with a lighter burden. It’s a yoke with no burden at all. It’s a yoke with someone who has already plowed the ground. It’s to yoke with someone when the work is all over. We are called to yoke ourselves with Jesus after the work has already been done. One commentator rightly concluded, “What makes Jesus’ yoke easy and his burden light is that in Jesus’ own active obedience (i.e., his perfect fulfillment of the Law of God), He carried the burden that we were meant to carry. His perfect obedience is applied (imputed) to us through faith, just as His righteousness was exchanged for our sin at the cross.” I don’t know about you, but that’s the only thing that really gives me rest for my soul.

Matthew 11:27, Matthew 23:4

The Minimum Requirements

In 1962 I joined the Sloan Boxing Club that had a gym above a bar on 13th Street somewhere between Capital and Harney. I can’t remember exactly! I worked out there most nights and once in a while on Saturdays. I was 15 at the time turning 16 on January 15th of 1963. The City Golden Gloves Tournament was held on January 25-26. I just made the age cut off by 10 days. There were two requirements we had to meet. We had to be 16 years of age and we had to weigh at or below our weight class. I was a flyweight the lightest of all the classes which was the class of everything up to 112 pounds. I weighed in at 110 ¾ pounds. That was my sophomore year of High School. Now you know why I didn’t do well in football. I met the requirements! Interestingly enough I was the only 16 year old that weighed less than 112 pounds that year. I think I might be the only one, or one of a very few, that hold a Golden Glove Championship title without every throwing a punch or receiving a punch!

In Matthew 11:27 Jesus calls people to come to Him who have met two requirements. They must be “weary and heavy laden” (or overburdened). We don’t often think of those as requirements to Jesus’ call but it seems to me that Jesus didn’t come to heal the healthy. They don’t need Him. He came to heal the sick. Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous. The righteous don’t need Him. He came for sinners.  In the Greek Text the word for “burdened” is a passive voice verb. That means it was something that had happened to you or that someone else had done to you. Jesus used the same word when addressing the religious leaders. In Matthew 23:4 Jesus described the religious leaders: “…they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not lift a finger to help them.”

I’m so glad that I meet those two requirements also. The burden of religious demands and expectations on me are impossible to bear. I am so tired of trying to live up to standards to which I’ll never be able to measure up. It doesn’t matter how hard I work at it. I always fail. It doesn’t matter how talented I am, I always fail. I’m overburdened and I’m weary. So I come to Jesus! He cleanses me of all my sin and applies to my account His very own righteousness! It’s not a righteousness that I must work for or demonstrate in myself. It’s a perfect righteousness transferred to my account without even having to throw a punch!

Matthew 11:28, Galatians 1:1

A Better Man

In 1505, a 21 year old law student at the University of Erfurt Germany, oppressed and afflicted with guilt over his sin, dropped out of school and joined the local Augustinian Monastery known as “The Black Cloister” for the color of the monks’ habits. His father was furious over what he considered a waste of his son’s education. Desperate to find relief from the weight of his guilt, the young man once spent six hours in the confessional with the vicar of the monastery Johann Von Staupitz. Rumor had it that the comprehensive breadth of his confessions rivaled that of Saint Augustine himself after whom the monastery was named. Staupitz would later say of this young man, Martin Luther, that he would confess for hours on end without confessing “anything interesting.”

In his commentary on Galatians, Luther reflects on his time at the monastery, “When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil emotion, carnal lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience in many ways, but it did not work, because lust would always come back and give me no rest. I told myself: You have permitted this and that sin, envy, impatience, and the like. Your joining this holy order has been in vain, and all your good works are good for nothing.” Luther then recalls something his former mentor Doctor Staupitz used to say: “I have promised God a thousand times that I would become a better man, but I never kept my promise. From now on I am not going to make any more vows. Experience has taught me that I cannot keep them. Unless God is merciful to me for Christ’s sake and grants unto me a blessed departure, I shall not be able to stand before Him.”

Luther learned through experience that God is not at all impressed with our many vows, promises, or commitments. Our guilty consciences can never find peace or rest in these things. Luther concludes “The Christian feels the unholy condition of his heart, and it makes him feel so low that he cannot trust in his good works. He therefore goes to Christ to find perfect righteousness.” There is a better man but it’s not the man that I promise to become. It’s Jesus Christ. And the only way to find peace and rest from my guilty conscience is to go to Him.

1 Timothy 6:21, John 14:9, Matthew 11:27

The Most Important Thing!

Paul closes his first letter to Timothy by charging Timothy to hold firm to the proclamation of Jesus being the ultimate revelation of God Himself.  There were many who rejected this assertion about Jesus and hung on to the old laws and rituals and insisted they were essential to true faith. But Paul tells Timothy that some of these legalists “have swerved from the faith.” Ken Taylor in his Living Bible Paraphrase translates 1 Timothy 6:21 with these words, “Some of these people have missed the most important thing in life—they don’t know God.” There is a lot of liberty taken with that translation but I think he captures the main idea.

To really get to know God and to understand His character and nature along with His disposition toward you, you must get a close look at Jesus who is the physical manifestation of God to man. Philip once asked Jesus to show him God. Jesus’ reply as recorded in John 14:9 is, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  Like Philip, many people have gone to church for a long time and claim to know Jesus but confuse the truth of the simple gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone. They add ritual, rules, regulations, laws and other peripheral ideas that undermine the simple way of faith. So Paul instructs Timothy at the close of His letter to him with these words; “Timothy, keep safe what has been entrusted to your care. Avoid the profane talk and foolish arguments of what some people wrongly call ‘Knowledge’. For some have claimed to possess it, and as a result they have lost the way of faith.” Then he adds as a benediction, “God’s grace be with you all.”

Mankind hungers for the truth about God. We need some foundation to build our lives on and truly, without God we do miss the most important thing in life.  But Jesus came to satisfy that hunger and to bring us knowledge of God the father that comforts us, heals our lost souls, and revives our hope for an eternal future. Jesus promises to reveal God the Father to us if we come to Him. In Matthew 11:27, Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” The truth about Jesus that helps us understand God was explained in Romans 5:8. It says, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this; while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Believe it! God loves you so much He sent His son to pay for your sins in order to save your soul and mine. Anything that confuses this fact is a road that will take us away from  the way of faith.

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