Sunday, February 26, 2017

We Too Can Hear the Voice From Heaven

This Sunday's lectionary will have many pewsitters listening to Matthew 17:1-9 and his account of The Transfiguration.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’
Last year we were treated to Luke's version and I took the opportunity to point out the times in the Gospels that God the Father speaks. Since I am on the road today, I would ask you for your prayers for safe travels (especially through Atlanta), and to please look again at last year's post which I copied below,

"Listen to Him"

The Gospel reading from Luke 9:28-36,(37-43a) contains the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, and in this we hear a voice from the clouds,
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
The voice of God coming from a cloud is also found in Mark and Matthew,
Mark 9:7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
Matthew 17:5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
The voice parallels what the voice heard at the time of Jesus' baptism (which is another event repeated in all of the synoptic Gospels),
Mark 1:11  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3:17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Luke 3:22  and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Gospel of John does not include these, but instead recalls a voice from heaven near the end of Jesus' life,
John 12:27-28 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
How many times do we pray to hear God's voice?

Why do we feel disappointed when we do not get an answer when the answer is staring us in the face?
"Listen to Him"
And how can we hear the voice from heaven?

By opening up those dusty Bibles and reading what God has to say!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Would Curry and Jennings Share the Same Bathroom? They Want Texans To

The Episcopal organization is led by The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President, House of Deputies. They just cannot keep their noses out of the loo. I knew they were close, but their opposition to separate-sex restrooms as stated in the letter quoted below sent to the Speaker of the House of the state of Texas has me wondering if Curry and Jennings would object to sharing the same bathroom themselves?


I apologize for planting that image in anyone's mind.

"January 30, 2017
The Honorable Joe Straus Speaker of the House
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, Texas 78768 
Dear Speaker Straus: 
Thank you for your stand against Senate Bill 6. As the presiding officers of the Episcopal Church, we are firmly opposed to this legislation and condemn its discriminatory intent."
It is now a form of malevolent discrimination to separate the sexes.
"We reject the notion that transgender people do not deserve equal civil rights and protection under the law."
Going to any potty of your choice is now a civil right.
"We affirm the dignity of all of God’s people, for we are all equally children of God, as the prophet Malachi declared when he wrote: “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Mal. 2:10)"
There goes the Episcopal 1979 Baptismal Covenant argument again, and here I go again repeating what I have said before: "The meaning of 'dignity' has become so perverted that today when any of our selfish desires is denied, it amounts to an attack on our dignity. If a man says he is a woman and you say 'No, you are a man', you guilty of not respecting his dignity."
"As you are no doubt aware, this is not the first time that the segregation of bathrooms and public facilities has been used to stigmatize minority groups. 'Bathroom bills,' as they are sometimes called, were passed during the Jim Crow era, and the bogus rationale advanced then is the same bogus rationale being advanced now: the safety of women and children who are no way under threat."
 There is no comparison between racial segregation and separation of the sexes, but that won't stop the strawman from being built.
"The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has stood against fear and in support of God’s love by passing a resolution that reaffirms the church’s support of local, state and federal laws that prevent discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression."
In case you missed it, an accusation of fear mongering is hidden in that statement and is a common tactic used by the radical left to paint conservatives as mean-spirited and hateful creatures.
"The resolution also states our opposition to any legislation that seeks to deny the dignity, equality, and civil rights of transgender people."
The same argument they used earlier except with the addition of "equality". How is the law to treat someone who one day can ask for equal treatment as a male and on the next day can demand equal treatment as a female? Prisons are facing that problem with men asking to be transferred to the women's prison because of a change in their gender identity.
"The need for voices of conscience is urgent at this moment, because laws like the one proposed in Texas target some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In a 2011 survey, 78 percent of transgender people said that they had been bullied or harassed in childhood;"
 "Cis-gendered" children and teens also report being bullied. I have seen numbers as high as 83 percent of girls, and 79 percent of boys reporting being bullied either in school or online. I think it all depends on what considers being bullied. These days, in our hypersensitive age, creating a "microaggression" is considered an act of bullying.
"41 percent said they had attempted suicide; 35 percent had been assaulted and 12 percent had suffered a sexual assault. Almost half of transgender people who responded to the survey said they had suffered job discrimination, and almost a fifth had lost housing or been denied health care due to their gender identity or expression."
 Curry and Jennings are implying that people who support separate restrooms for men and women  might be guilty of causing the untimely deaths of transgender people.
"For us, as Episcopalians, the proposed Texas law is of particular concern. We are currently scheduled to hold our triennial General Convention—a nine-day event that includes as many as 10,000 people—in Austin in July 2018. Our church is proudly diverse: racially, economically, and in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity. At our conventions, we are duty-bound to ensure that all of our people are treated with respect, that their safety is guaranteed, and that our investment in the local economy of our host city reflects our values.
In 1955 we were forced to move a General Convention from Houston to another state because Texas laws prohibited black and white Episcopalians from being treated equally. We would not stand then for Episcopalians to be discriminated against, and we cannot countenance it now. We would be deeply grieved if Senate Bill 6 presented us with the same difficult choice that church leaders faced more than sixty years ago."
It would be no loss to the state of Texas if the Episcopal General Convention cancels its plans. In fact, it might be better for the spiritual health of all Texans if that triennial affront to the Gospel is sent to another state.
"We urge you to remain steadfast in your opposition to Senate Bill 6 and any similar bill that might be introduced in the Texas House, and we thank you for your commitment to keeping Texas a welcoming state for all of God’s children."
 Texas welcomes all but kindly asks them to use the facilities that correspond to their biological parts.
"Faithfully,
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President, House of Deputies"
I am sure they have faith in something, but it is not shared by the vast majority of faithful Anglicans.

All this leaves me wondering if Curry and Jennings have enough faith to share the bathroom with each other?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

I resist the evil ones, I don't give to beggars, can't love some enemies, am terribly shy, and cannot be perfect


This Sunday's reading from Matthew 5:38-48 concludes a four week walk through Matthew 5. Once again, Jesus challenges us to the point where we should realize that try as we might, we are going to need help if we are to see the Kingdom of God.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.
I resisted an evil one in a blog post. Strike one.
But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. 
I passed a beggar the other day, Strike two.
 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
Does not hating your enemies count? Strike three.
 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Hey, I went up to a stranger and greeted them yesterday, but he was a brother in Christ so I guess that is strike four.
  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (ESV) 
I guess that counts me out. I don't even belong in the same ballpark with Jesus.

Still, as imperfect a bench warmer as I am, I trust that he will deliver me.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Norwegians chasing Swedes thjrough the wjeeds in rush to create a gender neutral pronoun

When I was a child, my grandmother taught me a little song causing me to be forever believing the myth of Norwegian superiority. It went like this, 
"Ten thousand Swedes ran through the weeds,
chased by one Norwegian.
Ten thousand more ran to the shore
in the battle of Copenhagen."
Alas, the myth has been busted with the recent news that Norway is considering adding a third gender to government documents, and not only that, they are following Sweden's example! My grandmother would be shocked to learn of the "Swedenization" of her ancestral home.

The article, "Could Norway follow Sweden’s lead and introduce a third gender?", appeared at The Local, Norway's news in English on 6 February 2017,   
Could Norway follow Sweden’s lead and introduce a third gender? 
The leader of Labour's youth wing said that Norwegians should be able to identify themselves whoever they want in their passports and other official documents.Norway’s Labour Party, the largest party in parliament, will consider backing the introduction of a third gender, broadcaster NRK reported.Labour’s programme committee will debate the introduction of the third gender category so that Norwegians would no longer need to define themselves as male or female in their passports and other official documents.
A third gender? That seems so unfair to all the other possible gender identities out there. Facebook has identified 58 gender options (see list here).

Norway may ignore all those alternative identities and follow Sweden's example by coming up with one "generic" category.
Although the proposal is only under the early stages of consideration, Labour committee member Mani Hussaini suggested that Norway should follow the lead of neighbouring Sweden, which adopted the gender neutral pronoun ‘hen’ into official use in April 2015. 
"Hen" would not work in English speaking countries for obvious reasons. Immigration officials might have a bit of a problem as well figuring out how to classify a new arrival, and maybe that is why Norway is doing this. Perhaps Norwegian customs agents are seeing a few "hens" come across the border and the agents are being put in the awkward position of asking if they are a "han" or a "hun",
Hussaini, who is the leader of Labour's youth wing AUF, said ‘hen’ could also be used in Norwegian as a gender-neutral alternative to ‘han’ (he) and ‘hun’.
 Around here, "Hon" (short for Honey) is used in a gender neutral context.

The most revealing quote is the following,
“I believe that all people should be allowing to live out their identity and thus the law should adapt to reality rather than the other way around,” Hussaini said. 
"The law should adapt to reality" is exactly the same reasoning used by the Episcopal organization's progressive leaders to change its doctrines on divorce, remarriage, and same-sex marriage. This will also be the reasoning for gender neutral language in new liturgies that are to be put forward as prayer book revision moves forward.

We can blame it all on those cowardly Swedes who made it official two years ago.
The Swedish Academy agreed to include ‘hen’ in its official dictionary, Svenska Akademiens ordlista, in 2015.
Red Stangland who placed Minnesota Norwegian humor on the map may have to re-write his version of "The Battle of Copenahgen" which went like this,

Ten thousand Swedes ran through the weeds,
chased by one Norwegian.
Ten thousand more ran to the shore
in the battle of Copenhagen.

Way, way back in history,
back when the world was new,
norwegian searched all over,
to find some snoose to chew.

They fished for Lutefisk and Torsk,
it helped to make them strong,
and you and me, we know a Norsk,
cannot do nothing wrong.

But swedes and danes were envious
of Viking trips and raids.
The Viking shields and helmet horns,
made all those folks affraid.

Throughout the world the Vikings sailed,
to Ireland and to France.
The even found America,
one afternoon by chance.

My grandpa says, and he should know,
the swedes made up the minds.
To beat the Norsky Vikings,
and kick a few behinds.

But history, so grandpa says,
show that the Norskies won.
They clobbered all the swedes and danes,
and made it lots of fun.

Ten thousand swedes ran through the weeds,
chased by one norwegian.

The dust from the weeds,
made snoose for the swedes,
and they called it Copenhagen,

E. C. Stangland

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Tough Lessons

This Sunday most churchgoers will hear more of the fifth chapter in Matthew. Two weeks ago they heard the Beatitudes and last week listened to Jesus stress the importance of keeping the Old Testament laws. The teachings that immediately follow Jesus' discourse on the O.T. law and the need to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees point out how everyone is guilty of sin and all fall short of the goal of exceeding the "righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees" by giving added meaning to the laws concerning 1) murder, making anger with or between one of the brethren equally bad, 2) adultery, by making ogling a good looking woman equivalent to adultery and making divorce (except if for unfaithfulness) the equivalent of adultery, and 3) not to take an oath by anything since a simple "Yes" or "No" from one of Jesus' followers should not need additional proof of truthfulness. 

I consider these verses some of the most damning of Jesus' teachings. Every preacher giving a sermon today knows they are also guilty of the sins Jesus lists and should be feeling the weight of those sins as they mount the pulpit.

Matthew 5:21-37
‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,* and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court* with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
‘It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

If all of us are sinners by Jesus' definition, how then are we to enter the kingdom of God? The good news is that we have Jesus, our advocate, someone who will stand beside us on the day of judgement and place his hand on our shoulder and say, "This one is with me."

Thank you Jesus for caring for a sinner like me.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Pastors: Satan’s greatest ambassadors?

Tim Challies is a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, and blogs at Challies.com. Challies posted a piece on spotting false teachers, listing them as follows,
  • The Heretic 
  • The Charlatan 
  • The Prophet 
  • The Abuser 
  • The Divider 
  • The Tickler 
  • The Speculator
Who is most likely to be a false teacher? Probably someone who is loved and respected, a likable, believable person who most people would trust.

That would be a good description of many of those who wind up working as priests and ministers.

Challies nails his fellow pastors,
Satan’s greatest ambassadors are not pimps, politicians, or power-brokers, but pastors. His priests do not peddle a different religion, but a deadly perversion of the true one. His troops do not make a full-out frontal assault, but work as agents, sneaking into the opposing army. Satan’s tactics are studied, clever, predictable, effective. Therefore, we must always remain vigilant. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16a).
As Matthew Henry  (1662-1714) wrote centuries ago, and as I quoted this past Sunday,
He gives it in charge to his disciples, carefully to preserve the law, and shows them the danger of the neglect and contempt of it...  
It is a dangerous thing, in doctrine or practice, to disannul the least of God’s commands... 
It is impudence enough to break the command, but is a greater degree of it to teach men so...   
Opinions that tend to the destruction of serious godliness and the vitals of religion, by corrupt glosses on the scripture, are bad when they are held, but worse when they are propagated and taught, as the word of God...  
Nothing makes ministers more contemptible and base than corrupting the law, Mal. 2:8, 11. Those who extenuate and encourage sin, and discountenance and put contempt upon strictness in religion and serious devotion, are the dregs of the church. 
 False teachers were as much of a problem in Matthew Henry's time as they are for us today. Perhaps they, like the poor, will always be with us.

The challenge is not in identifying the false teacher but in changing the hearts and minds of their followers.

Now that will take a real ambassador.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

"The care of God concerning his law extends itself even to those things that seem to be of least account in it, the iotas and the tittles"

This Sunday many mainline churches continue marching through the fifth chapter of Matthew with verses 13-20 which follow the Beatitudes (see last week's post). 
In today's section, Jesus continues teaching his disciples, and he gives us the memorable "salt of the earth" quote as well as  command to "let your light shine".

"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot."
"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter (letter = jot/iota and one stroke of a letter = tittle), will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
It is the last section that gives revisionist rectors fits because it drags the Old Testament laws into discussion, laws that revisionists have to build up strawmen in order to tear down, scattering the importance of the O.T. laws to the wind.

I would like you to take some extra time and read what Matthew Henry (1662-1714) has to say in his Commentaries about verses 17–20 (highlights mine).

Those to whom Christ preached, and for whose use he gave these instructions to his disciples, were such as in their religion had an eye, 1. To the scriptures of the Old Testament as their rule, and therein Christ here shows them they were in the right: 2. To the scribes and the Pharisees as their example, and therein Christ here shows them they were in the wrong; for,
I. The rule which Christ came to establish exactly agreed with the scriptures of the Old Testament, here called the law and the prophets. The prophets were commentators upon the law, and both together made up that rule of faith and practice which Christ found upon the throne in the Jewish church, and here he keeps it on the throne.
1. He protests against the thought of cancelling and weakening the Old Testament; Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets. (1.) “Let not the pious Jews, who have an affection for the law and the prophets, fear that I come to destroy them.” Let them be not prejudiced against Christ and his doctrine, from a jealousy that this kingdom he came to set up, would derogate from the honour of the scriptures, which they had embraced as coming from God, and of which they had experienced the power and purity; no, let them be satisfied that Christ has no ill design upon the law and the prophets. “Let not the profane Jews, who have a disaffection to the law and the prophets, and are weary of that yoke, hope that I am come to destroy them.” Let not carnal libertines imagine that the Messiah is come to discharge them from the obligation of divine precepts and yet to secure to them divine promises, to make the happy and yet to give them leave to live as they list. Christ commands nothing now which was forbidden either by the law of nature or the moral law, nor forbids any thing which those laws had enjoined; it is a great mistake to think he does, and he here takes care to rectify the mistake; I am not come to destroy. The Saviour of souls is the destroyer of nothing but the works of the devil, of nothing that comes from God, much less of those excellent dictates which we have from Moses and the prophets. No, he came to fulfil them. That is, [1.] To obey the commands of the law, for he was made under the law, Gal. 4:4. He in all respects yielded obedience to the law, honoured his parents, sanctified the sabbath, prayed, gave alms, and did that which never any one else did, obeyed perfectly, and never broke the law in any thing. [2.] To make good the promises of the law, and the predictions of the prophets, which did all bear witness to him. The covenant of grace is, for substance, the same now that it was then, and Christ the Mediator of it. [3.] To answer the types of the law; thus (as bishop Tillotson expresses it), he did not make void, but make good, the ceremonial law, and manifested himself to be the Substance of all those shadows. [4.] To fill up the defects of it, and so to complete and perfect it. Thus the word plerosai properly signifies. If we consider the law as a vessel that had some water in it before, he did not come to pour out the water, but to fill the vessel up to the brim; or, as a picture that is first rough-drawn, displays some outlines only of the piece intended, which are afterwards filled up; so Christ made an improvement of the law and the prophets by his additions and explications. [5.] To carry on the same design; the Christian institutes are so far from thwarting and contradicting that which was the main design of the Jewish religion, that they promote it to the highest degree. The gospel is the time of reformation (Heb. 9:10), not the repeal of the law, but the amendment of it, and, consequently, its establishment.
2. He asserts the perpetuity of it; that not only he designed not the abrogation of it, but that it never should be abrogated (Matt. 5:18); “Verily I say unto you, I, the Amen, the faithful Witness, solemnly declare it, that till heaven and earth pass, when time shall be no more, and the unchangeable state of recompences shall supersede all laws, one jot, or one tittle, the least and most minute circumstance, shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled;” for what is it that God is doing in all the operations both of providence and grace, but fulfilling the scripture? Heaven and earth shall come together, and all the fulness thereof be wrapped up in ruin and confusion, rather than any word of God shall fall to the ground, or be in vain. The word of the Lord endures for ever, both that of the law, and that of the gospel. Observe, The care of God concerning his law extends itself even to those things that seem to be of least account in it, the iotas and the tittles; for whatever belongs to God, and bears his stamp, be it ever so little, shall be preserved. The laws of men are conscious to themselves of so much imperfection, that they allow it for a maxim, Apices juris non sunt jura—The extreme points of the law are not the law, but God will stand by and maintain every iota and every tittle of his law. 
3. He gives it in charge to his disciples, carefully to preserve the law, and shows them the danger of the neglect and contempt of it (Matt. 5:19); Whosoever therefore shall break one of the least commandments of the law of Moses, much more any of the greater, as the Pharisees did, who neglected the weightier matters of the law, and shall teach men so as they did, who made void the commandment of God with their traditions (Matt. 15:3), he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. Though the Pharisees be cried up for such teachers as should be, they shall not be employed as teachers in Christ’s kingdom; but whosoever shall do and teach them, as Christ’s disciples would, and thereby prove themselves better friends to the Old Testament than the Pharisees were, they, though despised by men, shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Note, (1.) Among the commands of God there are some less than others; none absolutely little, but comparatively so. The Jews reckon the least of the commandments of the law to be that of the bird’s nest (Deut. 22:6, 7); yet even that had a significance and an intention very great and considerable. (2.) It is a dangerous thing, in doctrine or practice, to disannul the least of God’s commands; to break them, that is, to go about either to contract the extent, or weaken the obligation of them; whoever does so, will find it is at his peril. Thus to vacate any of the ten commandments, is too bold a stroke for the jealous God to pass by. It is something more than transgressing the law, it is making void the law, Ps. 119:126. (3.) That the further such corruptions as they spread, the worse they are. It is impudence enough to break the command, but is a greater degree of it to teach men so. This plainly refers to those who at this time sat in Moses’ seat, and by their comments corrupted and perverted the text. Opinions that tend to the destruction of serious godliness and the vitals of religion, by corrupt glosses on the scripture, are bad when they are held, but worse when they are propagated and taught, as the word of God. He that does so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven, in the kingdom of glory; he shall never come thither, but be eternally excluded; or, rather, in the kingdom of the gospel-church. He is so far from deserving the dignity of a teacher in it, that he shall not so much as be accounted a member of it. The prophet that teaches these lies shall be the tail in that kingdom (Isa. 9:15); when truth shall appear in its own evidence, such corrupt teachers, though cried up as the Pharisees, shall be of no account with the wise and good. Nothing makes ministers more contemptible and base than corrupting the law, Mal. 2:8, 11. Those who extenuate and encourage sin, and discountenance and put contempt upon strictness in religion and serious devotion, are the dregs of the church. But, on the other hand, Those are truly honourable, and of great account in the church of Christ, who lay out themselves by their life and doctrine to promote the purity and strictness of practical religion; who both do and teach that which is good; for those who do not as they teach, pull down with one hand what they build up with the other, and give themselves the lie, and tempt men to think that all religion is a delusion; but those who speak from experience, who live up to what they preach, are truly great; they honour God, and God will honour them (1 Sam. 2:30), and hereafter they shall shine as the stars in the kingdom of our Father.
II. The righteousness which Christ came to establish by this rule, must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, Matt. 5:20. This was strange doctrine to those who looked upon the scribes and Pharisees as having arrived at the highest pitch of religion. The scribes were the most noted teachers of the law, and the Pharisees the most celebrated professors of it, and they both sat in Moses’ chair (Matt. 23:2), and had such a reputation among the people, that they were looked upon as super-conformable to the law, and people did not think themselves obliged to be as good as they; it was therefore a great surprise to them, to hear that they must be better than they, or they should not go to heaven; and therefore Christ here avers it with solemnity; I say unto you, It is so. The scribes and Pharisees were enemies to Christ and his doctrine, and were great oppressors; and yet it must be owned, that there was something commendable in them. They were much in fasting and prayer, and giving of alms; they were punctual in observing the ceremonial appointments, and made it their business to teach others; they had such an interest in the people that they ought, if but two men went to heaven, one would be a Pharisee; and yet our Lord Jesus here tells his disciples, that the religion he came to establish, did not only exclude the badness, but excel the goodness, of the scribes and Pharisees. We must do more than they, and better than they, or we shall come short of heaven. They were partial in the law, and laid most stress upon the ritual part of it; but we must be universal, and not think it enough to give the priest his tithe, but must give God our hearts. They minded only the outside, but we must make conscience of inside godliness. They aimed at the praise and applause of men, but we must aim at acceptance with God: they were proud of what they did in religion, and trusted to it as a righteousness; but we, when we have done all, must deny ourselves, and say, We are unprofitable servants, and trust only to the righteousness of Christ; and thus we may go beyond the scribes and Pharisees.
Woe to those who minimize the importance of the law.