Inheriting Eternal Life through Grace

Matthew 19:7-9

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

This is another example of how Jesus was instructing the Pharisees on law. They were trying to use the Law to get him to stumble in his words, but Jesus not only knew the Word, he was the Word. I love how they “tested him”, and Jesus’ response was “because of your hardness of heart…” He always takes it back to the heart.

I’ve heard people use this scripture and build entire marriage and divorce doctrines based o this scripture because it was the commands of Christ. But again, we have to look at who he is talking to and what covenant they are bound to. Jesus had not died and ushered in the age of grace at this point. So, he was instructing those who were under the Law about how to abide by the Law. The Law requires these things, so they were bound by the Law.

So, under grace, does that mean we can just get divorces with no consequences. On the contrary. There are painful consequences for getting a divorce, and if there are kids involved, there is the impact on them. How does divorce affect them?

Jesus pointed out that marriage was created to be experienced between one man and one woman. If that’s how God created marriage to be, then anyone can have hope to work things out. I believe that. I believe there is incredible grace and strength to work out issues and make marriage work.

But, if it doesn’t, there is no guilt, no condemnation. Jesus does not look at divorced people any less that non-divorced people. His immeasurable love reaches everyone.

Matthew 19:16-22

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

This is a great example of how Jesus instructed people (while he was alive and grace was not in effect yet) to follow the commands of the Law. The young rich man asked, “What good deed must I do…” He was asking what good deed would allow him to have eternal life. Under the law, all of the commands had to followed outwardly (“keep the commandments”). But, not only that, they had to be followed inwardly as well (“go sell what you possess”).

The key is what Jesus said after that. Almost as an after thought. “And come, follow me.” That’s the key. If this guy would come and follow Jesus, he would eventually find eternal life in Christ, not in the good deeds he had to do. As Jesus pointed out, doing the deeds outwardly and inwardly don’t give you eternal life. They make you “perfect”.

I also find it interesting that Jesus started the dialogue with a slight rebuke. “Why do you ask me about what is good. There is only one who is good.” Jesus didn’t even claim or receive the comment about “goodness”. Why didn’t Jesus say he was good? He immediately redirected all goodness claims to God. Is it possible that we cannot be good in the flesh? Is it possible that Jesus himself, even in bodily form, could not claim to be good? (Romans 3:12).

Matthew 19:23-26

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Often, we hear preachers talk about how it’s more difficult for rich people to get to heaven, and that it’s better to be poor. I don’t think that’s what he’s saying here.

With riches comes a strong hold on this world. The “kingdom of heaven” refers to what Jesus revealed to people, that the “kingdom of heaven” was here now. It was “at hand”. Jesus came to bring the kingdom of heaven alive today in this reality. So, I think he was saying that rich people will have more cares for this world and have a difficult time entering into and experiencing the reality of the kingdom of heaven today here on earth.

There is a notion of salvation, because his followers asked “Who can be saved?” Jesus gave a great answer foreshadowing the age of grace that was almost there. With man, it’s impossible. But with God, all things are possible. When Jesus later died and rose to life, then salvation became possible for rich people to enter into the Kingdom of God with ease and rest.

Matthew 19:29-30

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Jesus goes on to explain what this age of grace will require–that we forsake everything in this world. And when we do, we’ll receive both “a hundredfold” in this life and we’ll “inherit eternal life”. This is what Jesus came to do–not to give us more rules to follow, but he came to give us eternal life when we simply place him most important in our life. In Christ, we have eternal life. That’s grace!

The Harsh Penalties under Law

Matthew 18:7-9

Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

I have always struggled with this scripture. Here, Jesus commands those who sin to cut off their hand or foot, or tear out your eye. These is incredible. What does he mean by this? It is literal or an hyperbole? Or, something else?

One of the key revelations that have changed me is that fact that when Jesus was alive and teaching, grace was not in effect. The Law still held jurisdiction over the Jews. Jesus came to fulfill the law and usher in the age of grace.

A lot of what Jesus does in the gospels is lay down the foundation of what life under the Law is like. Under the Law, sin will send you to hell. It’s better to live life maimed rather than go to hell. Sin will destroy you both in this life and the life to come, if you die in your sins.

He is laying the foundation of what life is like under the requirements of the Law. He is preparing the hearts of people to receive the grace they so desperately need, and cannot earn themselves. And, he’s comparing it to a life headed to hell. Eternity separated from God is far worse than losing a limb or an eye.

Matthew 18:23-35

Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, “Pay what you owe.” So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

This is another scripture that on the surface looks like God’s forgiveness is conditional. But again, we have to read this in the light of who Jesus is speaking to. Under the Law, this “wicked servant” will have to pay the price for his unforgiveness. Torment awaits those who do not forgive because while Jesus was alive, God’s anger and wrath had not been satisfied in Christ yet.

And, I would even say that this is a message to those under grace that if you don’t forgive, you will be tormented emotionally and mentally until you “pay all” your debt. There is value in forgiveness towards others. It frees us up. Under the Law, God would judge unforgiveness harshly, but under grace, it’s a different story. All of his wrath and anger have been resolved through Christ’s death on the cross.

The Kingdom of God is At Hand

Matthew 17:1-2

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, 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 white as light.

This story of the mount of transfiguration is really amazing to me. Why I find it interesting is that most people fail to connect the previous verse with these two verses. The previous verse points out something interesting. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (v16:28).

Most people associate “coming in his Kingdom” as that day when he returns to Earth to rapture his church. But, this is a bit of an enigmatic response: “there are some standing here who will not taste death until…” Maybe Jesus wasn’t referring to his second coming. Maybe he was referring to the next couple of verses in Matthew 17: “And he was transfigured before them.”

I believe Jesus arrived at his Kingdom while still here on earth. Remember his words previously, “Repent of the Kingdom of God is at hand”. Those words “at hand” mean here now. The announcement of Jesus was the Kingdom has arrived. And those guys saw it.

Matthew 17:19-20

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Many people hear these words like, “If you can just work up enough faith, then prayers will be answered.” So, we fast, pray, tithe, do all the good things to work up our faith. But, that’s not what he was talking about here.

When you look up that word “faith”, it is simply the noun version of the word to believe. A more accurate word would be “belief”. Jesus was saying that what we believe, not what we do, has far more impact. Scripture later confirms that our belief needs to be in what Christ has done for us, and the fulfillment of the law resides in him, not in us. If we can believe that Christ has done it, then we will have what we ask.

Jesus is Coming Back with our Rewards

Matthew 16:15-17

[Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Peter answered correctly. When Jesus asked him, “Who do you say I am?” Peter correctly said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus knew that something different than just head knowledge gave Peter that revelation. “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” It was God the Father who gave Peter the revelation of who Christ really was.

I believe it’s the same with grace. Since grace comes through Christ, we need a revelation of grace and I believe that revelation can only come from the Father. We can study it and learn it, but why is that so many people miss this message of grace? So few people truly understand the finished work of Christ.

I think there’s a maturity that’s needed to walk out this life of grace. Someone immature trying to live true grace could be very dangerous. There would be no true understanding of consequences. The Law has very real consequences–life and death consequences. I wonder if God reveals the depth of his grace to those prepared to receive it. Maybe flesh and blood alone cannot reveal the true finished work of Christ. Maybe like Peter that day, it comes through a revelation given to us by the Father.

Matthew 16:27

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

Sorting through this scripture is one the reasons why I started this grace journey through the New Testament. I’ve read verses like this for years that when Jesus comes back, everyone will be “repaid” according to what he has done. Judgement day!

This can feel fearful. What about all those mistakes and sins I committed? When he “repay” me for those mess ups? That’s what is often taught from the pulpit. “Therefore, you better get right with God!” Sound familiar?

The first question is who is he speaking with? Believers or non-believers? It sure looks like he’s talking about “each person”. Will everyone will be repaid for what he has done? Will our actions be judged? Will our mistakes be reviewed by Christ?

I decided to look up the original Greek word that was translated repay here. Repay sounds negative, like a mafia boss coming to repay you. But, that’s not the word. In fact, the Greek word used here, apodidomi, is translated reward in the KJV of the Bible. This Greek word could be used as reward instead of repay. In Matthew 6:4, it’s translated reward. “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Is it possible that when Jesus comes back to earth, that he is bringing with him our reward for what we’ve done? Are there any works involved on our part?

Looking deeper into this phrase “according to his works”, it literally means according to the deeds we practice. The Greek word here is praxis, and it means the deeds and work that we practice habitually. The deeds of our lives are our praxis. We will be rewarded according to our praxis.

It looks like there is going to be a reward for the deeds we continually practice while here on earth.

Is there a reward for the things we do while in the body? Or is Christ alone our reward?

Good question.

Having Great Faith

Matthew 15:1-3

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”

I really like this dialogue and especially Jesus’ response. They said to him, “What do you break our traditions?” And Jesus answered them with a question, “Why do you break God’s commands with your traditions?” What a great response!

This really is the key message of Christ–stop relying on your traditions to make you right with God and get to know God’s true righteousness. It’s the message of grace!

In verse 8, he sums up this dialogue using a prophecy from Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

I think Jesus hated religion–those man-made traditions that people came to rely on for their relationship with God. Just pray this way, or give this amount, or do these things, and God will be pleased. It’s not the way to true righteousness. People can say and even do those things to appear holy, but it’s really all about the heart.

It’s not what you do–it’s what you believe.

Matthew 15:19-20

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.

What defiles a person? It’s not eating with unwashed hands. In other words, it’s not the things you do outwardly, but it’s the matters of the heart.

The message of grace is laid on the foundation that religion can’t save you. Before you can truly understand grace, you have to understand that the Law will not save you. Following rules was never God’s intention. God gave the Law, because the people wanted it, not because God wanted it. God’s desire is that we live feeding from the “tree of life”, not the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Grace says that he alone is our one and only source. Nothing else will satisfy. Nothing.

Do you feel better about yourself when you do good and avoid evil? You shouldn’t. It just means you’re feeding from the wrong tree. You should feel better about yourself because Christ gives you life! He is our righteousness! He is what makes us holy and right with God, and it has nothing to do with our actions, decisions, or abilities.

Apart from him, we can do nothing.

Mathew 15:21-28

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus was amazed at her faith. “Great is your faith!” he exclaimed. What is that she did to receive such acknowledgement? What is it that made her faith great?

I’ve heard some teachings saying it was her persistence, that Jesus was testing her perseverance. That’s why he first ignored her and then told her that healing was for the Jews only. But, she persevered. And, there may be some truth to that, but in that understanding, the weight of healing was on her, not on Christ. The perseverance she had was to persevere towards Christ, not towards healing.

But, I think the key really is in the first paragraph. She was a Canaanite woman. She was not a Jew. She did not follow the Law. She was a Gentile. She came to Jesus seeking healing not based on her own abilities, her own rule-keeping nor her own righteousness. She came to Christ simply believing that he held the power to bring healing to her daughter. She believed in him, not in her ability.

The only two times Jesus calls people’s faith “great” is to two non-Jews, people not under the requirements of the Law. It takes great faith to believe in Christ and Christ alone.

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