(1) Believers should realise and live out the new implications in their lives as His people
We have looked closely at the subject of “Atonement”. Christ died effectually for those who may be said to have died with Him in His death. But what follows – those who have died in and with Christ to the old Adamic order must realise the implications – we should no longer live for ourselves but live for Christ (2 Cor. 5:15).
Christ’s death, while unique in its atoning character, is also paradigmatic for the shape of the Christian life of every future disciple (1 Peter 2:21). Christians must appreciate deeply the implications in their lives; the objective exchange which happened at the cross should result in an ongoing exchange it effects in believers. In other words, the outworking of the lives of believers should reflect that they are indeed a new creation, and that they have entered into a new order and reality. In the death of Christ as second man, and last Adam (1Cor.15:45,47), our connection with the old order of humanity in Adam has been dissolved; in His resurrection, the new order of humanity has emerged in Christ. To be in Christ means the exchanging of the old for the new. In regeneration/conversion the old person was stripped off, the new person embraced (Col. 3:9-10; Eph. 4:22-24). We are no longer ‘in’ Adam, but we are ‘in’ Christ (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). This radical exchange of the old for the new then works itself out in a variety of ways which reflects the ‘new person in Christ’ and his identity and character in the Lord Jesus.
If we see this clearly and we notice these outworkings definitely in our lives as believers, then we need not doubt that we belong to Christ and that He lives in us – there will be no more nagging doubts about our assurance of salvation – we can be certain that we have been adopted into God’s family as His children.
But what is tragic is that many so-called believers and apparent people of God are not reflecting the outworking that identifies them as the children of God and as His people. Even in the days of Jesus on earth, the people of God in Israel have strayed away from what was expected of them. The remarks made by Jesus to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, which are tantamount to rebukes and warnings, do not just apply to teachers of the people, but to all who are His servants, in various roles and offices. It is very helpful for us to look at them in Matthew 23 and highlight the concerns of the Lord Jesus. This we should do in the next sharing.
2) A rebuke against hypocrisy and lack of reality
Although the rebuke and warning are against the Pharisees and teachers of the law, the areas of concern apply to all believers, as all are called to serve, and to be servants of the Lord (just as Jesus came to serve and not to be served).
“So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach” (Matt. 23:3 TNIV).
The first area of concern is not ‘practising’ what we ‘preach’; we are not living according to what we claim to believe. This could be because there is no reality and true conviction in the first place; but it could also be due to failure to work out our conviction practically (recall Apostle Peter in Galatians when he withdrew from the Gentiles with the arrival of the Judaizers). Whatever it may be, this is a real cause for concern – it can stumble many individuals and it may be tantamount to outright hypocrisy. The radical exchange at the cross should have its continual effects in the ongoing exchange in the lives of believers. Otherwise, it would mean not living according to our convictions or the fact is that there is no radical exchange at all (hence the call to evaluate whether we are truly regenerated/converted).
“Everything they do is done for people to see..” (vs 5a)
“; they love the place of honour …they love to be greeted with respect..(vv 6-7).
“The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (vs 11).
Here the area of concern has to do with pride, the desire to be respected by manifesting outward behaviour which is not in line with inner reality. Paul had indicated in Galatians that if he desires to please man, then he would not be a servant of God. The danger is to outwardly claim that we are serving God but in reality, we are putting ourselves on the pedestal for various ones to admire and respect. Pride, self-exaltation, seeking our own selfish ambitions, even in the area of spiritual service – these would lead to our undoing. The one hallmark of a true servant of God is humility and taking the lower place and position while pursuing God’s honour and glory at the same time. It is very possible to build our own portfolio and ‘kingdom’ under the pretext of serving God and His kingdom.
In case we think that the Pharisees were not interested in ‘evangelism’ read the following:
“..You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and then you make the convert twice as much a child of hell as you are” (vs 15b).
Evangelising and discipling may seem noble and commendable, but if we ‘reproduce’ not true converts, we are not doing any good for the kingdom of God. In fact, if we reproduce pride, legalism and prejudice in the life of the convert, we are actually undermining the kingdom of God. We may be familiar with various ones going around correcting others and putting others down with regard to proper behaviour as believers; yet, in their own lives, they ‘harbour’ pride, envy, jealousy and various other negative attitudes.
The harsh rebuke that follows: “..but you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness,…” (vs 23b).
“In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (vs28).
The rebukes and warnings of the Lord Jesus – are they not true (in different degrees) in the lives of many so-called believers in the church, para-church, mission societies, and charitable Christian organisations? If a radical exchange has taken place in the lives of these individuals at the cross, should not this be seen in its effects in the ongoing exchange in their lives? Notice that the Lord Jesus was specifically targeting the religious leaders among His people in Israel; this is a stark reminder for all those who serve as leaders today and also for all of us who serve in various capacities in the Christian community. It is the leaders and teachers who would face a greater judgement – let us prayerfully and honestly evaluate our lives and ministries in the presence of our God and Lord. Let us not be indifferent and excuse ourselves very quickly; we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ.
(3) Jesus’ warnings and exhortations from the Mount of Olives
In Matthew 24, we see the Lord Jesus communicating with His disciples – the communication is peppered with warnings, exhortations and the call to vigilance.
“Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.” (vs 4 TNIV)
“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, If possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.” (vv 24-25)
The Lord Jesus is very concerned that even His elect and chosen will be deceived and led astray. We have seen in the book of Galatians how even Apostle Peter, including Barnabas, can respond in a wrong manner that may lead to the compromise of the true gospel.
Particularly, when the false messiahs and prophets come in the name of the Lord, and they are able to perform signs and wonders, deception can take place and take hold of God’s people. The devil can dress as an angel of light – there is a need for discernment, vigilance, when various ones claim to be from God and they are even able to perform apparently ‘supernatural’ signs. We need to take note that these various ones can quote Scriptures and they can expertly introduce false teachings mixed with certain truths from the Bible. There is therefore the great need to be well-versed in the Scriptures and the teachings of God – otherwise we become very vulnerable to the enemy.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other…Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. But whoever stands firm to the end will be saved.” (vv 9,10,12)
Persecution and sufferings are to be expected. Apostasy, hate, betrayal, the love growing cold – all these will take place, even among those who claim to be brethren – wickedness will increase.
In the face of all these, the Lord exhorts us to stand firm to the end and we will be saved. Perseverance, endurance – these are the qualities that will ensure that we stand firm and not fall away.
“For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again”. (vs22)
The tribulations would be great and unequalled from the beginning of the world – that would imply that only those with true commitment to the Lord and those with spiritual quality would be able to endure and to stand firm. Let us not be complacent and indifferent to this warning from the Lord.
It is interesting to note that in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, the Lord Jesus warned the various churches and the warnings somewhat parallel the warnings and exhortations in Matthew 24. Look at Revelation 2 and 3.
To the church in Ephesus: “..you have forsaken the love you had at first.” This is somewhat similar to the warning that the love of many will grow cold in Matthew 24. We need to remember that our God is the Triune God – three-in-one. There is harmony, wondrous love, among the three Persons in the community of the Trinity. It is no wonder that God desires His children to live in a community of love (the church). Those who claim to be individual Christians are in fact going against God’s desire for them and they are very vulnerable to deception and to falling away. If our love for God and for one another in the Christian community grows cold and we have forsaken our first love, we need to repent and consider how we have fallen.
To the church in Smyrna: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution…Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown”. Notice that the Lord did not say that the believers will not be imprisoned and that death will not happen to them; rather, despite all these, they are to be faithful even to the point of death.
In Matthew 24, the Lord indicated that many will fall away but those who stand firm to the end will be saved. The testing would come for believers, in different forms, at different times, but the response should still be the same – stand firm and be faithful to the end.
To the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira: The warning to repent from wrong teachings and immorality.
To the church in Sardis: “..you have a reputation of being alive but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.
Wrong teachings, immorality, the delusion of being ‘spiritually alive’, driven by many activities and committees going on – all these are rife in the churches today, if we are honest about it. There is the call to ‘repent’ and ‘awake’ before it is too late.
To the church in Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot…I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” This is indeed a frightening assessment by the Lord.
Superficially and outwardly, the believers may appear to be alright. But in reality, there is indifference and complacency.
Someone rightly said that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. And surely, this is the characteristic of many churches and christian organisations today. You cannot say that there is nothing unacceptable in their midst; neither can you say that there is something that is truly commendable.
It is the Lord Jesus who warns and exhorts His people, both in Matthew 24, and in Revelation (letters to the 7 churches).
Ignore His warnings and exhortations to the detriment of our souls and spiritual destiny!