Silence in Heaven – Revelation 8:1-5

Sometimes I wonder what we would see if we could somehow materialize our prayers, stick a camera on them, and follow their pathways and effects.  I have no doubts, it would be one of the most interesting, enriching and eye-opening journeys we could ever take.

Just imagine for a minute to see your prayer rise to God, and enter His Holy Temple. Imagine how it would be to see His face as He hears it, and then to hear His commands to His Holy Spirit and angels, and then to watch them sent out to reach to hearts and souls and circumstances and people.

The Bible tells us a lot about how to pray, about the motivation we should have, our heart attitude and such, and also why we should pray; but as far as what happens when we pray, it’s often a mystery. There is however one passage where we see God receiving prayers and acting on them, and it is to me one of the most fascinating and sobering passages in Scripture. In fact, in this passage it is not only one prayer that we see to be received by God, but all the prayers of all the saints. And what we see in response of these prayers is very surprising.

It is found in Revelation 8:1-5, and I invite you to turn there.

Rev 8:1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

Rev 8:2  Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.

Rev 8:3  And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne,

Rev 8:4  and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

Rev 8:5  Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

As we look into this passage this morning, we will look at 3 reasons why our prayers culminate in God’s salvation through judgment, so that we would be would remember the unequaled importance of prayer.

And this is what I want all of us to remember this morning: the ultimate purpose of intercessory prayers is salvation through judgment. A right prayer, made with a rightful heart, who asks for God’s will to be done, will be answered in salvation through judgment.

I. Salvation is Now (1-2)

The first reason why our prayers culminate in salvation through judgment is that salvation is now. The age we live in is an age of salvation. From the Fall of man to this very moment, every revelation of God made through His Word, through His deeds or His Presence have pointed towards His desire to have a relationship with man through salvation and judgment.

When God gave the first promise of the Bible to Adam, promising a victorious seed, this seed would only be victorious because it would crush the serpent’s head.

When Abraham got saved in Genesis 15, when he believed and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, it was only after God had delivered him from the hand of 5 kings who had captured Lot. Abraham placed his faith in God only after He realized and saw that God was a Savior; as He had saved him from his enemies, He could also save him unto eternal life.

When Israel was delivered from Egypt, it was through the judging of the Egyptians with terrible plagues and signs of God’s wrath. During the period of the kings, it was through the judging of Israel’s enemy nations that they witnessed the picture of God’s salvation.

It is also at the death of Christ that we both see perfect salvation and perfect judgment, as through God’s wrath falling on His Son on the cross is reconciliation possible.

End now we get to the end of the age, and the very Lamb of God is about to open to last seal of God’s wrath. And so we read in Revelations 8:1-2

8:1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

8:2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.

A world free of sin is a world free of sinners. There is no salvation from sin without a salvation away from sinners. And so here we see the other side of the Lamb of God. On one side He is Savior because He dies for sinners and saves those who repent; on the other side He is Savior because at the end He destroys the sinners that do not repent.

But here is what is interesting. For the first time recorded in History, there is silence in heaven. Think about it just a minute. Think about what would need to stop for silence to take place in heaven.

In Revelation 4:8 we read,

Rev 4:8  And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, « Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come! »

First, praise stops. The prayer of the angels in praise is put to a halt. But think about the other things that are also heard in heaven. What about the groaningsof the Spirit who intercedes for us when we do not know how to pray? What about the prayers of Jesus Christ, at the right hand of God interceding for us?

For thirty minutes, they come to an end. There is silence. No more prayers. (break) The age of salvation comes to an end. Now is the time for judgment.

To some extent, in this passage we see a parallel with the prophet Jeremy. Three times, God told Jeremy to stop praying, because Israel had gone too far and He was going to punish them.

Jer 7:16 « As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.

Jer 7:20  Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched. »

There will be a time when salvation will no longer be available. At the end of this age, the doors of heaven will be locked, and the fate of unbelievers will be the unquenchable fire.

But today, right now, heaven is not silent, and praise the Lord we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, who defends us continually against the accuser before the Father, and who intercedes for us.

I hope we realize the importance of this passage. It is extremely sobering. Salvation ends when prayer ends. It is that direct. Does prayer completely cease after the 30min of silence? Obviously not, but at the opening of the 7th seal, after the time of silence, the only aroma left in the prayers of the saints is that of judgment. After the silence come the trumpets:

8:2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them

So they seven trumpets are given, and as they are blown, the world is destroyed.

1st: a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

2nd: a third of the sea became blood.

3rd: a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water, so it became bitter and people died

4th: a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night

Rev 8:13  Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, « Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow! »

5th: a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. hell on earth (true picture), with torture but people cannot die for 5 months.

6th: So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind.

7th: 7 bowls of judgment which are even worst.

Rev 16:17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, « It is done! »

Well, the message of the angel saying, “it is done” is real and sobering, because it is one of death and judgment. But Jesus also said those very words when He paid the price for our sins.

Yes, judgment is terrible, but it doesn’t have to be, because Christ already endured it for those who believe. And this is the reason why we should pray.

Listen. This is the age of salvation. God’s purpose for this age is for His salvation to reach out to the ends of the earth. Your spiritual growth is not an end it itself. God saves people so that through their testimony He can continue to be known, so that, as Paul wrote, “as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:15).

I just finished my thesis on God’s glory last week. And let me tell you something. Every time God reveals His glory, it is to make Himself known, so that people can have a relationship with Him through salvation. In the same way, to give glory to God is to make Him known.

And this is why we must pray. This is why we must pray hard, with perseverance, with passion, with endurance, without ceasing, with discipline, in the Spirit, and with each other. Because you do not want to hear the angel tell your relatives and your friends and your co-workers and one day your children, “it is done!”

No! Christ said those words first, and because of that you want to live hard and pray hard, so that people can know who He is.

II. Salvation is God’s Will (3-4)

First, we saw that prayer culminates in salvation because that’s the age we live in. Salvation is now. One day it will be too late. Secondly we see that our prayers culminate in salvation because it is God’s will.

As we see in the next two verses, the righteous prayers that are heard by God are those who urge for His salvation through judgment:

Rev 8:3  And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne,

Rev 8:4  and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

The picture is very unique. After the seven angels are given trumpets, another comes with a censor, which is kind of sophisticated oil lamp which burns with a very strong smell. And so he comes, and his censor is just overloaded with incense. There is much of it, a lot of it, and it just spreads around, and it is the prayers of all the saints.

Now, something very similar had happened just a little earlier. In chapter 5, we’re all familiar with this passage, it’s the one that people read all the time when they introduce a song of worship that talks about heaven, and when John was crying because no one could open the scroll and the Lamb came and opened it; which by the way the scroll is not the Book of Life, but the seven seals of judgment. And so we read in Revelation 5:8,

Rev 5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

So in both passages we have prayers that are made for the Lamb to save the world through judgment.

And here is what is most important. The word “all.” To God are offered prayers for salvation through judgment, of all the saints.

Now I don’t know if John is talking about all the saints that are still in the tribulation or all the saints that ever lived, but one thing is for sure: God is answering all these prayers at once in salvation through judgment. And ultimately, that’s because it is at the center of His will.

Do you ever think about what it implies when you pray to God: ‘Let your will be done?’

For sure the will of God involves a lot of small things in life. But here we get the big picture. God’s will is for His children to be saved, which only happens through the destruction of this world and its unrepentant inhabitants.

Like I said, it’s just a very sobering passage. But it’s there to help us realize what is really important.

Trials come and trials go. But if our purpose of prayer is just to get out of what we’re doing, we’re missing the whole point of prayer is for. At the end of the day, you want to pray for what is eternal.

Both my wife and I have had some significant health problems. A few years back, neither of us knew if we would live very long. Those that have been in the church for some time might have seen how Sophia was on a wheel chair a few years ago, having dropped out of school and incapable of doing much. Her migraines were so strong, there is a whole year of her life that she barely remembers. For me I have back problems. When I was a sophomore at Master’s it got so bad that I was averaging 3-4 fours of sleep every night, even with sleeping pills and muscle relaxant. There was so much tension in my back, my brain was continually cramped, and it just kept getting worse. I remember studying for my finals, and it was so hard to focus tears were falling down my cheeks.

By God’s grace as you can see we’re both doing better now, although we still have issues, but often people would tell us that they were praying for our healing, Obviously it is not a bad thing, and we praise the Lord for good days when we have them, but ultimately you don’t know if God is going to heal someone or not, nor if that’s what brings Him the most glory. It’s good to pray for health, but if we forget the eternal value of things, our prayers simply do not reach their full potential.

Pastor Steve tells me all the time: why do believers pray so hard to keep Christians out of heaven, and so little to bring sinners out of hell?

If you really want your prayers to have an eternal impact, pray for God’s will. Pray for the lost, and pray that He would grow you and the believers around you to shine brighter so that more people would get saved.

Pray that your life would make God known, so that either through you, or someone that you have an impact on, people might get saved.

The reason why so many of our Christian lives become dull and unexciting is because of our lack of vision to reach the lost. But be a man or a woman who is driven by the great commission, and you will have a vision big like the world, and a vibrant prayer life. Take that out, you’ll grow complacent, stuck in a rut, doing the same thing week after week after week and miss out on the great things that God is doing around you. You’ll go to church because that’s the right thing to do and because your best friends are there, and you might even serve there faithfully, but without necessarily laying down treasures in heaven and preparing that eternal crown of glory.

III. Salvation is Christ’s Coming

First, we must pray because salvation is now, and second because salvation is God’s will. Third, we must pray because salvation is Christ’s Coming.

This we see in the next verse:

Rev 8:5  Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

So we see the angel who is done with his censer, and he throws it on the earth, and it brings thunder and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

Now, you might say, why do you equate thunder and flashes of lightning t Christ’s coming? Well, because outside of prophecy, thunder and lightning and earthquake are the symbols of theophanies, when God shows up in glory. That’s what happened at Sinai, when God appeared in the dark cloud,

Exo 19:16  On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.

Exo 19:17  Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.

Exo 19:18  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.

Exo 19:19  And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.

But let me tell you something. The cloud was not the Father. The cloud was Christ.

Joh 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

The Father is never seen in Scripture, only the Son is. Every theophany is a Christology. When Christ came on earth he took on flesh, to be accessible, but at end of His ministry, He prayed God « Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1)

Luk 21:27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

The “cloud” on which Christ will come down is not a comfy sofa that He rides on. It is the fearsome cloud of God’s Shekinah. It symbolizes the very presence and glory of God.

In fact the exact same phrasing in Revelation 8:5 is found in Revelation 11:19 which states:

Rev 11:19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

The reason why all these phenomena happen is because the Temple of God is open, and the world is not ready. The glory is not meant to be destructive, but without the atoning blood of Christ, no sinner can endure it. What we see in Revelation is the Day of the Lord, the coming of Christ on earth in His full glory, and He comes to bring the glory of God on earth, and it becomes destruction because the world is unrepentant.

Zep 1:7  Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests.

Zep 1:14  The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there.

Zep 1:15  A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness,

Zep 1:16  a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.

So to return to our passage, this is what happens. The angel takes some fire which comes from the altar of God where the prayers of the saints are burnt, and then as he throws that fire on earth, Christ shows up in the midst of it in judgment and destruction.

Like I said, to me this is one of the most sobering passages of all Scripture, not only because of the description of the Great Tribulation, but because it shows that God answers our prayers in ways that we would never dare to express them.

But ultimately, praying in God’s will is to pray for the salvation of the world through judgment, and for the return of Jesus Christ who is the true Savior not only because of the cross, but also because of the fire that He brings.

But here is what is important. The Temple of Israel was made as a copy of that in heaven, as a shadow of it. In Israel’s Temple, twice as day would the priests use a censer, both morning and evening, to carry hot fiery coals from the brazen alter where the sacrifices were offered and transport them to the Holy Place. As of now, the angel-priest still has his censer and has not thrown it on the earth with fire. As of now, our prayers are offered daily to God, and their aroma is always before His throne.

The need for prayer is urgent. Prayer is what unfolds the will of God: salvation through judgment.

Libres Esclaves – Romains 6:22

« Serviteur, ou Maître ? »

Quelle est l’identité du croyant ?

Le premier des commandements donné par Dieu à l’homme fut celui de la domination. On lit en Genèse 1 :28

« Soyez féconds, multipliez, remplissez la terre, et assujettissez-la ; et dominez sut les poissons de la mer, sur les oiseaux du ciel, et sur tout animal qui se meut sur la terre. »

La première chose que Dieu fit comprendre à l’homme après l’avoir créé, c’est qu’il était libre, et que sa liberté était plus importante que le bien-être des animaux et des plantes. Ainsi, pour pouvoir pleinement jouir de sa liberté, l’homme aurait le droit d’exercer une domination, d’être un maître.

Et puis ensuite vient le second commandement donné par Dieu, un commandement appelant à l’obéissance, à la soumission, en Genèse 2 :16-17 :

« Tu pourras manger de tous les arbres du jardin, mais tu ne mangeras pas de l’arbre de la connaissance du bien et du mal, car le jour où tu en mangeras, tu mourras certainement. »

La deuxième chose que Dieu fit comprendre à l’homme, c’est que la liberté de l’homme ne pourrait être utilisée n’importe comment. Elle devrait être cadrée, cadrée dans la volonté de Dieu. L’homme serait appelé à se soumettre aux lois de Dieu, et ainsi à être un serviteur.

« Serviteur, ou Maître ? »

Alors bien sûr, les temps innocents des premiers jours d’Adam et Eve ne durèrent pas très longtemps. Ayant utilisé leur liberté pour commettre le péché, une nouvelle donne entre dans la partie. A cause de sa désobéissance, l’homme perd complètement sa notion de liberté. Il devient esclave du péché. En effet Jésus a dit, « En vérité, en vérité, je vous le dis, leur répliqua Jésus, quiconque se livre au péché est esclave du péché. » (Jean 8 :34)

Le péché fait son œuvre, et très vite dans le Genèse on voit que l’homme n’est pas satisfait de seulement dominer sur la nature, mais désire aussi dominer sur les autres.

Et là, la question de liberté n’est plus une question d’équilibre et de sagesse, mais une question qui s’apprête au cœur de l’homme, et son inclinaison, soit envers le péché, soit envers la volonté de Dieu.

« Serviteur, ou Maître ? »

Qu’apprenons-nous des Ecritures sur la manière avec laquelle nous devrions nous traiter les uns les autres ?

Pour répondre à cette question, nous devons d’abord comprendre quelle est notre identité en en Christ suite au péché d’Adam, et de définir ce qu’est la liberté dans le cadre de notre relation avec Dieu.

Et voici la question avec laquelle j’aimerai que l’on puisse sonder nos cœurs : « Quelle est la disposition de notre cœur face à nos libertés ? »

Lire Romains 6

Ce passage est rempli de contrastes.

D’un côté il y a la mort, de l’autre la vie.

D’un côté il y a des gens qui sont instruments d’iniquité, de l’autre des gens qui sont instrument de justice.

D’un côté il y a ceux qui sont sous la loi, de l’autre ceux qui sont sous la grâce.

D’un côté il y a ceux qui sont impurs, de l’autre il ya ceux qui sont saints.

D’un côté il y a les esclaves, de l’autre il y a les hommes libres.

Et ce sont sur ces contrastes que nous allons nous pencher aujourd’hui, en étudiant le verset 22 :

« Mais maintenant, étant affranchis du péché et devenus esclaves de Dieu, vous avez pour fruit la sainteté et pour fin la vie éternelle. »

En première partie nous allons voir l’identité passé du croyant et puis ensuite nous regarderons l’identité présente du croyant.

I. IDENTITE PASSE

La première chose que l’on voit dans ce passage, c’est qu’avant d’être sauvés, nous étions sous l’emprise du péché, en besoin d’être affranchis. Notre identité était celle d’esclaves.

Qu’est-ce qu’un esclave ?

D’après le dictionnaire, un esclave, c’est celui qui n’a pas le pouvoir d’exercer sa volonté propre.  Il est assujettit aux désirs, aux ordres, et aux exigences de quelqu’un d’autre. Il est sous l’emprise d’un maître. Il n’a ni droit, ni possession. Il a beau avoir une volonté, mais il ne peut pas l’accomplir. Il a beau avoir des désirs, il ne peut pas les poursuivre. Il a beau avoir des rêves, il ne peut pas les vivre. Il fait parti de l’ameublement. Comme une chaise, il est utilisé, encore et encore, il s’use et souvent se brise, et ensuite il est simplement remplacé.

Personne ne veut être esclave. Au travers de l’histoire, les gens ont payé de leur sang leur liberté. Plus de 20 000 personnes on versé leur sang lors de la Révolution Française.

La liberté n’a pas de prix. Et pourtant pour assouvir leurs propres désirs, les hommes, au travers de l’histoire, n’ont cessé d’asservir leurs prochains. J’ai récemment lu un rapport de la Maison de la Liberté affirmant que si l’on mesurait la liberté d’une personne par sa capacité à exprimer ses opinions sur la vie, la religion et la politique, dans ce monde il y aurait 92 pays dits libres, 62 « partiellement libres » et 44 « non libres. »

D’ailleurs, cette liberté a tellement de valeur qu’on la fête dans chaque pays. Lorsque l’on célèbre la fête nationale le 14 Juillet, on célèbre la journée d’indépendance, la prise la Bastille.  Le 17 Juin, les Islandais célèbrent l’indépendance face aux Danois. Le 1 Août, les Suisses fêtent leur révolte contre le Saint empire Romain, le 25 Mars, les Grec célèbrent leur indépendance face à l’ancien empire Ottoman. Et on en passe.

L’esclavage du péché, Paul nous le décrit au prochain chapitre, des versets 15-25. L’interprétation de Romains 7 dans le monde évangélique est double, alors avant de le lire, j’aimerai brièvement dire quelle est ma perspective sur ce passage. D’un côté il y a ceux qui disent que ce passage s’applique à Paul et au temps présent, et puis il y a ceux qui disent que ce passage est un témoignage que Paul rend de sa situation en tant que juif zélé avant sa conversion. Personnellement j’opte pour la seconde opinion, à cause du chapitre 8 et de ce que Paul décrit comme la victoire sur la chair pour ceux qui ont reçu le Saint-Esprit.

« Car je ne sais pas ce que je fais: je ne fais point ce que je veux, et je fais ce que je hais. Or, si je fais ce que je ne veux pas, je reconnais par là que la loi est bonne.

Et maintenant ce n’est plus moi qui le fais, mais c’est le péché qui habite en moi.

Ce qui est bon, je le sais, n’habite pas en moi, c’est-à-dire dans ma chair: j’ai la volonté, mais non le pouvoir de faire le bien.

Car je ne fais pas le bien que je veux, et je fais le mal que je ne veux pas.

Et si je fais ce que je ne veux pas, ce n’est plus moi qui le fais, c’est le péché qui habite en moi.

Je trouve donc en moi cette loi: quand je veux faire le bien, le mal est attaché à moi.

Car je prends plaisir à la loi de Dieu, selon l’homme intérieur; mais je vois dans mes membres une autre loi, qui lutte contre la loi de mon entendement, et qui me rend captif de la loi du péché, qui est dans mes membres.

Misérable que je suis! Qui me délivrera du corps de cette mort?…

Grâces soient rendues à Dieu par Jésus Christ notre Seigneur!… Ainsi donc, moi-même, je suis par l’entendement esclave de la loi de Dieu, et je suis par la chair esclave de la loi du péché.»

Avant sa conversion, Paul connaissait la loi de Dieu. Il connaissait la Torah. Il aimait l’étudier, il aimait son message même. Son homme intérieur s’en réjouissait. Mais il ne pouvait pas l’appliquer dans sa vie parce qu’il était esclave du péché. Il était incapable de faire la volonté de Dieu.

Quelque part, l’esclavage du péché c’est un peu comme si un nuage noir nous entourait. Ce n’est pas que nous ne pouvons pas bouger, mais peu importe où l’on va, le nuage reste avec nous. Nous avons la « liberté » de bouger à gauche et à droite, d’avancer, de reculer, mais peu importe ce que l’on fait nous ne pouvons sortir de ce nuage noir.

Et c’est ce qu’on voit les gens faire autour de nous sans Christ. De nombreuses personnes essaient de faire des « bonnes œuvres » mais en réalité ils s’aperçoivent que leur réelle motivation n’est pas de plaire à Dieu, mais d’apaiser leur conscience, de faire bonne figure devant les autres. Paul ne pouvait plaire à Dieu. Et la raison était simple : c’est parce qu’il était son propre maître, et ainsi livré à sa propre chair, à son propre péché.

L’esclavage vient avec son maître. Et ce qui est pathétique, c’est qu’avant notre conversion, notre maître à nous, vous savez c’était qui ? C’était nous ! Ce maître oppresseur qui rend la vie misérable, c’était nous ! Notre chair habitant en nous ! Oui, c’est vrai que d’un côté nous étions aussi esclaves de Satan, mais cela était simplement parce que nous étions déjà dans son camp.

Notre maître, nous dit la Bible, c’était notre chair, notre péché. Et pour nous en délivrer, il fallait payer un prix. Et ce prix ce n’était pas à Satan qu’il fallait le payer, ce n’était pas pour enrichir quelqu’un. C’était pour annuler notre dette envers Dieu à cause du péché. Sans payer notre dette, nous ne pouvions changer de maître.

C’est pour cela que Paul écrivit en Tite 2 :14

« Notre Sauveur Jésus Christ [qui] s’est donné lui-même pour nous, afin de nous racheter de toute iniquité. »

Ce n’était pas de Satan qu’il fallait nous racheter, s’était de l’emprise du péché. La Bible appelle cela la rédemption.

En 1824, le Pérou gagna son Independence vis-à-vis de l’Espagne. Peu après, Simon Bolivar, le général ayant mené les forces de la libération, assembla une convention pour rédiger la constitution du nouveau pays.

Suite à la convention, une délégation approcha Bolivar et lui demanda de devenir leur premier président. Bolivar refusa, pensant que quelqu’un d’autre mériterait cet honneur plus que lui.

Mais le peuple voulu quand même faire quelque chose de spécial pour Bolivar pour lui montrer leur appréciation ce qu’il avait fait pour eux, alors ils lui offrirent un million de pesos, une énorme somme à cette époque.

Bolivar accepta le don, et demanda : « Combien y-a-t-il d’esclaves au Pérou ? » On lui répondit qu’il y en avait environ 3000. « Et quel est le prix d’un esclave » continua-t-il. « Environ 350 pesos. »

« Alors » dit Bolivar, « j’ajouterai ce qui est nécessaire à ce million de pesos que vous m’avez donné et j’achèterai tous les esclaves du Pérou pour les affranchir. Ca n’a aucun sens de libérer une nation si ses citoyens ne peuvent être libres eux-mêmes. »

Le rachat d’esclaves, ça s’appelle la rédemption. Et c’est ce que Jésus fit pour nous. On lit en Marc 10 :45 :

« Car le Fils de l’homme est venu, non pour être servi, mais pour servir et donner sa vie comme la rançon de plusieurs. »

Pour libérer le peuple d’un pays, du Pérou, il fallu une somme extraordinaire. Mais quel prix serait donc nécessaire pour racheter un peuple fait de millions de gens dispersés sur des milliers d’années et soumis à un maître, le péché, si impitoyable ?

Laissez-moi vous poser une question. Combien est-ce que ça coûte un péché ? Combien de bonnes œuvres est-ce que ça prend pour annuler le poids d’un péché ?

Poussé par l’orgueil, vers la fin de sa vie, le roi David fit ordonner un recensement dans son royaume pour connaitre la mesure de sa force. A cause de péché, Dieu le jugea. Conséquence : 70 000 personnes moururent.

En Romains 5 :12 on voit que la mort est entrée dans le monde à cause d’un péché. Un seul péché rendit la terre indigne de la présence et de la gloire de Dieu et méritante d’une destruction totale. Ca c’est le poids d’un péché.

Paul écrivit en 1 Corinthiens 6 :20, « vous avez été rachetés à un grand prix »

Laissez-moi vous poser une autre question. Combien de péchés pensez-vous commettre par heure ? Une pensée égoïste, une réflexion orgueilleuse, une parole manquant du sel de la grâce…soyons généreux, disons que nous ne péchons que 3 fois par heure.

3 fois par jour, ca fait 72 fois par jour, ca fait 2160 péchés par mois et près de 25 000 péchés par an. A 20 ans, on atteint le demi-million. Pour une assemblée de 50 personnes, si l’on prend une moyenne de 30 ans, on peut compter près de 40 millions de péchés.

Des volontaires pour payer la caution ?  La rançon pour notre liberté, il n’y en eut qu’un qui puisse la payer.

Pierre écrivit en 1 Pierre 1 :18-19

« Sachant que ce n’est pas par des choses périssables, par de l’argent ou de l’or, que vous avez été rachetés de la vaine manière de vivre que vous avez héritée de vos pères, mais par le sang précieux de Christ, comme d’un agneau sans défaut et sans tache »

On lit encore en Esaïe 53 :12, « il a porté les péchés de beaucoup d’hommes. »

Nous avons été rachetés de l’esclavage à un grand prix. Au prix du sang de l’Agneau. Il a souffert la colère de Dieu, il a été maudit pour nous, il a porté le poids de nos péchés, un poids infini que seul un Dieu parfait pouvait porter.

Pourquoi ? Parce que notre liberté avait encore plus de valeur aux yeux de Dieu qu’à nos propres yeux.

II. IDENTITE PRESENTE

Avant d’être affranchis de Dieu, d’être rachetés de l’emprise du péché, notre identité était celle d’esclaves. Quelle sera donc notre identité nouvelle ? C’est ce que nous allons regarder en deuxième partie de ce message.

« Mais maintenant, étant affranchis du péché et devenus esclaves de Dieu, vous avez pour fruit la sainteté et pour fin la vie éternelle. »

Esclaves de Dieu ? Mais il y a un problème là ! On vient juste de se faire rachetés de l’esclavage, et ce n’est seulement que pour devenir à nouveau esclaves ? Avons-nous un choix qui nous offre la liberté ?

Nous avons parlé de contrastes un peu plus tôt. La vie, la mort ; la loi, la grâce ; l’iniquité, la justice ; l’impureté, la sainteté…et pourtant, dans les deux cas, il y a un verbe qui s’applique, et c’est celui d’obéir.

Regardons ensemble encore Romains 6 :16.

« Ne savez-vous pas qu’en vous livrant à quelqu’un comme esclaves pour lui obéir, vous êtes esclaves de celui à qui vous obéissez, soit du péché qui conduit à la mort, soit de l’obéissance qui conduit à la justice? »

Des fois ce que j’aime vraiment dans la Bible c’est qu’elle délimite bien les choses. Souvent, il faut trouver un équilibre dans la sagesse et le grand nombre de conseillers, des fois elle nous dit la vérité en noir et blanc, sans possibilité de gris au milieu.

Il n’y a seulement deux cadres différents dans lesquels on peut vivre. Il n’y a seulement deux camps, et il faut en choisir un. Soit on vit celui les passions de la chair, et on devient esclave du péché et notre fruit est la mort, soit on vit par l’Esprit et on devient esclave de Christ, et notre fruit est la vie et la justice et la sainteté.

Mais dans les deux cas, la « liberté » que nous avons n’est que la mesure de ce que l’on peut faire avec ce que l’on a. Et ça c’est le grand piège de notre société et du péché qui nous disent que l’obéissance est quelque chose de négatif et que l’on peut s’en passer, que c’est du cadre de l’oppression et que cela ne peut être que néfaste. Mais ceux qui n’obéissent pas à Dieu obéissent à leur chair. Ils en sont soumis et esclaves. Ils ne font pas ce qu’ils ont vraiment envie de faire. Ils ne peuvent prendre plaisir qu’à ce que leur chair leur commande de faire, qu’aux passions qui les contrôlent.

Et cela revient à notre nature. Une nature pécheresse ne peut s’exprimer que par le péché. La seule liberté quelle a est de commettre le péché. Mais la nouvelle création, celle de Dieu, est libre elle de faire le bien. Pour faire le bien, la nouvelle création a toute la liberté possible. Pour aimer, pour donner, pour pardonner, pour vivre dans la sainteté et dans la pureté. Nous sommes libres de vivre par le fruit de l’Esprit, dans la joie, dans la paix, dans la patience, dans l’amour, dans la bonté, la douceur, la fidélité, la gentillesse, la maîtrise de soi.

Mais cette liberté ne peut être vécue que dans le cadre donné par Dieu, celui de Sa volonté. La seule vraie liberté que nous avons, c’est de faire le bien lorsque nous vivons par l’Esprit, en demeurant en Christ, en marchant par la foi. Il n’y a pas de doute, chaque décision prise dans l’indépendance, sans la prière, sans la crainte des Ecritures, mènera vers la mort.

La seule liberté qu’a un esclave, c’est de faire la volonté de son maître. Le maître, il faut le choisir, mais nous ne pouvons vivre sans en avoir un, parce que nous avons tous une nature qui produit des désirs et des décisions. Soit nous nous soumettons au péché pour être libres de pécher, soit nous nous soumettons à Dieu pour être libres de faire Sa volonté.

Il y a seulement deux camps. Chacun à son maître, et chacun a ses esclaves. Vous savez que le mot « serviteur » n’est pas employé tant que cela dans le Nouveau Testament ?

Enfin, il est intéressant de voir que le mot Grec pour esclave, « doulos » est employé près de 140 fois dans le Nouveau Testament, alors que le mot pour serviteur « diakonos » qui a donné le mot diacre, n’est employé qu’environ 30 fois. La réalité est que le mot esclave a eu une connotation si négative au travers de l’histoire que les traducteurs ont préféré choisir un mot plus atténuant. Ca a commencé en 1560 avec la Bible de Genève, et le courant n’a pu changer de sens depuis.  Et pourtant, dans la littérature grecque, « doulos » signifie réellement esclave. La Vulgate latine utilisait le mot « servi, » signifiant de servir mais aussi dans un contexte d’être esclave ou de vivre dans la servitude.

Et le mot qui est utilisé ici par Paul et traduit par esclave est le même mot avec lequel Paul introduit ces lettres, ce présentant comme « serviteur » « doulos » en réalité « esclave de Christ. » C’est le même mot que Jésus utilisa en parlant que ses disciples devaient se considérer comme des serviteurs « doulos, » esclaves, inutiles (Luc 17 :10).

Et le vocabulaire utilisé dans la Bible à notre égard, lorsque l’on parle de rédemption, de rançon, de prix payé, de liberté, lorsque l’on s’adresse à Dieu en tant que « Seigneur » et « Maître »…tout le vocabulaire du Nouveau Testament renvoie à l’idée que nous sommes des esclaves de Christ. Nous lui appartenons, et notre liberté n’est trouvée que lorsque nous accomplissons sa volonté. Nous sommes crucifiés en Christ, ce n’est plus nous qui vivons mais Christ qui vit en nous. Un croyant est un homme mort. C’est ce que nous lisons tout au long de Romains 6.

Au verset 2, nous sommes morts au péché. Au versets 3-4, nous sommes ensevelis avec lui par son baptême, au verset 5, nous sommes des nouvelles plantes par conformité à sa mort, au verset 6, notre vieil homme est crucifié avec Christ, au verset 7, nous sommes morts pour être libres au péché, au verset 8, nous sommes morts en Christ pour vivre en lui, et on s’arrête là.

La Bible nous appelle à mourir à nous-mêmes pour que Christ puisse vivre en nous. Elle nous appelle à renoncer à notre volonté pour laisser pleinement celle de Dieu agir en nous. Mais que préférez-vous voir, vos œuvres ou celles de Dieu ?

L’esclavage n’est pas le problème. Le problème c’est le maître que l’on choisi.

C’est quoi la différence entre un serviteur et un esclave ? Elle est simple. Le serviteur a un choix, l’esclave n’en a pas.

Et c’est la où tout devient magnifique. Nous avons un maître qui fait chaque chose belle en son temps. Et lorsque nous demeurons en lui, les œuvres qu’il a pour nous, préparées d’avance, s’accomplissent, des œuvres merveilleuses ! Des œuvres reflétant sa sainteté.

Mais tout commence avec la disposition du cœur vers l’obéissance. C’est pour cela que la Bible nous encourage à incliner nos cœurs vers Dieu :

C’est ce que Salomon pria pour Israël en 1 Rois 8 :57-58 :

« Que l’Éternel, notre Dieu, soit avec nous, comme il a été avec nos pères; qu’il ne nous abandonne point et ne nous délaisse point, mais qu’il incline nos cœurs vers lui, afin que nous marchions dans toutes ses voies, et que nous observions ses commandements, ses lois et ses ordonnances, qu’il a prescrits à nos pères! »

Et c’est ce que Josué recommanda au peuple avant de rentrer dans le pays promis en Josué 24 :23 :

« Otez donc les dieux étrangers qui sont au milieu de vous, et tournez votre cœur vers l’Éternel, le Dieu d’Israël. »

Et le mot Hébreu ici signifie d’étirer, d’incliner, de mettre dans la bonne direction.

Il y a deux ans de cela, j’ai aidé mon père à couper des arbres dans une propriété. A un moment il fallait couper un arbre qui était juste à côté d’une cabane. C’était un grand arbre d’au moins 6-7 mètres de haut, au bois très dur. Il aurait pu faire de graves dégâts s’il était tombé sur la cabane. Alors pour couper l’arbre il fallait faire une inclinaison en V. Pour faire en sorte que l’arbre tombe du côté opposé de la cabane, tous que nous devions faire était de faire en sorte que le V y soit opposé. Ensuite, puis importe comment nous allions finir l’arbre en coupant de l’autre côté, nous savions où il allait tomber.

C’est pareil avec la vie du croyant. Si nous inclinons nos cœurs vers Dieu, nos œuvres accompliront sa volonté. Et alors, peu importe les circonstances de la vie, peu importe les épreuves, peu importe les difficultés, si nous cœurs sont inclinés vers Dieu, nous porterons toujours du fruit digne de Son salut. Nos désirs et nos actions, comme ces arbres, tomberons toujours du bon côté.

Etant affranchit du péché, nous portons maintenant comme fruit la sainteté, et avons pour espérance la vie éternelle.

Et c’est ce que Paul écrivit aussi à Tite en Tite 2 :14

« Notre Sauveur Jésus Christ [qui] s’est donné lui-même pour nous, afin de nous racheter de toute iniquité, et de se faire un peuple qui lui appartienne, purifié par lui et zélé pour les bonnes œuvres. »

Dieu nous a affranchit avec un but, celui de porter ces bonnes œuvres qu’Il nous permet de faire lorsque nous dépendons de lui, de faire ces œuvres préparées d’avance afin que nous les pratiquions, des œuvres portant le fruit de la sainteté, une sainteté qui ne peut venir que de Dieu seul. Ces œuvres, ce ne sont pas des œuvres que nous pouvions inventer ou fabriquer, des œuvres que nous portons lorsque nous marchons dans la voie de la sainteté, celle de la sanctification, où nous sommes l’ouvrage de Dieu, comme Paul l’écrivit en Ephésiens 2 :10, nous devenons l’ouvrage, en Grec ‘poiema’, le « poême » de Dieu !

Est-ce que vous percevez un peu la différence qu’il y a entre les deux maîtres ? L’un offre un esclavage qui mène à la mort, l’autre un esclavage qui mène à la sainteté. La sainteté ! C’est cette sainteté, si pure et si belle que les anges louent dans les cieux ! Et Dieu nous offre de la refléter en faisant de nous son ouvrage, son œuvre d’art.

Notre histoire, c’est un peu celle du chef d’œuvre de Michel-Ange.  Etes-vous familiers avec sa sculpture du roi David ? Elle est considérée par plusieurs comme la sculpture la mieux réussi au monde, tellement elle semble réelle.

Un jour, un sculpteur fit venir à Florence un magnifique bloc de marbre pour en faire une sculpture. Malheureusement, en travaillant le roc, celui-ci se fissura et un gros morceau tomba laissant la belle pièce de marbre avec une inclinaison un peu bizarre. Le bloc, considéré comme inutilisable, fut mis de côté pendant plus d’un siècle, jusqu’à ce que l’œil de l’artiste vienne le croiser. Ce morceau, même s’il avait parut inutile, il savait exactement ce qu’il allait en faire. Et il commença à le travailler, petit à petit, pour créer cette sculpture unique où le personnage se tient dans une position un peu inclinée, rendant encore plus réelle et magnifique son œuvre.

Et c’est ce que Dieu a fait de nous. Nous étions des morceaux de marbre inutiles, sans beauté, esclaves du péché. Et il nous a prit, et il nous a rendu la liberté, et il a fait de les porteurs de sa beauté, de sa sainteté, malgré notre penchant vers le mal, et nous donnant en plus la vie éternelle.

Etre esclaves de Christ est la meilleure chose qui puisse arriver à quelqu’un. Mais cela n’est pas facile, il faut mourir à soi-même tous les jours. Il faut veiller sans cesse pour garder nos cœurs bien disposés.

Mais le résultat en vaut tellement la peine !

Ceux qui ne sont pas sauvés n’ont qu’un seul choix : vivre dans la chair. Ceux qui sont sauvés peuvent choisir. Ils peuvent soit demeurer en Christ et porter pour fruit la sainteté, soit vivre dans la chair et retourner sous l’emprise du péché, comme le proverbe qui parle du chien retournant à son vomi.

Mais laissez-moi vous poser une autre question. Ca prend combien de chaînes pour attacher un chien ? Une seule, n’est-ce pas ? De même, il ne suffit que d’un seul péché habituel pour nous pour redevenir esclaves. On ne perd pas le salut, bien entendu, mais on perd la grandeur de la bénédiction possible.

Il n’en faut pas beaucoup pour qu’un croyant soit limité dans la bénédiction de sa vie chrétienne. Il suffit d’un seul péché non confessé, d’un seul péché laissé de côté, d’un seul péché mis sous le tapis.

Si nous désirons porter le nom de Christ, alors nous devons aussi porter sa sainteté. Dieu ne va pas bénir ceux qui s’appellent « petits Christs » sans témoigner de vies réellement changées. Si nous disons appartenir à Dieu, alors Il doit être le Maître, nous devons être Ses esclaves, et nous devons accomplir les œuvres que Lui accomplit.

Mais quel bon Maître servons-nous ! Son joug est de loin le meilleur.

« Venez à moi, vous tous qui êtes fatigués et chargés, et je vous donnerai du repos.

Prenez mon joug sur vous et recevez mes instructions, car je suis doux et humble de cœur; et vous trouverez du repos pour vos âmes.

Car mon joug est doux, et mon fardeau léger. » (Matthieu 11 :28-30)

Fasting – Matthew 9:14-17

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United-States, said one day, “He that lives upon Hope, dies fasting”.

Now, Franklin was not a believer. He didn’t believe that Jesus was God. For him, Christianity was only good for its morals and ethics. It was more at tool to enjoy this present world rather than the preparation for a world to come.

So when he said “He that lives upon Hope, dies fasting” it was a basic critique of Christianity. What he was saying was that if you are looking for your hope to be fulfilled in this world, you will never be satisfied. And so his message simply was this: enjoy the moment, don’t waste your energy in dreams and ideals.

Jefferson was definitely right about something. This life does not satisfy. But his hope was in this world, not on Christ. And if your hope is in this world, there is no point in being sacrificial because your sacrifices prevent you from enjoy the life that you are hoping for.

But what about us? Is it worth it living so desperately for the hope that we have in Christ that we are willing to live a life characterized with fasting and sacrifice until we die? Is it worth it? Is it worth it fasting for the hope we have in Christ?

Jefferson’s quote reminded me of another quote from Francis Chan some years ago who said, “Am I going to change the world? Probably not, but I am sure going to die trying.”

Even as believers we are not going to die satisfied in this world. Why? Simply because Jesus has left us with a Great Commission to fulfill and until it is done there will be no rest for believers.

Both believers and unbelievers will die unsatisfied in this world. The unbelievers will die unsatisfied because there hope is on earth and everything is fleeting. But believers die unsatisfied for another reason. It is because God is infinite and God has placed eternity in the hearts of men and we have so much hope but it will only be fulfilled in heaven.

We all live with a vacuum in our hearts. But are we going to fill it with the things of this world, or are we going to fill it with God as much as possible? Paul was running to know Christ in the power of His resurrection. Paul wanted to live life on earth as if he was in heaven, to be so close to God so that it would as similar as possible as heaven itself.

How much are we desperate for God? How much do we love Him? How much do we long to be with Him and to see His glory? How much sacrifice are we willing to pay in order to see God on earth?

If we truly long for God, if our hope is truly in Him, then we can agree with Jefferson: “He that lives upon Hope, dies fasting.” And not because the fasting kills us but because fasting is a part of our life until death.

Today’s message is on fasting, and here is what I want you to remember at the end: We fast because God is more important than food. We fast because heaven is more important than earth.

Let’s turn in our Bibles in Matthew 9: 9-17.

So in this passage we see Jesus during his ministry in Galilee, a time where Jesus was growing immensely in popularity. It’s a time when Jesus does a lot of teaching and a lot of miracles. His life is saturated with ministry. Crowds from all around are coming to him and his life is very busy.

One day, as he walks around, he sees Matthew, also called Levi. Matthew was a tax collector, someone that the Jews hated because he was working for Rome, getting rich and helping Rome get rich as the people suffered the weight of the taxes. Tax collectors were looked down so much, we see here that they are on the same level as other people referred to as “sinners.” “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.” (10)

Now, you can imagine that these people are probably some of the worse of society. I mean we are all sinners, but when the main way to refer to someone is by calling him a sinner, that is pretty bad. You can imagine a conversation:

“What does your father do? Is he a teacher, a fisherman?”

“No, my dad is a sinner.”

“Oh, one of those!” I mean, you understand what kind of reputation these people had.

But anyways, Jesus is eating with those people and then the Pharisees start making fun of him, and then some of the disciples of John come with the Pharisees and start attacking Jesus on fasting. Now, John had been clear with his own disciples that Jesus was the Messiah and they had to follow him. But these men were not, so at this point we know that they were already in disobedience.

The Pharisees fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. It was one of their religious traditions. Ad so my guess is that it was once of these days when they came talking with Jesus. And basically what they are saying is this, “Hum, Jesus? Do you realize that we’re fasting and you’re not, which kind of makes us more holy than you right now? You’re doing all these great things, but at the end of the day, well, we might be better than you, you know.”

And so Jesus answers them by giving them one of those spiritual spankings that the Pharisees love so much. I mean they must because they ask for them all the time. But in the next verses, Jesus gives one of the best definitions of fasting in the whole Bible, and it is what we are going to look at today: a desperate fast, a passionate fast, and a genuine fast.

I.                   Desperate Fast

And so the first thing that Jesus does is to call into question the perspective of the Pharisees and the disciples of John. And so he starts, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” (15) Jesus asks them, “do you even know what fasting is about? Fasting is like mourning, it is a grief. And by the way, if you are really fasting, what are you doing at this party in the first place?”

Jesus’ first confrontation against the Pharisees was that they had no clue about what they were doing. They were fasting just because it seemed like it was a good thing to do. But they had no clue about what true biblical fasting was about.

I had a friend who told me one day that he often fasted for 40 days. So I asked him how he did it, and he answered that the truth was that he really liked to eat, and so he would eat a lot and get fat. Then after a while he would stop eating for 40 days, just to drink carrot juice mixed with maple syrup and vitamins. And he would lose all his fat that way. Is that biblical fasting? No, it is a diet, and it is a horrible one. Now fasting once a week or every other week can be very beneficial for the body, it helps to clean it and stuff. But biblical fasting is much more than not eating. It is about not eating and praying instead. Fasting in the Bible is always accompanied with prayer. Now these Pharisees and disciples of John were not spending time in prayer, they were hanging out at a party. Their minds were not focusing on God, they were focusing on their own self-righteousness.

And so Jesus rebukes them, and here is his first point: fasting is like mourning. It is something desperate. You don’t fast just because it is a good thing to do. You fast because your heart is desperate, as if someone had died.

Why do people mourn in the first place? People mourn because they refuse to accept the idea of death, because it is so ugly and they don’t want it. People mourn because they wished there was life but instead there is death.

And this is what fasting is about throughout the Bible.

Turn in your Bible in Nehemiah 1:3-4.

Neh 1:3  And they said to me, « The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire. »

Neh 1:4  As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Why did Nehemiah fasted? Because Jerusalem had no walls, no protection against enemies. It was a matter of death and life, it was desperate, it was intense.

Now go to Esther 3:8-10

Est 3:8  Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, « There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them.

Est 3:9  If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business, that they may put it into the king’s treasuries. »

Est 3:10  So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews.

And now to Esther 4:3

Est 4:3 And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

The Jews fasted because it was a question of death and life. They were going to be killed.

Go to Psalm 35:13

Psa 35:13 But I, when they were sick– I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.

David knew people who were sick, and during his time they didn’t have the drugs we had and people could die a lot easier. And so David was fasting so that his friends would not die. David also fasted when his baby was sick and was about to die.

There are a lot more examples, but here is the point: fasting is desperate. You fast because there is death and because you do not want it. And you reject the idea of death so much that even food does not matter to you anymore.

Now, physical death is a horrible thing, but spiritual death is even worse. And this is the first reason why we as believers should fast. We fast because we mourn for those who are going to hell. We fast because we are desperate for the lost souls of this world, and it is more important for us to spend time praying for their lost souls than to eat our lunch.

Do you know how much God cares for the lost souls? Before Jesus left earth, he didn’t ask people to go build big churches, he asked them to go to the ends of the world to make disciples. Jesus taught his disciples to pray earnestly for the God of the harvest to send laborers in the harvest. In Greek, the word used in that verse for “pray earnestly” literally means “to beg.” Jesus wanted his disciples to be so desperate for the lost souls of the harvest that they would beg in prayer for them.

Do you know that Jesus came on earth for unbelievers? He did not die on the cross of righteous people, he died for sinners, He died while we were his enemies! And what a death! In Romans Paul said that death entered the world because of one sin. Because of one single sin the whole earth deserved to be destroyed. That’s how much destructive power sin has. When David did a census in rebellion to God, 70,000 men were killed as a punishment. Just because of one sin. Yet Jesus bore all of our sins on that cross, millions and millions of them, and he was separated from the Father and he beaten and tortured. But he endured it because He loved unbelievers.

Sometimes people complain that the prophetic books like Jeremiah and Isaiah are too long. But you know why they are so long? It is because God kept sending messengers to preach the gospel to rebellious and unbelieving people! It’s because He cared for them so much! There is more joy in heaven for one sinner who repents than 99 people who do not need repentance.

God loves the lost souls of man so much. That is his burden. Is it our burden? Do we share God’s heart and desires, or do we have our own agenda as Christians? If we really do, they we can learn to mourn and to fast.

But let me tell you, you are not going to be desperate for the lost souls if you are not first desperate for God Himself. We cannot be passionate for God’s burdens without being passionate for Him first.

II.                            Passionate Fast

And this is Jesus second point. “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (15).

First fasting comes out of desperation because of death, secondly, it comes out of a desperation to be with God. When the bridegroom will be taken away, then the disciples will fast. First there is the perspective of fasting, which is the reality of life and death, then there is the motivation of fasting, which is a passion to be with Christ. The second reason why we fast as believers is because Christ is not here but we wish He was here.

We fast because we want to be with God, we want to see Him closer and closer, we want to be in His presence more than with anything that this world could offer.

Hell is a reality, isn’t it? In fact, if you count the average of believers in all countries, you might find out that there is between 2-5% of true genuine believers in the world. That means that for every believer who gets to heaven, there are about 50 other people who go to hell. Sometimes I wonder, why does God allow that? But think about it this way. God doesn’t make any mistakes. For Him it is worth it. For God it is worth it sending 50 people to hell so that one person can know Him eternally. For God it would be worth it sending all of us in this room to hell so that Luke Hovey could go to heaven. Why? Because the richness of knowing God is not measurable. Even the measure of suffering and pain of 50 people spending eternity in hell cannot compare with the joys of one person knowing God. For each believer among us today there will be close to 50 people in hell. We’ve been brought at a high price. But for God it was worth it because knowing Him is so beautiful and so amazing that nothing can be compared to it.

Jesus told the parable of a man who was looking for pearls, and he found one that had so much value that he sold everything he had to buy it. He sold everything for the pearl of Christ.

I remember I was 17 when I realized that Christianity was not only the way to God but also a pearl. It all the sudden clicked in my mind. I realized that God was not something to pursue because older people would tell me, but because it was the best thing in the world And all the sudden I stopped playing video games, I stopped watching TV, all I wanted to do was to read the Bible and pray. The things of this world seemed so worthless compared to the pearl of Christ. I was discovering so much about God. What? I can talk to the living God all day long? No way? And I would read 2-3 hours everyday, in the evening pray until I would fall asleep and wake up early to pray more. In college on Friday nights a lot of people would go out to relax and watch a movie, but often I would just go in my room and spend time praying for a revival in France. I just didn’t care about the things of this world, I just wanted to be with God. I’ve probably read the Bible close to 15 times now, but let me tell you, I can never get enough.

And I’m not saying that to impress or anything, all I’m saying is that it is worth it. It’s so much worth it. There is nothing more satisfying than pursuing Christ. In a couple of weeks I’ll be 24, but I know that the prayer of our staff is that when you guys will be our age you will love the Lord more than we do now, that you will be more mature than we are, more passionate for Christ than we are.

But my question for you today is this: is Christianity a pearl to you, or is it just the “right religion?” Is Jesus truly the most precious thing in your life? Is he worth for you to sell everything you have? Do you love Jesus more than video games and facebook?

Seriously! Do you love Jesus? If Jesus is truly the pearl of our lives, then everything we do we will want to do in His presence, for His glory, with a holy fear. When we eat and drink, we should do everything for God’s glory. If you can’t watch a movie for the glory of God, don’t watch it. If you can’t play video games for God’s glory, don’t do it. Don’t accept to do things because they are accepted in our culture.

I often feel like we have things upside-down. We ask ourselves, “how much can I keep of my selfish world in this Christianity? How much can I focus on myself and still be a ‘good Christian?’” Instead of praying to God, “God, how much can I give up to know you more? What else can I get rid of in my life to leave more room for Christ? What else can I sell to purchase that pearl?”

Paul said in Acts 20:24, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

In the Old Testament God was revealed as a God of steadfast love and faithfulness. In the New Testament these words are translated as grace and truth. The main idea is this: that God loves us, and that he does is faithfully. He loves us, and He loves us all the time. Now, we have seen the extent of His love at the cross. Jesus cared so much that he was willing to bear the weight of all sins, to lose for an instant that eternal relationship he had with his Father, to suffer one of the worse physical death that you could think of. Well, that love that Jesus displayed on the cross is the same love with which He loves us every second of every day because his love is faithful. The passion that God displayed at the cross is the same one with which God makes all things work out for the good of those who love Him. I can’t comprehend such a thought. God plans every moment of every day with a love as intense as the one He showed on the cross.

But how can we see that love unless we are looking at Him. And we can’t see Him unless we are looking in his direction. And the only way to do that is to live for His glory in everything that we do. And that beings when we live for Him and not for ourselves. It begins when everything we do, either sports, school, spending time with friends, doing chores, everything, we do it all for Him.

But if you don’t live to know Christ more and passionately, you won’t desire to fast for Him more. But the reason why we fast is because even food does not match up to our hunger for God. We just want more and more of Him. We fast because our hunger for Him is greater than our hunger for food. We fast because Christ is our pearl and the pearl is so beautiful that we can’t stop looking at it.

III.                         Genuine Fast.

So Jesus first talks about a desperate fast, secondly about a passionate fast, thirdly about a genuine fast. This is where he confronts most boldly the Pharisees and the disciples of John. These men were fasting only because it looked good, it looked holy and they wanted people around them to know how ‘godly’ they were. But Jesus confronts them saying, “hey! Be real.”

Mat 9:16  No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.

Mat 9:17  Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved. »

Here Jesus describes the Pharisees as people walking around in dirty cloth and holding the new piece of cloth which is fasting shouting, “look at me! Look at my fasting! I am not an amazing person? Look how godly I am” And they are pointing to there fasting whereas the rest of their body is covered with rags.

And it’s the same idea with the wine. When new wine is put in wineskins, it ferments and so it makes the wineskins expand. But if the wineskins have already been used, then when they expand again they often burst and then the wine is wasted.

Let’s think about it this way. Think about Jared Tabor. Let’s say his house explodes in Tolza and he loses all that he has and all his friends reject him there and so he decides to come back to Santa Clarita. And so he walks back all the way from Oklahoma and finally arrive at Pastor John’s house. Now you can imagine what he looks like. His clothes look like rags, he hasn’t shaved for some days, his glasses are half-broken. And so Pastor John tells him, “Jared! You got to find a job. Here is a $100 to get started.” So Jared takes the $100 and goes to a shop and buys some very nice looking dress shoes. And then he goes to his first interview. And he is all dressed in rags, except for his new shoes. And so the guys who interviews him looks at him and says, “what in the world are you thinking about? Look at you!” And Jared answers, “Look at my shoes! Look at my shoes!” And the guy answers, “Well, your shoes sure look good, but it’s the rest that I am concerned about.”

And so that was Jesus’ point to the Pharisees and the disciples of John. All you are doing with this fasting is screaming, “look at our shoes, look at our shoes!” while the rest of your body is not even clean. Do you really think that God is pleased with your fasting?

A lot of the teaching on fasting in Scriptures is actually done to condemn hypocritical fasting. Let’s look at Matthew 6:16-18

Mat 6:16  « And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (17) But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, (18) that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Turn now in Luke 18:10-14

Luk 18:10  « Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (11) The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. (12) I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ (13) But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (14) I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. »

Humble people don’t run around screaming, “look at my shoes, look at my shoes!” They beat their chest crying to God, “be merciful to me a sinner!” And that is what true fasting is about, not doing it to look good, but doing from a genuine heart that truly desires to please God.

But the reason why as believers we fast is because we have a genuine faith in who God is. And because we have faith in Him, we have faith that when we take time to be with Him, when we come broken-hearted before Him, desperately and passionately, that God will be there.

Let’s turn to Isaiah 58:4-9

Isa 58:4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.

Isa 58:5  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?

Isa 58:6  « Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Isa 58:7  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Isa 58:8  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Isa 58:9  Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

“Here I am.” A true genuine fast leads to where God is. It leads to the very presence of God. It leads to the unleashing of God’s power. When Jesus fasted he overcame the greatest temptation the world had ever knew. Moses fasted forty days and forty nights without eating nor drinking and then he received the Ten Commandments. And when he came back and saw Israel in idolatry, he put things in order and came back to fast again forty days and forty nights to ask God to forgive the people. Esther fasted with the Jews and their people were delivered. Nehemiah fasted and God answered. Daniel fasted for the return of Israel from Exile and God answered. When the people of Nineveh fasted God forgave them even though they were one of the most wicked people on the whole earth.

Seek and you shall find. Isa 58:9  Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

But how real is our faith? How much do we hold on to the promises of the Bible to know them as true? Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful. Do we believe that? Do we believe that God wants to save a lot of people? Then what are we doing about it?

True faith is to hold on to the promises of Scriptures with all that we are, believing them to be true no matter the context, no matter the situation, no matter how long we have to persevere to see them accomplished.

Do you think that if you pray for a revival in your heart that God will not answer you? Do you think that if you ask God to use you for the salvation of the lost that God will not answer you? Do you think that if you ask God to know Him more that He will not answer you?

But how real is our faith? Our much are we willing to persevere to see God answer our prayers?

I remember two years ago we were planning an outreach with my small church in France Now our church is very small, about the size of this youth group. We needed $20,000, and we had literally $0. God provided. A week before the event we were still lacking $10,000. A youth from our church prayed, God we want the money, and we want it tomorrow, and the next day it came. We asked for 30,000 gospels of John to distribute. We got 50,000. And the list could go on. We asked permission to do a Christian concert on the main city-square of the 4th biggest city in France, in front of the city hall. We got it, about 3,000 people came and heard the gospel.

We knew that God wanted to save people and so we just kept praying and kept fasting until we were answered. God promises that He will finish the work that He has begun. Do we believe that? How much are we willing to persevere to see God fulfill His promises?

George Mueller was an amazing man. He provided for thousands of orphans without ever asking anyone for money, he would just pray the Lord to provide. He was a prayer-warrior.

“One day George Mueller began praying for five of his friends. After many months, one of them came to the Lord. Ten years later, two others were converted. It took 25 years before the fourth man was saved. Mueller persevered in prayer until his death for the fifth friend, and throughout those 52 years he never gave up hoping that he would accept Christ! His faith was rewarded, for soon after Mueller’s funeral the last one was saved.”

Goerge Mueller died fasting. He dies unsatisfied, for one of his friends was still not saved. But his life was filled with God. It was filled with God’s promises being fulfilled under his eyes, filled with the power of God, filled with hope.

Love Impossible – Matthew 5:43-48

INTRO

Let me read for you a few verses from a religious book, and try to guess what religion it comes from.

“There is the law of equality. If someone desires evil against you, commit that same evil against him.” (Surah 2:194)

“Let not the unbelievers think that our respite to them is good for themselves. We grant them respite that they may grow in their iniquity. But they will have a shameful punishment.” (Surah 3:178)

“Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them” (Surah 9:5)

“Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves.” Surah 48:29

Islam is a scary religion, and it is so because their god does not love his enemies. In the Koran, we read that Allah does not love (1) transgressors (2) he does not love the corrupt (3) he does not love the unbelievers (4) he does not love the wrongdoers (5) or the wasters (6) or those who boast (7) the proud (8) and him who speaks evil or commits crimes.

But these are those that he loves (1) those who do good (2) those who are pure and clean (3) those who are righteous (4) those who are just and who judge rightly (5) those who trust him (6) those who are persevering and patient (7) those who love him and follow his prophet (8) and those who fight for his cause.

Well, let me ask you. If someone was clean, pure and righteous, loved you, did good for you, trusted you, fought for you, followed you and was perseverant and patient, would it be hard for you to love this person back?

Islam teaches that Allah loves those who love him first.

Now, the reason why all these things are so repelling is because Allah claims to be god and there is nothing divine about him. His love is weak, selfish, superficial, and is in no way different than the love that selfish men have for one another.

And as we read these verses, that claim to be religious authority, it makes us shudder, because they sound much more like what Satan would inspire rather than God.

But let me ask you a question. How do you love?

Do you love like Allah, with a self-centered love, a love that begins after others love you first, or have you learned to love with God’s supernatural love?

Today we are going to look at 3 aspects of God’s love, so that you can know how to have an impact for God’s kingdom.

But first let us turn to Matthew 5:43-48

Mat 5:43  « You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Mat 5:44  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Mat 5:45  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.

Mat 5:46  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Mat 5:47  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Mat 5:48  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

When Jesus preached to the crowd His famous Sermon on the Mount, it was at the peak of His public ministry in Galilee. Flocks were flowing to Him by thousands, wanting to see Him, see His miracles, and hear Him speak. He was the man. He was hip. Some of the religious leaders were not too thrilled about Him, but His message so far had not appeared to have been too controversial. And the reason why is because people didn’t get His message. They thought they were in Jesus’ team, on His side. They thought that were saved and part of God’s kingdom, but the truth was that most of them were not.

The crowd was very much like what we see in a lot of American churches. People grow up in the right “religion” and so they thought they were alright. They grow up with the right moral system, and so they think they are on God’s side.

But here Jesus goes a step further. As He preaches His sermon, He insists that the kingdom is not for those who do the right things. It is for those who are able to prove that God is alive in them.  And so He tells them again and again, “You have heard it said, that if you were moral enough you were alright. But I say to you, unless you take things a step further and show that God is with you, you are useless you the kingdom. Unless you start doing things that are impossible to do without God’s help, then there is no proof that you are part of the kingdom.”

And so He talks about anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and then on love.

I. Divine Love is a Command (43-44)

And here is His first aspect of God’s love: Divine Love is a Command.

Mat 5:43  « You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Mat 5:44  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

And so Jesus starts this new concept with the same pattern He used before “you have heard it said.”

Here he attacks the teachers that the people so blind-fully followed. He attacks the Pharisees and their teachings. And He does that because the Pharisees were legalists. They thought that righteousness was something that could be manipulated. And they did so because their religion was a human religion. They didn’t need God to do what they were doing, and they didn’t need His Son either. And as a result they could only love with a selfish human love.

And while the Old Testament had revealed in Leviticus 19:17-18

Lev 19:17  « You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.

Lev 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

The Pharisee changed the meaning of “neighbor” to include only those people they preferred and approved of. They looked down on tax-collectors, and on criminal and prostitutes. They looked down on the common people. In an argument with Jesus in John 7 they even called the common people “accursed” because they listened to Jesus (John 7:48-49).

A certain saying of the Pharisees says “If a Jew sees a Gentile fallen into the sea, let him by no means lift him out, for it is written ‘You shall not rise up against the blood of your neighbor,’ but this man is not your neighbor.”

A morning prayer of the Pharisee went like this, “I thank you God that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, a leper, or a woman!”

The Pharisees were self-centered and a prideful people. They despised others. They looked for their interests above those of anybody. And they were the teachers of Israel! No wonder why the people were so misguided. In fact, the Romans even charged the Jews with hatred of the human race.

Now, that’s a glorifying title for the people of God, isn’t it?

And it happened because they humanized God’s commands. God had commanded “love your neighbor as yourself.” They simplified it with “love your neighbor,” and then defined the word neighbor just as they wanted.

But then completely missed the message of the Old Testament.

Prov 25:21 “if your enemy is hungry give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink”

God’s commands were never to do what was easy. God’s commands existed to first show that man was incapable of doing what was right by himself, so that he would realize his need for a Savior to empower him to do the impossible.

You can’t love your enemies without grace. It doesn’t make sense. That’s why all the other human religions suppress this concept. It cannot be fulfilled in the flesh. It cannot be accomplished without a Savior.

That’s what Jesus wanted to convey to the crowd. You think you are saved? You think you are part of my Father’s Kingdom? Prove it! Do something that shows that God is in you and with you! Don’t be just a good man, don’t be just a good woman. Anyone can make himself look good on an outward level. Show me that you are a godly man. Show me that you are a woman of faith. Show me that the impossible doesn’t stop you, but that as you rely on this infinite God, you are unshakable!

And so Jesus continues:

Mat 5:44  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Here Jesus speaks with authority. He speaks the very Word of God. The rabbis would open the scrolls to speak and teach on God’s Word. In Matthew 5:2, Jesus “opened His mouth.” What a statement, right? The verse literally reads “I myself say to you.” The focus is on His authority.

So Jesus speaks and explains to the people the meaning of God’s true revelation.

Now, who is an enemy? Does it refer only to soldiers from the other side of a battlefield? Well, that doesn’t make sense because Israel was in times of peace. They were occupied by Rome, but there was no war going on.

The word “enemy” comes from a root that means “to hate.” An enemy, in a broad sense, is simply someone that hates you.

Jesus sheds some more light on what an enemy is in the parallel passage in Luke 6:27-28:

Luk 6:27  « But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

Luk 6:28  bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

An enemy is not only an oppressor from a different country. The enemy is often our very neighbor. They are the people in the dorms that hate you. Those that look down on you. Those that ignore you. Those that think the world does not need you and could care less if you were not around. Those that manipulate you. Those that talk in your back. Those that take pleasure in mocking you. Those that use you to make themselves look better. Those that when you sneeze, don’t say ‘bless you’ but ‘away from me you weaker human being!’

Maybe you’ve got a few faces and names popping in your mind. Maybe those things characterize you with other individuals as well.

But here is the thing. If you are part of God’s kingdom, loving your enemies is not an option. It is a command.

When I was 10 my parents moved to France to take over a church. And so we left Quebec, Canada, where they were missionaries to go to Toulouse, southern France, and minister in a church in a lower class neighborhood. The first sight I had of what was going to be our church has stuck to my mind to this day. It was surrounded by used diapers. The Sunday school class we met in had a metallic door to the outside. It had been bent just enough so that the young men from the neighborhood could pee inside the building. That’s what we cleaned up on Sunday mornings before lesson time. Our church was covered with grafitis.  Stuff from the church would periodically go “missing.” At times our cars were keyed and our tires knifed. One time a boy from the neighborhood began to pick a fight with a kid from our church. I took him aside, only a little later to see his big brother come with a hammer.

And those were the people we were called to love.

We all have “enemies.” They may be roommates, neighbors, politicians, family members, kings of Prussia or exes, we all have our enemies.

Do we love them?

Here Jesus not only commands His followers to love their enemies, but also to pray for them, even those that persecute them.

Well, it’s hard to have a heart for prayer for your enemies when you don’t even pray for those that you love, but that’s besides the point.

Here Jesus asks of His followers to pray, and it is only an extension of the love that He commands, the “agape” love which is active, self-giving and sacrificial.

And the focus on prayer is evident. True love does not just want to do good to someone, but it wants God to do good to that person. Because not matter how much you think you might love someone, you’ll never be able to bless anyone with the extent that God can.

Prayer is indeed the most virtuous form of love. There is no better way to love someone than to pray for that person according to God’s will; which truly means that if he is a believer, you pray for sanctification, and if he is an unbeliever, you pray for salvation.

And it is a vicious circle. The more you pray for someone, the more you will grow in love towards that person, and the more you love someone, the more you will want to pray for that person.

II. Divine Love is an Example (45-47)

So far we have looked as divine love as a command. Now, from verses 45-47, we see divine love as an example.

Mat 5:45  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.

Mat 5:46  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Mat 5:47  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Jesus begins this section by affirming that divine love is a command but it is so because that is how God does it. God gives grace to both believers and unbelievers, to both good people and evil people. Now, if you want to claim being part of God’s kingdom, you have to do like the Father does. You must follow His divine example.

And what an example. Just think about it one second. God makes his sun rise. He causes it. He doesn’t have to. The God who holds the universe is under no obligation to continue the rotation of the planets around the sun. It is His sun. He could do whatever He want with it. He could take that sun and put it in His living room if He wanted.

But no. Everyday, He makes a willing, conscious act of benevolence. Every single day, God has the choice to bless the peoples on the earth or to remove His blessings. This planet made of 7 billion people, most of which do not care for Him, are enemies of Him, are truly children of Satan who would rather have Him and His plans destroyed, is kept into existence every day because of God’s grace. If it wasn’t for His grace, nothing would continue. If it wasn’t for His grace, there would be no more rain in the skies, no more food on our plates, no more breath in our lungs.

And every day God sees His enemies and makes a willing decision to protect them, to bless them and to love them. This is the kind of love that God is driven by. It is sacrificial. It is costly. It is deep. It is divine.

He loves this way every day, and ultimately we know He loved us this way at the cross where Jesus died. We must remember that Jesus did not die for His friends. He died for His enemies. Before His sacrifice every human being was guilty and condemned. But that did not stop Christ to come and shed His blood.

And He shed His blood for your sake when you hated Him. And he bore God’s fearsome wrath when you were lost in your lusts and in your sins. And He has been with you every single day of your life, even when you spat in His face and turned the other direction to flirt with sin, even when you heard His pleas of love and ignored Him to go bathe in the mud of iniquity.

And why does He do that? Because He is God! Because He is so glorious and infinite that He can love to those depths. Because He is so immense in grandeur that nothing can stop Him from being Himself, a God who loves.

And what a contrast with the example of the Jews. Or with us, right?

Mat 5:46  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Mat 5:47  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Jesus is simply telling them: you can’t do any better those that you hate. Even the tax-collectors, those people who compromised their allegiance to ally with the oppressor and who make a fortune in taking advantage of a poor people, love the same way that you do. Even the Gentiles, those pig-eating pagans who know nothing of God’s covenants, who live without God’s revelation of right and wrong, they love like you do. You call yourselves God’s people but you have nothing of God to show.

Now, that must have been a hard hit for the Jews, especially the Pharisees. In just a few words, Jesus put tax collectors and Gentiles and Jews in the same category. Outch. For the Pharisees, that would be the worse insult ever. The contrast is like telling a pastor that he is no better than a prostitute. Or your English professor, who might be my father-in-law, that he is no better that a soap opera writer. Outch. That’s what we would call a knock-out in boxing.

But here is the situation. Those people thought they were in the kingdom. They thought they were the real deal. They thought they were the hope of the world, the chosen ones, the crème de la crème.

And Jesus tells them they are not better than Romans sell-outs.

Well, we can continue for a while to make fun of the Pharisees, only it doesn’t really stay funny when we look at our lives and see that we are no better.

Where is your supernatural love? Where is the proof that God is in you? Where is the proof that you carry the Holy Spirit with you wherever you go?

We know the words of Christ “They will know that you are my disciples by your love” (John 13:35)

Loving like Christ did is the highest testimony that we can have.

Watchman Nee tells a story about a Christian who owned a rice paddy next to that of a Communist. The Christian irrigated his paddy by pumping water out of a canal. Every day, after the Christian had pumped enough water to fill his paddy, the Communist would come out, remove the boards that kept the water in his neighbour’s paddy, and allow the water to drain into his paddy so he wouldn’t have to pump the water. This continued for some time, until the Christian could not take it any more. He prayed, “Lord, if this keeps up I’m going to lose all my rice, maybe even my field. What can I do?” The Lord began by putting this thought in his mind. The next morning the Christian got up early and started pumping water into his neighbour’s paddy first. Then he replaced the boards and pumped water into his own rice paddy. The result was that both rice paddies became productive and the Communist was softened by his neighbour’s generosity. The two men became friends and eventually the Communist became a believer in Jesus.

Here is another story.

Late one summer evening in, a weary truck driver pulled his truck into a gas station. The waitress had just served him his supper when three tough looking, leather jacketed Hells Angels motorcyclists – walked in, came over to his table and began to give him a hard time.

Not only did they verbally abuse him, one grabbed the hamburger off his plate, another took a handful of his chips, and the third picked up his coffee and began to drink it. He ignored them and finished his meal. Then he calmly got up, put his money and bill on the cash register, and went out of the door. The waitress followed him to put the money in the till and stood watching at the door as the big truck drove away into the night. When she returned, one of the bikers said to her, « Well, he’s not much of a man, is he? » She replied, « I don’t know about that, but he sure ain’t much of a truck driver either. He just ran over three motorcycles on his way out. »

Now it might sound funny, but Christ died for those people. Our desire should not be for their misfortune, but for their salvation.

III. Divine Love is a Standard

First we saw that divine love is a command, secondly that it is an example, now thirdly we see that God’s love is a standard.

Mat 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

God’s standard is perfection. Now, does He actually except us to be perfect all the time?

Well, let’s try to understand this verse, and to do this there are two other verses we need to look at. The first one is Leviticus 19:2. This verse gives the phrasing and general concept that Jesus uses in His teaching:

Lev 19:2 You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

This verse was spoken to Israel when they came out of Egypt. God spoke these words to them to help them adjust their expectations. They had been delivered from slavery and redeemed by God Himself to be His people. God wanted Israel to be His people and He wanted to have a relationship with them. But since He was holy and wasn’t about to change that, the only way to have a relationship was if the people became holy. And this meant to turn from sin and to be consecrated to live for God. It wasn’t just to do the right thing and to not do the bad things. It was to pursue God. It was to give one’s life to God and say, “here it is God, you do what you want now.”

Now the different between the words “holy” and “perfect” is not great. They both reflect the idea of completeness, of divine standard. But here the reason why Jesus uses the word “perfect” is because He doesn’t simply want to reiterate the law. The Jews knew the law and had interpreted it in their own ways to make it sound less than what it was. Jesus brings the law but with insight and freshness to it, revealing that God’s holiness was not a question of legalism but a question of divine presence.

And it brings us to the second verse in Matthew 5:20

Mat 5:20  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

This verse helps us to understand what Jesus meant by “perfection.” It refers to God’s standard of righteousness. The perfection is the greater righteousness. It is God’s righteousness.

Jesus simply tells the Jews and the Pharisees. “Listen. There is no such thing as religious elite. You are either in the kingdom or you are not. You are either doing things God’s way or man’s way.”

If I had to pick the one verse that had the most influence on my life, without hesitating I would choose Ephesians 2:10.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This verse rocked my world because I realized that the works I was suppose to bear were not mine but God’s very own. This verse transformed my life because it changed my expectations concerning what I could do with me from 1 to 1 billion. When I realize that God was the One truly working through me, oh man, my eyes opened and I started dreaming. I started dreaming and started praying relentlessly.

If God is in you and God is working, don’t be satisfied with low standards. Don’t live for the crumbs. Don’t live a boring Christian life. Don’t just follow the motions. Aim high. Aim for God-sized ambitions. Love hard. Love until your heart stops beating. I can’t tell you how exciting when you pray and God answers.