Taste and see: Part three

The wine

John 15:1-8; Psalm 34:8; Galatians 5:22; 1 John 4:7-17 ; Hosea 9:3-5; Exodus 29:40; Romans 11:11-24

A quick recap

The focus of John 15 is the role of the vine to the branches, and thereby to the fruit. The vine grows from the rootstock and is vital to the life of the plant. The vine connects the root to the branches and it is through the fruit-bearing branches that the vitality of the root and vine are revealed. The root and vine do not need the branches to live, but the branches are quick to die without the sustenance provided by the root through the vine. Additionally, branches from one varietal may be grafted onto a stronger vine and rootstock to avoid disease and strengthen the health of the vineyard.

A good winemaker knows which branches will bear good fruit, and the lesser branches are cut away and destroyed. Remaining branches are trained and tied so that the fruit has every opportunity to develop depth of flavor. There are times when good fruit is cut away to promote production of the best fruit. Every cut is for the benefit of the vineyard and the quality of the wine it will produce.

As the branches grow heavy with grapes, the time for harvest and the winemaking process begins.

Transformation

Making wine is both science and art, with multiple steps and decisions that will affect the quality and flavor of the wine produced. An excellent breakdown of the process is here. From harvest to fermentation to bottle is a labor of love for the winemaker, whose primary goal is not necessarily to make money (there are far more predictable ways to do that), but rather to “bring pleasure to those who drink it” (Anson, 2018).

The transformation beings at the harvest. When and how to harvest are decisions made partly by science (wind, temperature, weather events) and partly by instinct. Mechanical harvesting is quicker, but hand harvesting allows the grower to be selective. Grapes are then sorted and unwanted elements (damaged grapes, insects, leaves, etc.) removed before destemming and crushing. Again, crushing can be mechanical or done by human feet. The first crush produces the highest quality juice and subsequent crushing and pressing separates all the liquid from the solids.

Crushed and pressed

No winemaker can expect the finest wine to come from grapes that are improperly planted, growth, nurtured, harvested, and pressed. Similarly, we who are believers must not expect our faith to be mature and our obedience to the Lord to be perfected without His nurture and His pressing. Good fruit comes from meticulous care. Good wine comes with a change from one form (grapes) to another (juice). Grapes left on pruned branches rot and decay; they are not changed, but rather are rendered useless. In the metaphorical sense, believers are pressed like the grapes, not to destroy us, but rather to extract from our lives the best part of what the Father has called us to be and to do. Paul wrote,

“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing through us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Suffering often feels like destruction to us because we have finite minds. We make decisions based on what we see, but the winemaker makes decisions based on what he knows will be. God allows us to be pressed and squeezed and drained, not to harm us, but that His perfect will might be revealed through us. The best wine is impossible without the crushing of the grapes.

Fermented, changed, and waiting

Image by RonalddeBruijn from Pixabay

Crushing and pressing are active processes, but good wine also requires waiting. Fermentation takes time as the natural sugars are converted to alcohols with a number of antioxidants, digestive enzymes, and probiotics. Fermentation takes the juice pressed from the fruit and changes its chemistry. Wine is not the same as juice, even though both come from the same fruit. Juice is full of sugar, calories, and is highly perishable. There are arguments about the virtues of wine, but it is the most common drink mentioned in the Bible, and the Lord chose wine for a drink offering as far back as Exodus 29. Jesus, Himself, used wine as a metaphor for the blood he would shed on the cross (Luke 22:14-20.) If the metaphor is good enough for the Savior, it is sufficient for illustration of how God uses the liminal spaces of our lives to change His children.

Waiting is hard. Change is hard. Suffering is hard. But Paul reminds us that the promise of what is to be and what is to come is worth the trials of life. In fact, God requires us to persevere through difficulties for a number of reasons: to develop character, to trust His plan, and ultimately to be part of His glory revealed. This life, with all its challenges and hardships conforms us to the image of Jesus. Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed in us”(Romans 8:18). And James wrote that we are to “count it all joy” when faced with trials because the tests make us steadfast (shelf-stable) and complete (James 1:2-4).

Once wine is fermented, it is traditionally placed in oak barrels to evolve and develop complex and balanced flavor. The wood infuses the wine with flavor, aroma, and texture over time. Both the size and age of the barrels affect the wine, and the length of time in the barrel depends on the taste the winemaker wants to achieve. A small barrel will produce a flavor extraction faster than a large barrel, but a large barrel will afford a larger quantity of a consistent flavor over time. Time in contact with the wood is critical to fully develop the character of the wine.

Similarly, time in contact with the Word of God develops Christian character over time. Trials and suffering speed to process by bringing believers face to face with their inability to rescue themselves from their nature and stripping away anything that interferes with their relationship to God. But there are times, too, where growth doesn’t require hardship. There are times when God allows His children time to rest in His arms, to dwell in His Word, and to simply go about the work He provides. Not every moment of life is dramatic. There are more days we might consider mundane than any other kind of day. But God speaks to us in the ordinary when we are faithfully in the Word, working out our daily tasks, however unremarkable we might think they are. In waiting, we are transforming. Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “I do know that waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it…” (2002). Like the wine in the barrels, we are transformed in the quiet times as we absorb the nature of what (or Who) holds and contains us.

Coming next: bottling, pouring, and tasting.

References

Images, unless otherwise noted, are public domain

Anson, J. (2018). Anson: What drives people to make wine? Decanter. https://www.decanter.com/magazine/anson-why-make-wine-392180/

Caperso, A. ( n.d.) The wine-making process in 15 steps-part 1. Wine and other stories [Blog]. https://wineandotherstories.com/the-winemaking-process-in-15-steps-part-1-infographic/

Elliot, E. (2002). Passion and purity: Learning to bring your love life under Christ’s control. Revell.

Evans, T. (2019) Tony Evans Bible Commentary. Holman Bible Publishers.

ESV Reformation Study Bible (2015) R.C. Sproul (Ed.). Ligonier Ministries.

Hanson, D.K. (2021). Wine vs grape juice: Which is better for health and long life? Alcohol problems and solutions [blog] https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/wine-vs-grape-juice-which-is-better-for-health/

MasterClass Staff (2020). What is fermentation? Learn about the three different types of fermentation and six tips for homemade fermentation. MasterClass [blog]. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-fermentation-learn-about-the-3-different-types-of-fermentation-and-6-tips-for-homemade-fermentation#what-is-fermentation.

New Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. NRSV (2019). J.H. Walton and C.S. Keener (Eds.) Zondervan.

Redhead Blogger (n.d.) How to age wine in oak barrels. Red head Barrels [blog]. https://redheadoakbarrels.com/how-to-age-wine-in-oak-barrels/.

Taste and see: Part two

Berries, Vérasion, and Harvest

John 15:1-8; Psalm 1

“Every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes that it may bear more fruit.”

Pruning does more than shape a grapevine. Pruning also directs the future growth and direction of the plant, and affect how well the vine produces.

In viticulture, pruning is an ongoing process. The dormant season is marked by constant training and trimming so that the branches are ready to bear the full weight of the fruit to come. In spring, when the branches bud, wine growers have to determine which buds to keep and which to discard.

vine-lifecycle-spring-flowering
Wine Folly images

As abiders in the True Vine, God also uses our dormant times to do major work in us. The times in between ministries or events may be traumatic, which engenders strong but slow growth, or they may be restful, allowing us to store up energy for whatever comes next. During those times, the Lord may see fit to remove some things that we view as generally positive. During the pandemic of 2020-21, physical church attendance was stripped from every believer. But we are called to be in fellowship with one another, so going to church is a good thing, right?

Why would God separate His children from each other? Why would He allow churches to be closed down, not for a just a few weeks, but for a full year?

Not being a prophet, I cannot say for certain, but I do believe that the pandemic provided an opportunity for Christians to take a step back and evaluate their reasons for going to church on Sundays and weekdays and holidays. I think the Church, particularly in the US, had become complacent, and in many cases, just another thing to do. The pandemic was, for the Church, a pruning away of all the non-essentials, even of good things like choirs and children’s activities, so that the permanent trunk, growing directly from the root could strengthen. For individuals, the loss of activities cut away at things and actions that become works-based faith, and offered time (plenty of time) to grow deeper as branches into the True Vine.

vine-lifecycle-summer-berry-growth

The pruning process continues throughout the growth cycle of the vine. The fruit sets, first as clusters of tiny green spheres and then into bunches that we recognize. During vérasion, the grapes (which are technically berries) begin to turn from green to yellow, blush, and every shade of red to indigo. During this time, viticulturalists continue to thin the vines to allow the perfect amount of sun to reach the fruit and to reduce the bunches so that the remaining fruit has the best opportunity to develop flavor.

Our Christian lives are continually shaped with experiences and relationships that stay for a season and then are pruned away. Bad habits, like diseased vines or blemished fruit are also pruned away and discarded. Just because we “lose” something doesn’t mean we aren’t loved by God. It means He has a plan for us to produce the best for His glory. It means that, even though something is good, it may not be best. Pruning eliminates the things that keep us from fully abiding in the vine that is Christ. God is glorified when we acquiesce to His careful cutting away of anything that interferes with what is His best. It is a lifelong process of cutting back the old things, training new growth, and preventing the cares of this world from affecting the fruit we produce.

Photo by Sarah Reith for the Ukiah Daily Journal

As Fall approaches, the vines thicken and become more woody. The grapes become heavy with sugar and the harvest begins. While machine harvesting does exist, many wine grapes are still harvested by hand. There is a short window of opportunity to remove the fruit at its perfect sweetness. When the harvest is complete, the vine drops its leaves in a colorful display, and the process of pruning and training begins again. Recent years, especially in the Western US, fires have consumed vineyards before the harvest was complete, and the remnants of ash and smoke in the soil may affect the flavor of future wines in the region. Other years and in other places, hailstorms battered the fragile fruit. Parasites and blights destroyed whole regions. The life of the vineyard keeper changes with every season, but the goal remains the same: grow the grapes that can become the best wine.

As believers grow older, we too may become a little hardened, a bit set in our ways. We like the familiarity of the songs we sang at Bible camp or the liturgies we recall from holidays long ago. We know what the vines should look like and how the fruit should taste. We have weathered the long seasons of life, and we are ready to sit back and let the younger generations take over the work. But like the vines in the vineyards, the master gardener prunes the branches away, taking the plant to its central base as He prepares us for another season of growth and productivity. We are never too old to produce excellent fruit.

Throughout our lives, the only thing keeping us moving closer to holiness is our graft into the vine of Christ. We can do nothing unless we abide in Him. The branches and buds and fruit that are pruned away are discarded so that He can pour his spirit into and through us. We cannot produce holiness in and of ourselves any more than a cut off vine can produce grapes. We do not bring glory to the Father by perfect church attendance, the volunteer activities we do, or even the things we give up. God trains us in righteousness while we are in Jesus. He is the stable root network and the strength of the trunk that allows the branches to flourish. This is the glory of God, that we remain in Christ and produce much fruit as His disciples.

Coming in part three: The wine

References

Clay, M. H. (n.d.). How does a vineyard actually work? Sonoma Ranches and Vineyard Land.

Day, K. (2020, December 3). The great debate: What is the future of appellations? with Andrew Jefford and Robert Joseph. Wine Scholar Guild.

Fodor’s (2021). Grape growing: The basics. Fodor’s Travel.

McKirdy, T. (2018, April 26). Pruning and grape vine training: The basics of wine grape growing. Wine Frog.

Mercedes, H. (2020, May 15). Discover the lifecycle of a wine grapevine. Wine Folly.

Vaughan, B. (2019, February 1). American Viticultural areas of Sonoma County. Sonoma County Tourism.

Wine Country Staff. (2016, May 16). 101 Basic wine facts for the budding sommelier. Napa Valley.

Taste and see: Part one

The vineyard and the vines

John 15:1-8; Psalm 34:8; Galatians 5:22; 1 John 4:7-17

A recent sermon about Jesus as the true vine included an illustration meant to be humorous (it was), but got me thinking about the process of wine-making. Having lived 12 years in Sonoma County among the wineries, the illustration brought back memories of wine country seasons, the crush, the fairs, and the competitions for the gold ratings. The full sermon from Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, GA is here, but the particular illustration that got my thinking was William Rainey’s poking fun at his habit of making faces when trying new foods and made a connection to the way people look at wine tastings as they discern the notes and flavors in each sniff, swirl, and sip. Having seen a few of those, I knew exactly what he meant and I giggled.

I started thinking, professionals in the wine industry don’t often need a full sniff, swirl, and sip to determine whether a wine is worth drinking. They can identify any issues with a wine and can often identify where the issue began, even as far back as the health of the vine, the soil, the nutrition, and the caretaking of the vineyard.

In the beginning was the appellation. Or appellations. Depending on the kind of wine you want to make, you need to find just the right combination of temperature, humidity, soil, climate and microclimate, space, drainage, and light. I lived in Sonoma County, the home of 18 different American Viticultural Areas (AVA or appellations.) There are 252 AVAs in the US, and thousands worldwide (although the definitions of appellations vary in Europe.) Each appellation is ideal for producing a limited type of wine. The Sonoma County wine country includes hot inland valleys, perfect for Zinfandel, a long lazy river carrying Pacific fog for miles, ideal for Pinot Noir, volcanic ash enriched soil that nurtures Chardonnay, and the Mayacamas Mountain range where higher elevations are home to some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the region. All the conditions for each varietal must be perfect for a vineyard to survive. What makes the wine country of Northern California unique is the number of soils types in the size of the region; there are at least 60 different soils from rocky to clay and each one has attributes that provide the right conditions for a particular kind of wine.

Vineyards are not generally planted as seeds, but as cuttings from established vines grafted onto disease-resistant rootstocks. The vigneron (the person who cultivates grapes for wine ) chooses his cuttings and rootstocks carefully, selecting those elements that are best suited to the appellation in which he is planting his vineyard. When we accept the gift of salvation offered by the Father in Jesus, we are grafted into the central vine from the rootstock of the Almighty (Romans 11:17-24). This is the beginning of our growing in Christ, a literal union with Him as we separate from what we once were and join to Him, sustained and nurtured by the root of the Word.

As the new graft grows, it takes on a woody base; the stronger the base, the healthier the branches that bear the fruit. It might take five years for a grower to develop a satisfactory base by cutting away any growth that might detract from the establishment of a secure network of roots to anchor the plant when it is ready to produce fruit. To the casual observer, it may not look like any kind of growth is happening, but just below the surface of the soil, the roots grow deeper and spread wider, creating a network that will support not just one vine, but the whole vineyard. As believers, we shouldn’t feel rushed to jump headlong into ministry, especially as we are learning who we are in Christ. We might find ourselves in Peter’s predicament when he jumps off the boat to walk on the water. Everything was fine until he looked down and realized he was human, and humans sink. He had to remember to look to Jesus to save him (Matthew 14: 22-31). Not long after, Peter found his faith, his role, and his voice to become the first of the apostles to preach the gospel at Pentecost. By then, his roots were secure, and he was trained in the way.

Training is part of the vine-cultivator’s job. In order for the roots to support the branches well, the branches must be trained so that their weight is balanced. There are many ways to train a grapevine, and the vintner chooses the one that best suits the type of grape, the location, the climate, and his plan for harvesting the fruit when the time comes. The Lord trains us similarly. Each one of us has a role in the Kingdom, and the Father prepares us according to His plan and by our characteristics. He doesn’t force us into a common mold, but rather carefully shifts our inborn traits to function best within His vine. Like grapevines, He may twist us into shapes we don’t expect, but whatever He does is for our good and His glory.

vine-lifecycle-winter-pruning
Wine Folly has the best illustrations and excellent explanations.

Pruning a vine takes years to master. Once a grapevine is established, the canes (branches) must be cut off, even the ones that bore the best fruit. Then the pruner must decide where to leave enough of a bud so that new shoots can form to become next season’s canes.

It is in this dormant time that the vine-grower makes decisions that will affect the entire season ahead. Dormancy is hard for humans. We feel guilty when our branches are bare, and we may be judged by others because they don’t see any visible growth. But God is at work during our dormant times. He is cutting away the things that may interfere with what is yet to come. He prunes away things that will never bear fruit, and He cuts back even the things that we think are good or beneficial. The Father is not planning for good fruit; He is pruning for the best that is possible to come from us.

vine-lifecycle-spring-flowering

Budding begins in early spring, and buds break out all over the new vines. A careful vigneron will continue to prune away any buds and flowers that might hinder growth of the best grapes. The overall yield may be lower, but the quality of what is left behind is better than it might have been if left to grow freely on its own.

Similarly, when we spend time in the Word, we may follow interesting lines of thought or intriguing stories. These ideas are not necessarily bad, in fact, many of them are good and profitable in the right context and time. But if we are studying a specific book or passage or precept, we need to be mindful of wandering like an errant vine tendril until God shows us the connection between our meanderings and His purpose. We also need to be careful to use Scripture to understand Scripture. There are commentaries and sermons and studies that might be helpful, but the Bible and the Holy Spirit are all we actually need to know the Father. Grape flowers are considered perfect because they self-pollinate. The Word of God is actually perfect, as the Psalmist wrote: (Psalm 19).

The law of the Lord is perfect,

    reviving the soul;

the testimony of the Lord is sure,

    making wise the simple;

 the precepts of the Lord are right,

    rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is pure,

    enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the Lord is clean,

    enduring forever;

the rules of the Lord are true,

    and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,

    even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey

    and drippings of the honeycomb.

Psalm 19: 7-10

Coming in Part Two: Berries, Vérasion, and Harvest

References

Clay, M. H. (n.d.). How does a vineyard actually work? Sonoma Ranches and Vineyard Land.

Day, K. (2020, December 3). The great debate: What is the future of appellations? with Andrew Jefford and Robert Joseph. Wine Scholar Guild.

Fodor’s (2021). Grape growing: The basics. Fodor’s Travel.

McKirdy, T. (2018, April 26). Pruning and grape vine training: The basics of wine grape growing. Wine Frog.

Mercedes, H. (2020, May 15). Discover the lifecycle of a wine grapevine. Wine Folly.

Vaughan, B. (2019, February 1). American Viticultural areas of Sonoma County. Sonoma County Tourism.

Book Review

Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe

Baucham, V.T. (2021) Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe. [Kindle] Salem Books.

Those of us who grew up in California understand earthquakes better than most people in the US. We are aware that the State is riddled with fault plane boundaries, commonly called fault lines, where tectonic plates move against others, creating friction that eventually releases energy. That inevitable release comes in the form of seismic waves, shaking the earth, and devastating whatever lies above it. Californians understand the risk of living near fault lines, and take the necessary precautions to avoid damage. There is no stopping an earthquake, but the harm can be mitigated by awareness and preparation.

Dr. Voddie Baucham’s aptly named book uses the metaphor of increasing friction along fault plates to illustrate the impending and inevitable release of worldview tensions and the destruction that will come when (not if) the seismic waves of anger, fear, and frustration reach the surface of the culture. Baucham is clear that he did not write the book to stop the divide between sacred and secular cultures, but rather to “clearly identify the two sides of the fault line and to urge the reader to choose wisely” (p. 6).

Well-researched, with pages of citations following each chapter, Baucham defines the dominant worldviews that make up US culture. As a Black man, he knows the issues well, and from both sides of the argument. His lived experience testifies to his deep understanding of the issues now facing the US, but research informs his conviction that, while advocacy may have a place in the culture, it cannot overcome the divide. For Baucham, Truth, in all its capitalized glory, is necessary for justice, and Truth (or the denial of it) is the source of current cultural seismic waves. In earthquake country, there are often small temblors that precede a major quake; using Baucham’s metaphor, it is fair to say that the US is currently reacting to small cultural temblors that should make people prepare for the big quake that will come.

Baucham sets up a clear binary of secular and sacred. As a reader, I do not always agree with his conclusions; he skips over some of the important nuances of the complex issues, choosing to lay out his argument in purely black and white terms (wordplay intentional.) The strength of this book is in his definitions of a secular religion that puts humans at the center. He uses publications by those who hold to the views of secularism as the sources for the definitions, citing them not only by words, but also by hyperlinks (in the Kindle edition) to the source documents. He also exposes the faulty logic of secularism as he defines the new Gnosticism that prevails in the not-so-new religion (chapter 5.)

The book takes a decidedly sacred position, calling on people of faith to reconnect to the sufficiency of scripture as the source of Truth and as the model of how people ought to treat one another: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40) and “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). He calls on the Church to have hard conversations about the issues at hand, conversations that both address the cultural divide and prepare people of faith to speak the truth in love, knowing that the difference between human-centered religion and Jesus-focused faith is the underlying source of conflict, not just now, but throughout all of history.

My teaching notes from Matthew 7

I was privileged to lead my precious Hope Las Vegas ladies’ Bible gathering this morning, and thought I might share my notes and the questions for the breakout groups here.

We are currently walking through the Gospel of Matthew, one chapter at a time. I did a short recap of the first part of the the Sermon on the Mount and then added thoughts and reflections (and challenges) for the final section. The summaries are my own, so any inaccuracies are also mine.

https://amisraeltours.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/mount-of-beatitudes/

Final piece of Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

First block (Matthew 5): How to live by the Law.  cf Galatians 3:19-26

The purpose of the Law was to illustrate just how far from holy human effort can make us. It was designed to turn people to the one one who can save: Messiah.

Second block (Matthew 6): How to live like a believer daily. cf Galatians 5:22-26

The Spirit allows us to keep in step with its fruit, becoming people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Our very natures are being changed from earth-centered to heaven-bound. That change is HARD because our sin nature keeps pushing through. But as we learned in Matthew 4, God has given us His Word so that we are able to put the enemy in his place even as we are sustained by the Father. It’s a DAILY experience. It may seem like change isn’t happening, but when we look backward, we can see the unmistakable hand of God on our lives.

Third/Final block (Matthew 7): How to live out a spirit-filled life in an increasingly secular world. cf Galatians 6:9-10

This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.

My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.

The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door,

and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

public domain

We may not feel at home in this crazy, violent, turbulent world, but we are stuck here until the Lord calls us home or Jesus returns. The events of recent days just illustrated how broken this world is and how human attempts to fix it just seem to accelerate the downward spiral. The worse it gets, the more dependent we need to be on the Way the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). While the first sections of the Sermon on the Mount addressed activities visible to the outside world, this last section focused on issues of the heart, the things no one else sees.

Key verse: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).

The crowds were astonished, not by the person speaking, but by the words of the message and the authority by which they were spoken. Why? What set Jesus apart?

  1. Ancient synagogue services were divided among presenters. While the synagogues had officials, they rotated roles within each service. The chief ruler (Rosh-ha-Keneseth) identified different attendees to read the various parts of the formal service. One person read the prayers, seven people shared reading the law, another person read the prophets, and if someone in the room didn’t know Hebrew, an interpreter was required. Finally, a congregant was chosen to speak a message from the texts. Jesus took on all the roles himself.
  2. Ancient practices separated men, women, and children. Jesus didn’t.
  3. Further, the old ways followed a call-and-response format (sort of). The prayers would be read, and the congregants would respond with a scripted, traditional response.
  4. Jesus interpreted the ancient words in new ways.
  5. Jesus taught by the Spirit. Matthew Henry wrote: 

The scribes pretended as much authority as any teachers whatsoever, and were supported by all the external advantages that could be obtained, but their preaching was mean, and flat, and jejune: they spake as those what were not themselves masters of what they preached: the word did not come from them with any life or force; they delivered it as a school-boy says his lesson; but Christ delivered his discourse, as a judge gives his charge. He did indeed, dominari in conscionibus—deliver his discourses with a tone of authority; his lessons were law; his word a word of command. Christ, upon the mountain, showed more true authority, than the scribes in Moses’s seat. Thus when Christ teaches by his Spirit in the soul, he teaches with authority. He says, Let there be light, and there is light.

So, in this third section of the Sermon on the Mount, what did Jesus say?

Jesus started with the thing that drives everyone nuts–and everyone does it, at least in their heads: Judging. James talks about showing preferences and the problems therein. We can hide our judgmental thoughts, but Jesus makes it clear that we have no space to be judgmental; we have our own issues that the Spirit is dealing with us all the time. 

Additionally, we have to be aware of how we use God’s word when we DO correct (lovingly, gently) our brothers and sisters. They may not be in a place to let you work on their specks–even if your logs are completely removed. 

Continuing the theme of internal actions, Jesus reminds His listeners that they are LOVED by God. The teachings of the Pharisees/Sadducees and the focus on keeping the Law (legalism in modern parlance) makes God look like a cosmic killjoy whose eyes run to and fro over the earth to see whom He can condemn (2 Chronicles 16:9). That is NOT TRUE! 

God loves us (1 John 4:10),but that doesn’t mean we can celebrate our fire insurance and do whatever we want. Back to James: Faith without works is DEAD (James 2:14-26). Working out our faith, especially internally, is challenging because our sin nature keeps tripping us up. We WILL have trouble in this world (John 16:33) and some of that trouble comes by way of false teachers. Don’t listen to them. I won’t name them here (that would take too long), but you recognize them by their fruit. Are they servants or influencers? Do they preach Jesus plus nothing? Is their gospel message unadulterated by the culture of this world? If Jesus isn’t first, RUN. 

And if YOU happen to be teaching falsely, or if YOUR works are for your own glory, you may be in for a surprise when you get to glory and your name is not in the Lamb’s book of life. What motivates you to work out your salvation?  Fame and followers? Or Fear and trembling? (Philippians 2:1-12)

Can you imagine the people sitting and hearing these words? They’re contrary to anything else they knew. They had been taught that adherence to the words of the Law, the Prophets and the sacrifices were sufficient to be saved, but Jesus told them that the whole purpose of everything they thought they had to do was to show them that they actually couldn’t do it! In fact, the things they tried to do to earn their way into the eternal Kingdom were nothing more than a foundation of shifting sand; anything built on that ground would disappear. 

Is it any wonder people were astonished? Dumbstruck, even? Here was a man who spoke the scriptures, interpreted the scriptures, and preached the scriptures without needing to check with another person to make sure He was on the right track. His authority rang out in the way he held “church” (outside in a mixed crowd speaking the words of the Law from memory) and in the way He blended familiar things, like fig trees and construction with the Scriptures in ways no one had heard before. He talked about the impossibility of keeping the whole law while reassuring people of God’s great love for them.  He told them they needed to not only act on what He taught them, but they had to take His words to heart and let the Spirit make internal changes that no one could see. And He reminded them that people only see the external things, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:17).

References

Burton, E. DW. (1896) The Ancient Synagogue Service. The Biblical World, 8(2). 143-148. The Ancient Synagogue Service

Henry, M. (2021). Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary. Christianity.com  Matthew 7 Bible Commentary – Matthew Henry (complete) Original work written 1708-1710.

Group breakout questions:

Matthew 7

Key verses: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).

Matthew 7: 1-6

  • What is the difference between judgement and accountability?
  • How do you handle dealing with differences of opinion when it comes to biblical and/or moral gray areas?

Matthew 7: 7-12

Consider and define the verbs in the section (ask, seek, knock). 

  • What is significant about these words?
  • Why does Jesus compare God to a human parent?
  • How do you go about asking, seeking, and knocking for God’s good gifts?

Matthew 7: 13-23

  • Why is the road to the kingdom hard and the gate narrow? If God loves everyone, why not make it easy?
  • What does Jesus mean that not everyone who says “Lord, look what I did” will enter the Kingdom of God?
  • How do you determine the trustworthiness of a speaker who claims to be a spiritual authority or guide?
  • Read Galatians 5:22-25. What kind of fruit do you produce?

Matthew 7: 24-27

  • What does Jesus mean when he talks about rock and sand as foundations for building? Where might he have gained his expertise in structural security? What did he expect his audience to know about construction?
  • Why is it important to base your faith on a reasonable and responsible understanding of the Bible?

Matthew 7: 28-29

  • Why were the crowds astonished?
  • When you find yourself astonished by a message, how do you respond?

Peace?

It was just after sunset. The sky was dusky, and the shadows in the alleys grew deeper. The Temple took on hues of pink and gold as the marble reflected the last rays of day, a glorious sight for those who had eyes to see. The women did not see the beauty; they were consumed with making the perfect meal, centered around lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. The tradition dated back centuries, to the time of the great exodus, and it was surrounded by specific rituals, prayers, and songs. Jerusalem was crowded as people from all over pilgrimaged to the holiest city they knew. Many of those pilgrims had surely been part of the great crowds that sang, “Hosanna” on the first day of the week. While the sacred meal was primarily for families, individuals could also gather as companies, temporary families united by being among the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

By this time, the noise of the crowds had diminished as the sacrifices were completed and the men returned to their homes to partake in the Passover meal. They led their children for a search of hidden leaven in the house. As guests arrived, servants would wash the dust from the travelers’ feet. Wine was served for both sacred and non-ritual consumption. Throughout the meal, family members would retell the exodus story as they recalled God’s miraculous freeing of the people of Israel from slavery under the Egyptian pharaoh.

This night, a group of men met in the upper room of a home they knew. There were thirteen in all, but when the meal was eaten, one left mysteriously, before the final cups of wine were blessed: “Blessed are you, o Lord our God, King of the universe, who has created the fruit of the vine…[who said,] I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements.”

By now, the men in the group were concerned. Why had one left their midst before the final prayer? Why did Judas not sing the words, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever?” And then the Master spoke to them, words of a new commandment to love even though some of them would shortly depart, even denying they knew Him. He told them He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He reminded the remaining eleven that, even when He left them, they would not be alone, but that He would send a Counselor, a Holy Spirit, to walk with them and through them as they kept His commands.

He spoke plainly to them, that the next moments and days would be the worst they could possibly imagine. And then Jesus spoke these words:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14:27

As the group departed when the meal was complete, Jesus told them more about what was to come. He finished by warning them that they would indeed face tribulation, but they could endure because He conquered the world and the sin that inhabited it (John 16:33).

The world in which we live is indeed troubled. Culture is as evil as in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, and it seems there is no redemption ahead. What was once thought to be evil is now celebrated as good, and what was once good is now portrayed as offensive to a progressive society. As Jesus followers, it might be easy to be discouraged by the daily manifestations of Satan’s rule in this world. We may fear the consequences of expressing our faith in the open. It’s true, our livelihoods may be threatened by our spoken convictions. We may lose credibility with our secular friends when we speak the truth, even when we say there IS Truth (not my truth or your truth, but REAL Truth). The disciples lost more than credibility; they all lost their lives in their proclamations of Jesus as Lord and Savior. For hundred of years, Jesus followers around the world have faced everything from ridicule to persecution to their very lives. Yet Christianity has endured.

Christianity has endured. Not because Christians are perfect. People have done horrific and vile things claiming the name of Jesus. The name “Christian” has been misused, misplaced, and maligned for so long that its very meaning has been altered in the eyes of a secular society. But being a Jesus follower is unchanged over the centuries. It is not an easy road to travel. It requires stamina, discipline, and trust in the One who gives us peace.

That Passover meal so long ago was the portal to a world where ordinary people did extraordinary things because Jesus. As complicated and complex and corrupt this world becomes, we can persevere. We can sing, “His love endures forever” no matter what we face. Jesus is our salvation. He is the Cornerstone of all Truth. He gives light in the darkness, hope in distress, and peace in all the trials we face.

We can trust in His love, His mercy, and His grace. We can give thanks in all circumstances because He is working in us and through us for His glory.

Resources:

Strange, J.F. (2014). Jesus’ Passover. Friends of Asor, 2(4). https://www.asor.org/anetoday/2014/04/jesus-passover/

Wallace, D.B. (2004). Passover in the Time of Jesus. Bible.org , https://bible.org/article/passover-time-jesus This is a transcript of a Seder meal practiced according to first century traditions.

“The kingdom of God will be taken from you.”

Matthew 21

“The kingdom of God will be taken from you.”

Jesus said these words to the priests and Pharisees, the men chosen to intercede for the people to the Holy One. Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy explicitly spell out the requirements for the priesthood, the Law, and the sacrifices both to atone for sin and to offer thanks to the Lord. The priests were set apart for a holy purpose. But over time, that holy purpose went to their heads and instead of teaching the Word as the Lord gave it to them, they created their own rules and regulations, putting themselves higher than the people over whom they had authority. They demanded respect, instead of serving with intention. They prayed loudly in order to be heard by everyone passing by. They drew attention to themselves instead of drawing people to the Holy One.

Jesus gave them every opportunity to have a conversation with him. Instead, they continually tried to entrapment him into scriptural error. He always answered them with scripture and left them silenced again and again. They could not make him sin in word or deed, as hard as they tried. For three years, Jesus patiently endured their verbal assaults, but when the time was right, he took decisive action: He cleared the temple.

The temple was supposed to by a holy place of prayer, repentance, and sacrifice. The religious leaders had installed their own form of commerce by selling the animals and other elements required by the Law for sacrifice and offering. They set up tables for money-changers (who always charged a fee), and turned a blind eye to the ways the people were overcharged as they tried to meet the sacrificial requirements of the Law. When Jesus came in during this Passover week, he had enough. He overturned the tables, sent the animals into chaos, and left the money-changers scrambling to pick up their ill-gotten coins. This is not Jesus, meek and mild. This is Jesus, righteous judge.

Jesus didn’t stop with physically emptying the temple. He restored it to its original intention. The blind and lame came to the temple and Jesus healed them. Children came in singing praise. Because this event followed the triumphal entry, the shouts of the people who had waved palm branches and laid down their coats for the donkey carrying Jesus probably echoed throughout the walls. The chaos turned from greed to gratitude, and the priests were outraged.

The priests accused Jesus of usurping their authority over the holy things, but he just asked them a question they could not answer: Where did John get his authority? At this point, John had been beheaded and he was a revered figure. The priests had to know that John’s authority was God-given, but they couldn’t admit that without explaining why they refused to listen to him. On the other hand, if they said John was a self-made prophet, they knew the people who had followed him would revolt. Instead of answering, they just shrugged, saying they didn’t know.

Jesus told two stories, opportunities for the Pharisees and priests to see themselves for what they were and repent. Knowing their hearts, Jesus made it plain that they were no longer employed in God’s holy service. He said, “Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruit.” For a priest, that was condemnation.

The New Testament tells the story of how the kingdom was delivered to other nations, including the much hated gentile nations of Samarian, Syria, and all around the Aegean Sea. North Africa learned the gospel from Philip. The entire Greco-Roman Empire turned to Christianity within the first decades of Jesus’s resurrection. The Jewish leaders lost their authority as representatives of God’s Kingdom.

remix and photos by me

I wonder whether God is removing the Western Church from its role as primary evangelist/seat of God’s kingdom and putting that authority in the places where people are producing gospel transformations. Certainly the Western Church has lost both credibility and influence in the last 30 years or so. Wrong theologies (prosperity doctrines and liberation theologies) may draw people in, but they are not transforming lives with the gospel of Jesus. Larger than life personalities draw attention from Jesus, sometimes with devastating consequences. The culture, with its current fascination with Critical Theory, has infiltrated the Church, creating a human-centered, works-based version of the gospel that is from the devil himself. There’s just enough truth in it to make it sound good, and just enough reward in it to make people feel good, but it is a deadly trap.

Growth in the Church has slowed to a crawl in most of the West and in countries with Westernized ideals. In the US, Evangelical Christianity is growing by .08% annually; the population is growing by just over 1%. On the other hand, people in Iran, Afghanistan, and throughout the continents of Africa and Asia are producing the fruit of the gospel (Operation World). In some of the poorest countries with the most corrupt authoritarian leadership, Jesus is being proclaimed. Not only proclaimed, but it seems to be the young adults who are responding to God’s call, in spite of the laws against proselytizing in many countries with Islam as the State religion (Missions Box). These churches, often held in secret, take advantage of social media and internet streaming services to build their knowledge of Scripture. The youth in many countries are suffering under harsh regimes, and the gospel offers hope, something no other religion can do. The punishment for learning about Jesus can be severe, even to banishment or death, but for those who choose the gospel, hope is greater than fear (New York Times, Religious News Service). These believers form communities where the gospel is lived out daily.

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37). While there are many churches in the US that practice these two foundational commands, there are many that do not. Increasingly, the most recognizable figures of the evangelical church are turning our to be mere mortals who have built a ministry on personality and intellect instead of Jesus. Unless believers insist on the Bible as the core of church teaching and as Jesus as central to the Bible, it is likely that the US will follow Europe into secularism and worshipping the god of good works. That path leads to destruction: “Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will shatter him” (Matthew 21:44).

Let us choose to be broken before the Lord in repentance rather than shattered when we stand before the righteous and holy Judge in the end.

This world is not my home

As promised: This world is not my home by various artists in a multitude of styles. The origin of the lyrics is muddy, with at least three people given attribution as author.

Lyrics:

This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Chorus:
O Lord, you know I have no friend like you,
If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. 

They’re all expecting me, and that’s one thing I know,
My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go;
I know He’ll take me thro’ tho’ I am weak and poor,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]

I have a loving Savior up in glory-land,
I don’t expect to stop until I with Him stand,
He’s waiting now for me in heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]

Just up in glory-land we’ll live eternally,
The saints on every hand are shouting victory,
Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]

Bluegrass lyrics:

This World Is Not My Home

This world is not my home I’m just-a-passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
Angels beckon me to heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Oh Lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home oh Lord what will I do
Angels beckon me to heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

They’re all expecting me that’s one thing I know
I fixed it up with Jesus a long time ago
He will take me through though I am weak and poor
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Over in glory land there’ll be no dying there
The saints all shouting victory and singing everywhere
I hear the voice of them that’s gone on before
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Title:[This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin thru]
Composer or Arranger:Albert E. Brumley October 29, 1905, near Spiro, Oklahoma. Died: November 15, 1977, Springfield, Missouri. Buried: Fox Cemetery, Powell, Missouri. Brumley attended the Hartford Musical Institute in Hartford, Arkansas, and sang with the Hartford Quartet. He went on to teach at singing schools in the Ozarks, and lived most of his life in Powell, Missouri. He worked for 34 years a staff writer for the Hartford and Stamps/Baxter publishing companies, then founded the Albert E. Brumley & Sons Music Company and Country Gentlemen Music, and bought the Hartford Music Company. He wrote over 800 Gospel and other songs during his life; the Country Song Writers Hall of Fame inducted him in 1970.  This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is thumbnail
Composer: Jessie May Hill I can’t find biographical information, but she seems to have been in great demand as a singer and pianist in the late 1920s.
Cover art for This World Is Not My Home / I'm Going to Lift Up a Standard for My King by Jessie May Hill
DOCD

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Jesus paid it all

“Jesus paid it all.

All to Him I owe.

Sin had left a crimson stain;

He washed it white as snow.”

Elvina M. Hall (1865)

This hymn, written by Elvina M. Hall in 1865 kept repeating in my mind as I read Matthew 12 and Leviticus 22 this morning. Leviticus is the book of Law, the law that, if followed perfectly, will restore our broken relationship with the Father. What the Law really does is demonstrate how utterly impossible it is to keep. Even keeping the Law is not enough; it is God who sanctifies us. YHWH Mekkodishkem (M’Kaddesh), the LORD who sanctifies is the only path to holiness, or being set apart for a purpose.

When Jesus confronted the Pharisees about their letter-of-the-Law mentality in Matthew 12, He showed them that God put the Law in place to direct His people to Himself. It’s so much easier to play the comparison game of “your sin is worse than my sin” than it is to recognize our own guilt before God and repent of it, falling on His mercy in Jesus.

The Law was also expensive to keep. Only the best animals were worthy of sacrifice. Only the first of the harvest could be offered. But humanity’s best is insufficient. Our redemption cost Jesus ALL. He stepped out of glory. He lived as one of us (fully fulfilling the Law). Yet He had to die on our behalf in order to complete the transaction of our salvation, and He returned to life to begin our sanctification. We do not save ourselves; we cannot. Restored relationship with God is a gift, not a work of the Law. It cost Jesus everything and is free to those who reach toward Him who sanctifies us.