Tag Archives: righteousness

Today’s Scripture – June 13, 2017

Luke 1:67-75 (NIV)

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us–to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Zechariah’s being filled with the Holy Spirit did not enable him to do signs and wonders (these had already been accomplished in Elizabeth and Mary), but it enabled him to give the Lord appropriate praise, and even to get a glimpse of His larger plan.

First of all, he realized that God was beginning to act right then to begin the process of redeeming His people. In the past He had redeemed Adam and Eve from death, Noah from the flood, and the whole nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt and captivity in Babylon. But two huge oppressors still held God’s people, indeed all people, captive: sin and death. Zechariah could clearly see that the child Mary was carrying would be the long promised horn of the house of David, a powerful ruler who would not only rule over all of those who would become God’s people, but who would actually save them from both the penalty and the power of sin.

Zechariah could see clearly that the sending of the Messiah was way more than merely a promise kept. It was an act of unbridled mercy. God’s people had a long, long history (about 1500 years at that point) of rebelling against Him and His commands, from the days of the Exodus, all that way to the day in which Zechariah was living. Many times God had allowed them to be oppressed, conquered, and even exiled to punish them and to help them to repent of their rebellion. But He had always stopped short of allowing them to be destroyed because of the love that He had for them, and because of His faithfulness to His covenant promises.

But now God was poised to do a new thing among His people, and Zechariah was among the very first to see it clearly. Now He was not only going to save them from their most powerful enemies, sin and death. He was going to purify His people with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and enable them to serve Him in genuine holiness and righteousness in His presence for all of their days.

Father, this is a great and wonderful promise, foretold from the days of the prophets, and still available to all of Your people today. But so few of us are willing to believe that it is true. Instead, we see ourselves as vile sinners, for whom true righteousness and holiness is only a pipe dream, or a promise for the age to come. But, Father, You make it clear even in the words of good Zechariah that this promise is for us, it is for now, and You are powerful enough to pull it off in our lives. Help us, help me, to believe this promise, and to receive its fulfillment from Your hands. Make it real in my own life today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 30, 2017

Matthew 23:25-26 (NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were indeed very good at keeping the outside of the cup, their outer life, clean and polished, and looking wonderful.  But the inside of the cup was another matter entirely.

Jesus knew what was inside a person, and in the case of these leaders, He knew that their hearts, the insides of their cups, was filled with greed and self-indulgence, and even more evil things.  And God, who looks not at the outside of a person but at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), did not even see or take into account their scrupulous attention to all of the fine points of the law. He only saw the evils within.

Jesus’ solution to this problem was simple, elegant, and perfectly effective.  He was urging these men to repent, so that their hearts, the inside of their cups, could be made spotlessly clean, something that no amount of good works or renewed efforts could ever accomplish.  It is something that only God Himself can do.  And then, with hearts that are perfectly clean and pure, their actions, the outside of the cup, would be clean, pure, and holy as well.

The biggest problem that these leaders and teachers faced was that, in their worldview, they believed that if they got their outer lives clean enough, their hearts would follow along.  But Jesus knew that only God can cleanse a heart, and He does that work from the inside for those who repent and believe.  No amount of outer “scrubbing” can ever make a heart clean.

Father, I wonder how many of us today have fallen prey to that same inaccurate worldview.  How many of us try to be holy by trying to do more holy things and less bad things, instead of merely asking You and allowing You to cleanse our hearts?  If we let You make our hearts clean, our actions will follow suit.  Help us to be humble enough to ask You for the inner purification we need to be genuinely holy at heart, and not try to approach true righteousness as a self-improvement program.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 31, 2016

Matthew 5:20 (NIV) For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

These days the Pharisees and teachers of the law (scribes) are looked down on as absolutely evil people.  Some had bad hearts, bad enough to plot to kill Jesus and to persuade others that it was God’s work to do so.  So many think that the bar of being more righteous than them is pretty low.

But the vast majority of those men were intently focused on pleasing God and obeying His every command to the letter.  Their whole lives were focused on little else than that.  As such, on the whole, they were about the best, most righteous people of Jesus’ day.

The biggest problem that these men had, as Jesus pointed out (Matthew 23:13-36) was their hypocrisy.  These men worked ceaselessly to ensure that their outward presentation was perfect, while inside they wrestled furiously with a heart that was just as black and misshapen by sin as any of the “sinners” they so vehemently denounced.  Their righteousness was merely a mask that they hid behind, because they had no idea what, if anything, could be done about their hearts.

It’s no wonder that after fiercely denouncing the hypocrisy of these leading religious figures that Jesus immediately switches to mourning over the destruction that He knew awaited them.  (Matthew 23:37-39)  These men were pitiable to both Him and to God.  They sincerely believed that their man-made righteousness would be adequate when they stood before the judgment.  They believed that God would not peek behind the mask and see the darkness that lay in their hearts.  And so they sought no solution for the evil in them.  They didn’t really believe that there even was a solution.

But Jesus’ own righteousness showed their masks for what they truly were.  He made them look bad.  When it came down to it, they couldn’t find a single legitimate wrong that He had ever done – they had to try to dig up false witnesses at His trial (Matthew 26:59), and even they weren’t convincing.  Plus, Jesus could do amazing miracles that no one could deny, proving an even deeper level of righteousness and intimacy with God.

It was the darkness in their hearts that moved them to put Jesus to death at any cost – a darkness that no amount of external righteousness could ever really cover up.  And it was in that area of darkness of heart that Jesus is pointing out that the people of God’s kingdom had to be better, more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees.

Jesus carried within Himself the kingdom of God, and all that that entailed.  In Him real heart purity could actually be found.  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are not merely being given a new list of rules; they can actually be filled with the real thing – their hearts legitimately purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit and the very real presence of the risen Jesus.

Some see in the Sermon on the Mount an extended and deeper level of rules and laws.  But external obedience, even to an enhanced series of laws would make Jesus’ followers, at best, only AS righteous as those men.  The righteousness that Jesus requires to even enter God’s kingdom is greater than that, deeper, a righteousness that goes to the very heart of each follower.  That righteousness can only come from Jesus, and He has promised to give it freely to everyone who legitimately hungers and thirsts for the real thing.

Father, help me to never try to get by on my own righteousness.  The best I can work up on my own is a poor, sickly thing compared to Your real righteousness.  Help me to open my heart fully to You, so that Your Holy Spirit has complete access to change whatever parts of my heart are necessary to change, to burn away any impurities that He finds, and to make me legitimately holy, legitimately righteous, from the inside out.  Amen.

 

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Today’s Scripture – August 23, 2016

Matthew 5:8 (NIV) Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Even though right actions, righteousness, is required to live in God’s presence, those right actions must come from the right source.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law were by all accounts externally righteous.  Some of them even spent hours counting out the small seeds of their harvest, ensuring that one of every ten was given to God as their tithe.

But the external disciplines did nothing to get to the heart of those people.  They would not go into Pilate’s headquarters to accuse Jesus, because setting foot in a gentile’s home would make them ceremonially unclean, and keep them from eating the Passover.  But those same men had no qualms about standing outside of Pilate’s headquarters and making themselves spiritually unclean by bearing false witness against an innocent man in a death penalty trial!

Jesus pointed out that genuinely good fruit spontaneously springs from a good tree, while a bad tree will naturally produce bad fruit (Matthew 7:16-18).  Those whose hearts are really pure will produce the good fruit of right actions and attitudes unconsciously, without even thinking about it.  But those whose hearts are impure will have to work at producing right actions, imposing disciplines and external controls on themselves to keep themselves from slipping.

Many despair of ever being able to “develop” a pure heart, because after years, even decades, of stringent discipline, their hearts seem just as wicked and depraved as always.  They grow frustrated and discouraged over the many “slips” that they experience, and resign themselves to the seeming inevitability of sin in their lives.

But a heart can never be made pure through external discipline.  It can only be instilled by transformation.  It is only those who not only realize the futility of trying to develop a pure heart from the outside in, and who hunger and thirst for real righteousness, AND who turn to God in that powerful desire, that will find transformation and a genuinely pure heart.

Jesus always chose His words carefully.  Notice what He says in Matthew 12:33 (NIV emphasis added), when using the same illustration of a tree:  Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.  No man can make a heart good (although they can make their heart bad through sin and turning away from God and His commands), but God can.  He can turn darkness into light, and call forth universes from nothing.  For God, it is a simple thing to remake a heart, to melt it with the fire of His Holy Spirit, and to recast it as a pure heart that can see His presence, and can hear His voice every day.  But He will only do that for those whose hunger and thirst for righteousness drive them to seek Him for what only He can do.

Father, thank You for the promise contained in this beatitude.  You never require something of us that You won’t enable us to do or to be, if we seek You for it wholeheartedly.  Help me, Lord, to so hunger and thirst for real righteousness, genuine purity of heart, that I seek You afresh for it every single day.  Help me to see and to hear You every day, so that my every thought, word, and deed will glorify You today and every day.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 19, 2016

Matthew 5:6 (NIV) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

There are many in the world today, both in and out of the Church, who are perfectly satisfied with their level of righteousness.  Some of these are relatively righteous, that is they are more righteous than their peers, and that gives them assurance that when they stand before God they will be fine.

But some who are comfortable with their own level of righteousness are far less righteous.  They convince themselves that they are as good as anyone, better than some, and that they have only done what they had to do in those moments when their actions were far less than righteous.

But God never judges people on the basis of comparing them with others.  He does not grade on a curve, or use a sliding scale to determine whether someone falls into the category of righteous.  He judges according to Himself, the absolute standard of righteousness.  As the apostle John wrote:  “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” (1 John 3:7 NIV)  Those who do not do the right thing according to God’s directions are sinful, not righteous.

That blunt statement doesn’t mean that God writes off those who are not righteous.  But it does mean that if they grow satisfied with their own level of righteousness like the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Jesus’ day, they will not turn to God for more.  Those who realize that they are not righteous before God, no matter what their reputation among other people may be, and who let that knowledge drive them to seek God, the only source of true righteousness, will receive far more than forgiveness for their past sins.  They will receive transformation, and will be filled with God’s genuine righteousness, so that right actions will flow naturally from their transformed lives.

Put simply, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled with what they hunger and thirst for:  genuine righteousness.

Father, I think we sometimes have a hard time believing that even You could ever make us truly righteous.  So we tamper with Your clear words, reinterpreting them, and bringing Your promise down to something that we can accept as true.  But neither You nor Jesus ever lied, eve stretched the truth, or ever promised anything that You were not able to fully deliver.  Help us to really believe that real righteousness is possible through You, so that we can measure ourselves against Your true standard, see clearly where we fall short, and allow ourselves to develop a genuine hunger and thirst for real and complete righteousness that will drive us to You for the transformation and filling that only You can give.

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Today’s Scripture – July 28, 2016

Matthew 3:13-17 (NIV)

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

After the months-long overture of John’s baptism ministry, the curtain finally opened as Jesus stepped onto the stage of history for act one of His role as Messiah.  This was not the helpless baby of Bethlehem.  Nor was it the precocious 12-year-old boy who fascinated the teachers in the temple (cf. Luke 2:41-52).  This was Jesus, the Messiah, the Holy One of God, claiming His place in God’s plan by a simple act of obedience.

When Jesus was still in His mother’s womb, His mere presence had caused a reaction in the pre-born John (Luke 1:39-44).  Now, as Jesus approached John as a man, the same spark of recognition flashed between them.  Here was the One that John had been longing to see.  Here was the validation of John’s own calling, the validation of the Scriptural prophesies of the Messiah, the salvation of Israel and the world, standing embodied in the man wading out into the Jordan River to meet him.

The idea that he should baptize Jesus dismayed John.  He knew very well who was standing expectantly before him: the One that he himself had admitted to being unqualified to untie the sandals of.  And this living embodiment of the Most High, the One who had come to bring both blessing and judgment, was asking to be baptized by him.

But Jesus’ explanation, that this was what the Father had commanded, so it must be done to fulfill all righteousness, was enough for John.  He was God’s man, and had been since his conception.  His whole life had been lived in utter obedience to the God that he served.  So he baptized Jesus.

When Jesus came up out of the water, both John and Jesus saw the heavens open up, and the Spirit of God come down on Jesus in the form of a dove, and remain on Him.  For Jesus, this, and God’s own voice from heaven, were the stamp of divine approval for His obedience.  Though Jesus had no sins of His own to repent of or be forgiven for, His identification with God’s people was critical for the ultimate success of the mission.  For John these signs were a confirmation that the task for which God had sent him had now been accomplished (cf. John 1:32-34).

From that moment on, the focus of God’s plan shifted away from John and his work of preparing the hearts of God’s people for the arrival of Jesus, and onto Jesus Himself, and His work of opening the doors to God’s kingdom wide, and drawing people inside.  Although John would continue his ministry for several more months, with the appearing of Jesus, John’s light began to diminish, even as Jesus’ light grew in intensity and brilliance.

Father, it is amazing what happens when the paths of two or more people, all doing Your will completely, intersect.  That point is where You make Your presence known (cf. Matthew 18:19-20).  It is also amazing to see that even Jesus did not choose His own way, but fully obeyed Your commands and followed Your precise plan in every detail (John 5:19-20).  Help me, Lord, to be just like Jesus in this.  Help me to give myself entirely to Your agenda, to obey Your every command instantly and fully, so that Your presence can be fully manifested in my life.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 25, 2016

John 7:6-9 (HCSB):  Jesus told them, “My time has not yet arrived, but your time is always at hand.  The world cannot hate you, but it does hate Me because I testify about it—that its deeds are evil.  Go up to the festival yourselves. I’m not going up to the festival yet, because My time has not yet fully come.”  After He had said these things, He stayed in Galilee.

It was difficult for anyone to understand Jesus and the way that He operated.  Everyone around Him, including His family members, was being driven by the calendar, by the days of the month and the rhythms of the year.  Their calendar said that it was time to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, so they were preparing to leave so as to be there on the proper date.

But Jesus’ life and actions were driven by one thing:  God’s word.  God’s word had not yet come to Jesus regarding this Feast, so, despite what the calendar said, He wasn’t moving.

Jesus understood a couple of things very well.  First, His whole life was devoted to God and to doing His will in His way.  And second, that many of the people and leaders in Jerusalem were out to get Him, and would be watching for Him to show up there for the Feast.  Even when He did go, He would do so keeping a low profile until God Himself told Him to do otherwise.

These religious leaders had good reason to hate Jesus, because He openly confronted the evil in their hearts.  Much like criminals shunning places that are well-lit, the bright light of Jesus’ righteousness made these unrighteous, self-seeking people cower.  They looked great compared to the average person, but when Jesus with His genuine purity showed up, it made them look absolutely filthy by comparison.  That should have driven them to repent and turn to God for real cleansing.  Instead, their solution was to drive Jesus far away, to just get rid of Him.

Ultimately Jesus would go to the Feast, and ultimately He would face these dark-hearted pretenders.  But He would only do so at God’s command, and in God’s time.

Father, forgive us for being so self-driven, so calendar-driven, instead of merely waiting on Your word.  Even in the simplest things, like deciding on when to leave for a feast, Jesus was still 100% reliant on You, and 100% responsive to Your commands.  It is easy to see that this is one clear reason that He so easily and frequently heard Your voice.  Help me to do the same.  Amen.

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