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*This is an excerpt from my book “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him.” It can be found on virtually any major on-line bookstore in both digital and hardcopy formats.   

I love the mental picture John 2:14-17 paints:  

“In the temple courts,” John writes, “[Jesus] found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

Modern church culture attempts to make Jesus more palatable, politically correct, and culturally popular than the way that Scripture presents Him. Though Jesus was a radical and a revolutionary, we have tried to domesticate Christ—almost as if we are embarrassed by His “zeal.” According to God’s Word, Jesus was such an extremist that He was convicted of treason and crucified by the religious and political leaders of His day. He upset the cultural applecart by contradicting virtually every known tradition and religious standard. Moreover, Jesus’ message irritated almost everyone but true spiritual seekers. His unorthodox band of followers was made up of outcasts, including marginalized women, the disenfranchised, and the poor. He was maligned and impugned for His ministry and was devalued by most respected theologians and rulers. But don’t think of Jesus as a victim; everything He did spoke to His authority as God’s Son. While His ways may have chafed against the culture, they were completely right and good. 

Our Lord was never one to uphold tradition over truth, and He minced no words while exposing the hypocrisy of those religious authority figures. Consider the method that Christ used to teach. His greatest sermon began, “You have heard … but…”, an introduction pointing to radical new teachings that would revolutionize the world (See Matthew 5).  Jesus’ approach led some to verbally align Him with Satan (Matthew 12:24). His teachings and behavior sometimes seemed so outlandish that even His own family questioned His mental stability (Mark 3:21).  

Christ was admired by some but understood by almost no one. Eventually, His life was deemed of less value than a murderous criminal and the sinless Jesus was crucified in a convict’s place. Understand that Scripture gives a drastically different picture of Jesus than is portrayed today. He is often viewed as passive, weak, popular, politically correct and altogether tame. Jesus seems so sweet and loving that people forget His sternness and wrath. We must remember that Jesus is just as much “The Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5) and he is “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). 

Why do so many believers forsake Jesus’ radical and revolutionary image? I think the truth lies in the fact that many want peace, harmony, ease, and comfort more than we desire to make an unpopular stand based upon His Word. Each of us must love Jesus enough—and others enough—to become a cultural extremist for Him. We must strive to be more like Him, the real Him, as we seek call out the spiritual hypocrisy, bad theology, and the man-centeredness that waters down today’s evangelicalism.  

We, “[Christ’s] called, chosen and faithful followers,” are to be radicals and revolutionaries with the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 17:14). We do this so that we can effectively share the gospel with a world in desperate need of a powerful Savior. In First Corinthians 2:13-16 the Apostle Paul said,  

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”  

I pray that we take on the “whole mind of Christ” as we carry the gospel message to the world. In following Him we will cut against the grain of our worldly, hypocritical, and self-indulgent culture. This stance for the Truth will not always be popular or easy, but we can rest in the assurance of victory as we radically imitate Christ’s radical mission: to fearlessly testify to the truth of God and demonstrate His eternal Kingship (John 18:37).

“Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness-without it no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and by it, defiling many” (Hebrew 12:14-15, HCSB).

As I see it, bitterness and forgiveness are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. One can’t be forgiving while harboring bitterness nor can a bitter person claim to be a forgiving person. It is also my opinion that someone who is clinging to a bitter spirit doesn’t understand or has not fully embraced the forgiveness that comes only from God’s grace. This takes on tremendous spiritual importance in light of Jesus’ words, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37) and Paul’s admonition that we are to be “accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must [forgive]” (Colossians 3:13).

Anyone who has been infected by bitterness knows that it can be so dominating that all of life is influenced by it. All sorts of spiritual, emotional, and even physical symptoms are typically manifested by it. But that’s not all. Bitterness destroys relationships – ours with both God and others. In Ephesians 4:31 Paul makes it clear that bitterness has some ugly cousins: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” None of these enhance our lives, promote the glory of God, or reflect the beauty of Jesus.

So let’s look at what the writer of Hebrews tells us about bitterness in 12:14-15. Given the epidemic proportions of this spiritual malady, I believe his words carry great weight and are well worth heeding. Let’s notice:

  • Bitterness is a severe hindrance to living in peace (v.14). We are commanded to live in peace to demonstrate the peace of God provided through Christ’s reconciliatory work at Calvary (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). We are even called ministers of reconciliation (a true counterpoint to bitterness and its ugly cousins).
  • Bitterness does not promote the pursuit of the holy life that God requires of His children (v. 14). Bitter people tend to do bad things. Ephesians 4:31 reminds us of the other attitudes and actions that inevitably spring from a bitter heart – wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice.
  • Bitterness is evidence that we don’t understand or have not embraced God’s grace/forgiveness (v. 15). Bitter people withhold grace and therefore God, in a real sense, withholds His grace and mercy from them. God’s forgiven people are, by His endowment of grace, forgiving followers. Bitterness blinds us to God’s forgiveness of us but when we bask in God’s unmerited favor we are freed from the sin of an unforgiving spirit and practice forgiveness. Jesus clearly stated this in the Sermon on the Mount in the Model Prayer and afterwards emphasized it: “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).
  • Bitterness is often an insidious and invisible spiritual flaw (v. 15). Roots are usually unseen but they supply the fuel that produces visible fruit. In other words, while one may not outwardly appear bitter, those infected with this spiritual disease will inevitably show fruit that will be the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22 (which I urge you to read and memorize).
  • Bitterness defiles us (v. 15). Jesus said, “Don’t you realize that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. For from the [bitter] heart come evil thoughts, murders…false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matthew 15:17-20).

I see 2 applications. The first is practical: Clinging to bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping someone else gets sick. The one who harbors unforgiveness and latent anger is the one who suffers the most, no matter how “innocent” they may be. The target of their inner rage tends to be affected less than the one who is unwilling to be reconciled. Secondly, bitterness shows a serious spiritual void. It suggests that someone who is unwilling to forgive has not been forgiven (by God) or they have refused to fully embrace His grace. Both options are a siren’s warning as to one’s spiritual condition.

So which will we choose; bitterness of forgiveness? Though lengthy, I will leave you with this parable of Jesus. It is well worth our serious consideration:

“For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him. Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. “At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan. “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’ “At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he wasn’t willing. On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. “Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers until he could pay everything that was owed. So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart” (Matthew 18:23-35).

**Since it is our cultural’s tendency to want to leave the Christ of Christmas as a small baby who perpetually stays in our imagined manger scene, I wanted to remind us all that this infant did grow up. And this Jesus, in all His fullness, is the Christ I want us to know this holiday season.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This is the second part of a discussion (see the previous post for part 1) concerning who the Christ-child of Christmas really is. In the last post we looked at Isaiah 9:1-5 and saw that the baby Jesus is the Savior, the Messiah. He came to emancipate the captives, enlightened the darkened, ensure the joy of His people, ease the burdens of His chosen, and eventually end all conflict. So let’s continue in Isaiah 9, focusing now on verses 6 and 7, to more fully answer the question, what Child is this? This time we will find the Christ of Christmas as Ruler (and King). 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). 

Here we see baby Jesus depicted as: 

  • God the Son (v. 6)
  • Eternal Governor (v. 6)
  • Wonderful Counselor (v. 6)
  • Mighty God (v. 6)
  • Everlasting Father (v. 6)
  • Prince of Peace (v. 6)
  • Forever King (v. 7)
  • Righteous Ruler (v. 7) 

Much could be said of each of these designations but the one theme that is unmistakable is power, or authority. When we ponder the Christ of Christmas, do we see Him with these attributes and titles? The manger-born baby seems harmless enough to many. Our primary perception of Jesus is as Savior. For the most part, Jesus as Savior is relatively inoffensive. But ruler, King and judge? That’s usually not our view of this infant whose birth has sparked our holiday festivities. But just as much as this child is Savior, He is also Lord – King of kings and Lord of lords. And before Him eventually all will bow down and confess Him as such. 

This worship is foreshadowed in the saga of Christ’s birth. The Magi from the east recognized the kingly nature of the Christ-child. They brought Him gifts worthy of a great ruler. Whether they knew it or not, this baby would one day be the lightning rod of both the redemption and condemnation of mankind. All men will be judged based upon their relationship with Jesus; the One God the Father has given all things. 

Although Jesus took on the “tent” of humanity, He is still God of very God. And His humbling of Himself and coming to us as a child is the reason not only for our hope but also for His eventual and ultimate glorification and reign: 

“…Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

This Christmas season, and beyond, I urge us all to contemplate the significance of the titles given Christ in Isaiah 9:6-7. They are truly awe-inspiring. They reek with attributes and character worthy of adoration and exaltation. They compel us to worship Him, not only as the child of Christmas, but as the sovereign Savior. This baby is mighty and almighty. The manger-born Jesus is more than “the reason for the season” but the reason for and ruler over all things. We can’t box Him up like a Christmas gift and open Him only once a year and still call Him Lord. We can’t keep Him a babe that never grows up – He is so much bigger than what we have twisted this holiday into. For the Child of Christmas is the Christ of all creation.

So what Child is this? John explains Him this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:1-4;12-14;16-18).

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-eight – Radical Transformation Required  

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:21-27).

Central to Christ’s sermon stands the concept of radical transformation. Throughout His discourse Jesus encourages listeners not to just hear the Word of God but to practice it. Repeatedly He states the importance of not just right living, but of living right for the right reasons. When people truly surrender to Christ and allow Him to take ownership, their entire approach to life changes. They exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, value others more than self, and seek to spread Christ’s love. Even when difficulties arise believers can thrive, overcoming life’s storms through the strength He provides.

In Matthew 7:21-27 Christ makes an important distinction between those who check the Christian box on a census form with those who truly accept Him. Our King calls followers to unconditional surrender of our lives, wills, and minds. He confronts us with two truths: neither a verbal profession of His deity nor an intellectual understanding of what He came to accomplish prove sufficient in securing our entry into the kingdom. Neither proves an acceptable substitute for the faith and deep-seated obedience required. Jesus debunks the myth that our relationship with Him can rest solely on what we say about Him or to Him. No creed, formulaic “sinner’s prayer,” or verbal affirmation of Christ’s divine role can save us. God demands absolute capitulation to Christ as Lord. Confession proves a real and necessary part of our conversion, but it must be sincere (see Romans 10:9-11).

Interestingly, the verbal profession “Lord, Lord” made by those Christ rejects proves quite orthodox. But while the designation is accurate and respectful, the Lord hears it as empty words when coming from the mouths of those who claim to know Him without evidencing heart transformation. Although they called Him Lord, these “evildoers” did not fully submit in servitude to His lordship. When to their praise Jesus replies that He never knew them and that they should depart from Him, He reveals that radical transformation is required of those who live as part of His kingdom. This serves as a warning to those who “play Christian.” Claiming we know Christ without allowing Him to transform us proves dangerous and utterly destructive.

Luke’s account of the Sermon provides further insight. In Luke 6:46 Christ asks, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” The critical distinction between an acceptable profession of faith in Christ as opposed to an unacceptable one is this: true followers of Jesus demonstrate heart change through doing Spirit-empowered good works and aiming toward God’s righteous standards. Jesus expects to see Holy Spirit inspired obedience and good works as evidence of our sincerity.

Understanding the gospel message without doing anything to spread it shows a lack of spiritual foundation. Likewise, doing good works in our own efforts or out of a desire to be seen, fails to please God. Jesus refers to a home’s foundation to reveal that the substance of one’s belief is rooted deep within. Should our foundation stand strong, our efforts will follow. Unless we allow the knowledge of Christ’s truth to form a root to nurture transformational obedience, however, we’ll eventually find devastation and destruction.

Chris grew up in the church, was baptized at an early age, and even memorized significant portions of Scripture. But once at college and away from her Christian home and church, she felt overwhelmed by the temptations offered by her new-found freedom and worldly friends. It wasn’t long before Chris dove headlong into parties, drugs, and a promiscuous lifestyle. Her evangelical upbringing no longer influenced her choices. In retrospect she commented, “That was because I was a ‘believer’ but had never really bowed to Christ.” Thankfully, God intervened and made her aware that despite her religious background she was lost. Chris needed to submit totally to Jesus in order to experience His radically transforming presence.

Understand that Jesus never taught salvation by works. We cannot earn our way into Heaven. The Apostle Paul clarified this in explaining that we are saved by grace through the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). As we humbly accept the undeserved grace God bestows and allow our faith in Him to change us from the inside out, we begin to realize the truth of Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We realize that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”; therefore, we set out to serve the Lord in tangible, meaningful ways (see James 2:17).

The Lord desires that we approach Him with hearts brimming with love for Him and genuinely grateful for who He is and all He provides. Acknowledging His existence with shallow words, fleshly deeds, and mere intellectual assent fails to glorify God. We must instead live out His lordship with the heart-righteousness that comes only from the Holy Spirit. As we do, we will view everything in a new light, His light. Our paradigm will change: we will see life as a ministry that images forth the beauty of Jesus. We will look through the lens of Christ-exalting love and find ourselves moved to God-honoring obedience. Once we truly meet Jesus, everything changes.

Apply It.

Read and absorb Second Corinthians 6:3-10. Here Paul mentions that our service should be “in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love.” In what ways do you demonstrate love for the Lord? Does gratitude compel you to live a life that says “thank you” to Him? Commit to let this attitude transform every aspect of your life.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-six – Two Paths: One Choice

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Throughout His sermon on the kingdom of Heaven, Jesus contrasts two kinds of righteousness, two types of devotion, two treasures, two masters, and two ambitions. Each comparison points to the question that every person must ask: Will I choose to follow Christ or the world? Matthew 7:13-14 begins to wrap up the sermon, leaving us to choose between two paths. Psalm 1 defines these paths as “the way of righteousness” and “the way of the wicked.” Each individual must choose to live as a citizen of the kingdom of this world or to live in and in anticipation of the ongoing kingdom of God—a decision which necessitates living a godly life. God allowed only one way to enter Heaven: relationship with Jesus (see John 14:6). Humanity cannot create a valid alternative.

In ancient times people felt that doing good works and appeasing the gods led to a peaceful eternity. The Egyptians, for example, believed that a deceased person’s heart would be weighed against a feather.[i] “If the heart was free of the impurities of sin, and therefore lighter than the feather, then the dead person could enter the eternal afterlife.” If not, eternity looked bleak. Many cultures today spread similar ideas, suggesting that an individual can earn his or her way into Heaven or miss out on it should they commit too many wrongs. But Jesus left very different and very specific directions on how one might enter into eternity with God.

First, we must understand that the burden of sin weighs heavily on every heart. This sin separates us from holy God and makes us worthy of condemnation and eternal death. Only when our sin debt gets paid and His wrath against our unrighteousness is satisfied is there forgiveness of sins and restored relationship with God. This happened at Calvary through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus and the required shedding of His blood (see Hebrews 9:22). And how do we receive this forgiveness, the free offer of the salvation that Christ purchased? By faith, believing His Word, and trusting wholly in Him and His redemptive work instead of in ourselves or our self-righteousness (see 2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 1:9). In other words, we must see Jesus as our only hope, the only way that we can have a relationship with God, forgiveness of sin (justification), and eternal life.

Make no mistake; entering into a relationship with Jesus provides the only way to bridge the sin gap that separates man from God. While many take offense to the idea that God does not allow people to approach Him through religion, spirituality, or good works, Scripture clearly teaches that Christ is the “narrow gate”: the only way to enter Heaven. In order to follow Jesus, we’ve got to let go of the self-righteousness, pride, and self-sufficiency that will hold us back as we step through the door. His road—one requiring self-sacrifice and loving service—leads to abundant and eternal life (John 10:10, 3:16).

The easy, broad way Christ mentions describes the path followed by the majority. It appeals to the crowd because it has no boundaries or restraints, allowing people to live as inclined. The road offers a diversity of options to achieve earthly happiness and to gain “Heaven.” Because the broad path is literally of the world, its travelers find little resistance. The broad way proves comfortable; it appeals to pride and the natural bent toward self-determination and self-will. Those who follow the path believe that a happy afterlife (should one exist) requires no sacrifice, no surrender to the will and purpose of the Master, and absolutely no dependence on holy God. The broad path allows people to carry all their baggage—sins, arrogance, selfishness, and self-righteousness—down the road to destruction. Sadly, separation from God now and forever awaits those who choose it.

In His wisdom God designated acceptance of His Son’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection as the toll to the narrow path. Anyone who sincerely confesses with his mouth and life that Jesus is Lord and believes in his heart that God raised Him from the dead, experiences His eternal life (Romans 10:9). Through the mystery of grace and the gift of simple faith, God allows those who come to follow the way of the kingdom of Heaven.

Receiving Jesus allows us to experience God’s presence now and look forward to the fullness of His presence in Heaven. As we surrender completely to Him, denying ourselves and taking up our crosses to follow Him, we’ll find the kingdom of God and all of the glory it comprises (see Matthew 16:24, 1 Thessalonians 2:12). As we yield, submit, live selflessly, and love God “with all [our] heart[s] and with all [our] soul[s] and with all [our] mind[s] and with all [our] strength” (Mark 12:30), we acknowledge God’s rightful rule in our lives. And those who do enter through the narrow gate that leads to His life. 

Apply It.

Revisit John 3:14-18. In First John 5:13 John shares that he wrote so that we might know we have eternal life. Are you certain that you do? If so, do you have a burden for those outside of Christ and on the track to hell? Ask God to give you a passion for sharing His words of eternal life to the lost in your circle.

[i] McDevitt, April. “The Feather” Ancient Egypt: The Mythology last updated April 8, 2010. (May 8,2010).

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Sixteen – Love Instead of Retaliation

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).

In a statement directly related to His earlier teaching on persecution for righteousness’ sake, Jesus tackles the human tendency to strike back at those who injure us. Interestingly, His words stood against a practice adopted by the scribes and Pharisees: they routinely applied Old Testament concepts of justice and equivalent retribution within the court system to personal relationships (see Deuteronomy 19:18-21). In doing so, they claimed the power to personally punish those who offended them—completely ignoring the idea that only God and appointed judges could apply justice. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day decided to usurp authority, demanding by their actions that true authority rested in their hands.

God allows the courts as well as parents a measure of authority in maintaining order. Outside of these contexts, however, judgment and the assignment of punishment erect barriers between people. Take the holier-than-thou, judgmental Christian you knew before you were born again. Did you see the love of God in that person’s attitude? Were you drawn to the gospel’s grace and forgiveness by observing his condescending treatment of those around him? Probably not. Jesus said our love for others shows the world that we are His disciples and points them to Him (see John 13:34-35).

Personal relationships in Christ’s new kingdom are based on love, not justice. After all, the Lord died on the cross to spare us the punishment our sins deserved. Grace and mercy prevail in this new kingdom, and vengeance or the determination of justice is up to God. Paul, who well understood the grace given him said, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Since our Creator willingly forgives the sins of those who turn to Him in repentance, we must do the same. We must lay down the “right” to  retaliate against the injustices of those who wound us. We are to turn the other cheek and “pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44).

Jesus called individuals to refrain from taking matters (and the law) into their own hands. Therefore, the lives of those in His kingdom should exhibit an absence of revenge even towards our worst offenders. Forgiveness should summarize our response to those who hurt us. We must remember that we can commit every issue and every offense to God. A good and righteous judge who responds with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, He will see justice served. In the meantime—and as counter-intuitive as it may seem—we must try to overcome evil with good. We should not allow angry hearts to rule our responses; God wants us to seek after the highest spiritual good.

I love that Jesus encouraged listeners to go two miles with someone who pressed them to go one. In the time of Christ’s sermon, Roman soldiers sometimes demanded average citizens to carry their gear for the course of a mile. Doing so proved an incredible hassle for the conscripted person who would’ve had to cover twice the distance as he returned home. Imagine the shock a soldier might have expressed should a man not only happily agree to his selfish demands, but offer to go above and beyond them! Jesus desires a giving spirit in those who follow after Him and pursue His kingdom. We must embrace other-centeredness that gives without reservation, whether or not the receiver proves worthy of our gift. As we do, people will glimpse the love, selflessness, and mercy that Christ poured into our hearts and desires to add to theirs.

Before His accusers and abusers, Jesus allowed Himself to be led silently, like a lamb to the slaughter. Isaiah tells us He did so willingly: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6). Mark’s gospel further describes the debasement Jesus endured:

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers led Jesus away
into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of
thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on
him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him”
(Mark 15:15-20).

Without retaliation, without a word in His own defense, Jesus laid down His life as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). By reacting to the evil done to us with good and calm acceptance, we bear witness to the grace and mercy of our King. Paul said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Vengeance belongs to the Lord. As we acknowledge His power through humbly forgiving and helping others, we’ll reap great reward in His kingdom to come.

Apply It.

Read the story of Saul and David in First Samuel 19. A jealous and enraged Saul sought to kill David, but David refused to kill Saul when given the opportunity (see 1 Samuel 24:1-6). When did someone extend mercy to you? How did that affect your view of God? Ask God to show you how to extend grace and mercy to someone in your circle.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:18-25; 28-32 ). 

I say Mac is mean…and moody. Yes, he is a cat, and a Siamese at that. But, to me, he acts out and has inexcusable behaviors. Mac can be the sweetest, most loving pet, but he is also stubborn, spiteful to his sister Clara, and even hisses and swats at his “mother,” Rebekah, when he prefers not to be disturbed (even when tempted by “treats” to lure him to places he just doesn’t want to go). I know that the 10 years that he spent alone with me spoiled him. He came and did as he pleased. He ate like the king of the jungle, a veritable feast of canned food and snacks. He had freedom to roam and no sister cat to endure. But I refuse to blame my pet related parenting. He is genetically flawed and, I believe, psychotic. 

And that’s our diagnosis. He has a syndrome. Actually, he has multiple syndromes. After psychoanalyzing him and perusing the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria we have determined that Mac the Siamese has, at the very least, the following: 

  • ADD
  • ADHD
  • OCD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Multiple Personality Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Bulimia
  • PMS 

Clearly we are laypeople and not skilled in the ways of feline psychological disorders. So we desperately sought the advice of pet therapists, veterinarians, and even considered a “cat whisperer.” But to no avail. No one was willing to take Mac’s case. He, I guess, is incorrigible. And the professionals knew it. But we had our diagnoses, our list of syndromes, and, therefore, an excuse for all of his misdeeds and “issues.” We were pathetically deceived (and deluded) to label him without considering the facts. He is, after all, a cat! No syndrome can explain that away. No man-made excuse can quell our ravaging guilt over his behavior or justify our mental gymnastics. He is a rebellious, misbehaving animal without  respect for authority or our house rules, except when he selfishly believes it is his best interests. 

I know, you think this is silliness. You might consider us right to believe Mac is blameless because all of this stems from his nature. But hold on a second. Don’t we do the same with humans? Not that these disorders aren’t both real and sad, but we tend to excuse folks and rationalize all types of misbehavior and rebellion. We explain away their sinfulness with a trivial wave of the hand, “They can’t help it, after all, they are human. And we all have issues. It isn’t their fault. They can’t be held responsible. They (we) are just products of genetics and a dysfunctional home life.” Worse than that, we don’t think God will hold people accountable. After all, they are wired this way. And, I fear, subconsciously this includes ourselves, . 

“WRONG!” That’s what Scripture says. The Bible says we are sinners by nature and by choice. And holy God says there must be a price to pay for that which separates us from His absolute perfection, His holiness. And no matter what we may contrive that would sway God’s justice or alleviate our nagging, subconscious understanding of this great truth, it is the Word of God; sinners perish apart from participating in the righteousness of God that is His gift to those who believe. It sounds fatal. And it can be. 

But there is hope. There is salvation, the forgiveness of sin, when God’s grace is met with faith As the previous two verses tell us: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). So through His grace He atoned for our sin through a Savior. Jesus has cast away our excuses by dying on a cross. He justifies us through faith. For Christ is truly the only hope for those who believe – syndromes and all.

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twelve – The Dangerous Consequences of Anger

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something
against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Settle matters quickly with
your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you
over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny”
(Matthew 5:21-26).

In Matthew 5:21 Jesus begins to systematically contradict secular wisdom with godly wisdom. Six times throughout the chapter He uses the preface, “you have heard that it was said … but…,” to introduce the new laws of His kingdom, laws revised to show the transforming power of the work He accomplished. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, believers receive not just the promise of Heaven but the ability to live abundantly and to love fully. In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ raises the bar on good behavior, showing us that we are responsible not for just our actions and words but for the thoughts
and motivations behind them.

I find it interesting that Christ chooses to first focus on the subject of anger. While Ephesians 4:26 suggests that anger alone is not a sin and the fact that Christ was sometimes angry supports the idea, wrath and its fallout encompass an all too common problem in our world. Even professing believers struggle with anger towards others. A friend, Tina, was eaten up by anger. She had endured numerous disappointing relationships with close friends, her ex-husband, co-workers, and even her parents. “My anger is killing me,” she admitted with tears in her eyes. Over the years her animosity festered until it affected every aspect of her life. She grew depressed, detached, and physically ill. After years of suppressed rage, she ended her own life. Each time Tina’s face comes to mind, I remember the importance of dealing with anger quickly and completely.

Jesus blessed those who promote peace, but He knew that conflict and persecution would come to those who follow Him. While Christ calls us to pursue
righteousness in a world filled with anger and even murder, the injustices heaped on us and those we love may tempt us to follow suit. But we must understand that while righteous indignation has a place, retaliation does not. The Bible does not prohibit killing of every kind: capital punishment, war, and self-defense are allowable. Murder, however, is never acceptable. From Christ’s perspective, anger nursed into unforgiveness equals murder.

Jesus took exception too with one tendency that often goes hand-in-hand with anger: casting doubt on someone’s value or inherent worth. The word raca, or “fool” often meant “empty.” It conveys the idea that someone is so worthless that they should get off the planet. Perhaps we understand this best through the modern phrase, “go to hell.” Taking this approach suggests that we desire an individual dead. Such an attitude, Christ taught, actually puts us in danger of the very thing we think they should face: the fire of hell. Hateful thoughts, attitudes, and insults put us in grave danger. Not just saying cruel, demeaning things but also thinking them puts us in jeopardy. God sees the attitude behind anger as tantamount to murder!

Out of control anger reflects a spiritual issue and a matter of the heart. Jesus indicates that it can create barriers between us and God as well as between us and others. These barriers pack severe consequences. For this reason, Jesus taught that anger should be resolved proactively and quickly. For example, issues with a brother must be settled before we worship and before they lead to unfortunate fallout. As we “settle matters quickly,” we remove the attitude behind anger and drain it of power. A believer must neither let anger dominate nor allow it room to damage relationships.

So often we allow anger towards others to smolder, shrinking and even killing our spiritual vitality. We often fail to heed Jesus’ cry for immediate action—an order that could restore relationships and put us in a better standing before God and man. Our great enemy in seeking to follow His will on the subject is pride. Kingdom living requires that we demonstrate character traits diametrically opposed to pride. Christ’s model of humility compels us to deal with our anger and to resolve lingering conflicts. We serve a righteous judge. He does not want us overly concerned with who is right or wrong in a matter; instead, He wants us to choose to do the right thing in every situation.

Unresolved animosity carries a steep price tag. The angry heart suffers more than the object of its fury. I have never met an angry person who I would consider “blessed” or content; in truth, living with a wrathful attitude proves its own kind of judgment and prison. We do not experience the fullness of God’s kingdom in us or live out the pure and profound principles of His kingdom with a heart filled with enmity. We must deal with anger quickly and completely through humility, repentance, and forgiveness. Only then will we find ourselves restored to a greater sense of favor with both our fellow man and our King.

Apply It.

Read Hebrews 12:15. Think about a time that your anger turned into bitterness. Journal about how you moved passed it to embrace the freedom Christ offers. If you currently struggle with anger, meditate on First Peter 5:6-11. Ask God to take away negative thoughts and feelings. Pray that He lifts you up and gives you the grace to cope.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” Ephesians 4:26-27.

OK, you aren’t too sure about the title of this post. But don’t get angry with me yet. Please hear me out on this one. Yes, there is much debate about what Paul intended here, especially when you consider what he says in verses 31 and 32 found later in this chapter: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Some say that the tense of the Greek verb suggests concession: that we are bound to get angry but should manage our emotions in a Godly fashion. This is why the NIV translates this as, “In your anger, do sin.” Others, including John Stott and Gordon Clark, say it is not a concession but a command. I would agree with the latter but I need to explain. Either way, this is NOT a suggestion, as proposed by many secular psychologists and some “Christian psychologists,”  to ventilate one’s sin-induced and ungodly (never mind, unhealthy) inner rage (an emotional catharsis where “venting” leads to healing). This is a passage that speaks to a characteristic of God that we should embrace; anger with sin or righteous indignation.

To give credence to this idea, we need to remember these 2 verses are a reference to Psalm 4: “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD” (vs. 3-5). In Psalm 4 God is rightly portrayed as righteous, a God who has an aversion to sin. His holiness demands it. Calvin suggested Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:26 are a command to be angry with one’s own sin, but I think it goes well beyond that. I believe it speaks to the new creation we have become in Christ as one that sees sin, injustice, and spiritual rebellion as God sees it – with a paradigm of holy vitriol.

Jesus displayed this same attitude when He cleansed the temple that had been desecrated by thievish moneychangers. We see this in John 2:13-17:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the
money-changers sitting there.  And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

Please do not misunderstand. I’m not talking about self-centered anger. We have way too much of that and Paul is speaking to this problem in Ephesians 4:31-32. This is not a license to rage against any and everything. This is about needing to have a God-centered anger against all that stands against Him (including our own sin). It is indignation toward sin, injustice, evil, and immorality. But this is not a dangerous, destructive, damaging type of emotion. This anger is a grieving, love-compelled passion for what is right and good. It’s similar to the way we get upset when our children disobey. Because we love them and want them to honor God, we are angry because they are not living in a manner that befits one made in the image of God. Our desire for what’s best for them fuels  disappointment and requisite discipline.

It is told that at a certain Christian conference John Piper was listening to one of the other panel members who was particularly known for his assessment and criticism of our godless culture. After complimenting him on his astuteness in identifying and decrying the moral decay of America, Piper said, “There is only one thing lacking in your ministry.” The fellow panelist then asked Piper exactly what that was. “Tears,” was his gentle response.

This should cause us serious contemplation. Do we have a God-centered, tearful disposition against all that is unholy (in ourselves, others, and our society) and disrespects our holy God? Or does our wrath only become enlivened when it is us, not God, who is the offended one. I think the church of Jesus Christ needs more God-glorifying, grieving anger towards all that separates us from God. A righteous indignation that is fueled by love for God and others and is communicated through tears. I pray that God transforms us to be the kind of people that images-forth His holiness as His Spirit motivates us to “Be angry and do not sin.” And may it start with me.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was
to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”
(Romans 3:21-26).

OK, you might not agree with this title. After all, the prevailing thought of our culture (and Rob Bell) is that God’s love trumps His justice. Truly there is a divine paradox here but we are talking about God. It’s not as if He can’t have both the attributes of love and wrath in equal measure. Jesus Himself was said to be, in a similar sense, both completely full of grace and truth (John 1:17). I would suggest that the attributes of love and wrath are not contradictory (to the human mind, maybe) nor one takes precedence over the other – especially given the incomprehensible nature of an infinite being that entails what the very idea of “God” means. Furthermore, I would actually suggest they compliment each other in perfect harmony. Let me explain.

God is holy. He must punish sin. This is His justice and is a demonstration of His love for Himself and His righteous standard. God is angry with us because of our sin (see Ephesians 2:3, John 3:36, Romans 2:5, 8). God’s wrath is not just the natural fallout from sin but is His determined disposition diametrically opposed to unrighteousness. Scripture portrays Him as angry with us because of sin (Romans. 1:18-32). God’s wrath is personal. His anger is not some impersonal force that works itself naturally like “bad karma.”  The curse on the human race is purposeful and judicial. Our sin and disobedience is an offense to a holy and righteous God. Because of His faithfulness to Himself, justice must be served. God punishes sin and His wrath against it must be appeased.

Enter the doctrine of propitiation (a word excluded from many modern translations as “too theological”). Propitiation means to appease or avert divine wrath. And how is God’s anger pacified (a synonym for propitiation)?  By the death of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus takes upon himself the sin of His people and experiences the punishment that we so rightly deserve (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12; 1 Peter 1:18-21, 2:21-25). This was all foreshadowed in the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant and those various sacrifices gained their efficacy from Christ’s own death (see Hebrews 9:11-10:18). New Testament passages that show that the appeasement of God’s anger toward sin was accomplished through the propitiation provided in Christ (God’s wrath against sin being poured out on Him and not us) include: Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:1-2, 4:10.

In other words, sin is serious and forgiveness is costly. God is angry and can’t just “wink” at our sins without offending his holiness, righteousness, and justice. Sin must be atoned for. Sin is atoned for by means of God’s son, Jesus Christ, taking our place and bearing the punishment for our sins and thereby averting/appeasing God’s wrath. Our salvation was obtained at the costly price of our dear Savior and Lord’s life! Jesus was cursed for us. Jesus provided our justification. We are justified by union with Christ by grace through faith. Here we are reminded of the lengths to which God will go to rescue us from his own holy wrath. He did this by putting his Son in our place so that he could be both just (consistent with his own holy nature) and also the justifier of the ungodly. We see that only in the cross of Christ have we been rescued from the condemnation we deserve because of sin. Jesus’ sacrificial provision is our own justification as we trust in Him by faith.

Now this may seem like a bunch of theological mumbo jumbo; much of which was “borrowed” from this excellent resource –
So let me try to make this idea of God demonstrating His love through His wrath as clear as possible. Simply think of Calvary. There God poured out His anger against sin on His blameless Son for us. Can you think of any more loving act?  No, it is not, as some heretics have suggested, cosmic child abuse. At the cross God’s justice was satisfied and we were justified base upon His infinitely loving grace. God showed His love for us by satisfying His own justice, appeasing His wrath in the person of Jesus and not us. What love! Unfathomable, agape love that is demonstrated by God’s propitiation of His wrath for Himself and His chosen.

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