What is the Truth, and Who Decides?

During my seminary days, a question was asked that began to haunt me. “What is the truth, and just who is it that decides?” The Baptists disagreed with the Methodists who disagreed with the Presbyterians who disagreed with the Lutherans who disagreed with the Catholics. We all read the same Bible (give or take a few books). So, who has it right? What is the correct interpretation? What is the truth and who decides? That question has become even more poignant in our postmodern culture that dismisses absolute truth in favor of many truths holding equal credibility.

Our readings for today help us answer this question. Read on…

Read Deuteronomy 26:16-19 – The Truth is Presented

In this passage, God is calling Israel into a covenant relationship. If they will keep His statutes and be faithful to observe His commands with all their hearts and souls, then He will be their God and they will be His covenant people. God doesn’t say this one time. He doesn’t say it two times. He reiterates the proposal three times. If they will follow God’s Law faithfully, God will establish them as His sacred nation, esteemed among all the nations He has made. This was God’s promise all along.

God’s promise, made initially to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, established that God would make of Abraham a great nation, that he would have a great name, and that his progeny would be blessed and be a blessing to all nations. “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”   In Genesis 22:18, (an event called the Aqedah), when Abraham offered obediently to sacrifice his son of promise, Isaac, God’s promise was updated to covenant status. The Word came to Abraham, “…in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” In Exodus 4:22, God says, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son…” Israel was to be the first born among the brotherhood of the nations. Through Israel, God’s son, he wanted all of the “younger brothers” to be invited to worship Him in Jerusalem. God said of Israel, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

How did Israel interpret God’s promise to them that they were His firstborn son, a holy nation and God’s ambassadors to the nations? Rather than see themselves as missionaries, they relished their exclusivity with God. They viewed those outside the covenant (the Gentiles), as dogs. Clearly, there is a disagreement here in interpretation. Israel had their version of the truth. The nations had their version of the truth. Truth be told, they needed an authoritative interpreter to come and set the record straight! Read on…

Read Matthew 5:43-48 – The Truth is Interpreted!

In these verses from the Sermon on the Mount, we encounter the last of Jesus’ “antithetical statements.” He declares, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'” This is the way God’s Word was interpreted in the Old Covenant. It interesting to note that nowhere in the Old Covenant Law do we find the command to “hate your enemy.” God’s Word did teach them to love their neighbors. But, to that, the people had added their own spin. This interpretation was a substitute for what God intended. Now, Jesus offers a corrective. He says, “You have heard it said…but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Those who do this, Jesus adds, are truly the children of the Heavenly Father. Loving those who love us is expected behavior. Even the tax collectors and pagans do that. What God expects from His family, his holy nation, is that they will be “perfect”. What does that mean? It means that we will love others, even our enemies, as the Lord loves. Romans 5:11 states, “…while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…” What Israel, God’s “first born son” failed to do, Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, accomplished perfectly. This self-sacrificial love is the perfection into which we are called.

If we are to discover the truth, we need to look to the One who is the Truth. Jesus offers us the definitive, authoritative interpretation of God’s Word – because He is God’s Word. During these days of journeying to Jerusalem, may we “fix our eyes on Jesus.” In a world of relative truth – Jesus declares, “I am the Truth.” On that and every subject, He is the final Word!





Time For An Upgrade

For those who travel a great deal, there is a phrase uttered by airline personnel that almost always brings a smile. “We’re going to give you an upgrade.” It is a rare and unexpected pleasure when you are allowed to sit in first class, particularly when your assigned seat was in the rest room in the back of the plane. There are many upgrades that we enjoy. I recently stayed in a hotel in Jacksonville, Florida. Because they were going to have to move me to another room after the first night, they upgraded me to a very special room. “Suite 1010,” was my room for that first night. Later, I found out it was the room where Elvis stayed whenever he was in Jacksonville. Ten people could have stayed in that room! And who doesn’t enjoy upgrading their cell phone. Especially when the screen has more cracks than Humpty Knievel. Upgrades are almost always received well. But, there are some folks who want nothing to do with an upgrade.

In today’s study, we will examine the most important upgrade in all of history. As we focus our attention on Jeremiah 31, we discover that an upgrade was coming. The Old Covenant would one day become new. Much like when Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Old Covenant Law and came back down to share it with the people,  In Matthew 5, Jesus climbed the mountain to share the New Covenant Law with His Disciples. The time had come for a major UPGRADE!

Read Jeremiah 31:31-34 – An Upgrade is Coming

 Jeremiah wrote this prophecy about a millennium after Moses climbed Sinai and received the Old Covenant Law. The Law given at Sinai was a covenant written on stone. In Deuteronomy 9:9, Moses said, “I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made…” God wrote on the stone tablets with His own finger! But, Jeremiah said a New Covenant was coming. What would make it different? Jeremiah 31:33 tells us, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The Old Covenant Law Moses delivered to the people was written on tablets of stone. The New Covenant Law would be a covenant written on our hearts. From the law written on stone tablets, to God’s law being written on our hearts – now that is a major upgrade. But we must realize, the New Covenant does not do away with the Old, Instead, the New fulfills the Old.

Read Matthew 5:17-20 – Time for an Upgrade

When Jesus refers to, “The Law and Prophets,” He meant the Scriptures. Jesus didn’t come to abolish them but to fulfill them! “Fulfill,” means to make complete or bring to perfection. The Old Covenant was imperfect, but, it would not be abandoned. Rather, it would be upgraded! Jesus offers an alphabetical illustration. He says that nothing will pass from the law, not a Jot – Hebrew “yod” (the smallest letter in the alphabet), or a Tiddle“karaia” (a tiny mark). What God started with Moses imperfectly in the Old, will be accomplished perfectly by Jesus in the New! Jesus then says, those who downgrade these teachings will be least in Heaven. But those who do them and teach the UPGRADE, they will be great in the Kingdom of heaven!! We dare not go back!

So, what’s the difference? What makes the New Covenant an upgrade over the Old Covenant? The Old Covenant was designed to change behavior, but the New Covenant changes hearts and attitudes. The Old Covenant Law, written on tablets of stone was meant to modify behavior. That’s why Moses came back down Mount Sinai to share the Law. The law helped order the people’s earthly lives down in the valley. But, it was a lesser righteousness. That’s why Jesus said, For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The Pharisees were all about keeping the rules. They were not interested in any upgrades! For them, the Law was to be followed out of duty.

As Jesus shares the New Covenant Law, notice that He doesn’t come back down the mountain. Rather, He takes the people up on the Mountain with Him. He is showing us that this New Covenant Law offered in His “Sermon on the Mount,” is an UPGRADE. For, the New Covenant orders our lives for living on earth, to be sure. But, it also prepares us for heaven. Therefore, it leads to a greater righteousness. The New Covenant it is not about following a set of rules out of obligation. Instead, our hearts and attitudes are changed and our motivation for obedience is LOVE! For the New Covenant is written, not on stone but on our hearts!

 Read Matthew 5:21-37 – The Old becomes New

In these verses, Jesus lays out antithetical statements that demonstrate the difference between the Old and the New Covenants. “You have heard t said…but now I tell you.” In each one, we see the Old Covenant Law and the New Covenant UPGRADE. In each case, we see a matter of externally keeping the rules becomes internalized as a matter of the heart.

First we see the Old Covenant prohibition to murder. Jesus says, don’t even be angry. Second, we see the Old Covenant prohibition of committing adultery. Jesus says, don’t even look at a woman lustfully. Then Jesus takes on divorce and swearing oaths. Moses permitted both. Jesus says, in the New Covenant, with the exception of adultery, marriage is between one man and one woman for a lifetime. And, swearing oaths (petty oaths) is replaced with speaking the truth – let your “yes” mean “yes” and your “no” mean “no”. In each of these antithetical statements our motivation becomes a matter of the heart. No longer are we just keeping rules. The New Covenant, which is written on our hearts, calls for us to respond from hearts filled with love.

As we walk this Pathway to the Passion, is our journey just about “keeping the rules?” Do we think that if we avoid all the “thou shalt nots” and if we do all the “thou shalts,” somehow we will earn God’s favor? That is Old Covenant thinking. We need an upgrade! Leave the valley and come up on the mountain with Jesus. Here, we learn that it is not about keeping the rules to earn God’s favor. It is not about being on good behavior to impress others. That’s what the Pharisees did! Allow Jesus to break our hearts of stone and give us hearts for love alone. With our hearts transformed by the Holy Spirit, we are able to keep the Greatest Commandment: To love God with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In this is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets! As we journey toward Jerusalem, let’s go for the Covenant upgrade. It’s a matter of the heart.