April 17th, 2016
Auxiliary Text: Jeremiah 8:4-13 & Luke 13:6-9
Call to Worship from: Psalm 92
Service Orientation: BEWARE! It is easy to begin worshiping yourself instead of God. Let your prayer life be your indicator to authentic, genuine, heartfelt adoration and worship of God; which is always productive.
Bible Memory Verse for the Week: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. — Galatians 5:22-23
- Mark’s arrangement of the material, with the temple’s cleansing sandwiched between the two parts, must be taken into account. Even Matthew, who condenses Mark’s arrangement and eliminates the division of the pericope into two, places this immediately after the cleansing of the temple and right before the questioning of Jesus’ authority. We have learned to respect Matthew’s arrangement of pericopes enough to see them linked; and therefore to read vv. 18-22 as nothing more than a lesson on faith forfeits the obvious links. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 445)
- The famous philosopher Bertrand Russell, as he examined the cursing of the fig tree, accused Jesus here of what he called “vindictive fury.” For him this whole episode tarnished Jesus’ character. “I cannot myself feel,” Russell wrote, “that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history.” Russell is not alone in claiming that Jesus was in some ways “acting like a spoiled child who did not get his way.” That is perhaps the natural but uninformed reading.
For those of us who know enough about Scripture and a bit about botany, we recognize that Jesus here is not, with supernatural spite, taking out his frustrations on some organic object. We remember he could do without food. He went without food for forty days in the wilderness, resisting the temptation to turn stones into bread. And we remember he could surely produce fruit from this tree if he so desired. He did after all multiply the loaves and fishes. (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 601)
- Few honest readers of the Bible would deny that this is perhaps the most uncomfortably difficult passage in the NT. If it is taken with complete literalism, it shows Jesus in an action which is an acute shock to our whole conception of him. It must, therefore, be approached with a real desire to find out the truth which lies behind it and with the courage to think our way through it. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 292)
- Would not a teacher be justified in pulling up a plant to illustrate a botany lesson? Jesus had infinitely more important lessons to teach and He was justified in using this graphic method. Men are more important than fig trees. That Jesus’ purpose was symbolic is clear, for trees have no moral responsibility. (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 113)
- (v. 19) The fig tree is unique in that it bears two full crops in the year. The first is borne on the old wood. Quite early in the year, little green knobs appear at the end of the branches. They are called paggim, and they will one day be the figs. These fruit buds come in April, but they are quite inedible. Bit by bit, the leaves and the flowers open out, and another unique thing about the fig is that it is in full fruit and full leaf and full flower all at the same time; that happens by June. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 293)
- (v. 21) “Removing mountains” (21) was a common proverbial Jewish saying and was used by Paul (1 Cor 13:2). A rabbi who could solve abstruse problems was called a remover of mountains. Jesus apparently had in view the removal of great moral obstacles to the progress of His Kingdom. Nothing is impossible with God. (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 114)
The cursing of the fig tree is not so far out of character for Jesus as some would have us believe. The same Jesus exorcized demons so that two thousand pigs were drowned (8:28-34), drove the animals and money changers out of the temple precincts with a whip, and says not a little about the torments of hell. Perhaps the fact that the two punitive miracles–the swine and the fig tree–are not directed against men should teach us something of Jesus’ compassion. He who is to save his people from their sin and its consequences resorts to prophetic actions not directed against his people, in order to warn them of the binding power of the devil (the destruction of the swine) and of God’s enmity against all hypocritical piety (the cursing of the fig tree). (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 446)
- Some forty years later the curse on the nation of Israel, illustrated by Jesus’ curse on the fig tree, was fulfilled. At that time, God allowed the Romans to sack Jerusalem and raze the Temple, destroying both the nation and its religion, because Israel had not borne any fruit, as it has not to this day. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 278-9)
The question to be answered is . . .What is Jesus attempting to illustrate with his encounter with the fig tree?
Answer: That Jesus abhors contentless, unproductive, and hypocritical worship that is just for show.
When God’s love is taken for granted, we paint Him into a corner and rob Him of the opportunity to love us in a NEW AND SURPRISING way, and faith begins to shrivel and shrink. When I become so spiritually advanced that Abba is old hat, then the Father has been had, Jesus has been tamed, the Spirit has been corralled, and the Pentecostal fire has been extinguished. Evangelical faith is the antithesis of lukewarmness. It always means a profound dissatisfaction with our present state. (Brennan Manning; Ragamuffin Gospel, 161)
The Word for the Day is . . . Produce
“Fruit” has been, and will continue to be in this gospel, a prominent metaphor for the sort of behavior God requires of his people. See 3:8, 10; 7:16-20; 12:33; 13:8, and especially the parable of the vineyard which will follow in vv. 33-43 and which will emphasize that the failure of the Jerusalem establishment to produce the “fruit” due to the landowner will lead to their expulsion and the substitution of “another nation” which will come up with “the fruits of the kingdom of God.” (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 792-3)
How is Jesus illustrating His abhorrence of hypocrisy?:
I- Jesus curses productive appearances that are in reality fruitless, hypocritical counterfeits. (Mt 21:18-19; see also: Isa 1:10-15; ch 5; 29:13; Jer 7:1-11; 8:13; 24:1-8; Hos 2:1-13; 9:10-16; Mic 4:4; Joel 1:1-14; Zech 3:10; Mt 7:22-23; 15:8-9; Mk 11:12-14; Lk 13:6-9; Rom 10:2; 11:20; 2 Tm 3:5)
This is an instance almost without parallel in all our Lord’s ministry: it is almost the only occasion on which we find him making one of his creatures suffer, in order to teach a spiritual truth. There was a heart-searching lesson in that withered fig-tree: it preaches a sermon we shall do well to hear.
That fig-tree, full of leaves, but barren of fruit, was a striking picture of the Jewish church when our Lord was upon earth. The Jewish church had everything to make an outward show: it had the temple, the priesthood, the daily service, the yearly feasts, the OT Scriptures, the courses of the Levites, the morning and evening sacrifice. But beneath these good leaves, the Jewish church was utterly destitute of fruit. It had no grace, no faith, no love, no humility, no spirituality, no real holiness, no willingness to receive its Messiah (Jn 1:11). And hence, like the fig-tree, the Jewish church was soon to wither away. (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 194-5)
We have a preference towards the gifts of the Spirit and not towards the fruit of the Spirit. WHY? Because the gifts of the Spirit are more showy, impressive, flamboyant, but also easier counterfeited, and easy imitated.
Whereas the real defining of Christian character is in the fruit of the Spirit. It is here that one is GODLIKE and the fruit of the Spirit should be the goal of every Christian. But we chase after the gifts instead of the fruit because they are more showy. It goes to show that we are more interested in show than in substance.
The Church as well as culture tend to celebrate and highlight the “Gifts of the Spirit” rather than the “Fruit of the Spirit”. But it is the Fruit that is the product of Christian maturity and the standard by which we are judged by God. (R.C. Sproul message, The Indwelling Power of Love)
You want to mess up the minds of your children? Here’s how—guaranteed! Rear them in a legalistic, tight context of external religion, where performance is more important than reality. Fake your faith. Sneak around and pretend your spirituality. Train your children to do the same. Embrace a long list of do’s and don’t publicly but hypocritically practice them privately . . yet never own up to the fact that it’s hypocrisy. Act one way but live another. And you can count on it—emotional and spiritual damage will occur. Chances are good their confusion will lead to some sort of addiction in later years. (Charles Swindoll, Grace Awakening, 97)
I know of only two alternatives to hypocrisy: perfection or honesty. Since I have never met a person who loves the Lord our God with all her heart, mind, and soul, and loves her neighbor as herself, I do not view perfection as a realistic alternative. Our only option, then, is honesty that leads to repentance. As the Bible shows, Gods’ grace can cover any sin, including murder, infidelity, or betrayal. Yet by definition grace must be received, and hypocrisy disguises our need to receive grace. When the masks fall, hypocrisy is exposed as an elaborate ruse to avoid grace. (Philip Yancey; What’s so Amazing About Grace?, 204)
I have argued so far that disinterested benevolence toward God is evil. If you come to God dutifully offering him the reward of your fellowship instead of thirsting after the reward of his fellowship, then you exalt yourself above God as his benefactor and belittle him as a needy beneficiary—and that is evil. (John Piper; Desiring God, 97)
Fruitless, taking up space, and causing the soil around it to deteriorate: A classic description of the average person who hangs around a church unconverted. Who comes Sunday by Sunday by Sunday without any fruit in their lives at all. They are fruitless, they take up space and their impact is to deteriorate the soil around them. So while it was forbidden (by Jewish law) to destroy a fruit bearing tree, it was clearly within the line of duty to chop down a barren or an empty tree. (Alistair Begg message, Mercy and Judgement)
Jesus warns us that it is possible to engage in what we call worship, only for God to reject it as worship “in vain.” How is it that we can worship the true God in vain? Jesus gives two causes. First, God turns away from worship when the worshiper’s “heart is far away” from him. Second, he refuses worship when the teaching or doctrines about worship are “the precepts of men,” not the precepts of God. (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 309)
Just as the presence of the fig tree was a symbol of blessing and prosperity for the nation, its absence would become a symbol of judgment and deprivation. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 277)
The fig tree represented spiritually dead Israel, its leaves represented Israel’s outward religiousness, and its lack of fruit represented Israel’s spiritual barrenness. As Paul later described his fellow Jews, they had “a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Rom 10:2), a form of godliness but no godly power (cf. 2 Tm 3:5). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 278)
The principle taught in the parable was that religious profession without spiritual reality is an abomination to God and is cursed. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 280)
The tree had leaves; the leaves were a claim to have figs; the tree had no figs; its claim was false; therefore it was doomed. The Jewish nation professed faith in God; but in practice they were unable to recognize God’s Son; therefore they stood condemned. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 296)
So long as a person is content with the mere leaves of religion–with a reputation for being alive while he is dead, and a form of godliness without the power–so long his soul is in great peril. So long as he is satisfied with going to church or chapel, or receiving the Lord’s Supper, and being called a Christian, while his heart is not changed, and his sins not forsaken–so long he is daily provoking God to cut him off without remedy. Fruit, fruit–the fruit of the Spirit is the only sure proof that we are savingly united to Christ, and on the way to heaven. (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 195)
If there is anything we learn from this passage it is that the green leaves of your religious practices cannot cover a fruitless life. The leaf of baptism or the leaf of church membership or the leaf of praying the prayer–these things cannot hide your nakedness from the eye of an all-seeing God. As Jesus came closer to the fig tree and as he entered into the temple to check for fruit, so even now he enters to examine your lives, looking for the fruit of repentance and holiness of life and sincerity of faith. And if there is no fruit, then stop fooling yourself and others. There is only one thing to expect–judgment! (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 604)
If I know anything about Jesus, I am sure that when He came to that fig tree and looked it over from top to bottom, if He had found one little fig, there would have been no curse from His lips. He did not curse that tree because it did not have enough figs. He cursed it because it had no figs, but it pretended to have something it did not possess at all. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 611)
According to all outward appearances, the fig tree should have been covered with fruit. It had all the external trappings of life, vitality, and fruitfulness. But it was a pretender, a fraud. What it promised on the surface was not the reality. So, Jesus took advantage of this available object lesson, seized the moment, and expressed judgment on the tree for hypocrisy. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 610)
We have been made for relationship with God. Therefore it is not surprising that we long to meet and know God. But the God we seek is the God we want, not the God who is. We fashion a god who blesses without obligation, who lets us feel his presence without living his life, who stands with us and never against us, who gives us what we want, when we want it. We worship a god of consumer satisfaction, hoping the talismans of guitars and candles or organs and liturgy will put us in touch with God as we want him to be. (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 65-6)
The picture of peace and prosperity which is common to every part of the OT is the picture of a time when people will sit under their own vines and their own fig trees (1 Kgs 4:25; Mic 4:4; Zec 3:10). The picture of the wrath of God is the picture of a day when he would smite and destroy the fig trees (Ps 105:33; Jer 8:13; Hos 2:12). The fig tree is the very symbol of fertility and peace and prosperity. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 293)
Anything which is useless is on the way to elimination; anything can justify its existence only by fulfilling the end for which it was created. The fig tree was useless; therefore it was doomed.
The nation of Israel had been brought into existence for one reason and one reason only–that from it there might come God’s Anointed One. He had come; the nation had failed to recognize him. More, they were about to crucify him. The nation had failed in its function which was to welcome God’s Son–therefore the nation was doomed. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 296)
Profession of faith without practice is something of which we are all more or less guilty. It does incalculable harm to the Christian Church; and it is doomed to disaster, for it produces a faith which cannot do anything else but wither away. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 297)
The temple displayed beautiful architecture, but contained barren ritual; it was ripe for destruction. Most likely, Jesus was not limiting his condemnation of fruitlessness to the temple or Judaism of that day. This action displays his stand against all hypocrisy–any religious people who make a show of bearing fruit but are spiritually barren. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 417)
This parable of judgment on spiritually dead people revealed a severe judgment. The early church later applied this parable to the total destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 417)
It may be significant that Jesus cursed the fig tree on Monday morning and then went into Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. Both the use of force and the utterance of a curse seem to be uncharacteristic of Jesus. But both incidents are urgent invitations to repentance. Jesus knows that his crucifixion is only a few days away and many of the people who are in Jerusalem for the Passover are blind to the seriousness of their sin. So he emphasizes his call to repentance by providing a couple of stunning visual aids. (G. J. Albrecht and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 300)
The cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the fig tree are closely related; in fact, Mark brackets the story of the temple cleansing with references to the fig tree (Mk 11:12-25) to make the same point. Jesus was commenting on the religious life and worship of God’s people, particularly Israel’s leadership. They had leaves, so to speak, on the outside, but on the inside there was no real fruit. There was a lot of man-centered religious activity completely devoid of God-centered spiritual productivity. These spiritually dead individuals claimed to worship God in the temple, all the while rejecting Jesus, who was God in the flesh (Jn 1:1, 14), the new and greater temple (Jn 2:19). Jesus had not tolerance for such hollow worship and hypocritical religion. (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 283-4)
We don’t want to be like Israel of old, having all the signs of religion throughout the Gospel of Matthew and throughout Scripture. He hates profession without practice. We shouldn’t have songs on our lips without surrender in our lives, for we cannot separate outward acts from inward affection. (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 285)
Where are the once-famous churches of Ephesus, Sardis, Carthage and Hippo? They are all gone. They had leaves, but no fruit. Our Lord’s curse came upon them: they became withered fig-trees. (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 195)
Its leaves advertised that it was bearing, but the advertisement was false. Jesus, unable to satisfy his hunger, saw the opportunity of teaching a memorable object lesson and cursed the tree, not because it was not bearing fruit, whether in season or out, but because it made a show of life that promised fruit yet was bearing none. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 445)
Like this green tree, Israel was fruitful in appearance alone. Spiritually they were barren. From a distance the temple looked inspiring, but upon close examination it was fruitless. Inside the activities that surrounded the Passover sacrifice were only hollow rituals offered to God neither in spirit nor in truth. (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 602)
They thought they could just walk into this oversized confessional booth, go through the motions, and walk out completely absolved of their sins, so much so that they would run right back to them and then go through the same motions the next year and the year after that and so on. Do you see what Jesus saw? What hypocrisy! (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 603-4)
By overturning the tables, driving out those who sold the animals necessary for sacrifice, our Lord was doing something radical, perhaps his most revolutionary action to date. He was making a prophetic protest and pronouncement. He was not cleansing the temple; rather he was cursing it! He was withering Israel’s fig tree. (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 604)
It is impossible to believe that the curse which the Lord pronounced upon this tree was an act of punishing it, as if the tree as such was responsible for not bearing fruit, and as if, for this reason, Jesus was angry with it. The real explanation lies deeper. The pretentious but barren tree was a fit emblem of Israel. See Lk 13:6-9 (cf. Isa 5). Jesus himself would interpret the figure the next day (Tuesday); see on 21:43. In fact, the disciples did not even have to wait until the next day for the explanation: The pretentious fig tree had its counterpart in the temple where on this very day (Monday), as has already been noted, a lively business was being transacted so that sacrifices might be made, while at the same time the priests were plotting to put to death the very One apart from whom these offerings had no meaning whatever. Plenty of leaves but no fruit. Bustling religious (?) activity, but no sincerity and truth. (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 774)
Just as the fig tree’s fruitfulness was a sign of its health, so fruitfulness was a sign of Israel’s faithfulness to the covenantal standards. Now that Israel, especially represented by its religious leadership, has perverted the temple practices and has not repented at the appearance of Jesus Messiah proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom of heaven, Israel is being judged by God. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 693-4)
It was a picture of God’s judgment on hypocrisy. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 609)
Hypocrisy is one of the most insidious sins that infects the church, and we are all exposed to its seduction. Why is that? It is because once we take the name of Christ, once we declare ourselves to be Christians, suddenly the bar is raised. The watching world rightly expects to see purity, humility, and righteousness in us, but we often display little of it. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 610)
In the OT, Israel is often compared to a fig tree or a vine, and judgment on Israel is compared to its destruction (see Ps 105:33; Jer 8:13; Hos 2:12; 9:10, 16; Mic 7:1-6). Jesus used the image himself in a parable recorded in Lk 13:6-9. (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 449)
In Matthew 21, Jesus has found the religion of Israel to be barren. Its leaders have turned the temple from “a house of prayer” into a “den of robbers” (v. 13). Jesus has been rejected as king, and the time for judgment has come, which is why Jesus cursed the fig tree, saying, “May you never bear fruit again,” and why the fig tree withered. The cursing of the fig tree was a powerful symbolic action. It is also a warning to us of how God views any religion that does not produce genuine spiritual fruit. (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 450)
We must not think that Jesus was simply angry at the tree and struck out against it like a child might throw down a cell phone and break it just because he can’t make it work. Jesus was not being petulant. He was teaching an important lesson with two points. First, the religion of Israel, focused in her leaders, was not producing fruit. It was a case of blatant hypocrisy. Second, any religion like it will always wither up at last, becoming as dry as a tree that is no longer nourished by its roots. (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 451)
Nothing is so obvious as the truth that religious words without spiritual fruit are worthless. Yet few things are so common. (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 452)
Let us learn from this what is the meaning of the word curse, namely, that the tree should be condemned to barrenness; as, on the other hand, God blesses, when by his voice he bestows fertility. (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 18)
“When Jesus threatens to ‘spit’ the lukewarm Laodicean church people out of his mouth, the Greek verb literally means ‘vomit’ (emeo). The picture may be shocking, but its meaning is clear, God cannot tolerate or ‘digest’ sin and hypocrisy.” (John R. W. Stott; The Cross of Christ, p. 108).
The sheer weightlessness of much contemporary preaching is a severe indictment of our superficial Christianity. When the pulpit ministry lacks substance, the church is severed from the word of God, and its health and faithfulness are immediately diminished. (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 110)
We have such smooth, almost secularized ways of talking people into the kingdom of God that we can no longer find men and women willing to seek God through the crisis of encounter. When we bring them into our churches, they have no idea of what it means to love and worship God because, in the route through which we have brought them, there has been no personal encounter, no personal crisis, no need of repentance–only a Bible verse with a promise of forgiveness. (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 118)
We live in a culture in which we are superficial in our relationships. Image is everything. But with God the opposite is the case. Image is nothing. What is in the heart is everything.
It is a fact, unhappy but undeniable, that repentance nowadays rarely gets mentioned in evangelicalism, nurture, and pastoral care, even among evangelicals and Christian traditionalists. The preoccupations of stirring congregational excitement, sustaining believers through crises, finding and honing gifts and skills, providing interest-based programs, and counseling people with relational problems, have displaced it. As a result, the churches, themselves, orthodox and heterodox together, lack spiritual reality, and their members are all to often superficial people with no hunger for the deep things of God. (J. I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 144)
II- Jesus teaches us that real faith produces real blessings and fruit through a real, personal and unwavering love affair with God, confirmed by unsolicited prayer. (Mt 21:21-22; see also: Dt 28:11-19; 1 Kgs 4:25; Mic 4:4; Zech 3:10; Mt 17:20; Mk 11:20-24; Lk 3:8-9; 18:1-8; Jn 1:48; 14:13-14; 15:1-17; Jam 4:1-3; 1 Jn 5:14-15)
It is a mark of spiritual barrenness in the church when people come to worship to fulfill a duty or keep a habit rather than satisfy an appetite. (Eric Alexander, Truth for Life message 65562)
I don’t know about you, but I cannot simply muster up more love. I can’t manufacture patience just by gritting my teeth and determining to be more patient. We are not strong or good enough, and it doesn’t work that way. None of us can “do goodness” on our own, much less all the other elements that make up the fruit of the Spirit.
But despite our inability to change ourselves in this way, to simply become more peaceful or joyful, we expend a great deal of effort trying. We focus on what God wants us to do and forget the kind of people He wants us to be.
Instead of mustering up more willpower, let’s focus our energies and time on asking for help from the One who has the power to change us. Let’s take the time to ask God to put the fruit of His Spirit into our lives. And let’s spend time with the One we want to be more like. (Francis Chan, Forgotten God, 148)
Prayer is the tangible expression of our dependence. We may assent to the fact that we are dependent on Christ, but if our prayer life is meager or perfunctory, we thereby deny it. We are in effect saying we can handle most of our spiritual life with our own self-discipline and our perceived innate goodness. (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, 137)
When the church is impotent, as so much of it is today, it is because so many Christians are impotent. And Christians are impotent because they are not persistent in praying for what God wants, believing He will provide it. God desires His children to ask and keep asking, to seek and keep seeking, to knock and keep knocking, and it is through that persistence that He promises to bless. He guarantees that they will always receive, always find, and always have the door opened to them (Mt 7:7). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 282)
Obedience is the one sure characteristic of the surrender of faith. Faith that is not coupled with obedience is a pretense. —Andrew Murray
Prayer is the key that unlocks and reveals faith. Effective prayer needs both an attitude of complete dependence and the action of asking. Prayer demonstrates complete reliance on God. It takes our mind off ourselves and focuses it totally on God. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 347)
There is a direct correlation between not knowing Jesus well and not asking much from him. A failure in our prayer life is generally a failure to know Jesus. (John Piper; Desiring God, 139)
Jesus used the fig tree to teach the power of believing prayer, an extrapolation on the theme of faith, the lesson just taught by the immediate withering of the fig tree. But belief in the NT is never reduced to forcing oneself to “believe” what he does and discernment of his will. Though exercised by the believer, such faith reposes on the will of God who acts. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 446)
How does God produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives? By putting us in the exact opposite circumstances so we have a choice to make! God teaches us how to really love by putting us around unlovable people. (It doesn’t require any character to love people who have it all together.) He teaches us joy in times of sorrow. (Joy is internal. Happiness depends on what’s happening, but joy is independent of circumstances.) He develops peace within us by placing us in the midst of chaos so we can learn to trust him. (It doesn’t require character to be at peace when everything is going your way.) (Rick Warren; The Purpose Driven Church, 361)
We labor in our faith. We strive in our faith for Jesus to save us. Like the woman with the issue of blood or the man who was paralyzed and let down from the roof to get to Jesus, we have to strive (work) to enter into our rest. We have to work to enjoy the fruits of our faith. Let us strive or work so we can put ourselves in a position to allow Jesus to save us. (From Charles Midget, dated 2-8-11).
True faith is trusting in the revelation of God. When a believer seeks something that is consistent with God’s Word and trusts in God’s power to provide it, Jesus assures him that his request will be honored, because it honors Him and His Father. When God’s commands are obeyed He will honor that obedience, and when any request is asked in faith according to His will He will provide what is sought. To do what God says is to do what God wants and to receive what God promises. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 281)
Mountain-moving faith is activated by sincere petition to God. “All things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive,” Jesus explained. The parables of the friend who asked his neighbor for a favor at midnight and of the widow who petitioned the unrighteous judge (Lk 11:5-8; 18:1-8) both teach the importance of persistent prayer. Persistent prayer is the prayer that moves mountains, because it is truly believing prayer. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 282)
There might be a particular reason for his saying so of this mountain, for there was a prophecy, that the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem, should cleave in the midst, and then remove, Zech 14:4. Whatever was the intent of that word, the same must be the expectation of faith, how impossible soever it might appear to sense. But this is a proverbial expression; intimating that we are to believe that nothing is impossible with God, and therefore that what he has promised shall certainly be performed, though to us it seem impossible. It was among the Jews a usual commendation of their learned Rabbin, that they were removers of mountains, that is, could solve the greatest difficulties; now this may be done by faith acted on the word of God, which will bring great and strange things to pass. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 301-2)
We must always remember that prayer does not bring deliverance from a situation; it brings conquest of it. Prayer is not a means of running away from a situation; it is a means whereby we may gallantly face it. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 299)
Jesus was using a mountain as a figure of speech to show that God could help in any situation: This mountain (referring to the Mount of Olives on which they stood) could be thrown into the sea (the Dead Sea, that could be seen from the Mount). Jesus’ point was that in their petitions to God they must believe without doubting (that is, without wavering in their confidence in God). The kind of prayer Jesus meant was not the arbitrary wish to move a mountain of dirt and stone; instead, he was referring to prayers that the disciples would need to faithfully pray as they faced mountains of opposition to their gospel message in the years to come. Their prayers for the advancement of God’s kingdom would always be answered positively–in God’s timing. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 417)
This verse was not a guarantee that the disciples could get anything they wanted simply by asking Jesus and believing. God does not grant requests that will hurt people or that will violate his own nature or will. Jesus’ statement was not a blank check to be filled in by believers, not a “name it and claim it” theology. To be fulfilled, requests made to God in prayer must be in harmony with the principles of God’s kingdom. They must be made in Jesus’ name (Jn 14:13-14). The stronger our faith, the more likely our prayers will be in union with Christ and in line with God’s will; then God will be happy to grant them. God can do anything, even what seems humanly impossible. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 418)
To pray in Jesus’ name means, first of all, to believe that, by his sinless life and his substitutionary death, he has paid the debt of your sins and delivered you from death and the power of the devil. He is the only Savior you will ever have or need. So to pray in his name means to base your requests not upon your own worthiness but upon the worthiness that he has imparted to you. And, or course, this will make a difference when you decide what to pray for. People who fear, love, and trust in God above all things are people who pray, “Thy will be done.” And when they ask for earthly blessings, like their Savior, they pray, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.” (G. J. Albrecht and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 301-2)
Praying to God was one of the purposes of God’s house, the temple, in the OT, and though God doesn’t dwell in a physical building today, He inhabits His people. We need to continually seek this King every day through prayer. In a day when we are bombarded with Christian commercialism, consumerism, and materialism, when our religion is filled with so much stuff and so much activity, let us not neglect to commune with God through Jesus the King. (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 284-5)
This is obviously a figurative expression to illustrate a spiritual reality. The point is not that we must muster up enough faith; rather, the point is that if we have faith in God, then we will receive what we ask, even when something seems too difficult, humanly speaking. What seems impossible to us is possible with God in prayer. (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 285)
We should not try in any way whatever to minimize the force of this saying and to subtract from its meaning. Both in the physical and in the spiritual sphere the apostles had already been doing things that would have been considered just as “impossible” as causing a mountain to be lifted up and thrown into the sea. Had not Peter “by faith” walked on the water? See Mt 14:29. Did not The Twelve exclaim, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in thy name”? (Lk 10:17). A few days later was not Jesus going to make the promise, “I most solemnly assure you, he who believes in me, the works that I do will he do also, and greater (works) than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:12)? See also Acts 2:41; 3:6-9, 16; 5:12-16; 9:36-43; 19:11, 12. In fact, does not the entire book of Acts prove that what Jesus said here in verses 21 and 22 was true? (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 775)
Jesus said, “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Mt 21:22). His statement is of course conditioned by His will (1 Jn 5:14-16). In Mt 21:22 we have the broad general rule for prayer. The rule is liberal, gracious, and awesome in potential, but it is qualified by just and reasonable limitations expounded elsewhere in the Scriptures (Jam 4:2-3; 2 Cor 12:7-9; Lk 22:42). (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 408)
This passage shows also that the true test of faith lies in prayer. If it be objected, that those prayers are never heard, that mountains should be thrown into the sea, the answer is easy. Christ does not give a loose rein to the wishes of men, that they should desire any thing at their pleasure, when he places prayer after the rule of faith; for in this way the Spirit must of necessity hold all our affections by the bridle of the word of God, and bring them into obedience. Christ demands a firm and undoubting confidence of obtaining an answer; and whence does the human mind obtain that confidence but from the word of God? We now see then that Christ promises nothing to his disciples, unless they keep themselves within the limits of the good pleasure of God. (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 19-20)
It must also be clearly understood that Jesus was not talking about moving a literal mountain. Neither the apostles nor the Lord Himself ever performed such a feat–nor has anyone else in the nearly 2,000-year history of the church. That would have been the sort of grand but pointless miracle the scribes and Pharisees expected of the Messiah but which Jesus refused to perform (Mt 12:38-39). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 80)
The promise nothing shall be impossible to you is conditional, valid only within the framework of God’s will. Mountain-moving faith is not faith in oneself, much less faith in faith, but faith in God. It is not faith itself, no matter how great, that moves mountains, but the God in whom the faith is grounded. Faith has only as much power as its object. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 81)
Removal of mountains was proverbial for overcoming great difficulties (cf. Isa 40:4; 49:11; 54:10; Mt 21:21-22; Mk 11:23; Lk 17:6; 1 Cor 13:2). Nothing would be impossible for them–a promise that, like its analogue in Phil 4:13, is limited by context, not by unbelief. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 391)
The fruit of a believer is another believer. (Rick Warren; The Purpose Driven Church, 63)
Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys. —Billy Graham
God does not build His church of building up His people by better ideas, better programs, or better methods, although such things can have a place in His work. God promises to truly reveal His power only through faithful believers who, in persistent prayer, seek only His will. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 282)
I often say my prayers
But do I really Pray?
And do the feelings of my heart
Go with my words I say?
I might as well bow down
And worship a god of stone
As offer to the Living God
A prayer of words alone. — Scottish Children’s Prayer
Worship Point: Worship that God seeks is in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:23-24); not out of obligation, pretense or to keep up appearances. (Mt 6:1-6; Isa 1:10-15; 29:13-16; Amos 5:21-24; Mal 1:6-2:17)
If this earthly temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, if this temple mount has been (so to speak) “thrown into the sea” (v. 21), and if Christ is the new and everlasting temple, the one and only person in whom we meet God and have our sins forgiven, and if his Spirit dwells in those who now believe, then what Jesus calls his followers to in verses 21, 22 makes perfect sense. There is no awkwardness in the transition of thought then. Outside of Jerusalem and the temple, Jesus calls his church to worship. He calls us to have faith. (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 607)
Our worship should, in the literal meaning of the word, be characterized by enthusiasm–which signifies not simply human exuberance but the divine indwelling (en-theos).
Lifeless, meaningless worship will inevitably put off the newcomer who is not yet a believer. But in the heartfelt worship of a people surrendered to him, God is pleased to dwell in the praises of his people. (Eddie Gibbs; Church Next, 182-3)
“My old effort to achieve worship with no self-interest in it proved to be a contradiction in terms. Worship is basically adoration, and we adore only what delights us. There is no such thing as sad adoration or unhappy praise.
We have a name for those who try to praise when they have no pleasure in the object. We call them hypocrites.” (John Piper; Desiring God, 19)
We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the spirit. The words, “Be still, and know that I am God,” mean next to nothing to self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century. (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word Acts: The Church Afire, 349)
The Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, NJ has a sign to help its worship leaders remember this. The sign reads, “Sing it like you mean it,” but the word “like” is crossed out and replaced with the word “because”: “Sing it because you mean it.” (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 124)
Isaiah points the way out of our wars into God’s peace by helping us think in God’s categories. His categories are not traditional versus contemporary worship but, more profoundly, acceptable versus unacceptable worship. And he has told us what kind of worship he considers acceptable: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit” (Psalm 51:17 NRSV). Acceptable worship is sweetened with a spirit of repentance. (Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., Preaching the Word: Isaiah, God Saves Sinners, 33)
We cannot worship in the spirit alone, for the spirit without truth is helpless. We cannot worship in truth alone, for that would be theology without fire.
Worship must be in spirit and in truth! (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 46)
When we believe that we should be satisfied rather than God glorified in our worship; then we put God below ourselves as though He had been made for us rather than that we had been made for Him. —Stephan Charnock
We go to church. We read our Bibles. We even teach a class or preach sermons. But sadly we can do those and other worthwhile things without any real reliance on God, without true faith, and therefore fail badly. Nothing, however good in itself, can substitute for a personal, continuing, trusting relationship with God. (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 329)
Worship is the work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord. (John M. Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth, 1)
If there is no wonder, no experience of mystery, our efforts to worship will be futile. There will be no worship without the Spirit.
If God can be understood and comprehended by any of our human means, then I cannot worship Him. One thing is sure. I will never bend my knees and say “Holy, holy, holy” to that which I have been able to decipher and figure out in my own mind! That which I can explain will never bring me to the place of awe. It can never fill me with astonishment or wonder or admiration. (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 85)
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. (A. W. Tozer; The Knowledge of the Holy, 1)
To handle the things of God without worship is always to falsify them. (Dallas Willard, Leadership, Spring 1999, 32)
Worship = a recognition of your desperate need for God.
Without the engagement of the heart, we do not really worship. The engagement of the heart in worship is the coming alive of the feelings and emotions and affections of the heart. Where feelings for God are dead, worship is dead. (John Piper; Desiring God, 81)
Jesus is teaching that what is important about genuine religion is not how prosperous our “temples” have become but whether we are actually communing with God and are growing spiritually by it. (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 453)
The same fire which melts the wax hardens the clay; the same sun which makes the living tree grow, dries up the dead tree, and prepares it for burning. Nothing so hardens the heart of a man as a barren familiarity with sacred things. Once more I say, it is not privileges alone which make people Christian, but the grace of the Holy Ghost. Without that no man will ever be saved. (J. C. Ryle; Holiness, 162)
Simply put: the more you know, the more you appreciate.
So what? Well, how much you know may have more to do with how much you love God than you think. Consider what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well: “You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship.” Another translation says, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know.” The Samaritans were worshiping God out of a lack of knowledge. And when you worship out of ignorance, worship is empty. God doesn’t just want you to worship Him; He wants you to know why you worship Him. (Mark Batterson, Primal, A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, 102-3)
To worship God we must know who God is, but we cannot know who God is unless God first chooses to reveal himself to us. God has done this in the Bible, which is why the Bible and the teaching of the Bible need to be central in our worship. — James Montgomery Boice
Many Spirit-filled authors have exhausted the thesaurus in order to describe God with the glory He deserves. His perfect holiness, by definition, assures us that our words can’t contain Him. Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate? (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 31)
I read somewhere that the ability of a couple to express anger well can do wonders for their sex life. It’s true, it’s true. It seems there can be no warm fuzzies without their opposite (cold pricklies?). Both anger and tenderness are forms of passion. As is prayer. God doesn’t mind our anger. He even relishes it, if it drives us to Him instead of away from Him. Better an outburst than a theologically correct and spiritually pallid rationale, and a dangling conversation.
No wonder we can get so bored with prayer. God is bored too. He wants to engage our hearts, not just our brains. (Ben Patterson; Leadership, Spring 1999, 120)
Gospel Application: Unless you understand the really bad news of your depravity, sin, fallenness and hopelessness, you will never be fully transformed by the Good News of the Gospel. Our worship will be unproductive as long as we look to ourselves. We must be “in Christ” to produce real fruit. (Jn 12:24; 15:1-17; Rom 12:1-2; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Gal 5:22-23; Phil 4:13)
Throughout his ministry we are able to see that Jesus has been subtly taking the place of the temple. He announces forgiveness. He heals the sick. He brings sinners into a saving relationship with God. He is the very presence of God in the world. He is (dare I say?) the temple! (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 605)
When the temple of Jesus’ body is destroyed (i.e., he dies), at that very moment the temple in Jerusalem (the building itself that will be destroyed literally in just a few decades) is symbolically destroyed. It has theologically gone out of business. (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 606)
The curtain that divided the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world, from the Court of the Priests, from the Court of Israel, from the Court of the Women, from the Court of the Gentiles, was torn asunder. The point is that through Christ’s sacrificial death the earthly temple completely crumbles to the ground and is replaced by the one who said of himself, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” (12:6). (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 606)
The principle is this: true repentance is a change of mind, of heart, of disposition: it is the making of a new heart and of a right spirit. It originates in regeneration; in our being born again; in our obtaining a new nature and becoming new creatures in Christ by the Spirit. And it flows forth, in unmistakable manifestations, in a new course of conduct; in a reformed life; a life aiming at new ends, conducted under a new rule, and aspiring to attain to a new standard. Repentance, springing from a true fear of God and a true sight of sin, manifests itself in a dutiful obedience to God’s law and a jealous abstinence from sin. True and saving repentance is not a mere shaking off the evil fruit from the tree, and trying on fruit of a better appearance. It is the changing of the tree’s very nature; and good fruit is then naturally brought forth, and not artificially appended. The penitent exclaims, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Thus much for the healing of the tree. He obeys the command, “Cease to do evil, learn to do well.” Thus much for the new, good fruit. “Make the tree good, and the fruit good” (Matt. 12:33). (Hugh Martin; Jonah, 271-2)
The fruit of the Spirit simply is the inner character of Jesus himself that is brought about in us through the process of Christian spiritual formation. It is the outcome of spiritual formation. It is “Christ formed in us.” It is called “fruit” because, like the fruit of trees or vines, it is an outgrowth of what we have become, not the result of a special effort to bear fruit. And we have become “fruitful” in this way because we have received the presence of Christ’s Spirit through the process of spiritual formation, and now that Spirit, interacting with us, fills us with love, joy, peace… (Dallas Willard; The Great Omission, 115)
Let us not forget that it is broken and contrite hearts which God will not despise; therefore, any ministry which fails to produce them, no matter how acceptable, is nevertheless in the sight of God a failure. (John D. Drysdale; The Price of Revival, 33)
The churches that mature in health and effect lasting change are the ones that come to God in brokenness and humility and beg Him to produce the obedience of faith in them. (Donald J. MacNair; The Practices of a Healthy Church, 231)
Much like Isaiah in Isa 6:5 . . .
“The more we encounter the holy God in our worship, the more we will recognize our utter sinfulness and be driven to repentance. This, too, is an essential part of our praise.” (Marva Dawn; Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, 90)
Any desire of the heart for Christ, any secret brokenness, any godly sorrow over indwelling sin, any feeble going out of self and leaning on Jesus, is the gracious work of the Holy Ghost in the soul, and must not be undervalued or unacknowledged. A truly humble view of self, is one of the most precious fruits of the Spirit: it indicates more real fruitfulness, perhaps, than any other state of mind. That ear of corn which is the most full of grain, hangs the lowest; that bough which is the most heavily laden with fruit, bends the nearest to the ground. It is no unequivocal mark of great spiritual fruitfulness in a believer, when tenderness of conscience, contrition of spirit, low thoughts of self, and high thoughts of Jesus, mark the state of his soul. “Who hath despised the day of small things?”–not Jesus. (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 163)
Fruit is always the manifestation of true salvation. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 278)
If you don’t see the absolute holiness of God, the magnitude of your debt, the categorical necessity of God’s just punishment of your sin, and therefore the utter hopelessness of your condition, then the knowledge of your pardon and deliverance will not be amazing and electrifying! — Tim Keller
It is not the hookers and thieves who find it most difficult to repent: it is you who are so secure in your piety and pretense that you have no need of conversion. They may have disobeyed God’s call, their professions have debased them, but they have shown sorrow and repentance. But more than any of that, these are the people who appreciate His goodness: they are parading into the kingdom before you: for they have what you lack—a deep gratitude for God’s love and deep wonder at His mercy. (Brennan Manning; Ragamuffin Gospel, 103)
Faith is not a measurable commodity but a relationship, and what achieves results through prayer is not a superior “quantity” of faith but the unlimited power of God on which faith, any faith, can draw. The disciples, Jesus implies, had failed to bring any faith at all to bear on this situation. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 662-3)
Lukewarm living and claiming Christ’s name simultaneously is utterly disgusting to God. And when we are honest, we have to admit that it isn’t very fulfilling or joyful to us, either. But the solution isn’t to try harder, fail, and then make bigger promises, only to fail again. It does no good to muster up more love for God, to will yourself to love Him more. When loving Him becomes obligation, one of many things we have to do, we end up focusing more on ourselves. No wonder so few people want to hear from us about what we ourselves feel is a boring, guilt-ridden chore! (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 103)
Spiritual Challenge: Look to Jesus. Look at your prayer life. Ask yourself, “Do I really love Jesus? Am I eternally grateful for what He has done for me?” (Heb 12:1-2)
True evangelical contrition, true repentance, must be preceded by a falling in love with God. (Leadership, Spring 1999 42)
Worship reorders reality. (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 39)
The fact is, I need God to help me love God. And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love other, fault-filled humans. Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts. The Holy Spirit has to move in our lives. (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 104)
So What?: Unless your affections and worship are grounded in God you will put unfounded confidence and trust in idols or yourself which will negate your productivity for eternal fruit. (Prv 3:5-6; 2 Cor 4:18)
You don’t need the Holy Spirit if you are merely seeking to live a semi-moral life and attend church regularly. You can find people of all sorts in many religions doing that quite nicely without Him. You only need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help if you truly want to follow the Way of Jesus Christ. You only need Him if you desire to “obey everything” He commanded and to teach others to do the same (Mt 28:18-20 NIV). You only need the Holy Spirit if you understand that you are called to share in Christ’s suffering and death, as well as His resurrection (Rom 8:17; 2 Cor 4:16-18; Phil 3:10-11). (Francis Chan, Forgotten God, 122-3)
Let’s check the “fruit of the Spirit” in our lives:
- When you find that you are feeling more love for unlovely people, people you don’t particularly like, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.
- When you find that there is a sense of joy about your life, without necessarily a change in your circumstances, know that the Holy Spirit has been at work.
- When you find moments of peace that circumstances can’t destroy, you’re not going crazy, it is our Lord, the Holy Spirit.
- When you find yourself being patient in areas where before you would have been quick-tempered and angry, you will know that the Holy Spirit has been doing His work.
- When you find yourself kinder than you have been before, maybe even in the face of people who aren’t kind to you, that is the Holy Spirit doing what He does.
- When you notice that you are better than you were before, doing right things just because they are the right things to do–balancing your actions, not against the bottom line, but against God’s commandments in your life, and working for what you know to be right–you know the Holy Spirit has been at work.
- When others, who were supposed to be holding the rope for a brother or sister, got distracted by the pretty flowers…and you held on and were faithful, it is Him.
- When you are surprised with the gentleness with which you turned away an angry friend or family member, when before you would have been quick-tempered, you know the Holy Spirit has been working.
- When you are strongly tempted but are able to say no, though you wanted to say yes, you have seen the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. (Steve Brown; Follow the Wind–Our Lord, The Holy Spirit, 109-110)
Our search for God will be most meaningful when we realize the utter barrenness of a soul separated from Him. (James P. Gills, M.D., The Dynamics of Worship, 8)
Self is a great let to divine things; therefore the prophets and apostles were usually carried out of themselves, when they had the clearest, choicest, highest, and most glorious visions. Self-seeking blinds the soul that it cannot see a beauty in Christ, nor an excellency in holiness; it distempers the palate, that a man cannot taste sweetness in the word of God, nor in the ways of God, nor in the society of the people of God. It shuts the hand against all the soul-enriching offers of Christ; it hardens the heart against all the knocks and entreaties of Christ; it makes the soul as an empty vine, and as a barren wilderness: “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit to himself” (Hosea 10:1). There is nothing that speaks a man to be more empty and void of God, Christ, and grace, than self-seeking. (Thomas Brooks; Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 189)
All of us know that death still threatens us. Luther prayed, “And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us.” But it is death that is our moral enemy. Its sting hurts; its victory wrests life from loved ones.
When we are trapped by this fear of death we cannot live abundant lives. We cling to those things that appear to give life some semblance of permanence. We do not feel free to take risks, and we find it hard to give generously without counting the cost.
Yet, Jesus taught that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). Dying, we live. Jesus didn’t want death, but when it came he accepted it as part of the givenness of his life. By dying, Christ robbed death of its power and delivered us from its terror. So, fears may be liars. Even that final fear! (Richard L. Morgan; No Wrinkles On the Soul)
. . . pragmatism fails because it claims an omniscience that it cannot have. Not only can we not determine the good that we should be seeking, but we cannot know the consequences of our ideas. Even if I could know that it is a good thing for the human species to survive, and could reach the conclusion that those things are true which encourage its survival, how can I know what fruit will come forth from what ideas? Consider the case of a Jewish watchmaker who lived nearly two hundred years ago. He and his family prospered, as they served the Jewish community in which they lived and worshiped. Eventually, however, the family decided to move away. They found themselves living not in a Jewish community, but in a Lutheran one. The father no longer had fellow Jews for customers. So he and his family embraced, or at least appeared to embrace, the Lutheran faith. Surely such a decision was a wise one, economically speaking. The family continued to prosper. But the effects of that pragmatic decision were utterly devastating. That family included a son. That son, seeing the sheer hypocrisy of his father’s “faith,” decided that all religions are false, and that their only function is to manipulate the poor with the promise of future reward. That son, Karl Marx, wrote about those convictions and others when he penned, with Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto. (R. C. Sproul, Tearing Down Strongholds and Defending the Truth, 75)
Quotes to Note:
The popular Jewish literature of this time informs us that the Jews expected the Messiah, when he came, to purge Jerusalem and the temple of Gentiles and foreigners. Jesus’ attitude and action, however, was “exactly the reverse.” As the true Messiah, the one who came to fulfill the Scriptures, Jesus “does not clear the temple of Gentiles, but for them.” He clears the temple so that Gentiles might worship God! So Jesus quotes from Isaiah 56 because it is there where the prophet “speaks of the extension of God’s salvation to people who formerly were excluded from it,” where Isaiah speaks of how the temple is not the sole property of Israel but is a witness to the nations. (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 302)