13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13–14, NKJV)
Evoking the wonders of the unknown, poet Robert Frost wrote of two divergent roads in a yellow wood. Taking “the one less traveled by” men, he sighed, made “all the difference” (The Road Not Taken). Yes, many are the roads of life. Like Frost’s traveler, their ends are often obscured from sight. Jesus used the metaphor of roads and paths long before Frost. More importantly, He told us exactly where they lead. Jesus depicted two gates and pathways with very different outcomes. Each of us choose one or the other. One has a wide, inviting gate that gives way to a spacious pathway. This road is smooth and unencumbered. Many choose it, for it is easy. But, it leads to the horrible destination of damnable destruction. The other path has a narrow access point with obstacles nearby. Travelers entering this gate traverse a confined corridor paved with difficulty, turmoil, and trouble. Few accept the challenge of walking this path, but when they do, it rewards them with life. Only after traveling his chosen path could Frost look back from experience and assess the path he chose. Thankfully, we need not experience sin to know it leads to eternal demise. Choosing the narrow gate and straitened way of discipleship will lead you to eternal life (Rom. 6:22). Follow Jesus. He makes “all the difference” (Jno. 14:6).
24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. (Acts 20:24–25, NKJV)
Although chains and tribulation awaited Paul in Jerusalem, he would not be deterred from accomplishing the service given him by the Lord Jesus (Acts 20:22-23). He reminded the Ephesian elders that he had testified of God’s grace by preaching the kingdom of God while he was among them. Those who say the kingdom of God has not yet been established have a problem. If the kingdom does not exist now, then how can it be said that grace is obtainable now? In truth, Christians stand in grace now, and those who are saved by grace are transferred from sin’s darkness into the kingdom of the Son (Rom. 5:1-2; Col. 1:12-14). Preaching God’s grace is tantamount to preaching God’s kingdom. The saved are added to the church, which is the kingdom of God (Matt. 16:18-19; Acts 2:47; 28:23, 28, 31). The kingdom (the church) does exist now (Mk. 9:1; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4). Kingdom citizens have been saved by grace, through faith (Acts 2:47; Eph. 2:8-9). God grace and God’s kingdom are inextricably linked. By God’s grace we are receiving an unshakable kingdom (Heb. 12:28). As a result, we are able (and expected) to “have grace” by which to serve God acceptably. In the kingdom (the church) there is grace and acceptable service to God.
4 For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; 5 who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:4–5, NKJV)
Jesus was not a son of Aaron. Being from the tribe of Judah, he could not be a priest according to the law of Moses. That law “had to be changed” for Jesus to “become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 7:11-14; 6:20). Since the priesthood has indeed changed (Jesus is now High Priest), the law has also changed. The new covenant of Christ is now in force, dispensing redemption and arranging our new life in Christ, including acceptable worship. The old covenant tabernacle worship (offered by the sons of Aaron) served as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things accomplished by our High Priest, Jesus (Heb. 7:24-28). But, even the wilderness tabernacle (the shadow of the “true tabernacle” which is the church, Heb. 8:1-2; 10:21) was built according to God’s revealed pattern. We believe God-given patterns for worship still matters to God (2 Tim. 1:13). The new covenant of Christ contains a pattern of worship to follow (Jno. 4:23-24). We must see that we follow it. What pattern do you follow when you worship? Is it the new covenant pattern, or the commandments of men (Matt. 15:8-9; Col. 1:21-23)?
“If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15, NKJV)
What Jesus said in today’s passage is easily understood. “If” marks it as a conditional statement, with a result to follow when the condition is met. The condition is “love Me.” When we love Jesus the effect or result is that we keep His commandments. Obedience is the result of loving Jesus. Notably, “love” is a verb in this statement. Loving Jesus is active. Therefore, loving Jesus is not a feeling that warms us on the inside even as we are disobedient to His will in our actions. Simply put, Jesus said our love for Him is shown by our obedience to Him. If I am not obeying Jesus, then I am not loving Him the way He wants to be loved. To keep His commandments we must know them. Undoubtedly, that is why His apostles said to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). God has communicated His will to us through His Son Jesus, and the New Testament is that message (Heb. 1:2; 1 Cor. 14:37). We must listen to God’s word to believe and obey the commands of Jesus (Rom. 10:17). When we come to faith through God’s word, our faith compels us to love Jesus by keeping His commandments. Far from trying to earn God’s grace, obeying Christ from the heart is a full expression of loving submission to Jesus. We need faith that listens to the word of Jesus, and love that obeys Him. This is the obedience to Christ that saves us from sin in order to become a servant of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18). Do you love Jesus? Then, keep His commandments.
9 That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. (Ecclesiastes 1:9–10, NKJV)
Solomon wants us to view life on earth from an eternal vantage point. There is nothing new under the sun. What will be has already happened somewhere to someone. Sure, technologies advance, discoveries are made. But, the essence of life itself, its course, its parameters, its purposes – these have remained constant since the beginning of the creation (to coin a phrase from Jesus, Mark 10:6). Solomon saw the never-ending cycles of life in the circuit of the sun, the courses of the wind, and the evaporative equilibrium of the rivers and seas (Eccl. 1:3-7). Even our endless desires testify to the ultimate futility of life under the sun, since “the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (Eccl. 1:8). Ultimately, a life lived without fearing God and obeying His commandments fails to fulfill its fundamental purpose (Eccl. 12:13). The cycles of the earth and of life on this planet will continue for us until death comes (Eccl. 12:1-8). After that comes judgment and eternity (Heb. 9:27). “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14). Are you ready?
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:6–8, NKJV)
The call from many pulpits is to receive Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior, and you are saved. We agree one must receive Jesus to be saved. The important question is, how does a sinner receive Jesus into his or her heart to be saved? How did the Colossians received Christ Jesus? Christ is not received through the vain and deceitful philosophies of men, through religious traditions that men originate and practice, or by following the principles of the world (v. 8). Prayer is not identified as how sinners receive Christ Jesus. Colossians 2:11-13 teaches they received Christ Jesus the Lord when their sins were cut away by God’s power (“the circumcision of Christ”). This happened when they were “buried with Him (Christ, jrp) in baptism” (v. 12). In the Bible, one is not baptized because he is already saved, but as an action of “faith in the working (power) of God” that raised Jesus, to raise the sinner from sin’s death to new life in Christ (forgiven, v. 13; Rom. 6:3-4). When they were baptized is when they received Christ Jesus the Lord. Saved by the power of God, we are called to live faithfully in Christ with thankful hearts. And, we must be on guard lest our treasures in Christ are plundered by those who bring false messages of salvation (Col. 2:3, 8).
“And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,” (Acts 5:14, NKJV)
Believers were added to the Lord. What does it mean to be “added to the Lord?” Is belief in Jesus the only thing needed to be “added to the Lord?” First, being added to the Lord describes a new relationship one has with Christ. Acts 11:21 says “a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” So, this shows believing is distinct from turning to the Lord. (The text goes on to say many others were added to the Lord, Acts 11:24). One can believe and not turn to the Lord. For instance, demons believe, but obviously they are not added to the Lord (Jas. 2:19). Many believed in Jesus but they loved the praise of men more that pleasing God, and so they did not confess faith in Jesus (Jno. 12:42-43). They were not added to the Lord. The person with an obedient faith who repents of sin, confesses faith and is baptized into Christ is added to Christ (Gal. 3:27; Acts 2:37-38, 40; Rom. 10:9-10). These are saved and added to the body of Christ, His church (Acts 2:47). To be added to the Lord is equivalent to being saved, to being “in Christ,” and to being added to the church. Have the faith to obey Jesus, and be added to the Lord.
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21–23, NKJV)
Following His resurrection, Jesus Christ commissioned His apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). According to John’s account of this assignment, Jesus sent them into the world even as the Father had sent Him (Jno. 17:18; Heb. 3:1). The Father gave the Son the word of everlasting life to speak (Jno. 12:48-50). His apostles, who were sent into the world with the good news of God’s salvation, were guided by the Holy Spirit “into all truth” (Jno. 16:13). The word which the Holy Spirit revealed to them contained why, how, and when sins are forgiven and retained. The forgiveness and the retention of sins is not arbitrary, but available to all (Acts 10:34-35). A freewill decision to believe and obey must be made upon hearing the good news that Jesus is Christ. Those who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins are forgiven (Acts 2:36-41; 3:19). Those who do not believe and obey the gospel call to be saved remain lost in their sins. The gospel saves the lost, yet, many will not believe it and obey it, therefore, their sins are retained. The decision to believe and obey the gospel to be forgiven continues to be the most important decision a person will ever make (Acts 2:21, 37-38, 40-41). Will your sins be forgiven, or retained?
21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, (Romans 1:21–22, NKJV)
The elevation and exaltation of human wisdom comes at the expense of gratefully honoring our Creator. Knowing God exists should compel us to revere Him and thankfully obey His will. After all, it is His power that created us and that now sustains us each day (Rom. 1:20; Acts 14:15-17). Wisdom was the companion and possession of God at the beginning of creation and before (Prov. 8:22-31). How arrogant it is to think wisdom begins and ends with us (Job 12:2)! The apostle calls our attention to the futility of thoughts when void of a faithful recognition of God. The philosophy of humanism – a materialistic, purely humancentric view of life that rejects the divine – does not successfully answer the most basic questions of our existence: “Where did I come from?,” “Why are I here?,” and “Where am I going?” Asserting we are wise does not make it so. In fact, it exposes our foolishness (v. 22). Such prideful conceit darkens the heart and numbs the senses to the evidence of our Creator’s power and deity, and to the faith we should place in Him. Without God’s wisdom to guide us we are left to our own devices and sin’s demise (read wisdom’s plea in Prov. 8:32-36). “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (Jas. 4:10).
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,” (Romans 1:20, NKJV)
Evidence for the presence and power of God has existed since the creation of the world. Just as the invisible trait of intelligence is seen in the product made by the automobile designer and maker, the inorganic and organic systems of the universe reveal the (invisible) intelligence of our Creator. Again, the (invisible) power of electricity is used to create a car. Without sufficient power, the auto parts (much less the assembly line used to put them together) would yield no assembled automobile. The power unleashed to create the universe (much less sustain it) cannot be successfully denied – or explained – by the materialist. Speculations, hypotheses, and “maybes” are all they can propose. The truth is that nothing comes from nothing. It is precisely our Creator’s deity that gives context and capability to the power necessary to create and sustain the cosmos. We are without excuse for being under wrath when we refuse to honor God and be thankful of His creative blessings (Rom. 1:20-21, 18). It is truly futile and foolish to reject the “clearly seen” evidence of God’s power and Godhood, for “the heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork” (Rom. 1:21-22; Psa. 19:1).