How Much Does Heaven Cost?

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I often heard people say that you can’t buy your salvation and while that is true it is also somewhat inaccurate. Jesus put a price on the kingdom of heaven when He gave us two parables to describe what it is like.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46

There’s a legitimate point that my parents and other elders had and I get it. But my economic training tells me that we have to qualify that statement. While you can’t buy heaven you can put a price on it. I know. I need to explain.

There are two economic principles that we need to consider. First, the Subjective Theory of Value says that something is only worth what a customer is willing to pay for it. It has no objective price that applies to everyone.

Opportunity-Cost

The next economic principle is opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of a resource is the next-most-valued use of that resource. For example, you are spending your valuable time reading this blog when you could be doing something else. Whatever you could be doing is your opportunity cost. Since you’re still reading this that tells me that your alternative options are not more valuable to you, at least not at the moment.

We now see some things in Jesus’ parables that weren’t apparent at first glance. When the man found the treasure he sold everything he owned to buy the field. He was also willing to give up any alternative use of his time and the field to acquire that treasure.

The same is true for the merchant who found valuable pearls. He was willing to part with everything he owned to get that pearl.

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How many stories can you think of about people who take drastic measures to pursue a dream? There’s Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, etc. They all were on the verge of financial ruin, some even bankrupt, at one point but they took big risks to succeed.

There’s no doubt about their commitment. If we can risk it all for something as fleeting as business then we can see the value in the everlasting kingdom of heaven. Jesus is clear: in exchange for the kingdom He wants all that you have.

Jesus said that those who look back when they put their hand to the plow are not fit for His kingdom (Lk 9:62). For those people the opportunity cost is greater than following our Lord so they prefer the alternative. He wants followers who prefer the kingdom more than anything.

If someone looked at your bank account would they see that your priority is the kingdom? How about if they looked at your schedule? What’s the kingdom worth to you and is it obvious to anyone?

Jesus wants disciples who’ve decided to follow Him, no turning back. The cross is always in front and the world is always behind them. Even though none go with them they still will follow. No turning back, no turning back.

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The Dead Don’t Praise God

Psalm 88 is a psalm of suffering. It depicts the suffering of the people of Israel in exile. Christians can see the suffering of Christ depicted in it. Its language is universal and its applications are limitless which makes its relevance timeless.

I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, 

Forsaken among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, And they are cut off from Your hand.

You have put me in the lowest pit, In dark places, in the depths…

You have removed my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an object of loathing to them; I am shut up and cannot go out.

My eye has wasted away because of affliction; I have called upon You every day, O LordI have spread out my hands to You.

Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah.

The psalmist is in a dilemma because the same God who is faithful, just, righteous, merciful, generous, and mighty to save leads him through trials that cause him to despair even of his life (remember Paul and his despair?). But he makes an important point about the dead that we see in other scriptures too including Ps. 6:5; 30:9; Is. 50:10; Hab. 3:17,18.

Dead men are silent and they can’t praise God. He appeals to God for the sake of His own glory if for no other reason. The psalmist’s picture of death is a gloomy one indeed.

As Christians we need to complete the picture by adding a gospel perspective. This Christian view of death is found in 2 Ti. 1:10; Heb. 2:14; 1 Cor. 15: 17,18, 51-57. It is one full of light and hope.

As Jesus said in Matthew 22, the Lord is the God of the living, not the dead. We who were dead are now alive in Christ. The psalmist’s problem goes away because there will always be people alive to praise God and give Him the glory and honor that is due Him.

Virgin Birth: Believe It To See It

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Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

Isaiah gave this prophecy not as a word of encouragement but as a rebuke of unbelief. The context provided by the chapter is that the Assyrians are invading Israel and trying to take Jerusalem. The king and the people are afraid and God promises King Ahaz that they will not succeed.

10 Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying,

11 Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.

12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.

Ahaz was trying to be clever and use God’s own word against much in the same way that Satan tried to twist scripture against Jesus during His temptation. I believe Ahaz knew better that asking for a sign as a condition of faith was prohibited but here the Lord was offering it to him and so it was okay. In spite of what Ahaz said he, in fact, was testing God’s patience.

Jumping forward to the ministry of Jesus we read that He was frustrated with the people because they wanted Him to perform miracles, saying,”Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (John 4:48). This was the proper application of the command that Ahaz was using as cover for not trusting God.

God requires us to trust and obey before we see a miracle. We want to see signs and wonders before we trust Him, maybe. Jesus said that the centurion had faith like no one in Israel because he did not need to see the healing to believe it.

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.

2 Peter 1:19

Peter saw the miracles of Jesus’ ministry and I don’t think they can be matched by anyone in the Bible or human history. Yet, it was the word that was a more solid foundation for faith. Miracles, signs, emotional experience, all of these will fail us. You have to decide at the outset that God is trustworthy and commit yourself.

The Story Behind “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

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This hymn has become one of my favorites over the last few years. Since I was studying Latin during that time I am partial to this song because of its Latin roots. This song was originally song in Latin masses and eventually made its way to a wider audience.

In its original form, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” was known as a song of the “Great Antiphons” or “Great O’s.” The initial Latin text, framed in the original seven different verses, represented the different biblical views of the Messiah. One verse per day was sung or chanted during the last seven days before Christmas.

For the people of the Dark Ages—few of whom read or had access to the Bible—the song was one of the few examples of the full story of how the New and Old Testament views of the Messiah came together in the birth and life of Jesus. Because it brought the story of Christ the Savior to life during hundreds of years of ignorance and darkness, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” ranks as one of the most important songs in the history of the Christian faith.

The song owes its worldwide acceptance to a man named John Mason Neale. Born on January 24, 1818, this Anglican priest was educated at Trinity College in Cambridge. Brilliant, a man who could write and speak more than twenty languages, he should have been destined for greatness. Yet many feared his intelligence and insight. At the time, church leaders thought he was too evangelical, too progressive, and too much a freethinker to be allowed to influence the masses. So rather than get a pastorate in London, Neale was sent by the church to the Madiera Islands off the northwest coast of Africa…

Neale was an avid reader of anything related to the scriptures and came across the song in a Latin songbook. He translated it into English with the lyrics beginning with “Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel.”

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The tune that went with Neale’s translation had been used for some years in Latin text versions of the song. “Veni Emmanuel” was a fifteenth century processional that originated in a community of French Franciscan nuns living in Lisbon, Portugal. Neale’s translation of the lyrics coupled with “Veni Emmanuel” was first published in the 1850s in England. Within twenty-five years, Neale’s work, later cut to five verses and called “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” grew in popularity throughout Europe and America.

The first verse comes from Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23. Isaiah 11 is the inspiration for the verse describing Jesus as the rod of Jesse. Malachi 4:2 tells us that Jesus is the “sun of righteousness,” the Dayspring. The “Key of David” is found in Isaiah 22:22.

This hymn is a great musical source of biblical teaching. It condenses what the Old Testament tells us of the purpose of Jesus’ advent and ministry into seven verses. Just like how Jesus revealed to His disciples what the Law and the Prophets said about Him as they walked on the road to Emmaus so this hymn reveals Jesus’ manifold fulfillment of prophecy. He is truly Christ the Lord.

Was Jesus Birth Good Or Bad News?

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Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

Matthew 2:2-5

God has a long, established record of upending men’s prejudices by using those who have been rejected and despised by the world to accomplish His purposes and bring Him glory. Jacob and Joseph were used by God even though they were younger brothers in a culture the eldest son had all of the advantages. The Lord called Jeremiah to be His prophet even though he was just a child. He used women such as Deborah, Jael, Esther, and Ruth. In the story of Jesus’ birth we also see unusual reactions from unlikely sources.

Those pagan idolaters we know as the magi were the ones who understood the significance of the event and the true identity of Jesus. More importantly, their desire to worship Him confirms their understanding and proper response. I’d also say it was quite bold of them to ask to see the king of the Jews knowing that Herod was on the throne. Are they denying his legitimacy? Did they realize how insulting this was, and possible threatening to their own safety?

The chief priests and scribes were familiar with the messianic prophecies but they lack the wise men’s faithful response. They were like the prodigal son’s elder brother, so close to the father and yet so far away. They handled the revelation of God but they were blinded by their ignorant zeal.

And then we have Herod, whose sole concern seems to be self-preservation. Politics is a zero-sum game and as long as your enemy is losing you’re winning. He doesn’t care whether it’s true that Jesus is the messiah. I think he saw Jesus as a threat more than a hope for deliverance.

The gospel elicits the strangest responses from unexpected sources. Like a piece of equipment it detects the true nature of men. This story proves Jesus’ own words true in John 9:39 when He said:

For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.

Where Jesus And Bob Marley Agree, Almost

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No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Matthew 6:24,25

This teaching which Jesus lived by illustrates how different Jesus was from all men. No one can match the impeccable timing of His perfect words and actions. When growing up I thought that His behavior was so extraordinary that you couldn’t really know why He did what He did. I understand now that He was so different because He understood the scriptures and applied them, not because of some secret knowledge or powers.

This is quite a radical teaching when you think about it. It is so different from how we come to live our lives. Not only do we worry about our basic needs but we also add things to our list of concerns that we think are necessary when they really aren’t. Our nature is to serve mammon but you can’t serve mammon and God.

It is very easy to make our own plans and confuse them with God’s will. People often ask me where I see myself in five years but I can’t see myself in five months, or even five days from now. But how can anyone see that? Anyone who tries to speak with certainty about the future is fooling himself. You can say all you want about your five-year goals but they’re utterly meaningless because you have no power or knowledge regarding the future.

When you spend month after month looking for a job and watching your bank account dry up all you can think about is how you will survive. The stress makes you despair of life. Your mind is consumed with thoughts of what you don’t have and can’t do. You realize that you have no control over anything but you also feel powerless to overcome your circumstances. It’s like you’re playing a rigged game. This kind of worry is, in one sense, what Jesus meant by serving mammon.

We do not live simply for bread alone but for God’s pleasure, as Jesus told the devil during His temptations. Jesus teaches us that God already has a plan and a purpose for us and He has the power to make it reality. His plans are better than ours and provide a fulfillment we will never find on our own. They concern more than just what careers we have or what accomplishments we achieve. The big picture goes beyond our parochial hopes and stretch beyond our short lifetimes.

We must look to the Father as the source of our life and the provider of all our needs. Jesus said to seek the kingdom and righteousness and leave the concerns over our provision to the Father. Jesus is telling us to be carefree, not careless. Food and raiment aren’t trivial but if they become the focus of our attention then it will distract us from serving God. It’s either God or mammon. Whom will you choose?

What is the point of your life? Are you living for the kingdom or are you just living?

Introduction to Matthew

Matthew Gospel

My devotional study has taken me from Isaiah to Matthew. You will see posts on chapters one through seven over the next few weeks. My study guide includes an introduction and an analysis for the first time I come to a book. From the intro in Alan Stibbs’ Search the Scriptures:

It is customary to see in Matthew’s Gospel the fact that Jesus is presented especially as the Messiah, the promised Son of David. This is true; but it also declares that He is the Saviour from sin (1:21) and the Son of God (1:23; 3:17; 16:16,17); and although the writer was obviously a Jew to the core, and wrote primarily for Jewish Christians, yet he recognizes that Jesus is the Saviour, not of the Jews only, but of all nations (2:1,11; 28: 19,20). Nevertheless, this is the most Jewish of the Gospels. It is significant that our Lord’s genealogy is traced back, not to Adam, as in Luke’s account, but to Abraham, the father of the Jewish race.

The story of the birt of Christ shows distinct signs of being derived from Joseph’s side, as the story given by Luke would seem to come from Mary’s.

The Gospel is characterized by the large place it gives to the teaching of our Lord, and in particular to His teaching in parables and about ‘things to come’.