And there will be a highway called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel it—only those who walk in the Way—and fools will not stray onto it.
In the time that these words were written, what was called a highway was what we would consider today a well-trodden trail. It was a definitive path that left no doubt as to the right way to go. Being on this trail brought with it a sense of confidence: all one had to do was to follow the trail to reach their destination.
The path of holiness is here called the Way. When one is on this path, one is separated from the rest of humanity that is choosing to follow its own desires.
Depending on which version of the Bible you may read, the last part of the verse can be viewed in a couple of meaningful ways. In some versions, like the Berean Study Bible quoted here, it gives the impressions that the fool will not accidentally stray onto it. This would imply that the Way is intentional; one chooses to be on it and does not fall upon it by whim or chance.
There are also versions that provide a different shade of meaning, such as “even a fool will not stray from it.” This gives the meaning that the Way is so clearly defined that even if one is foolish they have the ability to remain on the path.
In either view, the Way is something that is distinct from where the rest of the world travels. Being on the Way of holiness means one is traveling within a way of life that is intentionally set apart for God’s purposes, and this Way can keep even our foolish inclinations in check.
And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries and cares of the world [the distractions of this age with its worldly pleasures], and the deceitfulness [and the false security or glamour] of wealth [or fame], and the passionate desires for all the other things creep in and choke out the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
Mark 4:18-19, Amplified Bible
In this parable of the sower sowing his seed, Yeshua explains that the seed represents the word of God, and he describes the conditions of the hearts of those upon whom the seed is sown. The seed being sown among the thorns represents those individuals who receive the word of God, but their hearts are so overcrowded with worldly cares and other ambitions that the seed cannot grow to maturity; it gets choked out and cannot bear fruit.
If we are to reflect on our own lives, how much of our time and attention is spent on the distractions of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and passionate desires for other things besides the kingdom? We need to remain vigilant that the “weeds” of these other concerns do not overcrowd the truly important and impactful things that surround the kingdom: hearing and understanding the word and bearing fruit.
Just like a farmer preparing the soil in the garden, we need to constantly churn the earth of our hearts, ensuring there is sufficient compost and nutrients to receive what is planted so the seed can successfully multiply and grow to its fullest capacity.
Without constant attention, the garden soil of our hearts can be quickly overrun by weeds. We must weed the garden at all times to ensure that as the seed grows, it is clear of any other obstructions to the light and moisture that it needs. The weeds can block the light and consume the water of the rain and irrigation meant to nourish the seed for maximum growth.
Removing weeds can be hard work, especially if we have neglected to review it on a regular basis. Mind your garden with vigilance, and you will be honoring the Master Gardener by maximizing the return he has planned for the seed that is being sown in you.
In this episode we will be exploring the topic of forgiveness by looking at Yeshua’s admonition for believers to be peacemakers.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
I have paraphrased this verse as “Make peace; do peace, and you will be blessed, being recognized as a child of God.” It is our obligation as believers to be the vanguard of peace among the lives of those around us.
What’s interesting in this verse is the active nature of what is being expressed. Yeshua appears to be emphasizing the doing or the making of peace. By this reckoning, peace is not something that just happens; it involves work and effort to bring it about. That’s what we are discussing today; what is involved in bringing about peace in our lives and the lives of those around us?
So let’s explore the definition of peace, to find out what it is that we should be actively working towards in our relationships with others.
The word in the original Greek is eiréné (i-ray’-nay) meaning oneness, peace, quietness, rest. In usage it conveys peace, peace of mind. It is also the equivalent of the Hebrew shalom, an invocation of peace and a common Jewish farewell, in the Hebraic sense of the health (welfare) of an individual.
HELPS Word-studies focus on the wholeness aspect of this term as coming from a root word which means “to join, tie together into a whole”. It essentially conveys when all necessary parts are joined together there is peace (God’s gift of wholeness).
Through these definitions you can see that the biblical notion of peace brings so much more to the table than just attitudes of non-aggression; it has to do with a sense of wholeness and essential unity. Wholeness and unity can only come about when individuals are in agreement or have a common purpose or emotional bond. If this is the case, and if we are to be peacemakers, it is our responsibility as believers to bridge disagreements and work to bring others towards common purposes and feelings towards us and towards each other.
One aspect of being a peacemaker is to be reconciled to a family member or someone you are close to.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
This word for reconciliation carries the idea of changing or exchanging something for something else. It means to thoroughly experience change, such as where people in conflict come together through meaningful change. Enmity or disagreement has been exchanged for friendship.
Many times, disagreements between friends or family exist because no one wants to be the first one to budge from their position of perceiving they have been wronged by the other. But according to Yeshua, we as believers need to actively work towards these types of resolutions. It is our responsibility to initiate these exchanges; that’s what makers of peace do. So if we have unresolved conflict in our close relations, then it is upon us to to be the ones who begin to pave the way toward resolution of these conflicts.
However, if we continue to be caught up in dissent and factionism by pressing our righteous indignation at every offense, we are denying our heritage as makers of peace in the character and likeness of Messiah and his kingdom.
“…for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this [way] serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” –
When wrongs are committed between individuals, the faithful believer must look beyond the immediate injury to the larger objective of peace and unity. There is no denial a wrong has been committed, just a positive affirmation that is intentionally offered to overcome the sting of whatever injustice was perceived to have been incurred.
Sometimes our perceptions are incorrect, or we misunderstand someone, and we react to a perceived injustice. This is why we must exercise care. If we focus on peace rather than justifying our perceptions, we are saved from potentially creating an issue where there was no real threat to begin with.
Another aspect of being a peacemaker is in reconciliation with an adversary:
Reconcile quickly with your adversary, while you are still on the way to court.
Your adversary can be anyone who is simply working at cross-purposes with you, or who could be actively working against you at every turn. In the example Yeshua provides, this adversary would be someone taking you to court over some legal issues. This adversarial behavior can be frustrating and can cause our emotions to run high, wanting to reflexively do them harm, or to avoid them at all cost so no interaction has to occur to continue to feed into your emotional distress.
And yet, Yeshua says we need to be the instigators of reconciliation; we need to be the ones who begin the process of trying to find common ground for the establishing of a stronger relationship.
The type of reconciliation mentioned in this verse about our adversaries is a form of being well-minded toward someone else, to think kindly of them or to be favorable toward them. Who wants to do that with an adversary? Wouldn’t we rather want to respond in kind by trying to see how much harm we could do them because they were escalating things in the legal court system?
That may be our initial emotional response, but it should not be our continuing motivational attitude toward that individual. We are commanded by Yeshua to initiate reconciliation, to look kindly toward those who might be trying to do us harm.
These are the types of peacemakers we are to be: to be coming together with those who are near to us through exchanging our enmity for friendship, to be well-minded towards our adversaries. Being a peacemaker involves all others we interact with.
Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but enjoy the company of the lowly. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Carefully consider what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone.
Notice how Paul says our responsibility is towards everyone. That word is a primary word meaning all people, every person, the whole of everyone we interact with.
This goal of peace is so much more than just joining hands and singing kumbaya around a campfire; this type of exchanging enmity for reconciliation or being well minded towards others involves a difficult and sometimes emotionally painful exercise of a typically latent faculty that we all possess: forgiveness. When it comes right down to it, forgiveness is the basis of all peace.
So let’s explore this idea of forgiveness as a driver of the making of peace a little further.
Forgiveness comes from the Greek word charizomai (khar-id’-zom-ahee) which means to show favor or kindness, to give freely. It’s root meaning comes from the word xaris (char’-is) which is where we get our word for grace, that is, freely giving favor or to grant forgiveness or pardon. (xarízomai) literally means, “to willingly (“graciously”) bestow.
I think you can begin to get the idea of where this topic is heading.
Now, we love all of these definitions as we apply them to our relationship with God: he forgives us, extends his mercy when we don’t deserve it, there is nothing we can do to earn it, but it is freely given.
But when we look to others who may have wronged us, we are not necessarily as quick to apply those same principles towards them. Why not? Because forgiveness isn’t something that is a natural response; it has to be intentionally bestowed upon someone else. This takes effort, and in some respects doesn’t feel natural because it isn’t reflexive. It has to be thought about and not carelessly offered.
Additionally, forgiveness involves another quality that does not always come easily: humility. It takes a humble person to not take action in pressing their potential advantage over someone else. To be willing to concede a perceived wrong is generally thought of as a weakness, but in God’s eyes this is a strength.
The saying is that we may have lost the battle but we win the war. Forgiveness and humility both give us an opportunity to step back from the immediate conflict and gain perspective on the overall relationship. From the larger perspective, “losing” a battle for the sake of maintaining the relationship has real value, even if it doesn’t seem like it at that time. Forgiveness is full of hope because it looks to a future of reconciliation, even if it isn’t readily apparent in the moment.
Now, the caveat in all of this is that while we may do all of these things from the truest intent of our hearts, our overtures of reconciliation, peace, and forgiveness may still fall on deaf ears and hard hearts. Those we are attempting to exhibit peace with may still remain at odds with us.
I believe this is why it says in Romans 12:18, “Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody.”
The phrase literally says “if possible, out of you, with all men live at peace.”
This implies that “out of us” should always be coming overtures of peace, even if met with resistance. It also implies that it may not always be possible to be at peace, at least not at the present time, due to whatever else the other person may be dealing with. But that doesn’t mean that their emotional state won’t be changed at some future point. For this reason, we are commanded that our stance should always be one of unending peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness. In short, we should always act in love.
If we are to be mimicking God and representing his character and values in this world, then we should adopt the stance of God towards us. He constantly continues to offer his reconciliation, forgiveness and peace, even in our most rebellious and hard-hearted times. Yeshua admonishes us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Perfection in this instance refers to a measure of completeness. When we are agitated toward others, we are in a sense incomplete, however, when we advocate for peace and reconciliation, we are pursuing wholeness and unity, and we ourselves become whole in the process.
We are to be the makers of peace, the doers of peace. When we do this faithfully, we will be considered the children of God, because we will be doing what he does with us.
Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground today that I hope provides you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. Being a peacemaker can be hard work, and forgiveness does not come naturally or easily. But we need to keep in mind that forgiveness is one of the concepts that is integral within the core of the Bible qualities of kingdom, integrity, vigilance, holiness, trust, and compassion. It is my hope you will continue to review with me these aspects of human expression that, I believe, God expects of all people.
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Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Endure harmful pursuit for doing what’s right, and you will be blessed, having possession of the Kingdom of God.
Integrity involves standing up for what’s right, even while enduring hostile environments. In our day, the concept of persecution has been trivialized into essentially any notion of being ridiculed or spoken out against.
However, in biblical terms, the concept of persecution conveys the act of having to flee from those who are intent on injuring or even killing those who have opposing viewpoints.
In denouncing the corruption of the Jewish leaders, Yeshua foretold the horrendous actions they would perform on the “prophets, wise men, and scribes” that would be sent to continue to warn them of their wickedness:
Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets, wise men, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify; and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute [i.e., chase with intent to kill] from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the sanctuary and the altar. Most certainly I tell you, all these things will come upon this generation.
He also warned his followers that they would experience these things in standing for the truth of his words:
But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute [i.e., chase with intent to kill] you, delivering you up to synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for my name’s sake.
History bears out that this is exactly what happened, and believers were hunted and rooted out of synagogues for believing in Messiah. They were scourged, stoned, imprisoned, and killed for maintaining the integrity of their faith.
This is a far cry from those today who claim persecution because of receiving negative comments on social media, or having others simply disagree with their views and call them names. While maintaining our integrity is still just as valuable in those situations, to claim those inconveniences as persecution is dishonoring our spiritual forebears who quite literally put their lives and the lives of their family members, their very daily existence, at risk because of their views of Messiah.
While there are areas of the world where legitimate persecution for the kingdom still exists, we can be truly thankful to God that in free societies our voices can be heard, and our lives are not daily in jeopardy for believing in, and sharing the light of, his Messiah.
This should motivate us all the more to demonstrate integrity by maintaining the truth of our faith in all of our words and actions, and in our relationships and interactions with those around us.
When asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God will not come with observable signs. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For you see, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
All throughout his ministry, Yeshua spoke of the nearness of the kingdom. This nearness was to be demonstrated through healings (Luke 10:9) and it was to be a witness against those who would not believe (Luke 10:11). The nearness was to be the motivation for repentance (Matt. 4:17) and for a reevaluation of accepted expectations, as discussed here in Luke 17.
The nearness of the kingdom presents these same challenges even today. Most believers in our day have the same expectation as the Pharisees: that the Messiah of God will come to rule and reign over a physical kingdom, and all nations will be a witness to the power and majesty of God.
However, to hold this view misses the essence of what Yeshua was teaching: the kingdom is not the coming visible manifestation of a political entity, but is a present reality already changing hearts, minds, and bodies.
Commentators have split over the interpretation of the words expressing that the kingdom of God is “in your midst,” or “within/inside you.” Even in English, we can sense the similarity of these meanings, and both present different shades of the reality of the kingdom as Yeshua describes it.
Many modern commentators have sided with the “in your midst” interpretation citing the fact that the kingdom was already being manifested in that day as Yeshua ministered to the people of Israel. Many others have chosen to interpret the meaning as “within you,” pointing to the internal nature of being born from above, and how God desired to rule their hearts.
Both interpretations have merit, and both present the obvious truth that Yeshua was making with the Pharisees: whether internal to each individual or already present in their midst, either way, the coming of the kingdom has nothing to do with the setting up of a visible organization or entity ruling over the entire earth.
The kingdom of God is not to be observed outwardly as a place or destination one can go to or inhabit. However, the kingdom is being manifested every day in the lives of believers through changed hearts, minds, and bodies. It is promised to continue to grow until God is “all in all,” (1 Cor. 15:28).
In that day, there will be no need for a physical representative kingdom, because God will be ruling every heart as he intended from the beginning, and all the world will manifest his glory and majesty.
Jesus took up this question and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. … But when a Samaritan on a journey came upon him, he looked at him and had compassion. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Take care of him,’ he said, ‘and on my return I will repay you for any additional expense.’
Luke 10:30, 33-35
This famous passage is Yeshua’s definition of having compassion on one’s neighbor. True compassion is not just a feeling of sympathy, but it is a sympathy that takes action.
The apostle James, whom many consider to be the brother of Yeshua, drills down even further into the practicality of true faith in the practice of compassion with others:
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that?
Biblical compassion looks outward to others who are in need, beyond the comfort of one’s own personal situation or condition and says, “What can I do to help?”
Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings.
Paul’s original wording here in his message to the believers in Galatia can be rendered within its Hebraic cultural context as, “In this manner you shall fulfill the Torah of the Messiah.” This aspect of assisting others in need is considered by Paul to be the essence of Yeshua’s teaching, central to everything he stood for and practiced.
If this is the lens through which we should be viewing the life and ministry of Yeshua, then, as his followers, how much more should this same quality be applied in our own lives?
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. … You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:38, 43-44
Follow the example of your Father in heaven by loving your enemies; speak well of them, help them, and pray for their needs. Never retaliate; instead, offer to go above and beyond for those oppressing you.
This teaching of Yeshua is one of the most widely known yet least practiced of all of his precepts. This is because it is non-intuitive and frankly, difficult. It involves two aspects, both an inward motivation and an outward practicality.
If someone is forcing you to do something against your will, double your response. By expending twice the effort in a positive manner than they demanded of you from a negative motivation, you will in essence be overcoming their evil intent with a double measure of good. Additionally, if you are inwardly motivated for their good by praying for them and their needs, you are removed from your reflexive, emotional response of like for like. You are now placing yourself in a frame of mind that becomes concerned for their welfare where you can truly learn of their needs and act with genuine intention.
The typical human response in relationships is to respond in kind to how we are treated by others. A nobler aspiration would be to treat all people with an equal measure of kindness. However, Yeshua calls us to the highest level of interaction: not just to be kind to all, but to expend twice the effort and concern over those who are least deserving of it. This is true love, and the formula for eradicating evil in the world.
It’s simple math: a negative number plus a positive number of equal value only amounts to zero. It takes a positive number of higher value to end with a positive result.
Forgiveness is a bridge to positive, loving responses. When we intentionally overlook a personal injustice, we are freed to be obedient to God’s command to double our loving actions. If we do not exercise forgiveness, we may attempt to be obedient, but our actions can become only hollow shadows with no real substance.
The motivation Yeshua provides us for practicing this kind of forgiveness and love is because when we do so, we are mimicking our heavenly Father. God doesn’t ask us to do anything he himself is unwilling to do. If he blesses the wicked with life and rain and abundance, it is not because they are deserving, but perhaps in their abundance they will recognize his blessing, turn from their ways, and honor him for it.
The apostle Paul calls this God’s “testimony of goodness.” When interacting with crowds in Iconium and Athens, he speaks about the nature of the true God, and he relates how God blesses them.
Yet He has not left Himself without testimony to His goodness: He gives you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness.
From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
If we are to represent God as his children, we should be doing what he does. Unfortunately, in our human quest for justice and fairness, we stumble over what we personally think is fair and right based on our limited perspective, but that is not our place. Yeshua encourages us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Our intentional actions based on forgiveness and love, then, become our personal testimony of goodness. As a result, God is honored, and all evil intentions can be overcome with love.
Look, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.
In this vision that Jacob experiences, God recounts the promises made to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. He promised that they would receive the land, that his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth, and that all the tribes of the earth would be blessed through him and his descendants.
After recounting the historical events of the remainder of Genesis through Exodus and the battle campaigns of Joshua, we find that over many generations, everything came to pass, just as God had promised.
On his deathbed, Joshua recounts God’s faithfulness:
Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know with all your heart and soul that not one of the good promises the LORD your God made to you has failed. Everything was fulfilled for you; not one promise has failed.
The story of Israel is a story about God’s faithfulness. He has demonstrated himself as worthy of trust because whatever he has committed to his people has come to pass. Time and time again he has proven himself as fulfilling what he has promised, whether in blessing or in judgment.
Beyond the physical promises of a land and numerous people stands God’s promise to the forefathers of Israel that all the families or tribes of the earth would be blessed through their descendants. The Bible records for us that Yeshua, as the promised seed or descendant of Abraham’s lineage, fulfilled every promise and prophecy for the nation, and became the springboard of faith to the rest of the world.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.
We see this promise that was made to the earliest believers in Messiah having come to pass up to our day, continuing to multiply believers in the one true God and blessing all of the tribes of the earth into the future.
The Bible stands as God’s resume of faithfulness. As we honor God by trusting in him and his Messiah, we demonstrate we are participating in the ongoing consummation of his faithfulness to all people.
Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to escalating wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.
In the biblical sense, a slave is someone who does not have any ownership rights of their own; they belong to another. In a primary respect, the life of a believer is simply an honest recognition that the life they are living is not their own. Everyone serves a master, whether sin or God; we are simply choosing to follow God.
The life we are living should be voluntarily offered back to the One who provides it to us in the first place. This is so simplistic, it is almost inconceivable. Unfortunately, we are so used to viewing our lives as belonging to ourselves that we easily fall back into old practices of doing whatever we want with them. We many times unwittingly go back to serving impurity and wickedness out of habit.
However, a believer, in the process of being freed from sinfulness, accepts another intentional yoke upon themselves, a yoke that is bearable and easy. This is because it is a life being lived as the Designer has created it to be: a life separated to Him. We recognize that all life flows from God and we are simply yielding ourselves to live within the parameters of the life that he has given us.
A life that is set apart in holiness is separated because it is constantly being renewed in the image of the One who made it. Our mindfulness in remaining intentionally and purposefully bound to this life is what causes us to become holy and set apart for use by God.
He told the people, “Be careful to guard yourselves from every kind of greed. Life is not about having a lot of material possessions.”
Yeshua cautions us to be mindful that we are not overcome with covetousness. The roots of some of the words used here mean to desire to “superabound” with “numerically more” material things.
Contextually, this admonition is sandwiched being questioned by a man wanting Yeshua to act as an arbiter in determining the distribution of an inheritance between brothers, and the parable of the rich man who stores up excessive grain for the future only to die that night.
A desire to have an abundance of wealth or material possessions is, for most people, a desire for security in life. Whether it’s financial savings plans, 401K retirement plans, or winning the lottery, we desire to have an assured future. If we know we have more than enough for the moment, then our ongoing provision is accounted for. Yeshua provides the reasoning behind why this should not be our primary focus in life.
First of all, we may work hard to save for our future, only to have our life end prematurely (from our perspective), and who would then be the recipient of everything we had worked so hard to attain? Was all that work and time spent collecting all of that wealth really the best use of our resources while we lived?
Additionally, it does not allow us to be rich towards God. If God blesses us, we should be faithful in using those material blessings to bless others, as he has done with us. This is how the child honors the Father and demonstrates their true spiritual lineage; by becoming like him.
Further, the apostle Paul provides a stern warning regarding covetousness to the believers in Colosse:
Put to death, therefore, whatever is worldly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Greed, the desire for more and more material things for personal security and satisfaction, is idolatry. This must be put to death, a term of finality; there is no middle ground. We need to be vigilant in removing all unrighteous practices from our lives, and idolatry is the primary indicator of rebellion against God. When we seek to trust our provision (which we can see) more than our Provider (whom we cannot see), then we have fallen prey to idolatry.
God promises to meet our needs, not our wants, but in so doing, we should demonstrate generosity with others out of respect for his care for us. If you really desire to have an abundance, then rather than being an idolater, be an abundant giver.
Give, and you will receive. A large quantity, pressed together, shaken down, and running over will be put into your pocket. The standards you use for others will be applied to you.”