RE Verse reading–Matthew 5:17-48 (day six) “not the smallest letter. . .will by any means disappear. . .until everything is accomplished.” (vs 18) I hear hope in the words of Christ! I hear a deep confidence that God’s plan for the world will ultimately be accomplished. It will take time, but Jesus is CERTAIN that a race of men will appear who do not hate/ live in constant conflict. The Law will not just disappear, defeated and discarded. Jesus is SURE that a day will come when marriage will be pure and permanent. People will tell the truth. We will love our enemies and conquer evil with good. Utopian dream? No! It is the Kingdom of God! Jesus taught us to pray for it to come. To do so, I must surrender my scepticism and embrace His confident vision of the future. Friend, do you BELIEVE that the patient plan of God will be ultimately accomplished?
RE Verse reading–Matthew 5:17-48 (day five) “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court” (vs 25) Followers of Christ are often conflict avoidant. We dislike conflict so much that we don’t deal with it. Not honestly. Not fairly. Not with a will to settle the matter. The sad truth? By avoiding it we prolong it. Righteousness to Jesus did not mean the absence of enemies. Conflicts come. . .in families, in churches, in friendships and businesses. The life that fulfills the Law is characterized by a willingness to face conflict, put it to rest, and limit the damage done. The goal is not to win an argument but to find a settlement. “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out” (Proverbs 17:14) It is not conflict that concerned Jesus. It is unsettled conflict. May the Lord make many disciples at the point of this wisdom!
RE Verse reading–Matthew 5:17-48 (day four) “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (vs 24) Jesus is teaching the Law. He is thinking about the 6th Commandment (murder). He insists that God’s original (eventual) intent was to forbid hatred, contempt and malice. His illustration is provocative. A man is presenting an offering to God. He desires forgiveness from God, an end to wrath. While there, He remembers that his brother is also angry with him (and for equally good reasons). What should he do? He should, first, to be reconciled to his brother by apology or restitution. Then he should come to God. None of us would dare go to the Supreme Court before we straightened out the issues with the lower courts. If we ignore the rights of others (whom God protects) we are certain to have difficulty before the throne. God is higher, but (by His decision) our brothers are first.
RE Verse reading–Matthew 5:17-48 (day three) A great help for reading and interpreting the Sermon on the Mount is to ask yourself, “What kind of world is Jesus describing?” What would it be like if people were moral/good/loving not because they were forced to do so by the Law? What if an inner change made us walk with God in ways that pleased Him? What if no hatred (no malice, no contempt) was the rule rather than no murder? What if purity of eye and imagination was regarded as essential for the protection of marriage? No adultery AND no unrighteous fantasies! What if every divorce was regarded as a sin against God’s creation plan? What if every word was required to be true, not just the ones sworn “on a stack of Bibles”? What if no retaliation was the normal response and love the deepest burden? One good question leads to the next. HOW could this ever happen? The Lord will answer soon. Right now, He wants us to imagine and believe!
Re: Verse reading–Matthew 5:17-48 (day two) “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (vs 19) Jesus is answering His critics. They have noticed His flexibility with Sabbath, His different views on the temple and concluded that He is “abolishing the Law”. Jesus denys it. His purpose is to fulfill the Law, to press it forward to its original purpose. He states that breaking or misinterpreting the commandments will make a person “least in the Kingdom”. Does this surprise you? Our rank and reward in the Kingdom is connected to the commandments! I know many Christians who say “we are not under Law but under grace” (Romans 6:14) as if this frees them from any obligation to study or obey the laws of God. Jesus never intended this to be so. Maybe we have misunderstood our freedom and calling.
Re: Verse reading–Matthew 5:17-48 (day one) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (vs 17) The Old Testament was the Bible that Jesus read. It was “a light on his path, a lamp for his feet”. (Psalm 119 ) It is a mistake to teach or think (as some do) the New Testament makes the Old obsolete. Jesus respected the Old Testament. He “filled it full” of its original meaning and intent. On Wednesday, January 4, we will begin a series of “Bible talks” on the 10 Commandments. The subtitle of the series is “What they mean and why we need them” As you read Matthew 5 this week, I hope you will observe the Lord pressing the 10 Commandments beyond external compliance to spirit and motive. ( No murder AND no hatred!) Jesus knew that for us to keep the commandments as God intended, we need new hearts.
Re: Verse reading–Matthew 5:1-16 (day seven) The wise men worshipped Jesus as the new-born King of Israel. (Merry Christmas!) What experiences should we expect who do the same? We should expect to experience humility (poor in spirit). With small resources, we will have a daily, desperate need for God. We will experience grief (mourn). We will face honestly the reality of our sins and their consequences. We will experience meekness. No more self-determination, we will wait on the Lord and obey Him when He speaks. We will hunger to be right with Him. We will be merciful because we have been “mercied”. We will be pure–only one goal. We will be peacemakers. We will be persecuted. (How ironic these last two are!) The good news? The Kingdom of God is near (available, possible, attainable)! The bad news? It brings many experiences that are negative and/or difficult. To follow this King, we must deny self and carry a cross.
Re: Verse reading–Matthew 5:1-16 (day six) “Blessed are the poor in spirit. . .blessed are those who mourn. (vs 3,4,) At a doctor’s appointment yesterday, I was attended by a young tech who had the word “Blessed” tattooed on his skin. I asked him about it and he told me his story. His happy gratitude is the foundation of our faith. People who know Christ are blessed in Him. People who seek the Kingdom are happier, wiser and more successful. (Now or later or both.) Even admitting that Jesus defines success in a different way, the FACT that we are blessed is undeniable. “He is a REWARDER of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6) I wonder how much weakness we welcome into our lives by leaving this promise unbelieved? How confident are you that you are (and will be) BLESSED to follow Christ and to contribute to an eternal Kingdom? Do you have a tattoo? How about a testimony?
Re: Verse reading–Matthew 5:1-16 (day five) “Jesus did not say ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ because they are poor in spirit. . .He was not making poverty or mourning a meritorious condition” (Dallas Willard) Some teach Jesus’ words with this interpretation. They propose a new legalism, a new way to be blessed by God. If not a “salvation through works”, at least “salvation through attitude”. “If I can just be poor in spirit, or grieve my sins. . .” Big mistake! The Beatitudes are NOT Jesus teaching us how to be blessed. They are His declaration of the unlimited reach of the blessings that come to us in the Kingdom of God. Everyone is included! Shy people, broken hearted people, overweight, HIV positive people (you fill in the blanks to make it contemporary and clear). Those that we dismiss as burned-out and beyond help are invited into blessing! “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” Joy to the WORLD!
Re: Verse reading–Matthew 5:1-16 (day four) “If the salt loses its saltiness. . .it is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (vs 13) It was a compelling illustration. Convicting even today. While salt (NaCl) can never lose its chemical properties,” blocks of salt” did so all the time in the ancient world. As the real salt leached away, it left a useless, tasteless pile of chalky impurity. The warning? It is possible for Christians to lose our distinctiveness and ministry! Avoiding persecution and desiring pleasure we become cautious and forfeit our Kingdom service. When this happens, the Lord ” throws us out” just as the ancients did the impurities–used for road construction projects. Are we already seeing the warning light of such a judgement by God? Many are. If lost completely, salt cannot regain its saltiness. Better for us to hear this warning and repent now! May the Lord give us urgency and hope!