Looking for a city

Re: Verse reading–Matthew 6:1-18 (day three)  “If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (vs 1)  We hear the peculiar and powerful perspective of Christ in these words.  He viewed EVERYTHING against its eternal outcome.  Nothing had value in and of itself.  If an action or attitude brought no reward (or negatively impacted the potential for reward) it was to be avoided.  If an action or attitude led toward the recognition and approval of the Father it was to be embraced.  A simple system.  Simply life-changing.  I am convinced that this re-0rientation to eternity must still take place in our lives.  How would our lives be different if the promise of God’s approval and reward was our only concentration?  The Bible describes this forward focus in Abraham.  “He was looking for a city whose architect and builder was God” (Hebrews 11:10)  May the same be said of us!

Our secret strength

Re: Verse reading–Matthew 6:1-18 (day two)  “When you pray, go into your room, close the door  . . . Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (vs 6)  Jesus is talking about LIFE in the Kingdom.  He has described it in the Beatitudes (and declared it blessed!)  He has shown its relationship to the Law (5:17-48)  Now He talks about its relationship to other people.  Our LIFE in God must have a secrecy about it.  It must be a private, personal relationship with God alone–far removed from the influence or distraction of other people.  In secret (only there) we learn who God is and who we are.  In secret (only there) we find His guidance.  Most of us are so influenced by the ideas of other people, so controlled by a need for their approval that we never find this secret place.  “How can you believe when you seek glory from one another and not from God? (John 5:44)

The Father will reward you

Re: Verse reading–Matthew 6:1-18 (day one)  Welcome to a New Year of reading the Bible together!  “Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (vs 4)  The Bible is clear on this point.  “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6)  Some struggle against the idea, as if the promise of a reward cheapens our love for God, reducing it to nothing but self-interest.  But God knows real love from false love.  One indication is secrecy.  Do we seek Him when no one else is watching or will ever know?  Another indication is diligence.  Do we serve without complaint even when the task is harder or more time-consuming than we anticipated?  The Lord keeps an account of such sacrifice. We are certain of it.  What a double blessing!  He gives us a LIFE that we do not deserve and then rewards us for living it!  Do these words give you hope?

The powerful patient plan of God

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?

Settle matters quickly

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!

Second things first

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.

What kind of world?

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!

Least in the Kingdom

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.

Old Testament. . .New Hearts

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.

Experiencing the Kingdom

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.