Monday, January 31, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 24

Today I want to look at verses 24-27 of chapter 7, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 7:24-27

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

So first, let's look at how this passage is normally handled, when it is taken in isolation. On the surface it just seems to be about obedience to Jesus. I think most would take this in a works based sense without giving it much thought. But does that make sense in light of the context and the audience? Would Jesus really tell the people who were proud of their own obedience that what they need is more obedience? I don't think so!

Let's look at a few things about this story that I find interesting. The first is the houses. From what we can tell about the houses, they are the same. They look the same. Probably cost the same, for the house itself. They were probably both crafted with care, and expected to last a long time. But what does the house represent? Is it not the lives of the individuals? Their lives looked the same. Maybe they both went to church. Or both gave to the poor. Or both prayed before meals and at bedtime. They were decent, God fearing folk. Probably both got baptized, maybe on the same day, same church, same pastor. But if that is the case, did they both not hear the words of Jesus? Or was Jesus talking about something beyond obedience to external expectations?

What was Jesus sermon about? Was it about being a good person? Was it about external obedience? Or was it about redefining your relationship with God. Was it about moving beyond externals and moving to internals? Think about it. The beatitudes reveal a life that is humble, pure in heart, merciful. He has shifted the burden of obedience from what leaders did to the individuals, and then magnified that obedience to say that it is not just the act (external), but the internal heart that matters. You don't murder? Great! Ever call your brother a fool? Oops! You haven't committed adultery? Two brownie points for you! Ever look at someone with lust? Oops! You love your brothers? Awesome! How do you feel about your enemies? Oops! I sense a theme here, and it is not about your outward behavior. So what does it mean to hear and obey?

The houses were the same, but the foundations with different. One builder was only concerned with the house. Perhaps the only thing he did to the foundation was to smooth it off, which did not require much effort since it was sand. His efforts went into what you could see. The other builder focused on the foundation. I am thinking that a lot more effort goes into building on a rock than on sand. All that work and no one to see it. But the builder knows. 

Then come the storms. I note that both houses had storms. The builder on the rock was not exempt from the storm. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend once. We had been sharing our stories. After hearing some of the things I had been through, they remarked, "It's kind of amazing that you still have faith after going through all of that." To which I responded, "No, it is because of my faith that I was able to endure all of that." I am not trying to pat myself on the back, just sharing what I believe. I don't really understand how people who do not have a strong faith, a strong foundation, endure storms. Perhaps this is why so many "lose" their faith. The reality is, they never really had faith. 

"I'll take, Jesus will make my life better for 1,000 Alex" 

"The clue is, These people look good on the outside, but when trouble comes they quickly fall away."

"What is, Who are people who build their houses on the sand."

Edited 2/14/2022

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 23

Today I want to look at verses 21-23 of chapter 7, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 7:21-23

(21)“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ (23) And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

There are some interesting things going on in these verses. First, it appears Jesus is setting Himself up as the doorkeeper to heaven when He says "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, " and again when He says, "depart from me, you workers of lawlessness."  I wonder how each group in the crowd took these words. Surely this is not how the other leaders taught. Maybe that is part of the reason the crowds were astonished at the authority level in His teaching. 

Next, He reaffirms the theme that just calling Him Lord is not enough. You have to follow that up with action. It's not that the action saves you, but action is a result of true belief. If I really believed that something bad would happen to me if I walked out the front door, I would go out the back. Action follows belief. It is a result, and not a cause. I think about the many who answer altar calls of various types today, and walk away with the idea they are saved. As much as I know and believe it is grace and not works that saves us, saving grace does seem to carry with it a change of life that causes one to be sold out to Jesus. How many in the crowd that day thought that their calling Him Lord and doing all of the others things that they did to fill their religious obligations was what assured their salvation? They might say things like, "But Jesus, I prophesied for you, I healed the sick in your name, and did so much other neat and cool stuff, what do I get? Nothing? That hardly seems fair!" But it is not about their efforts, it is about accepting His effort, which takes us back to the whole idea of humility and all of the other behaviors listed in the beatitudes. These are the results of salvation, and not the cause of salvation. You can't manufacture these feelings, can you? Which begs the question, can we choose to be saved? I don't really want to get into that right now, nor do I even feel I know the answer without doubt. But I do believe it is something that deserves to be wrestled with honestly. If that is even possible.

I have heard people say that this is one of the scariest verses in the Bible, and I think that it can be. We should be concerned that all of our efforts might still be in vain. So I think about who Jesus is speaking to, and what He is trying to say. He is speaking to people who were obsessed with their works rather than His work for them. He is telling them, it is not about what you do, nor is there anything you can do to save yourself. Period. Yet when we see and understand what God has done for us through His grace and mercy, there must be some kind of response. We rely on grace, and we respond as imperfect beings to that grace. Didn't Paul address this idea in Romans 6:1-2? What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 

So we end up in this quandary,  to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must do the will of the Father (Vs 21), but we are not saved by our works, it is a gift! (Vs 22-23) So here is my conclusion: works are not the will of the Father. So what is? Faith in Jesus His Son is. But that faith, if merely to escape hell, is not faith in Jesus. (Real faith is accompanied by a change of life that is real and evident. James 1:22-25; James 2:14-17) James 2:18 says, Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

My prayer for today is to have that kind of change in my life. Not the change of trying to get to heaven by my own effort, but the change that comes from knowing and understanding the effort that Christ has done for me.

Edited 2/14/2022

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 22

Today I want to look at verses 15-20 of chapter 7, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 7:15-20

(15)“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (16)You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (17)So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. (18)A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. (19)Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20)Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

I was thinking yesterday after I had posted, that I really haven't been addressing the idea of who Jesus is speaking to in the last few posts. The leaders and the followers. Two distinct groups, yet with some similarities as well. Sheep and wolves. There were sheep and wolves both among the leaders and the followers. I think the wolves must have been hungry too, for there were probably more wolves than sheep, so not enough food to go around sometimes.

Jesus has been defining relationship with God, and it wasn't what the people were used to hearing. The wolves have had their way for a long time. The wolves look like sheep. They act like sheep. I think of Saturday morning cartoons, and how obvious it would look to me when the wolf put on sheep's clothes. But the sheep bought it. Silly sheep. Can't they see? Look at the paws, or the teeth. But there is a blindness among the sheep. A blindness to the truth. They act like a point. They go to church, dress appropriately, speak right, etc., so what is this fruit that should make me recognize them? According to Jesus, it seems it should be pretty plain, since grapes don't grow on thornbushes nor do figs grow among the thistles. 

I find it interesting when Jesus says, "A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit." This leads me to the belief that Jesus is not talking about actions alone here because a diseased tree cannot bear good fruit, yet a wolf can blend in doing many of the actions of a true sheep. They can give to the poor, go to church, even sing and praise God. In fact, this is what makes them so dangerous, because it allows them to blend in with the sheep. So what are the fruits that will cause us to recognize the sheep from the wolves? I find it a bit hard to explain, but it has to do with the way they do their deeds. We have already talked about how the leaders liked to do their actions to be seen by men, and that the only reward they got was the praise and recognition of men. The sheep just do it naturally. They love God and respond to Him constantly, and don't have to do it for an outward show or even receive any recognition. They do it from the shadows. Maybe they don't need to have their name on a wing of the church or a plaque on the wall. Maybe they don't need a fish on the back of their car. That is because they know that only what God sees matters, and God knows if one of His children is driving the car whether or not it has a fish on the back. Let the silly sheep praise the wolves. The real sheep know that doesn't impress God in the least.

It is not the dress, or the actions that identify them. It must be the spirit that dwells in them. The faith that cannot be denied. It is not the smooth talk or the fancy suit, but the very things that Jesus spoke of in the beginning of this message. Humility, meekness, mourning for the lost souls of men, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Not the righteousness that comes from our own efforts at following the law, but the righteousness that flows from Christ. They are pure. Peacemakers. Not the peacemakers who stage a sit in while smoking pot, but peacemakers like the strong, well equipped soldiers who guard the borders, willing to defend peace even at the cost of their lives. In other words, if you want to know who the real sheep are, read the beatitudes again.

Think about the audience. There were wolves who only had their own interests at heart. They relied on their righteousness, and it caused them to be arrogant and inconsiderate of others. I keep thinking of the Pharisee prayer his audacious prayer, even insulting the tax collector in the process.  (Luke 18:10-14) He acted like a sheep, praying to God. But that prayer was full of arrogance and insult, its goal was to make the man look good to God and to others. Yet if we look at the words of Jesus in the beatitudes, we see none of those traits in this man. They are instead found in the tax collector. Poor in spirit, he could not even lift up his eyes to heaven, mourning his feeling of separation from God as he beat his breast, hungering for righteousness as he begged for forgiveness. It was evident that these two men, while similar in some ways, were also very different. Different as grapes and thorns, or figs and thistles. 

Edited 2/14/2022

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 21

 Today I want to look at verses 12-14 of chapter 7, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 7:12-14

(12)“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
(13)“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. (14)For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

This is probably one of the most well known verses in the Bible, quoted in various ways. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is one common version. It's great advice on its own. But where or how does this fit in with the overall theme of the sermon?

My contention is that Jesus is not bringing something new, but rather is seeking to restore the relationship between man and God to as close to as before the fall as possible. (See this post)  In such a relationship God reigns supreme, not because He is an ego maniac as some would propose, but because we really do live in best harmony with God and others when we put God and His ways first. This means that we are not first, so when deciding what is the best way to treat others, it is not about revenge or how they have treated me, but about how I would prefer to be treated. The idea that we have to be treated well before treating others in kind will not do. No reading minds, no thinking about how they will react or maybe even take advantage of us, just treat them as we would like to be treated ourselves. 

Think about what led into these words. Warning us not to judge others, trying to remove specks of imperfection from others while blinded by logs in our own eyes, and the good gifts that God gives us as a good father. What if God treated us as we treat Him? What greater honor and show of respect than to  want to follow om a fathers footsteps!

Do you want eternal life? Do you want your best life now? Then stop looking as the world looks and recognize that it is not about you. Eternal life is more than getting to heaven so you can reunite with others. Your best life now is not about possessions or material blessings. There is a path that many follow through the wide gate of "me first." The gate we choose is the gate of God and others first. That gate is narrow, but don't worry, there is not a crowd looking to enter that way. They think that the other gate will take them to the same destiny. I think they are in for a surprise.

Edited 2/12/2022

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 20

Today I want to look at verses 7-11 of chapter 7, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 7:7-11

(7)“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  (8)For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  (9)Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? (10)Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  (11)If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

This is a tough one, as on the surface it sounds like if we ask, seek and knock, we will get what we want. Of course, that does not fly in the whole context of Scripture, but for some, that is not an issue. But what if we look at in context? If Jesus is trying to give us an understanding of how to restore a correct relationship with God, then how can this be understood?

One thought that comes to mind is His model prayer earlier. He prayed, "Give us this day our daily bread," and "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12,13) Not, prayer for whatever you need. Hmmm. So maybe, when we are asking, seeking, knocking, it is with this type of mindset that we approach God. Look at the example that follows. No good father will give a son who is asking for bread a stone instead. It does not say anything about the son who requests a new car or gaming station. Hmmm. What kind of gifts does the father give? Good gift. Not any or every gift, but good ones. Maybe things like the necessities of life. Maybe even more that just necessities. Sometimes a good father knows when to say no.

A good father gives good gifts, but not every gift. A good son appreciates the good gifts that a good father gives. God is a good Father, are we good children?

Edited 2/12/2022

Monday, January 24, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 19

 Today I want to look at verses 1-6 of chapter 7, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 7:1-6

(1)“Judge not, that you be not judged.  (2)For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  (3)Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  (4)Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  (5)You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
 (6)“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

As I have stated before, I believe the context of the message that Jesus is giving to be that of restoring our relationship with God by getting back to what it was meant to be rather than what men have made it out to be. On of the common tactics we use when there is something wrong is to point the finger at others rather than deal with our own issues, You can take this idea all the way beck to the fall in the Garden of Eden, when Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12)And the woman's reply also exemplifies this tactic, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:13)  So either they don't accept the blame for their actions, or they think that blaming someone else will mitigate their deed. How did that work for you, Adam and Eve?

Real relationship begins and ends with the parties involved in the relationship. Does it erase or mitigate one spouse having an affair if they blame the person they cheated with? "But they knew I was married!" And you didn't? Not buying it.

So don't sit in judgment of others, for when you do you are focusing on their behavior instead of your own, and that is not how a healthy relationship functions. Jesus continues, and as usual takes it farther. If you want to use that measure to judge others, know that the same measure will be used to measure and judge you. Who will measure us this way? Some would say God, and they may be right. But I believe the reference is to others. If Adam can blame Eve for his behavior, think of what Eve will say in response. Will she not defend herself by blaming Adam? Maybe if he didn't spend so much time naming the animals and showed me more attention! So now, I am not only guilty for my own choices, but for the choices I have led others to make, and that is a burden that no one could carry. 

He concludes with these words in verse 6,  “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you."  What does this mean? I surmise that what is holy is our relationship with God. But that gets trampled when we don't treat it as holy, when we judge others or use their behavior to justify our actions. 

In a sense, the problem with the fall was not just that Adam and Eve disobeyed God, but in doing so, they altered the relationship they had with God. A huge part of this was their seeking to justify their behavior by using the actions of others. True relationship requires honesty, and they had lost that, they had trampled that relationship under their feet.    

Edited 2/11/2022

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 18

 Today I want to look at verses 25-34 of chapter 6, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 6:25-34

(25)“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (26) Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  (27)And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  (28)And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,  (29)yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  (30)But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  (31)Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  (32)For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  (33)But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

 (34)“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

I know people who suffer from anxiety and other issues, so this is a tough one. I know it is difficult for some to just deal with the idea of being able to just cast your anxieties away. Sometimes these feelings have been put in place by some very real, very traumatic events, and our brains are created to adapt to such circumstances and certain defenses come in to play that change the way that we deal with even simple events. I don't think that Jesus is speaking to these people in the sense that they can just stop these feelings on their own with little to no effort, but rather He is setting forth principles for dealing with God. The principle that He seems to be alluding to here is that of faith and trust. Do we really believe that God is in control, and that He cares for us? If so, we will travel our life journey in a much more relaxed manner. It's like being on an airplane. If we trust the pilot, mechanics, designers, builders, etc., we will have a much more pleasant flight than if we worry about each person who is responsible for the safety of that flight. Did I mention the flight controllers? Are you worried yet? 

It is a matter of priority. Seek the kingdom first, then deal about the rest. There is so much that we do not have control of. Worrying about sickness, such as cancer, will not keep it from happening although I have heard of studies that suggest that worry does make us more prone to health issues. So in a sense, while worrying might not prevent something from happening, it might actually help it happen.

I recently read a quote, not sure of the exact phrasing, but here is the idea. "Tomorrow it will snow. You can take joy in the snow or not, but either way, you still have just as much snow." I think this is a great approach to life. Seek the kingdom first, take joy in God and His grace and mercy. Paul says it this way,  "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13) Does that not sound like the words of a man who was first seeking the kingdom?

A note about Philippians 4:13. Notice that when Paul says these words, he is looking back, and stating how he was able to deal with the events, positive and negative, in his life. Perhaps another way of stating this could be, "I was able to endure all things because my faith in Christ gave me the strength to do it." This is not a forward looking promise that you will accomplish any endeavor you try because Jesus has got your back. But it is forward looking in the sense that whatever may come, your faith in Christ will help you endure it. 

Edited 2/11/2022

Friday, January 21, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 17

Today I want to look at verses 19-24 of chapter 6, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message. 

Matthew 6:19-24

(19)Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  (20)but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  (21)For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(22)“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,  (23)but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
(24)“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

I believe that the Sermon on the Mount can be viewed as the manifesto of Jesus, where He is setting forth the major principles for His ministry, where He is setting forth what true faith really entails. A place where He is not only showing us how to have a relationship with God and what that should look like, but He is also showing us what is not a relationship with God.

In 19-21, Jesus is speaking of focus, you could say He is asking the question, where is your head at? Is it focused on the here and now, on your current circumstance, on life as you know it? If so, you have to know that whatever your circumstances are, they are subject to change in a heartbeat, and you have no control over what might occur. Stuff rots and thieves steal, do you need any more proof that you really have no control? But if you focus on God, if you make Him your treasure, your pearl of great value, then not only will it never rot or decay, but no one can take it from you. If you think about it, God is the only thing in your life that does not change and is not given to chance. Your treasure determines your heart. You can say you love God, but if He is not your true treasure, then your actions will reveal what your treasure really is. Think back to what He said about loving your enemies. If you are focused on the things of earth, you love those who love you. If you are focused on God, then you love even your enemies, for God loved us even when we were His enemies

What are you looking at? Are you focused on the things of earth? If so, darkness abounds and you are missing what life is truly about. Sure, you might enjoy a moment of earthly pleasure because you were sold out to Jesus, but in hindsight, you will realize that it was not worth an eternity of pain. Some will only realize this in hindsight. But if you focus on knowing God, and see who He is, and what He has done in His graciousness, then you will find joy in the present and in eternity. This is why, even after being beaten and placed in prison, Paul and Silas were able to pray in sing hymns to God (Acts 16:23-25). They were focused on their treasure, and not their circumstances. It is why Stephen, while being stoned, prayed that God who not hold this sin against those who were stoning Him (Acts 7:54-60). It is why martyrs give their lives even today.  

You have to make a choice, no one can serve two masters. It is not a choice of earthly pleasures or heaven, it is a choice to either make God your treasure or not. Love the things of earth, or love the maker of the things of earth. To love the things of earth is not to love God. This is what the leaders missed, and so many still miss today because they listen to those who preach such nonsense. Any theology that does not have God at the center misses the mark. Any preaching that lures you in with what God can do for you is dangerous. Whether is it speaking of what God can do for me (putting material or fleshly things in the center) or what I can do for God (putting me or my behavior at the center, as if I can earn my way to heaven), or anywhere in between. 

The eye is the lamp of the body. So what are your eyes focused on? Do you have a healthy, God-centered focus, or are you focused on things that will take your eyes away from God? Imagine a ball player trying to it a fastball or curve, while staring at the dugout or at the fans in the stands. He's not gonna hit the ball at all, is he? I want to stay focused, I want to hit it out of the park.

Edited 2/10/2020

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 16

Today I want to look at verses 16-18 of chapter 6, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.  

Matthew 6:16-18

(16)And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. (17)Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  (18)that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

So now Jesus switches from prayer to fasting. My understanding is that fasting is similar to prayer in that the goal of fasting is to grow closer to God. In fasting, this is accomplished by depriving yourself of something that is used to sustain you, in a temporary sense, to focusing on God, who ultimately sustains you in all things. But again, it is not the action itself, but the thinking behind the action that matters. Are you really fasting to grow closer to God, or are you trying to impress those around you? Do you face your fasting and make a big deal about your hunger, or do you go about your day as normal, just you and your God. The leaders apparently made it obvious when they were fasting. Perhaps they just looked longingly at food, like when you are eating and your dog notices. My dog likes to walk over and sit with one paw in the air, as if to say, "Look at me! I am hungry too. Not for that stuff in the dog dish, but that great smelling stuff that you have!" Or maybe they verbalized their efforts, telling you that they wished they could have some, but they have this God thing going on. In the passage, Jesus says that they go as far as disfiguring their faces, probably just making that dog staring you down for food look, so that people know they are fasting. As a result, they get a reward, and that is the admiration of those who notice. "Rabbi Frank must be fasting today, did you see the look on his face in the temple? What a Godly man. I could never do that as often as he does." 

The reward for correct motivation is a closer walk with God. I wonder what those who do it for self glorification really think about that. I wonder if they are not actually driven farther from God by some element of bitterness over what God wants them to go through. It would be as if every time your hunger gnawed at you, you had another reminder of what you are doing for God, of what God is putting you through. However, for those who actually do it to draw closer to God, each moment of hunger would be a reminder of how much God has provided for them, and a sense of appreciation would flow out rather than bitterness. I believe this mirrors the overall issue that Jesus is trying to address in this sermon. One man fasts, but because it is done with improper motivation, the only reward is they get what they were seeking, which is praise and honor from those around them. Another man fasts, and he gets God. He gets a deeper appreciation for God. A deeper dependence on God. A greater realization of who God is and how God cares for him in all things, and not just the times of blessing. In fact, he might even realize that all times are times of blessing. That is a reward worth pursuing.

Edited 2/8/2022

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 15

Today I want to look at verses 14 and 15 of chapter 6, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message. 

Matthew 5:14,15

(14)For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,  (15)but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

In verse 13, Jesus concludes His example prayer. In that prayer He has already addressed the idea of forgiveness, and in my reading of the text, when we prayer "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors," know it or not, we seem to be praying for God to forgive us in the manner that we forgive others. Wow, that makes that a hard line to say. 

So in verse 14, Jesus continues this thought from the prayer. I don't like what it says here, that I will get forgiveness from God if I forgive those who trespass against me. Is this an absolute? I sure hope not! Sometimes I get angry, and do not forgive right away. Somethings are hard to forgive.

Now seems a good time to differentiate between forgiving and holding accountable. Does forgiveness mean that there is no accountability? I don't think so. Even as I am forgiven by God, I am still accountable for my actions. I can be forgiven from God for any sin, murder, theft, etc., but still might have to face legal consequences. Also, my sin before God also requires justice. He forgives me, but had to send His Son to pay the consequence for me. So I believe it is possible to forgive and still hold someone accountable for their actions. But I also need to be careful here, examining whose accountability I am seeking to satisfy. Have I truly forgiven and is the accountability for the betterment of the offending party? Or is the accountability going to satisfy my need to get things even? Ouch!

So I need to forgive, honestly, from the heart. I do not see this as a condition of God's forgiveness, but rather see this as God's expectation for those who have been forgiven.. So how does that happen? I believe it happens as I live in and breathe the forgiveness of God. That we see ourselves as deeply indebted to God, driving us to love Him above all else. (See Luke 7:41-47)

I know that the Jewish leaders had a hard time with forgiveness because of how they treated Jesus. They let their emotions carry them so much that even when confronted with miracles, their thoughts were still about how they could stop this man, including killing Him, rather than to praise God for what they had been allowed to witness. (Matthew 26:3-4; John 5:1-18) I believe that there are some today who still act just as harshly in the name of religion. It makes me wonder if they have really experienced the fullness of God's forgiveness, for if they had, I think the change would be inevitable.

Edited 2/7/2022

Monday, January 17, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 14

 Today I want to look at verses 5-13 of chapter 6, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message. 

Matthew 6:5-13 

(5)“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (6)But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
(7)“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. (8)Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (9)Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
(10)Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
(11)Give us this day our daily bread,
(12)and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
(13)And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil."

In seeking to restore our relationship with God, it is only natural that Jesus would speak about prayer. I wonder how many in His audience identified with the hypocrites, those who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street corners. They have that prayerful voice, say just the right words, and do it to be noticed not by God, but by others. Just as with those who practice their righteousness to be seen by others, they have received their reward. Not a blessing from God, just the praise of men. Jesus tells us that prayer is more than flowery language spoken in public. It is more than the amount of words, in fact, if we look at His model, it is not very wordy at all.

A few comments on prayer as Jesus illustrates it here:

  • We are encouraged to pray alone and in secret. Not that this is the only way to pray. We see Jesus giving thanks in some instances, but we also see Him withdrawing to a private place to pray to His Father. If the only time we pray is in public or before meals, that seems to be a problem. If we are not spending time in prayer alone, we are missing an important part of prayer.
  • Jesus speaks this prayer in 5 verses. I think we would do well to give heed to the elements He includes: Praise, Humility, Request (but only for our needs, not a Christmas Wish List.), Forgiveness (but only as we forgive others), closing with a desire to not be tempted and delivered from evil. 
  • This is not an endorsement of ONLY praying this prayer, or ONLY praying short prayers. A God who is limitless in ability and resources can listen to any and all prayer at any and all times. God is not too busy with larger world issues to deal with your thoughts and concerns. In fact, I believe He welcomes them.
  • The forgiveness section haunts me. Do we realize that when we do recite this prayer, we are asking God to forgive us as we forgive others? That we are saying, "Lord, if there are those whom I can't forgive, then do not forgive me." 
I do not believe that Jesus was setting a formula for prayer, nor was He even necessarily giving us something to be memorized and recited. Not that we can't memorize and recite it, as this is always a good practice with Scripture when used correctly. I believe He was showing us that a prayer relationship with God is a matter of personal communication, and not something to be formulized or used to elevate our status with either God or other people.

Edited 2/7/2022

Friday, January 14, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 13

 Today I want to look at verses 1-4 of chapter 6, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message. 

Matthew 6:1-4

(1)“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

 (2)“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  (3)But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  (4)so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

A couple of things up front:

  • The chapter divisions are not in the original text. Although I do believe that this is as good a place as any to start a new chapter, it does not mean that Jesus is now entering a new train of thought.
  • I don't think that Jesus was interested in giving a 3 point sermon. He was teaching, setting forth the main tenants of His ministry. I believe that there is a flow in this sermon, and this section continues His overall message of restoring the true relationship between God and man.
At the end of chapter 5, Jesus speaks of our being perfect, as God is perfect. I think this deserves some more thought, as it leads into these verses. Can we be perfect? I believe that Scripture teaches that our actions will never be completely perfect. So does experience for that matter. However, we can be seen as perfect if washed in the blood of Christ. This is not a license to do whatever we want, and if you are understanding this sermon, you will see that, but it does cover our flaws. So when Jesus says "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them," He is making sure that we understand that we do not do righteous deeds for the approval of God or others, we do them because seeing the love, grace, and mercy of God has brought about an internal change  that we often refer to as repentance. He goes on to say that if we do righteous deeds to be seen by others, they have lost all value before God.

The Jewish leaders were experts at giving, as well as letting others know of such actions. In fact, most everything they did was for public display rather than out of the desire to honor God. For whatever reason, they had lost the concept of a personal relationship with God. According to Jesus, it appears that there would be no other reward for their efforts. But for the crowd He warns, when you do such actions, do not seek the approval of others. Not even your closest friends or brothers, lest you also fall into the temptation to do such actions for their approval. Shhh! Do it in secret, so that not even your left hand might know what the right hand has done. That is, provided you didn't have to cut off one of you hands to keep from sinning!

Edited 2/7/2022

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 12

Today I want to look at verses 43-48, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.  

Matthew 5:43-48

(43)“You have heard that it was said, ​‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  (44)But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  (45)so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  (46)For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  (47)And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  (48)You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

So here we have a wrap to the section of examples Jesus gave to show that it is more than just our obedience that makes a relationship with God. He starts with, This is the way you have been doing it, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. This makes sense to us, as false teaching often does. Not that Jesus is giving a false teaching, I believe He is exposing a false idea that it is okay to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. It plays upon our own sense of what is fair. We are often manipulated by our own conceptions of what is right. Like in the AT&T commercial here. In the ad, Lily gives a little girl a lollipop, then gives her brother a bigger one. The girl says, "That's not fair!" Lily responds, "At AT&T we think it is only fair that all customers get our best deals." Then she exchanges the girl's small lollipop for one equal to her brothers. But what is not fair about getting a free lollipop? Small or big, what is not fair is that this girl is complaining about a gift that Lily was not obligated to give at all. Maybe I am too old school, but fair is to take the lollipop, whatever size you get, and say Thank-you.  To be fair, she did nothing to earn the lollipop. It was a gift. But what AT&T wants is for us to walk away from the ad thinking, "What a great company! They know how to treat people fairly." But for how long did AT&T only give new customers such benefits? Gotta love marketing! Baaaa! <-Sheep sound

Jesus shares what is fair in God's economy.  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. What is fair, Jesus seems to be sharing, is for you to treat others, not as they have treated you, but as God has treated you. Remember the Golden Rule? Matthew 7:12, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." It is not about treating others as they treat us, it is treating others as we wish they would treat us. Huge difference! And the basis for this idea comes from how God has treated us. It is only when we realize the enormity of God's grace on us that we can do this.

Now the teaching makes sense. Why turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give to others, etc.? It is because we see how God has treated us! We see a God who is rich in grace and mercy, and want to pass that on to others, not out of some moral obligation to appease God, but out of the joy we have in serving a God who has granted us salvation and more. This is the relationship that God desires we have with Him.

Edited 2/7/2020

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 11

 Today I want to look at verses 31-42, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message. 

Matthew 5:31-42

(31)“It was also said, ​‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  (32)But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

(33)“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ​‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’  (34)But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  (35)or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  (36)And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  (37)Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

(38)“You have heard that it was said, ​‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  (39)But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (40) And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  (41)And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  (42)Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

I am taking these 3 together because I believe they are all being used to illustrate the same idea as the previous 2 posts, that Jesus, in seeking to restore man's relationship with God, is showing that such a relationship includes more than just mere obedience to a set of rules. He begins with divorce. While He does not say in these verses (31-32) that divorce is a sin, it does lead to sin, both for the woman and the man, assuming that they enter in to other relationships after the divorce. Interesting that He states that infidelity is an exception, probably because in this case the vow has been broken and the other party is not responsible then. Not sure I want to or am even adequately able to get in to all of the legalities involved. 

Jesus then mentions making oaths. (33-37) Jews gave special weight to oaths. But can something really be "more truthful?" Should not your word be true whether you make an oath or not? I believe that Jesus thinks so. I find it interesting that He says that anything more than a simple "Yes" or "No" comes from evil. Is this because we tend to see levels of truth, rather than something being true or false? Little white lies come to mind, as if they are okay or at least not as bad as a big old fat juicy lie. So then we start to justify our speech, and this leads to sin. 

Finally, He beings up retaliation, citing "an eye for an eye. (Exodus 21:23-25; Levitcus 24:17-21; Deuteronomy 19:21) I note what it says in Deuteronomy 19:20, And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you.  But fear is just the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), and the wisdom that Jesus is preaching go beyond fear of punishment, and into the love and appreciation of God. We must see others in the manner that God sees us. The parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35)comes to mind. A servant was forgiven a huge debt by his master, then goes out and chokes a fellow servant over a minor debt that he was owed. When confronted later for his failure to forgive a fellow servant a small amount after being forgiven a great amount by his master, the master reinstates the debt and has him thrown into prison until it is paid. That debt was so great, he would never be able to pay it off in prison. It ends with these words, "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." Does the law require such forgiveness? Not that I have found. Jesus is going beyond the literal into the heart of the law. And not just the law, but the whole relationship we should have with God which is intended to spill out into our relationship with others. Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give to the beggar, for that is what God has done for us, and so much more.

Edited 2/6/2022

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 10

 Today I want to look at verses 27-30, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message. 

Matthew 5:27-30

(27)“You have heard that it was said, ​‘You shall not commit adultery.’  (28)But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (29)If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  (30)And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 

So if you have read the previous posts, you know that I believe that Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, was specifically trying to show His audience the path to restoring relationship with God as it was in the Garden of Eden before the fall. What I am seeing as I read through and meditate on this sermon, is that it is very different from how Jesus is sold today. Certainly it is not politically correct, nor is it seeker friendly to tell people to tear out their eyes and throw them away. Imagine if a preacher said that from the pulpit today! They would likely be fired by the end of the week, pending a slew of phone calls and a few emergency board meetings.

Was there temptation before the fall? There must have been at least some, because the serpent tempted Eve with his lies before she took of the fruit. (Genesis 3:1-7) Adam and Eve did not just fall for a lie, they knowingly ate in disobedience of God's command. (Genesis 3:3) So when did the fracture occur? When did they sin? Was sin only the physical act of disobedience, as many believe, or is there more to it? I believe that Jesus is showing us the there is more to it. The law says do not murder, but I say do not be angry without cause or throw out insults (previous post). The law says do not commit adultery, but I say do not look at a woman lustfully. (Vss 27-28) Jesus is making sin more that just the physical act, but the heart that leads to the act. So when people, whether it be the leaders in His time or leaders today, do things that while maybe not in technical violation of the law miss the heart of it, that is sin. When others do things that while maybe not in technical violation of the law miss the heart of it, that is sin. Perhaps the break did not occur until they partook of the fruit, but the fracture began when they were tempted, and started to think that maybe that fruit wasn't so bad after all, maybe I would like to have the knowledge it brings and be like God.

In this passage, Jesus gives some advice for avoiding sin, stay away from it. No matter how near and dear it might be to you, separation from God is worse. Even if something as beloved as your own hand causes you to sin, get rid of it. I do not take this literally (the part about the hand) , and hopefully that does not make me one who is changing the law to suit my own self, but I know that if my right hand is doing something sinful, and I cut it off and throw it away, my left hand will soon take over the task. I believe that Jesus is showing us that we may have to make sacrifices rather than alter the meaning of God's commands.

We love clichés. You hear them a lot. One that comes to mind, when dealing with material possessions is that we don't really have to surrender all, but just "hold on to the things of this world loosely." Makes me think of it in terms of, don't drop it, let God knock it out of your hands. But how hard does God have to knock it for you to let it go? Again, I don't have the answer to that question, it just makes me think. I want to be obedient. I have possessions. At what point might those possessions cost me eternity? That is a scary question. Jesus has a habit of asking scary questions. Thank goodness for the clichés that answer them.

Edited 2/6/2022

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 9

Today I want to look at verses 21-26, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.  

Matthew 5:21-26

(21)“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ​‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ (22)But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (23)So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, (24)leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (25)Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. (26)Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

My premise is that Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is seeking to restore the God and man relationship to what it should have been beginning in the Garden of Eden, which has been corrupted since the partaking of the forbidden fruit and continuing on through the ages. Here He is some 4,000 years later, and religion has become rules and traditions of men, manipulated to serve man rather than God, especially those in leadership. In the Beatitudes, He outlines behaviors that are almost 180 degrees from what the leaders display. He tells the common people that they are the ones who are the salt and light of the world. I mean, who would imagine that God really intended to set up a religious system where rather than personal accountability and relationship, our accountability and relationship funnels through some other imperfect human being. Such a thought boggles my mind, and maybe yours too now that you have cause to think about it. Then He clarifies that He is not bringing some new kind of teaching, but rather is seeking to uphold what the law was meant to bring about, and He gets into some specifics.

The first thing He addresses is murder. I don't think there are many or even any other sins that would be viewed as heinous and murder. It seems to me that the taking of someone's life by your choice almost puts you up in the place of God. One of the 10 commandments specifically states, "You shall not murder." (Exodus 20:13) But Jesus takes this to a whole new level when He says that being angry with a brother makes you liable to judgment, insulting a brother makes one accountable to the council, and calling someone a fool makes you liable to the hell of fire. In the King James, it says "whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." I think this is important, because I do believe there may be times that anger is justified. That still is not an open invitation to any type of response, but I do believe there is such a thing as righteous anger. One example of this might be when Jesus turned over the tables in the temple. I just don't see this as a casual thing where He calmly walked over and pushed the tables over. He was angry, upset over the abuse going on in His Father's house.

We have emotions for a reason. They can and do often protect us. Such as fear. When we don't do something because of fear, that is a way of protecting ourselves from making what could be a serious mistake. Imagine if we did not have fear. I am sure that the emergency rooms would be much busier in that event. Emotions can also bring pleasure, such as the joy we might feel upon receiving a gift or hugging a child. But just like most other things, we can take emotions too far. There are irrational phobias, pleasure seeking to the extreme. Even anger has a purpose. If I am angry with someone for a just cause, it should provoke me to deal with that cause. But sometimes we take anger too far. Rather than deal with an issue righteously, we take it to an extreme. Instead of balancing anger with righteousness, we might seek to take revenge, try to make things what we believe is even, or even a bit more than even. This is what Jesus identifies as sin. To be angry for no reason, to throw out insults or slander. 

But to equate anger without cause with murder? Is that a fair comparison? Well, let's see. What is the ultimate punishment for the sin of murder when there is no repentance? Eternal judgment. What is the ultimate punishment for anger without cause, insults and slander? Eternal judgment. Yes, it seems fair, because Jesus knew that whatever the consequence we face for any action on earth, it is a grain of sand in a vast desert compared to the eternal consequence of judgment. Have a sacrifice to offer? Don't bother because it won't save you from the consequence of your anger. First you must deal with your issues righteously, then offer your gifts to God. Remember, in Jesus's paradigm it is not the action that creates consequence, but the motivation for the action. Want to lower the murder rate? Then lower the anger without cause rate, or the anger rate for that matter.

Remember when Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed that of the leaders? Mere righteous acts, without the righteous heart that loves God will get us nothing from God in the realm of forgiveness. That is why in all situations, we must see, depend upon and respond to the grace Jesus offers, because it is not our righteousness that paves our way to salvation, but His.

Edited 2/5/2022

Friday, January 7, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 8

Today I want to look at verses 17-20, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.  

Matthew 5:17-20

(17)“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (18)For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (19)Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (20)For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

These verses are crucial to understanding what is going on in the Sermon on the Mount. Some think that Jesus came to bring something new to religion, when in fact that is not true at all. What He did want is to restore things to where they were in the very beginning, before man got a hold of religion and corrupted it. Jesus is not saying at any time, as He was accused of, that the law did not apply to him. In fact, He says in these verses that not even the smallest piece of the law will go away until it is all accomplished. But it is important that we distinguish between the laws that were given by God and those that were added through tradition or interpretation by the Jewish leaders.

Jesus makes a statement, that "whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven." I wonder if those listening realized that when the leaders altered the laws that they were doing this very thing. Take Matthew 15:1-6 for example. God said honor your parents, but they said they could give to God instead of caring for them. Using their gifts to God as a way to avoid what God commanded. Brilliant, if your goal is to get what you wanted, even if it means abusing what God states. If seeking to do the will of God, however, not so brilliant.

Jesus goes on to say, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The people viewed their leaders as the holiest of all people, surrendering their lives to the pursuit of God. And yet He says that to enter the kingdom of heaven, one must be more righteous than them. They gave all they had and it was not enough? Yes, exactly! No matter how much I try, I cannot put God in my debt, let alone can I hope to repay the debt I owe. For God to be in my debt He truly would be sixpence none the richer. Such a statement might seem as removing all hope for anyone. But Jesus is not seeking to remove hope, rather He is seeking to restore it. The self-righteousness of the leaders was not enough. In fact, it stood in the way of real righteousness. The righteousness that it takes to enter heaven must exceed that of the leaders of the time. Real righteousness comes by faith in the son of God. It comes by relying on the righteousness that Christ gives, and not on our efforts. (Romans 1:17, 3:21-31; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:21; 3:6; Philippians 3:9; Titus 3:5

This is not to say that we are not accountable for our actions. It is just that our actions alone to not make us righteous or unrighteous, but they do reveal our righteousness, along with  the motivation behind them. Actions alone do not determine our status, nor does faith alone. Jesus will actually deal with this idea later in the sermon, so we will come back to this idea later.

as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

Edited 2/4/2022

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 7

 Today I want to look at verses 13-16, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message. 

Matthew 5:13-16

(13)“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
 (14)“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  (15)or do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  (16)In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus has just finished what we call the beatitudes, where He has detailed what it would look like for someone who truly knew and understood what God desires from them. Pretty much everything He detailed is what is not found in the current Jewish practice. There are the two groups that He is speaking to, the Jewish leaders who probably gathered in one area, and the common Jews, who likely were spread in to other areas. The leaders kept their distance from the common people, partly because of wanting to be ceremonially clean, but also I believe because they genuinely thought themselves better than them. 

So in my mind, what I see as Jesus speaks these verses, is a deliberate turning away from the leaders and turning toward the rest of the crowd. So often when we hear these verses we focus on the words salt and light. While these words are critical to the understanding of these verses, in my mind, as Jesus speaks these words, He is emphasizing the word "you." As in you, the everyday people, are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. People are not going to come to Jesus because some leader is good at following rules or memorizing Scripture. Now, they might listen to them because they don't want to go to hell, and they think that is the pathway, but is that really what it means to be a disciple of Jesus? They might listen to them because they are a good speaker, have great stories, or tell them what their itching ears want to hear, but is that really what it means to be a disciple of Jesus? Ihey might listen to them because that is how they were brought up, or because they don't want to be disrespecful, but is that really what it means to be a disciple of Jesus?  I've seen this post where people treat faith like is it some kind of eternal fire insurance, that by making Jesus Facebook famous we are witnessing to the world. Was that Jesus' goal, to go viral? Is that what Jesus meant when He told us to go and make disciples? That is so easy, so much easier than having to carry my cross. 

I cringe a little when people think that they have fulfilled their obligation to God by saying a prayer or getting baptized, and then maybe inviting people to church. Maybe instead of talking about how great our church is, we need to be living like we have a great Savior! Maybe that is why we have to have such huge buildings that sit empty most of the time, and give our time and money to great programs and speakers, because if people really knew me, I doubt that would convince them to come to Jesus. Maybe that is why we seem to focus more on what God can do for you rather than what He has already done in Jesus.

If we are going to take Jesus at His word, you are what gives the world its flavor, you are the light that shines to reveal Jesus, not buildings or programs or preachers, you. Right? (Note: I am not saying that we cannot use these things, but if the first part of the equation is not you, then we seem to be missing the most important part.)

Edited 2/4/2022

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

A Musical Interlude

As I go through the Sermon on the Mount, this song keeps coming to mind. 

Before listening to this song, I want to put you in a frame of mind as to how I interpret it.

The title of the song is Religion, and I believe that is what he is singing about. He is not speaking of losing his faith, but of breaking the hold that religion has over him. So when he says, "but the truth I uncovered, the pressure I'm under to please you has gone away," he is not taking to God but to the pressure and rules of religion. I'll let you take it from here, enjoy.

Sermon on the Mount - Part 6

Today I want to look at verses 10-12, focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message. 

Matthew 5:10-12

(10)“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(11)“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  (12)Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

There is a definite change of message going on with these last few "Blessed are..." statements. We seem to go from attitudes we need to possess to a statement of coming persecution. I suppose in some ways it is still about attitude, but this takes it to another level.

One question that comes to mind is, where will the persecution come from? I think we expect it to come from the world, from those who don't know Jesus. But what would this audience think, and what was Jesus trying to convey?

I think one answer is the world. For whatever reason, the general response to Christianity from those who do not know Jesus is one of hostility. It is not enough for them to not believe, they often seem offended that you might believe as well. Maybe this has something to do with the way that some approach belief and evangelism, and that is a subject for another post perhaps. In fact, even among believers, we generally do not tolerate those of different beliefs. But I again, that is a subject for another time.

But I also see a second source of persecution, which is from within the Jewish leadership. Where did the original persecution of Christians come from? It came from the very group Jesus first reached out to, the Jews. More specifically, the Jewish leaders. I believe that Jesus is speaking to the masses, future disciples  potentially, not only warning them about coming persecution, which they probably expect to be coming from their oppressors, the Romans. But they don't see the other group that is oppressing them, their leaders. Read Jesus' words in Matthew 10:17-18, "Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles." Notice the location of the persecution, their synagogues

Sad  thing is, I believe that this is just as true today as it was then. We have left the religion of the Garden of Eden, and have replaced it with one that requires us to fall in line, to obey and not question. In an age when the Scriptures are more accessible than ever, do we take the time to try and read and understand them, or do we follow the leadings of those in charge and look down upon any who dare to question them? Should we not read these words regarding persecution and apply them not only to the government of the country, but also the leadership of the church? Not that we live in rebellion to any and all leadership, but that we approach things with open eyes and open ears. As Jesus said, "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Matt 10:16)

"for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  (vs 12) Another clue as to where the persecution would come from. In all things remember, you are not alone. Remember Elijah, who was fleeing persecution to the point that he asked God to take his life? (I Kings 19:4) Then God provided for him, and spoke to him, not in a mighty storm or earthquake or fire, but in a whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12) Which leads me to question, where I am looking for God? In the mighty buildings and programs and things of this world? I am reminded of the saying, "What you win them with is what you win them to." If we win them with comfort, are we winning them to comfort, so that if and when things become uncomfortable, their "faith" does not have an answer for this, and they leave their "faith." Or, are we looking for God in a manger? Are we listening for a whisper that causes us to draw near in order to be able to hear? And what does the voice say to him? It asks a question, one that I believe God would also ask of us, "What are you doing here?" (1 Kings 19:13) When Elijah answers, he tells God that he is the only one left and they are seeking to kill him too, which, by the way, is not an answer to the question God asked. Then God graciously reveals to him that he is not alone, there are " seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal." (1 Kings 19:18)

This whole idea of persecution seems so distant. Maybe we hear about it from time to time, but maybe not. Jesus must have thought it important for us to know about, for this is not the only time he speaks about it. But it certainly is not a popular thought. It is not something one wants to talk about if they are seeking to gather a huge following. But I don't think Jesus ever gave thought to what would make Him more popular.  

Edited 2/4/2022

Monday, January 3, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 5

 Today I want to look at verses 6-9, focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 5:6-9

(6)“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
(7)“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
(8)“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
(9)“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

In verse 6 he talks about hungering and thirsting for righteousness, which I am sure the leaders thought they were doing. After all, the followed the law to a "T". But in verse 20, Jesus says, "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven," so what is he saying? The leaders took pride in their righteousness, which was really self-righteousness, and not the righteousness of God. To hunger and thirst for righteousness for Jesus meant going beyond just the action and included the motivation. Are you seeking to gain salvation (a good thing but a selfish motive?) or are you seeking to honor and praise God, the maker and creator of the universe? How can you be satisfied if your goal is to earn God's favor? Can you ever really do enough to satisfy God? If you are going to be honest, you have to answer no here. But if your response is just to love God and honor Him, relying on the righteousness given in the grace of Jesus, you can find satisfaction. It is a weird paradox, knowing that you can never do enough, yet what you do is sufficient because Jesus picks up the slack. 

Verse 7 speaks of being merciful. There is no other appropriate response to seeing the love and mercy of God than to be loving and merciful to others. (Matthew 18:32-33) We can see again and again in the gospels how this was not a quality of the leaders of the Jews, from their dealing with John the Baptist to the crucifixion, and so much in between.

Verse 8 tells about being pure in heart. I see this as speaking of not having ulterior motives. The leaders were full of ulterior motives, most of which revolved around themselves. They wanted power, they wanted to be worshipped by the people, they loved being in control. It is almost as if they had wandered so far in to religion as to forget why they were there. Their religion was not a response to God, but all about what it provided for them. The pure in heart remember why they are there. They seek to honor God first, foremost, and only. These are the ones who will see God. They are probably the only ones looking for God. To not be pure in heart then, is to be blind. (Matthew 15:12-14; John 9:32; John 9:39-41) God can grant sight, and will to those who seek Him.

Finally for today, Jesus speaks of the peacemakers. Or as I like to compare them to, peace keepers. Peace making requires negotiation at times, and sometimes force. Jesus said, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16) Wise and innocent, there are 2 characteristics of peace makers, I think also of the peacekeeping forces, such as those on the border between North and South Korea. Armed and ready to protect freedom even at cost of life. That is a peacemaker's role too. Someone who defends peace, not the bully who wants to take it away. I see the leaders that were in the audience as the bullies, using the law to control, putting cumbersome burdens on the people, robbing the people of their freedom. The peacemakers are the ones who are called sons of God

Jesus came to set things right. To restore what had been corrupted. Yet even as He did, that corruption continued to work its way into His work. I think of what I have read in Luke 4:13, "And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time." Even as Jesus is working to restore us, Satan is looking for opportunities to take us back. That is what we must be aware of and why we must be on guard. It is why, in addition to having the qualities of mercy and purity, in addition to hungering for righteousness, we must also be vigilant as peacemakers.

Edited 2/4/2022

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 4

 Today I want to look at verse 5. But I want to look at it in the context of the entire message of Jesus, as well as what I believe is His overall intention in the sermon. Remember, He is speaking to Jewish leaders and common Jews, and is not seeking to bring in a new religion, but rather to restore things to what they should have been from the very beginning.

Matthew 5:5

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

It is a matter of disposition. He is saying that the blessed are the meek, the humble. Not only does this go along with so much of what He taught, it also goes against the prevailing religious culture.

Example 1: The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) In this parable we have the leader and I note several issues. Both go to the temple to pray. The Pharisee stands by himself. Why? Because he was too good to stand with sinners or even common people. Not only is he concerned with his desire to stay "clean,", but he thought of himself as better than those type of people, and he confirms this with his words. He prayer is to thank God for his status, and to thank God the he was not made like other men, even like this tax collector. He then lists his accomplishments, fasting and tithing. The tax collector also stands by himself, but not because of his ego or pride or status. It is because of his shame. He does not see himself as better than others, but rather as a sinner and it brings shame to him. It states that he would not even "lift up his eyes to heaven." Makes me believe that the Pharisee did just that, almost as if he could look God square in the eye, and not feel any remorse for himself or feel the true holiness of God. The tax collector, however, even beat his breast, and rather than site accomplishments, he pleads for mercy. Which prayer was answered? Not the Pharisee's, for he did not even ask for anything, he just lifted himself up in the presence of God. It was the tax collector who "went down to his house justified," according to Jesus. Not justified by what he had done, but justified by God because of his repentant attitude. 

Example 2: In the parable of the Wedding Feast (Luke 14:7-11), Jesus talks about the attendees, and how they would come and sit, choosing the seats that we reserved for the honored guests. Imagine the embarrassment of being asked to leave your seat because that seat was actually reserved for someone of greater importance. Jesus tells them to choose the lowest seat. Now imagine the joy when the master of the feast comes in, notices your choice, and brings you up in front of all to a place of honor. By choosing the lowest seat, you can only move up! This is a story about attitude, the mindset we have when approaching God and others. Are we willing to be a servant? Are we willing to put others first, so that when we stand before God, He might reward our attitude, not for the actions themselves, but for the humble heart that brought them about.

So many other examples that could be given. But wasn't Jesus whole life about exemplifying this principle? Philippians 2:5-8 "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Imagine intentionally leaving heaven to come to earth to be beaten, abused, and die on a cross for the sins of others. Mind blowing. This should be our mindset. Blessed are the meek.

I think this is a tough mindset. Sometimes, we can even get to a place where we become proud of our humility. We get to a place were we have surrendered so much that we think that now God owes us our reward. But the truly humble don't do it for the reward, they do it because like the tax collector, they recognize their sinful state and the true holiness of God. Equality with God is not something we can grasp, nor can we put God in a position where He owes us anything for any reason. Jesus knew this, and even though He Himself was perfect, He modeled it that we might believe it.

Edited 2/4/2022