Friday, February 16, 2018

A right relationship with God requires that we live out that relationship with the right motives and rewards in mind...


This week, we have been looking at a part of a famous sermon that Jesus preached, called the Sermon on the Mount, which is recorded for us in a section of an account of Jesus life in the Bible called the gospel of Matthew. So far, we have seen Jesus here warn the crowds listening to His sermon to be on alert when we are living out their relationship with God in the presence of others. Jesus then explained to the crowds that what they needed to be on the alert for is the desire to be noticed by men. Now this word notice literally means to do things in a way that impresses others. So, in essence, Jesus is warning the crowds listening to His sermon to be alert to the danger of living out their relationship with God in a way that is focused on impressing others.

Jesus then explained that those who live out their faith with a focus on impressing others will not be recognized by God as having a high-quality faith life. After making the crowds aware of the danger, Jesus then gives three examples of spiritual practices that reveal the difference between living out a relationship with God in a way that is focused on impressing others and living out a relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God.

Jesus pointed to the practice of giving to reveal the reality that people who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God do not draw attention to what they are doing when it comes to their giving. Instead, people who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God give out of their love for God, not to be loved by others. People who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God invest of treasure in God’s kingdom mission solely to please God and in a way that is known only to God. People who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God only seek the recognition that comes from God as having a growing and mature faith.

Jesus pointed to the practice of prayer to reveal the reality that they were not to pray with a focus on what the people around them, who are visible, could see and hear. Instead, people who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God pray with a focus on being seen and heard by the invisible God who they cannot see.  Jesus point is that the prayer that is prayed with a focus of being seen and heard by the invisible God will not only be heard by God; God also recognizes the reality that that person has a right relationship with Him as His growing and maturing follower.

Today, we will see Jesus move to a third spiritual practice to expose the differences between those who live out their relationship with God in a way that is focused on impressing others and those who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God. We see this occur in Matthew 6:16-18. Let's look at these verses together:

"Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. "But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Now to fully understand what Jesus is communicating here, we first need to understand what fasting is. So often when we think of fasting, we think of giving up food for a period of time. If you were ever involved in the Catholic Church, you probably remember having to give up something during lent or eating fish on Friday. But what is the point of fasting? Simply put, fasting is giving something up in order to make more room for God. Fasting is making time for God by giving something else up. Usually we associate fasting with giving up food, so when we feel hungry we think of God or when we are normally eating, we spend that time with God in prayer. 

But it does not have to be food. As a diabetic, I cannot simply fast from food. However, there are other things that I can give up in order to create more space for God and to hear from God. For example, there are seasons in my life when I seek God’s direction by fasting in a way that gives up television. And during that time that I normally watched TV, I spend that in prayer and solitude seeking God’s guidance and direction.

Now with that background information in mind, we see Jesus once again expose the reality that the poser’s primary motivation for fasting was to impress others. And to gain others attention so as to impress them, these posers would not shower, brush their teeth, and would even place ashes on their heads. The poser’s primary motivation for neglecting their appearance was for others to notice that they were fasting so as to be impressed by their seeming spiritual maturity.

However, Jesus explained that those who sought to impress others had received their reward in full. Since they sought nothing beyond the approval of their peers, nothing else was coming. Jesus then revealed the reality that those who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God fast to hear God, not to hear men. Those who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God are not focused on hearing from those around them, who they see.

Instead, those who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God are focused on hearing from the invisible God, whom they cannot see. Those who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God fast only to seek a response from God and the recognition that comes from God as having a growing and mature faith.

And it is here that we see Jesus reveal for us a timeless truth about the true nature of what it means to obey the message and teachings of Jesus and the true nature of a lifestyle that is living a right relationship with Jesus.  And that timeless truth is this: A right relationship with God requires that we live out that relationship with the right motives and rewards in mind.

Those who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God are focused on receiving recognition from God instead of impressing others. Those who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God give out of their love for God, not to be loved by men. Those who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God pray to be seen and heard by God, not to be seen and heard by men. And those who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God fast to hear God, not to hear from men.

So here is a question to consider: what motivates you to live out your relationship with God in your day to day life? What motivates you to go to church? What motivates you to give? What motivates you to pray? What motivates you when it comes to creating space to hear from God through fasting or some other spiritual discipline? Are you motivated to live out your relationship with God in a way that is focused on impressing others? Can your relationship with God be best described as checking off a list of behaviors that can be seen as being completed in a way that impressed others? Or are you motivated to live out your relationship with God in a way that is focused on engaging God?

You see, a right relationship with God requires that we live out that relationship with the right motives and rewards in mind, because Jesus is not concerned with our external behavior that is easily seen by others. Jesus is concerned with our internal heart condition. Jesus is concerned with our internal heart condition because Jesus knows, and human history has shown, that eventually what is in the heart will spill out. Jesus is far more concerned with why we do what we do then simply what we do.

And, as Jesus points out in this part of His famous sermon, a right relationship with God requires that we live out that relationship with the right motives and rewards in mind…

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Why Do You Pray?


This week we are looking at a part of perhaps the most famous sermon that Jesus ever preached, which we refer to today as the Sermon on the Mount. Yesterday, in Matthew 6:1-4, we saw Jesus warn the crowds listening to His sermon to be alert to the danger of living out their relationship with God in a way that is focused on impressing others. Jesus explained that those who live out their faith with a focus on impressing others will not be recognized by God as having a high-quality faith life.

After making the crowds aware of the danger, Jesus pointed the crowds listening to the spiritual practice of giving to expose those who live out their relationship with God in the presence of others with the goal of impressing others. Jesus pointed out that a person is not to publicize their giving so as to draw attention to themselves. Jesus continued by telling the crowd that the motive for publicizing their giving was so that they would impress and receive the praise of others.

Jesus then explained that the person who gives to impress others is a hypocrite, a pretender, a poser; that person is not spiritually mature and is not displaying the character and behavior that is focused on pleasing God; they are only focused on impressing others. And because of that reality, Jesus stated that those who seek to impress others had received their reward in full. Since they only sought the approval of their peers, nothing else was coming.

Instead, people who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God give out of their love for God, not to be loved by others. People who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God invest of treasure in God’s kingdom mission solely to please God and in a way that is known only to God. People who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God only seek the recognition that comes from God as having a growing and mature faith. Today, in Matthew 6:5, we see Jesus move from the spiritual practice of giving to the spiritual practice of prayer:

 "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

To understand what Jesus is communicating here, we first need to understand what prayer looked like in Jesus day. In Jesus day, people prayed out loud in the temple. So, for those who wanted to show how spiritual they were, they would pray in a raised voice so as to attract attention and impress others. And if that wasn’t enough, they would also repeat their prayer requests over and over again.

Jesus, responding to what He had seen in the temple, explained to the crowds listening to His sermon that those who pray to be seen by men are posers, they are putting on an act. Jesus then contrasted the prayers of the posers with the prayers of those who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God. Now a natural question that arises here is “what does Jesus mean when He states that we are to go into our inner room, close our door, and pray to our Father who is in secret? Is Jesus stating that we are not to pray out loud?”

Now if that question is running through your mind, I want to let you know that it is a great question to be asking. And my response to that question is this: I do not believe that Jesus is saying that we are not to pray out loud because it was common practice for people to pray out loud. Is Jesus saying that we are not to pray in groups? No, because it was common practice for people to pray out loud in groups, as we see in Acts 4:24, when a group in the early church did the following:

And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, "O Lord, it is You who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM,

So, if Jesus is not talking about having a private prayer closet, which is what many have interpreted this passage to mean, then what is Jesus talking about? Jesus point was that the reason that people were posers was not because of how they prayed; the reason why they were posers was the motives behind their prayer. Jesus point to the crowd is that they were not to pray with a focus on what the people around them, who are visible, could see and hear.

The poser’s prayer was focused on being seen and heard as impressive by those who were visible around them. Instead, people who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God pray with a focus on being seen and heard by the invisible God who they cannot see.  Jesus point is that the prayer that is prayed with a focus of being seen and heard by the invisible God will not only be heard by God; God also recognizes the reality that that person has a right relationship with Him as His growing and maturing follower.

So, here is another question to consider: when we pray, where is our focus? Are we more focused on what others see in us by our prayers than what God sees in us? Are we more focused on what words will impress others than on what God hears from our heart? Because people who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God pray with the focus of being seen and heard by God, regardless of whether the prayer is private or public, silent or out loud.

Now a natural question that could arise here is "Well then how should we pray? What should we say when we pray?" If that question is running through your mind, I just want to let you know that Jesus, anticipating that question provides the answer to that question in what He says next. So let's look at what Jesus says next, beginning in Matthew 6:7-15. Let’s walk through this prayer together and see what it says about God’s character:

 "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 "So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name 'Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven 'Give us this day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 'And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen].' "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Here we see Jesus model for the crowds listening to His sermon how people who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God are to approach God in prayer. He models for us the reality that God is worthy of our awe because He sets the agenda as our provider, our forgiver, our deliverer and our leader who is beyond anything we can wrap our minds around. In addition, Jesus revealed to the crowd the reality that those who are living in a right relationship with God are called by God to forgive others. You see, Jesus never asks us to do something that He has not already done.

And in verses 14-15, we see Jesus reveal for the reality that an unforgiving heart can reveal the reality that we are merely posers who do not truly understand who God is and who do not demonstrate that they have a right relationship with God. This morning, the timeless reality is that forgiven people forgive. To refuse to forgive others reveals that one does not truly understand the depth of what they have been forgiven of. 

Friday, we will see Jesus move to a third spiritual practice to expose the differences between those who live out their relationship with God in a way that is focused on impressing others and those who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God...

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Why Do You Give?


At the church where I serve, we are in the middle of a sermon series entitled Jesus uncut. During this series, we are spending our time together looking at perhaps the most famous sermon that Jesus ever preached, which is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. During this series, we are going to see Jesus reveal to the crowds listening to His sermon, and to us here today, the true nature of what God demands of humanity in order to experience a right relationship with Him and what it truly means to obey the message and teachings of the letters that make up the Bible. And during this series, as we see Jesus uncut, our hope and prayer is that God would move by the power of the Holy Spirit in a way that enables us to wrap our heads, hearts, and hands around the lifestyle that Jesus calls us to live as one who is living in a right relationship with Him. 

This week, I would like for us to spend our time together picking up where we left off last week. And as we jump into the next section of this famous sermon that Jesus preached, called the Sermon on the Mount, which is recorded for us in a section of an account of Jesus life in the Bible called the gospel of Matthew, we are going to discover another timeless truth from Jesus uncut. So, let’s discover that timeless truth together, beginning in Matthew 6:1:

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

As Matthew continues to give us a front row seat to this famous sermon that Jesus preached, we see Jesus, after revealing the reality that being right with God involves more than external obedience; after revealing the reality that the character and behavior that meets God’s demands to be right with Him involves moving past external rules and regulations to having the heart and character of God that is revealed in us as we live a life that is lived in obedience to God by doing the right thing; makes the crowd listening to Him aware of a potential danger that can occur while we are living out our relationship with God. When Jesus uses the word beware, this word, in the language that this letter was originally written in, means to be in a state of alert.

Jesus here was warned the crowds listening to His sermon to be on alert when we are living out their relationship with God in the presence of others. Jesus then explained to the crowds that what they needed to be on the alert for is the desire to be noticed by men. Now this word notice literally means to do things in a way that impresses others. So, in essence, Jesus is warning the crowds listening to His sermon to be alert to the danger of living out their relationship with God in a way that is focused on impressing others.

Jesus then explained that the reason that they were to be on the alert against the danger of living out their relationship with God in a way that is focused on impressing others is that when the focus of their spirituality was to impress others, they have no reward with your Father in Heaven. But what does that mean? What is Jesus talking about when He refers to rewards in Heaven? When Jesus speaks of the concept of rewards in Heaven, He is speaking about the amount of recognition one will receive from God for the quality their faith.

The point that Jesus is making here is that those who live out their faith with a focus on impressing others will not be recognized by God as having a high-quality faith life. After making the crowds aware of the danger, Jesus then gives three examples of spiritual practices that reveal the difference between living out a relationship with God in a way that is focused on impressing others and living out a relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God. We find the first example in Matthew 6:2. Let’s look at it together:

"So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

Here we see Jesus point the crowds listening to the spiritual practice of giving to expose those who live out their relationship with God in the presence of others with the goal of impressing others. To understand what Jesus is communicating here, we first need to understand what Jesus means when he talks about giving to the poor. In Jesus day, there was no welfare. There was no such thing as Medicaid, Medicare, or unemployment insurance. Even in America, prior to the great depression, the church was the primary vehicle for taking care of the poor and needy, not the government.

So, in Jesus day, the poor were ministered through the church as part of the church’s budget, along with individual acts of generosity. Giving was also done a little different in Jesus’ day. In Jesus day, they did not pass the plate, or a basket. Instead, the temple had a large box where people would deposit what they gave. And, in these verses, Jesus points out that there were some who, when they came to church, would make a grand entrance into the sanctuary and act so that everyone saw that they were giving and how much they were giving.

Jesus responds to this situation by telling the crowds that people who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God do not sound a trumpet before they give. Now Jesus is not referring to a literal trumpet. Jesus point is that a person is not to publicize their giving so as to draw attention to themselves. Jesus continued by telling the crowd that the motive for publicizing their giving was so that they would impress and receive the praise of others.

Now here is something to consider: how easy is it for us to fall into the same trap. How often can we fall into the trap of trying to impress others by our giving? Let me paint a picture for us this morning. You are in church and it is time for the offering. And as you are singing, you watch the ushers begin passing the basket. You begin to grab for your wallet or purse. It comes to your row. You are still fumbling through your purse, or your pocket. Now let me ask you a question. What is going through your mind at that moment? Is your mind focused on God, or the things of God? Or is your mind focused on what the usher is thinking? Or the rest of the people in the row?

At that point, we need to be on the alert. We need to be on the alert that we do not fall into the trap of practicing our faith in the presence of others with the goal of impressing others. Because, as Jesus states in verse two, when we fall into that trap, we are a hypocrite. Now when Jesus uses the word hypocrite, we need to understand what He means. A hypocrite creates a public impression that is at odds with one’s real motivations or purpose. In Jesus day, this word was used to refer to someone who was an actor or a pretender. In our culture, we might refer to such a person as a poser.

Jesus point is that the person who gives to impress others is a poser; that person is not spiritually mature and is not displaying the character and behavior that is focused on pleasing God; they are only focused on impressing others. And because of that reality, Jesus stated that those who seek to impress others had received their reward in full. Since they only sought the approval of their peers, nothing else was coming. Now a natural question that could arise here is “Well then how does Jesus want us to give? Jesus provides the answer in verses 3-4:

 "But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

When Jesus uses the phrase do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, He is painting a word picture to reveal the reality that people who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God do not draw attention to what they are doing when it comes to their giving. Instead, people who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God give out of their love for God, not to be loved by others.

People who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God invest of treasure in God’s kingdom mission solely to please God and in a way that is known only to God. People who live out their relationship with God in a way that demonstrates a right relationship with God only seek the recognition that comes from God as having a growing and mature faith.

Tomorrow, we will see Jesus move from the spiritual practice of giving to the spiritual practice of prayer..

Friday, February 9, 2018

A right relationship with God requires a right response when wronged...


This week, we have been looking at a part of a famous sermon that Jesus gave that is recorded for us in an account of Jesus life in the Bible called the gospel of Matthew. Tuesday, we looked on as Jesus called the crowds listening to His sermon to not place themselves in opposition to someone who is bent on doing wrong.  Jesus then provided four examples of situations in which a person was not to place themselves in opposition to someone who is bent on doing wrong. We talked about the reality that we your natural response is to question, or even challenge Jesus words here.

And if we could have a conversation out at the courtyard coffeehouse, the conversation would sound something like this: “Really? Does Jesus actually think that we should not retaliate when we are wrongly insulted by another person? Does Jesus actually think that we should not retaliate when we are wrongly sued by another person? Does Jesus actually think that we should not retaliate when we are wrongly humiliated by others? Does Jesus actually think that we should just give to the needy and not reject the needy, regardless of how they became needy?” If that question or pushback is running through your mind, just look at what Jesus says next in Matthew 5:43:

"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.'

Now, if what Jesus had to say at this point was not enough, Jesus continued by quoting from another section of the book of Leviticus. Here, Jesus quotes a section of Leviticus 19:18. To truly understand the importance of this verse in the book of Leviticus, let’s look together at the entirety of what the Lord was communicating to the Jewish people in Leviticus 19:17-18:

You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. 'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.

Now, did you notice that nowhere in these verses do you see the phrase “and hate your enemy”. However, what the religious leaders and Jewish people of Jesus day had done, was to take this passage from the book of Leviticus and add the phrase “and hate your enemy”. You see, the Jewish people of Jesus day believed and taught that they were to love one another as God’s chosen people and hate those who were not like them ethnically, who the letters in the Bible referred to as Gentiles.

The Jewish people in Jesus day believed that, as God’s chosen people, they were morally and ethnically superior to the Gentiles around them. As a matter of fact, most Jews during Jesus day considered Gentiles to be less than human. In addition, many Jewish people believed that God hated the Gentile people. After all, God had given the Jewish people the Promised Land from the Gentile nations. However, once again, the crowds listening to Jesus were not prepared for what Jesus had to say next, which Matthew records for us in verse 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;

After repeating this commonly held Jewish belief and teaching, Jesus responded by stating, but I say you are to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This morning, imagine yourself in the crowd listening to Jesus speaking. You have grown up your entire life believing that you are morally superior to all other ethnicities and nations. You have grown up hearing that you are to love your fellow Jew but hate those who do not share your chosen people status. It would be as if Jesus were stating to us this morning that as Americans that we were to love Al Qaeda and ISIS and pray for them.

Jesus here was calling the crowds, and followers of Jesus throughout history, to demonstrate a love that is selfless, other centered and sacrificial in nature and that seeks the good of another. Now, your natural reaction to Jesus words is “why would Jesus ask followers of Jesus to do such a thing?”  Why would Jesus expect us to selflessly love and seek another’s good, even when they have wronged us?”  That is a great question, and I am sure that it was a question that was floating through the stunned crowd listening to Jesus message. Fortunately for us, Jesus gives us two reasons why we are to demonstrate such a selfless, other centered and sacrificial love that seeks the good of others, even if they have wronged us. The first reason is found in the second half of verse 45:

for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

First, Jesus reminds the crowds listening to His sermon of God’s gracious generosity: “for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” In other words, God, in His gracious generosity, provides for those live a life that is marked by a moral and social worthlessness, and God, in His gracious generosity, provides for those whose life is marked by a high standard of worth and merit. God, in His gracious generosity, provides for those who live in a way that meet God’s right standards, and God, in His gracious generosity, provides for those who live in a way that is contrary to God’s right standards.

Jesus is reminding the crowds that God loves all His creation and demonstrates His love by generously providing for all of His creation. You see God loves all of His creation. God loves all people and desires that all come to know and follow Him. God created and loves drug addicts and homosexuals; God loves ax murderers and child molesters; God even loves people who think that God only loves them. God loves all people and desires that all come to know and follow Him.

After all, that was the whole point of Jesus coming to earth, wasn’t it? You see, Jesus came for the lost, the hurting, the broken, in other words He came for all of us. And because God loves all, even those who oppose Him and His kingdom, we are to follow His example. Jesus then revealed a second reason why we are to we are to demonstrate such a selfless, other centered and sacrificial love that seeks the good of others, even if they have wronged us, is found in verses 46-47. Let’s look at them together:

"For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

 Here we see Jesus ask a rhetorical question: "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” Now the reason that this question is rhetorical is due to the fact that the answer to this question is so obvious that is does not require a reply. Jesus then reinforced the rhetorical nature of this question by pointing to two groups of people who the Jewish people looked down upon. First, Jesus pointed the crowds listening to the tax collectors of the day. Now Jews who were tax collectors were hated by their fellow countrymen for two reasons.

First, these tax collectors were hated because they would often charge higher taxes than necessary in order to make a profit. Since the Romans did not care what these tax collectors charged as long as they received what was due them, many tax collectors became wealthy by charging over and above what the Romans asked. So tax collectors often became wealthy at the expense of his fellow Jewish countrymen. Second, Jewish tax collectors were hated and were viewed as traitors because they were working for the enemy. Jewish people so despised tax collectors that they had a separate category for them. There were tax collectors and there were sinners. There were those who sinned and then there were tax collectors. Jesus point is that even people who are thought of as being immoral know enough to love those who love them. It is easy to love those who love us, isn’t it? I mean, to love those who love us is not a very high standard.

Jesus then pointed the crowds listening to the Gentiles. Gentiles were not Jewish either religiously or ethnically and who worshiped something other than the One True God as God. Jesus here is reminding the crowd listening to His sermon that even people who do not believe in God love and treat well those who are close to them. Jesus here is revealing the reality that, those who want to be right with God have a higher responsibility to live a life that reveals and reflects God to those around them. Jesus point is that, as followers of Jesus, we have been placed by God in a distinctive environment to live lives that are distinctively different.

And as followers of Jesus who have been given the responsibility to live a life that reveals and reflects Jesus to those around us, we are not to live as the world lives, but are called to a higher standard that reflects the generosity and love of Jesus to all people, even those who are hostile to Jesus and to followers of Jesus. Now this morning, I want us to take a minute and imagine ourselves in the crowd listening the Jesus words. Can you imagine what the response must have been like? Can you imagine the body language? The facial expressions? Can you imagine the pushback? If you think there was pushback to what Jesus had said up to this point, just look at what Jesus says next in verse 48:

"Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In verse 48, Jesus continues by giving what seems to be an impossible command: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect”. But this morning, what does Jesus mean when He says we are to be perfect? When Jesus uses the word perfect, He is referring to someone who is fully developed in a moral sense. This word refers to someone who meets the standards of moral and spiritual perfection and maturity. 

Remember a few weeks ago when Jesus made the statement that a person’s character and behavior must surpass that of the religious leaders of the day in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven? The greater character and behavior that Jesus first brought up earlier in this sermon is revealed here. Jesus states that being right with God by meeting His demands involves more than external obedience; the character and behavior that meets God’s demands to be right with Him involves moving past external rules and regulations to having the heart and character of God that is revealed in us as we live a life that is lived in obedience to God by doing the right thing.

And it is here that we see Jesus reveal for us a timeless truth about the true nature of what it means to obey the message and teachings of Jesus and the true nature of a lifestyle that is living a right relationship with Jesus.  And that timeless truth is this: A right relationship with God requires a right response when wronged. Just as it was for those who were listening to this famous sermon; just as it has been for humanity throughout history; A right relationship with God requires a right response when wronged.

Jesus here is revealing for us the timeless reality that a right relationship with Him requires that we respond to a personal insult by not responding in kind. A right relationship with Jesus requires that we respond to being wrongly sued by another by striving to do everything we can do in order to make things right with the one who wrongly sued us. A right relationship with Jesus requires that we respond to being wrongly humiliated and oppressed by going the extra mile for the one who humiliated and oppressed us. A right relationship with Jesus requires that we respond to the pressing and practical needs of the needy by meeting those needs, regardless of why they are in need. And a right relationship with Jesus requires that we reflect the generosity and love of Jesus to all people, even those who are hostile to Jesus and to followers of Jesus.

A right relationship with Jesus requires a right response when wronged because Jesus is not simply concerned with our external behavior when things go right and when we are treated right. Instead, at the end of the day, Jesus is concerned with our internal heart condition when things go wrong and when we are treated wrong. Jesus is concerned with our internal heart condition because Jesus knows, and human history has shown, that eventually what is in the heart will spill out. Human history has shown us that, just like toothpaste, our true character and what dwells in our heart will ultimately spill out when we are squeezed as a result of being wronged.

So here is a question to consider? What does your response to being wronged reveal about where you are at when it comes to a relationship with God? How do you respond to being insulted? How do you respond to being wronged financially? How do you respond to being embarrassed? How do you respond to those who are in need, even if the reason they are in need is a result of their own doing?

Because, as Jesus points out, a right relationship with God requires a right response when wronged. And as Jesus points out, God’s right standard is perfection. You see, Jesus never asks us to do something that He has not already done. Jesus repeatedly demonstrated a right response when He was wronged that revealed the reality that He had a right relationship with God.

And because we are not perfect; because nobody is perfect, we desperately need the rescue that Jesus provides us as a result of failing to demonstrate a right response when wronged. We desperately need the rescue that Jesus provides us because we are all guilty of murder as a result of what comes from our heart damaging another’s heart. We desperately need the rescue that Jesus provides us because we are all guilty of adultery as a result of desiring sexually what we were not committed to relationally. We desperately need the rescue that Jesus provides us because we are all guilty of misrepresenting God’s promises as a result of failing to keep our promises. And we desperately need the rescue that Jesus provides us because we are all guilty of responding the wrong way when wronged.

That was the whole point of Jesus coming to earth. That was the whole point of this sermon. Jesus came to earth and lived the life that we were created to live but are all guilty of refusing to live, and then willingly allowed Himself to be treated as though He lived our selfish and sinful life, so that God the Father could treat us as though we lived Jesus perfect life. And when we respond to all that Jesus did to rescue us from our selfishness and rebellion by believing trusting and following Jesus, we receive the forgiveness of sin and enter into the relationship with God that we were created for. We also receive the Holy Spirit, which empowers us to live the life we were created to live in relationship with Jesus as we strive to follow the message and teachings of Jesus.

The question is “How have you responded to what Jesus has offered?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Rejecting the Law of Retaliation...

At the church where I serve we are in the middle of a sermon series entitled Jesus uncut. During this series, we are spending our time together looking at perhaps the most famous sermon that Jesus ever preached, which is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. During this series, we are going to see Jesus reveal to the crowds listening to His sermon, and to us here today, the true nature of what God demands of humanity in order to experience a right relationship with Him and what it truly means to obey the message and teachings of the letters that make up the Bible.

And during this series, as we see Jesus uncut, our hope and prayer is that God would move by the power of the Holy Spirit in a way that enables us to wrap our heads, hearts, and hands around the lifestyle that Jesus calls us to live as one who is living in a right relationship with Him.  This week I would like for us to spend our time together picking up where we left off last week. And as we jump into the next section of this famous sermon that Jesus preached, called the Sermon on the Mount, which is recorded for us in a section of an account of Jesus life in the Bible called the gospel of Matthew, we are going to discover another timeless truth from Jesus uncut. So, let’s discover that timeless truth together, beginning in Matthew 5:38:

"You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.'

As Matthew continues to give us a front row seat to this famous sermon that Jesus preached, we see Jesus quote from a section of a letter that has been preserved and recorded for us in the Old Testament called the book of Leviticus. Jesus here quotes a part of Leviticus 24:19-20. Let’s take a moment to look at the entire verse:

If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him:  fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.

Now these verses were referred to as the Lex Talionis, or the Law of Retaliation. The Law of Retaliation was used in the Jewish legal system to enforce proportional retribution for offenses that occurred between two people. The Law of Retaliation was designed so that there would be the right amount of justice in order to prevent private vengeance or revenge from taking over the Jewish legal system. As a matter of fact, much of our legal system here in America is based on this concept of proportional justice or retribution.

Now for those in the crowd listening to Jesus sermon, no one would be surprised at Jesus words here. For those in the crowd listening to Jesus sermon, no one would disagree with Jesus words here. For the Jewish people it was a common and accepted principle to live according to the Law of Retaliation. For the Jewish people it was a common and accepted principle that the punishment for a crime would be proportional to the damage done by a crime. However, what the crowds listening to Jesus were not prepared for was what Jesus had to say next. We see what Jesus said next in verse 39:

"But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Jesus, after quoting part of the Jewish Law of Retribution, explained “but I say to you do not resist an evil person.” When Jesus uses the word resist, this word literally means to place oneself in a place of opposition towards another, in this case an evil person. When Jesus refers to an evil person here, He was referring to someone who is morally or socially worthless and who is driven by wicked intentions. This phrase refers to someone who is bent on doing wrong.

Jesus then provided four examples of situations in which a person was not to place themselves in opposition to someone who is bent on doing wrong.  First, in the second half of verse 39, Jesus stated that if someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also. Now to understand the situation that Jesus is referring to, we first need to understand that in order to hit someone in the right cheek with their right hand, as most people in Jesus day, as today, were right handed, one would have to backhand them with a slap.

Now, in the Jewish culture of Jesus day, this form of a backhanded slap was a common way that people disrespected or insulted someone. The issue is not about being a pacifist, as many people in the anti-war movement attempt to use this passage. The issue is about someone’s personal honor being insulted.

Jesus point to the crowds listening was that they were not to seek retribution by suing in court when they were insulted, which was their right under the Law of retribution. Jesus point here is that when a person is insulted, they should accept the personal insult without retaliating in kind. Jesus then provided a second example of a situation in which a person was not to place themselves in opposition to someone who was bent on doing wrong in verse 40. Let’s look at it together:

            "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him
            have your coat also.

In this example, Jesus points to a legal suit between two Jewish people. This was not a case of someone breaking what we would call a criminal law in our culture, such as theft or embezzlement, where there was a danger and potential liability to the community as a result of an individual’s action. In our culture today, this would be a legal suit between two individuals that would occur in civil court. Most likely, the suit was over a collateral or pledge for a debt that was not paid between two parties.

The shirt that Jesus refers to would be a shirt that would have been used as collateral for the payment of the debt. Jesus response to this situation was that the person was not only to give up his desire to sue to keep the shirt, but should also offer his coat as well. In the time in which Jesus lived, a person’s coat often also doubled as a blanket and was never allowed to be taken under the Old Testament Law of Retaliation.

If Jesus was communicating this in the language that we use in our culture today, this example would have sounded something like this: if you received a car as collateral for a loan and were being taken to court unfairly so as to take the car, do not sue to keep the car. Instead offer your opponent your house as well so that you can make things right. Jesus point was that even what the opponent could not dare to ask for, we are to offer freely in order to make things right. Jesus then provided a third example of a situation in which a person was not to place themselves in opposition to someone who was bent on doing wrong in verse 41:

            "Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.

When Jesus uses the word force, this word literally means to be pressed into service. During this time in history, the Jewish people were living as a conquered people under the rule of the ruling Roman Empire. And as a result of living as a conquered people under the ruling Roman Empire, it was a common practice for a Roman soldier to enlist a Jewish person into forced labor, including the carrying of his equipment. We see this right of Roman soldiers to force Jewish people into service during Jesus crucifixion when Simon the Cyrene was forced to carry Jesus cross by a Roman soldier.

Now, as you might imagine, this practice was resented by the Jewish people who viewed the Roman enemy as humiliating them by forcing labor upon them. Jesus point to the crowds was that they were to renounce their right for justice under such oppression and exploitation and go the extra mile for their oppressors. Jesus then provided a fourth and final example of a situation in which a person was not to place themselves in opposition to someone who was bent on doing wrong in verse 42. Let’s look at it together:

"Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

In this final example, we see Jesus explain to the crowds that they are not turn away from those who want to borrow from you.  The words “to turn away” convey the sense of rejecting someone or something. Jesus point to the crowds was that they were not to reject those around them who have pressing physical and material needs, regardless of the circumstances that placed them under need. Instead, they were to place themselves in a position to meet those pressing and practical needs.

Now I want us to take a minute and imagine ourselves in the crowd listening the Jesus words. Can you imagine what the response must have been like? Can you imagine the body language? The facial expressions? Can you imagine the pushback? Maybe you find yourself pushing back. Maybe you are wondering, questioning, or even challenging Jesus words here.

And if we could have a conversation out at the courtyard coffeehouse, the conversation would sound something like this: “Really? Does Jesus actually think that we should not retaliate when we are wrongly insulted by another person? Does Jesus actually think that we should not retaliate when we are wrongly sued by another person? Does Jesus actually think that we should not retaliate when we are wrongly humiliated by others? Does Jesus actually think that we should just give to the needy and not reject the needy, regardless of how they became needy?”


If that question or pushback is running through your mind, just look at what Jesus says next. Friday we will do just that…

Friday, February 2, 2018

We misrepresent God’s promises when we fail to keep our promises...

This week we have been looking at a section of perhaps the most famous sermon that Jesus ever preached, which we know today as the Sermon on the Mount. Tuesday, we looked on as Jesus dealt with the issue of divorce and remarriage.

Jesus quoted from a section of a letter that has been preserved and recorded for us in the Old Testament called the book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 24:1-4, we see the Lord, through Moses, address the issue of divorce that had begun to occur amongst the Jewish people. However, the Jewish people of Jesus day had twisted and manipulated the Lord’s words through Moses in such a way that made it easy for people to get a divorce. The Jewish people of Jesus day did what we all have a tendency to do, which is to only quote a part of what the message and teachings of Jesus have to say in order to justify behavior that may go against what the message and teachings of Jesus have to say.

Thus, the Jewish people would only quote the first part of the passage in order to justify getting a divorce for any number of reasons. Jesus then explained to the crowds listening that regardless of whether or not a woman had committed adultery, for a man to divorce her is to portray her as an adulteress who becomes an adulteress if she remarries. In addition, Jesus points out that the person who marries a divorced woman, regardless for the reasons for the divorce, commits adultery. Jesus point is that both the divorced wife and her new husband are guilty of adultery. Jesus point is that everyone in this scenario is guilty of adultery.

Jesus here is taking an external commandment and is internalizing the true meaning of that commandment. Jesus here is revealing the true intent of this commandment as given by God. But this morning, what if Jesus is making a greater point than the issue of divorce? What if Jesus is using the issue of divorce as an opening illustration to address an even deeper spiritual issue? And if that is the case, if Jesus is using the issue of divorce as an opening illustration to address an even deeper spiritual issue, then what is the deeper spiritual issue? We see Jesus reveal the deeper spiritual issue in Matthew 5:33:

 "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.'

Here we see Jesus continue His sermon by quickly moving from the issue of divorce by quoting from two different sections of two different letters that are preserved and recorded for us in the Old Testament of the Bible. First, Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:12 “You shall not make false vows. Jesus then quoted from Numbers 30:2 “but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord”.

When the Lord commanded the Jewish people “You shall not make false vows” this command refers to failing to do what was promised under a vow or an oath. Now a vow, or an oath, was a voluntary promise that one made to another, that once made was binding. The Lord commanded the Jewish people to make sure that they did not fail to keep a promise or commitment that they had voluntarily made.

Instead, the Lord commanded the Jewish people to fulfill your vows to the Lord. In other words, the Lord commanded the Jewish people to make sure that they kept the obligation that they had made to keep any promise or vow that they had made. Again, for those in the crowd listening to Jesus sermon, no one would be surprised at Jesus words here. For those in the crowd listening to Jesus sermon, no one would disagree with Jesus words here. For the Jewish people it was a common and accepted principle that a person who engaged in failed to do what was promised would certainly be guilty of breaking this commandment. However, once again, what the crowds listening to Jesus were not prepared for was what Jesus had to say next. We see what Jesus said next in verse 34-37:

 "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. 36 "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes ' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil.

Now to fully understand what Jesus is getting at here, we first need to understand some things about the culture of Jesus day. In the culture of Jesus day, when a person made a vow or an oath, they would often invoke God as the guarantor of their word. We see this happen on occasion today, don’t we? Isn’t this what we are doing when we say: “I swear to God”? In addition, to break an oath or a vow after invoking God was to misuse and profane, or disrespect, God’s name.

As a result, the Jewish people of Jesus day, just like today, developed a system of innocuous substitutes for the name of God instead of the name of God. Jesus lists three of those here: by Heaven, by the earth, or by Jerusalem. In addition, Jesus lists another common substitute, which was by your head. Jesus here is explaining to the crowds listening, and to us today, that a person should make no oath at all.

Jesus then exposed the ridiculous nature of using such innocuous substitutes for the name of God instead of the name of God by explaining that Heaven, earth and Jerusalem are inseparably linked with God. Heaven, earth, and Jerusalem are inseparably linked to God as they are all places where God dwells and are His creation and His possession.  Jesus also exposed the ridiculous nature of using such innocuous substitutes as your head instead of the name of God by explaining that not only are we His creation, but we have no power over the color of our hair. While we may try to control the color of the hair we have with dye, the reality is that it is God who determines to color of hair since He is the Creator and sustainer of all things.

Jesus here is exposing the reality that all such oaths are superficial and irreverent to God. All such oaths are superficial and irreverent to God because God requires truthfulness. And because of that reality, Jesus, in verse 37, states “But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes ' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil.” Now if Jesus was giving this sermon in 2017, this phrase would have sounded something like this: “But let your words be your word. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Anything that goes beyond a simple yes or no is evil.”

 Jesus point is that our word should be so trustworthy that oaths are unnecessary. Jesus point is that God’s expectation is that people are so trustworthy in keeping their vows and promises that oaths are unnecessary. Once again Jesus is addressing the temptation that we all face, which is to look at the message and teachings of the letters in the Bible as though they simply address external behavior. Jesus here is addressing the temptation that we all face, which is to make our lists and charts for what we believe is spiritual and what we believe meets God’s standard of obedience, while missing the reality is that our lists and standard looks nothing at all like God’s standard. Jesus here is taking an external commandment and is internalizing the true meaning of that commandment. Jesus here is revealing the true intent of this commandment as given by God.

And it is here that we see Jesus reveal for us a timeless truth about the true nature of what it means to obey the message and teachings of Jesus and the true nature of a lifestyle that is living a right relationship with Jesus.  And that timeless truth is this: We misrepresent God’s promises when we fail to keep our promises.

You see, once again, Jesus is confronting us with the timeless reality that our words and our actions are the overflow from what is going on inside of our hearts. And because of that reality, we are guilty of misrepresenting God’s promises when we fail to keep our promises. We are guilty of misrepresenting God’s promises when we fail to keep the promises that we make in marriage. We are guilty of misrepresenting God’s promises when we fail to keep the promises we make in marriage because marriage is designed to be a word picture to the world around us of the eternal covenant relationship that Jesus has with His followers. And because of that reality divorce mars and misrepresents God’s promise and God’s covenant commitment that He makes to His followers.

We are guilty of misrepresenting God’s promises when we fail to keep a promise or commitment that we have voluntarily made. We are guilty of misrepresenting God’s promises when we break a promise after invoking God so as to disrespect God’s name. We are guilty of misrepresenting God’s promises when we develop and use a system of innocuous substitutes for the name of God instead of the name of God so as to try to avoid any consequences from God when we fail to keep our promises. And we are guilty of misrepresenting God’s promises when we lack the ability to be so trustworthy that oaths are unnecessary.

So, with that in mind, here is a question to consider: Do you represent God’s promises by keeping your promises? Are you a person who says what you mean and mean what you say? Are you a person of your word who is true to your word? Are you so trustworthy in your word that oaths and vows are unnecessary? Are you a promise maker and a promise keeper?

Because, as Jesus points out, we misrepresent God’s promises when we fail to keep our promises. We misrepresent God’s promises when we fail to keep our promises because Jesus is not simply concerned with our external behavior.

We are guilty because at the end of the day Jesus is concerned with our internal heart condition. Jesus is concerned with our internal heart condition because Jesus knows, and human history has shown, that eventually what is in the heart will spill out. Human history has shown us that when we fail to keep our promises, we misrepresent God in a way that will ultimately spill out into other aspects of our lives and in a way that will hinder our ability to be a part of God’s kingdom mission in the world…