THE GOD WHO REVEALS HIMSELF

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THE GOD WHO REVEALS HIMSELF

Psalms 19:1-14 NET

1     The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. 2 Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. 3 There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. 4 Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun. 5 Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; like a strong man it enjoys running its course. 6 It emerges from the distant horizon, and goes from one end of the sky to the other; nothing can escape its heat. 7 The law of the LORD is perfect and preserves one’s life. The rules set down by the LORD are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced. 8 The LORD’s precepts are fair and make one joyful. The LORD’s commands are pure and give insight for life. 9 The commands to fear the LORD are right and endure forever. The judgments given by the LORD are trustworthy and absolutely just. 10 They are of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold; they bring greater delight than honey than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb. 11 Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there; those who obey them receive a rich reward. 12 Who can know all his errors? Please do not punish me for sins I am unaware of. 13 Moreover, keep me from committing flagrant sins; do not allow such sins to control me. Then I will be blameless, and innocent of blatant rebellion. 14 May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my sheltering rock and my redeemer.

          The author of Hebrews began his epistle with the words “at many times and in many ways, God spoke…” (Heb. 1:1), reminding his readers that supernatural revelation is not a rare commodity.  Jewish Christians in the first century are not the only ones who need to be reminded that such revelation exists.  People nowadays are very good at convincing themselves that it is impossible to know if God is real. The evidence that God has revealed himself is abundant, and that is what this psalm is about.

God has revealed himself by his creation (1-6)

1     The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. 2 Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. 3 There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. 4 Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun. 5 Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; like a strong man, it enjoys running its course. 6 It emerges from the distant horizon, and goes from one end of the sky to the other; nothing can escape its heat.  

At first glance, you might think this psalm is contradicting itself. It talks about the sky pouring speaking out in verse two, but then it says there is no actual speech and no word in verse three. You cannot catch that in some translations, because they add a word or two to make it say something else. What the psalmist is actually saying is that the universe around him does not need any words to explain itself. Its existence is constantly revealing the existence and glory of its creator.

God revealed his existence and character through the universe he created. The passage speaks of the universe as a constant light and picture show displaying how glorious God is. Paul asserts that unbelievers are not excused for rejecting God since “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20).  This is the evidence of CREATION, but people often label it EVOLUTION, a term that suggests no need for an explanation beyond what is to explain what is.

Looking closely at the evidence in this box you will find a universe that has an origin that cannot be explained adequately through the powers and processes that currently exist.  Science has suggested some “big bang” happened billions of years ago to account for the present universe. But science also predicts that the current universe will eventually be destroyed because there is no power available within it to preserve it.  However, many scientists acknowledge an anthropocentric aspect to reality. That is, the universe seems to be designed for a purpose, and humanity seems to be central to that purpose. The universe also seems to contain sources of power that are not always apparent.

God is a Puzzle Maker

If I dare to assume that creation is displaying evidence of its creator, I can draw conclusions about the nature of the creator from a reasoned look at creation. For example, the universe can be categorized as a combination of systems, each of which has a definite structure. There are star systems in space, climate, geological and ecological systems on the planet, and circulatory, pulmonary, and digestive systems among creatures. The existence of these systems suggests an intelligent designer who enjoys artistically producing unity from diverse objects. It is almost as if every system is a puzzle, and God is encouraging people to search for patterns so that we can understand the systems as a whole. Science is our attempt at putting together the pieces of the puzzles. If there were no order to the systems – that is, if everything was random chaos – the universe would be impossible to figure out, and that would lead to an altogether different view of God.

God has a Purpose for Everything

The unity that God builds into all these interlocking systems is a unity of purpose. The systems work together to foster and sustain life, reveal God’s craftsmanship in the master design, and promote more unity-in-diversity.

Everything has a purpose. We make mistakes when we use things for the wrong purpose. Children of God learn that everything that happens to us is allowed by God to benefit us in some way.  So Joseph told his brothers who had sold him into slavery ion Egypt: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). Paul told the Romans that “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Seeing God at work in the difficulties we face is not always easy. That is why David encouraged his soul not to forget all of God’s benefits (Psalm 103:2). Each of these texts points to the fact that God is at work in the universe all around us orchestrating it for his own purpose.

I want to invite you to see if I am right about this. Pick a corner of God’s universe — just one system. It doesn’t matter which one. Maybe you want to study the sky. Maybe you want to study the land all around us, the trees, or animals, or human nature. If you look for the daily speech without words, you will find it pouring forth.

God has revealed himself by his word (7-11)

7 The law of the LORD is perfect and preserves one’s life. The rules set down by the LORD are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced. 8 The LORD’s precepts are fair and make one joyful. The LORD’s commands are pure and give insight for life. 9 The commands to fear the LORD are right and endure forever. The judgments given by the LORD are trustworthy and absolutely just. 10 They are of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold; they bring greater delight than honey, than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb. 11 Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there; those who obey them receive a rich reward.      

By his word I mean his written word, the sixty six books of the Holy Bible. God revealed his standards, his desires and his plan through the scriptures.  God is our father. As a father, he wants us to do more than just acknowledge his existence. He wants us to follow his instructions. That is why deism, theism, or unitarianism will never please God. It is not enough to admit that he does (or might) exist. He is our father, and we must acknowledge that relationship through obedience. The Bible is God’s way of showing us what he wants – how we can obey him and please him.

The Bible is God’s witness to himself.” This truth serves as a foundation for all talk about revelation.  Biblical theology assumes that the author of Hebrews is right – that God has revealed himself. So a believer does not have to begin where an unbeliever does. Instead, a biblical theologian starts with affirming what the Bible says about itself, and then invites unbelievers, skeptics and atheists to evaluate the truthfulness of the statements.

The Bible teaches four things about itself.

  • Scripture is God’s word, so it speaks with God’s authority.
  • Scripture is sufficient to do what God wants it to do.
  • Scripture is as clear as it needs to be.
  • Scripture cannot be broken. When rightly understood, it is infallible.

Each of these qualities describes scripture because each faithfully describes the source of scripture: God himself.  He is the ultimate authority, having no superior from which his authority could derive. He is entirely self-sufficient, having no need for any other for fulfillment. His words and thoughts are completely clear to himself (in spite of the difficulty humans often have understanding them).  His words cannot be broken because the truth they reveal does not change, or go out of style. He is dependable.  Therefore the best thing anyone can say about scripture is not a negative statement (like “inerrant,” or “infallible,”) but a positive one.  Scripture is from God.

Scripture records the incidents when “God showed himself. He let himself be heard. He disclosed his presence. He revealed who he is. He made known his name. Today we may wonder why God chose to do so thousands of years ago to the fathers and prophets and apostles. We may question the wisdom of embedding the most important truth the world has ever heard in a collection of ancient Jewish stories. But we cannot deny that the revelation has happened. Even if we set aside the internal evidence presented in the scriptures themselves, we are overwhelmed by the impact that these Jewish stories have had on the planet.

What amazes me is that the Bible is so large. A few years ago, I decided to make an electronic scripture index of myself. It involved making folders on my computer and putting links in those folders to everything that I have written online — by chapter and verse. Apparently, not a lot of people do that because I couldn’t find an easy way to do it. So, I did it the hard way. I had to create a folder for each verse of the Bible! Just the New Testament alone has 260 chapters and 7,956 verses. The Old Testament has 929 chapters, with 23,208 verses. So, altogether, that’s 1,189 chapters with 31,164 verses. It took me about a month just to make the folders, and another month to file everything in them.

A few years ago, I realized that even though I had been a Bible college professor, I had been pretty lazy about studying the Bible on a regular basis. The Lord wanted me to read and study the Bible daily. When I first started, I was too lazy even to read a passage every day. So, I found a place online where someone would read a passage for me. I followed that site through the whole Bible in a modern version, for a year. By then, I was ready to read for myself, so I went through the Bible in three years in another modern version, and I wrote a short commentary every day.

When I finished that project a few years ago, I asked the Lord what he wanted me to do. He said, “translate.” I am translating the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. I do just a few verses a day. I’m starting to believe I can really finish this project. So far, I have just over 40 books translated. But the New Testament alone has 184,590 words in it (in English). The Old Testament has 622,771 words. So, altogether, that’s 807,361 words.  It’s going to take a while. But every day I learn something more just by staying on task. The project has given me a whole new appreciation for those who have been involved in translation. It also continues to remind me how important it is to keep it up. We are not there yet. We have a long way to go. There are still truths in the original scriptures which are not clear from our numerous translations.

God also reveals himself through personal experience (12-14).

There is another way that God who is not silent has revealed himself as well. Notice what the last few verses of this psalm tells us:

12 Who can know all his errors? Please do not punish me for sins I am unaware of. 13Moreover, keep me from committing flagrant sins; do not allow such sins to control me.Then I will be blameless, and innocent of blatant rebellion. 14 May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my sheltering rock and my redeemer.

God has overwhelmed us with evidence of his existence – first by placing trademarks in creation itself that point to his character and power, then by getting specific through the special revelation in the Bible. Through these means, anyone can recognize that God exists, and have a clear understanding of what he wants. Sadly, we humans have developed world-views that enable us to either ignore the God of the Bible or replace him with a substitute that we can be more comfortable with. But occasionally God intervenes in this mass stupidity and his Holy Spirit produces a believer.  By REGENERATION, he opens an unbeliever’s eyes, and suddenly she can see a universe that reflects its creator, and a Bible that reveals his will.

The result of this miracle is a personal experience with God – a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The miracle itself is a third means of God’s self-revelation. The final words of Psalm 19 are about this kind of revelation.

The focus of this section of Psalm 19 shifts to the personal level, as can be seen in the use of the first person (me, my). The focus also shifts from instruction through the law to redemption from sins. This amazing psalm shows that God wants to do more than just get us to acknowledge his existence, or understand his word. He wants to cleanse us from our personal sins so that we can be reconciled with him, and redeemed for the purpose of an eternal relationship with him.

The God who has flooded the universe with evidence of his creation is not silent. He has revealed himself. He gave us not just one word but over 800,000 words to reveal his will. But if you really want to get to know God, you can go beyond even these two forms of revelation. You can get to know God personally. He can redeem you and forgive you for all your past mistakes. He can walk beside you and change the words of your mouth and the musings of your heart. You can actually stand before him blameless and cleansed. You can do this because of Jesus Christ. His death on the cross was God’s answer to your sin problem. Come to Jesus today, and you will begin to know God like you have never known him before. 

Pray with me.

OUR GOD, YOU HAVE REVEALED YOURSELF.

YOU HAVE FLOODED THE UNIVERSE WITH EVIDENCE OF YOUR EXISTENCE AND GREATNESS.

OUR GOD, HAVE REVEALED YOURSELF.

YOU HAVE REVEALED YOUR WILL IN DETAIL IN THE SIXTY-SIX BOOKS YOU GAVE US.

OUR GOD, HAVE REVEALED YOURSELF.

YOU HAVE SENT YOUR SON TO DIE IN OUR PLACE SO THAT WE CAN BE REDEEMED AND FORGIVEN.

YOU, OUR GOD, HAVE REVEALED YOURSELF, SO WE CHOOSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR REVELATION.

WE ACKNOWLEDGE THE GLORY THAT WE SEE ALL AROUND US.

WE THANK YOU FOR YOUR WORD, WHICH TO US IS MORE VALUABLE THAN GOLD, AND SWEETER THAN HONEY.

WE THANK YOU FOR YOUR SON, OUR REDEEMER.

In Jesus’ name. Amen!

YES MEANS YES

YES MEANS YES

Matthew 5:31-37 NET

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not take oaths at all — not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, 35 not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. 36 Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one.

We have been studying Jesus’ sermon on the mount and we are seeing that he intended his sermon to be a manual for his missionaries. He had called them the light of the world, but he knew that if they simply kept doing things the way they had learned to do them from their culture, their light would be put out. So, Jesus gave them some instructions on how to live so that the people who saw them would notice the light. In other words, if they did things “business as usual” then the mission would suffer. The mission was to draw attention to Jesus Christ and proclaim him as the world’s savior and coming king. But the world around them would want to squeeze them into its mold. The apostles would have to make choices that would prevent that from happening.

Jesus criticized his culture for making it easy to end a marriage (v.31).

The culture in which the apostles lived had an easy fix for a bad relationship. They believed that ‘whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’

Filson says the idea behind the legal document was to protect the woman. He says the “practice of giving the wife a written certificate of divorce was a protection for her. A capricious husband might drive her from his home with an oral declaration of divorce and later insist that she was still his wife. With a written certificate, however, she could remarry, as Jewish custom permitted, and could not be accused of adultery (87).

But Bland says that the legal document turned out to be an excuse to end a marriage easily. He referred to “a note or writing whereby a man declared that he dismissed his wife and gave her leave to marry whomsoever she would. This being confirmed with the husband’s seal, and the subscription of witnesses, was to be delivered into the hand of the wife either by the husband himself or by some other deputed by him for this office: or the wife might depute someone to receive it in her stead. This must be done in the presence of two, who might read the bill both before it was given into the hand of the wife and after: and when it was given, the husband, if present, said behold this is a bill of divorce to you” (134).

So, behind every man’s mind was the fact that if his current relationship did not please him, there was an easy way out. The law would allow him to have a do-over. But Jesus condemned that way of thinking.

For Jesus, easy divorce was a problem, rather than a solution (v.32).

He said, “everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” The easy way out was not a way out. It was a way into adultery. If your wife was committed to you, giving her a piece of paper was not going to change that. It would just be forcing her to commit adultery with someone willing to have her. If you sought to marry someone divorced in this way, you would be choosing to commit adultery, no matter what the piece of paper said. The culture’s solution was a problem rather than a solution. It created a whole society of broken relationships. It was too easy because it avoided the reconciliation that God wants when two people have a problem with one another.

Remember that Jesus taught his apostles to reconcile with a brother who had something against them. He said that reconciling was so important that it trumped regular worship. Reconciliation was more important than religion. The culture taught them that if someone had something against you, the solution was easy — just unfriend them and ignore them. But Jesus said that every relationship is important and that God wants reconciliation.

Jesus introduced the topic of adultery when he told his apostles that “whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:28). The culture’s easy solution to that problem was “Look but don’t touch.” Jesus told them that the easy solution is not a solution. Looking is the problem, and you need to rid yourself of the problem of lustful looking, even if it means tearing an eye out.

This issue comes up again as recorded in Matthew 19.

3 Then some Pharisees came to him in order to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?”

The Pharisees are asking the wrong question. They are only interested in what is lawful, and what is allowed. For many today, that is all they are interested in. They want to know how they can get away with doing what they want without being arrested. their question is not “What is the speed limit?” Their question is more like “How much faster can I go beyond the speed limit without being stopped by the cops?”

4 He answered, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Jesus redirected their question — away from the Law — to the original intention of the Creator for his creatures. God had created Adam and put him in a garden to enjoy. Then he made Eve and gave her to Adam so that they both could enjoy each other. The two of them were literally made for each other. They were designed for each other’s happiness. Until sin entered the picture, they were each other’s best friends.

God intends for all marriages to follow that model. The two hearts are designed to beat as one. The two are to become one flesh. This is why God joins a man and a woman together. They are combined. The combination is a good thing. God had said it is not good for man to be alone. It was lawful for Adam to stay alone, but it wasn’t good. It was permitted, but it was not the best.

7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?”

The Pharisees had assumed that Moses’ permission was God’s last word on the subject. They were guilty of taking one passage from the Bible and teaching it as if all the other passages on the subject did not matter. We should not do that, even with these passages from Matthew’s Gospel. We find out from later texts in the epistles that there are some legitimate reasons for divorce. But the issue that Jesus was dealing with was hardened hearts.

8 Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning, it was not this way. 9 Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”

Jesus encouraged a lifetime of follow-through on our commitments (vv. 33-37).

He said “you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not take oaths at all — not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one.”

The problem with staying true to your commitments was another one that the culture of the apostles had learned to deal with. In their minds, a promise did not mean anything unless it was accompanied by a solemn vow. They had learned to be fast and loose with their yeses and nos because there was no obligation to be faithful to those words unless they had been made legal by vows. Mounce explains that the “very existence of a vow introduces a double standard. It implies that a person’s word may not be reliable unless accompanied by some sort of verbal guarantee” (48).

Johnson says that when “Jesus says that anything additional to yes and no is of the evil one, it is a recognition of Satan’s title as father of lies” (41). If your yes does not always mean yes then there is a devil behind it. If your no is not consistently no then there is a devil behind it.

Jesus wants his missionaries to be just as true to their everyday commitments as if they were given from the throne of God in heaven. He wants us to understand that the commitments we make in Delco are just as important as promises made in Jerusalem. He wants our word to be our bond. He wants our small commitments to be treated with the same loyalty as our marriages. He wants every yes to be just as important to us as our “I do” was. He wants every no to be a never.

The reason for all these commands is that we represent Christ and his coming kingdom. If people are going to turn to Christ, it is going to be because of us. So our words need to be reliable. Our promises need to be kept. Our commitments need to be something that others can depend on. If we fail to live up to our commitments made in these human relationships, then people will doubt what we say about the kingdom we say we belong to.

How can we follow the command of Christ and honor all our human commitments? We can do this. All it takes is living daily with the realization that our King could come today. Would we want the last statement we made before he comes in the clouds a promise that we intended to break? We want him to say “Well done, good and faithful servant. We want to enter into his joy, not experience his condemnation.

_________

Bland, Miles. Annotations on the Gospel of St. Matthew. 1828.

Filson, Floyd V. A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew. New York: Harper, 1960.

Johnson, Benjamin A. Matthew, the First Evangelist: A Reader’s Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew. Lima, Ohio: C.S.S. Pub. Co, 1977.

Mounce, Robert H. Matthew. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991

LUSTFUL LOOKING

LUSTFUL LOOKING

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Matthew 5:27-30 NET

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her 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! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.

We have been studying our Lord’s sermon on the mount for several weeks now. It is very easy to get misdirected in our interpretation of what Jesus said in this sermon. There are a number of schools of thought that have developed about it. One of the extreme schools of thought suggests that our Lord’s words do not apply to us during this church age. That group teaches that Jesus intended his sermon to be a new law for Israel, but since Israel rejected him, the sermon does not apply to the church. It will only apply when Israel accepts Jesus as their king during the millennium. Those who follow this school of thought suggest that “rightly dividing” the word means recognizing that Jesus’ commands in the sermon on the mount do not apply to Christians during this dispensation of grace.

But there is a big problem with following that logic. We have seen that although the crowd was looking on while Jesus was preaching the sermon on the mount, he was specifically targeting his twelve apostles with the message. The apostles were also present on the mountain in Galilee where Jesus gave them the great commission. There he commanded them to make disciples of all nations, beginning in Jerusalem but targeting all people in all nations to the end of the age. Jesus had told these same apostles that they were the light of the world and the salt of the earth. So, no, the sermon on the mount is not specifically designed for Israel during the millennium. It was specifically designed for missionaries who are commissioned to reach the nations for Christ. Applying the sermon on the mount to this age is rightly dividing the word.

We are discovering that the more we look at the sermon on the mount, the more it fits as a mission manual for God’s people to reach the lost for Christ. But it is important to keep in mind that the words themselves are not designed for unbelievers. They are designed for people like those twelve apostles — people who have already repented of their sin and pledged loyalty to Jesus Christ as their Savior, Lord, and King. The sermon on the mount was not designed to get them saved. It was designed to get them to live the life that would draw other people to Christ. It was designed for people who were already the light of the world — to keep them from hiding that light.

Two weeks ago, we looked at what Jesus said about anger. It was possible for anger to make the missionaries unfruitful in their mission. That was why Jesus warned them not to allow anger toward their brothers to linger in their hearts. Also, they had to reconcile with others who were angry at them — even if it meant disrupting their religious worship. Jesus warned that anger had to be dealt with.

Today we’re looking at another feeling buried in the heart. This is the feeling of lust — the burning desire for someone other than your spouse. We begin by looking at what Jesus told them about the Old Testament Law.

The Law had prohibited adultery, but it did not prevent it (27).

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.” They had heard this. It was in the Old Testament. It was one of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18). God intended his people to be faithful to their covenants with each other as well as their covenant with him. He still does. But with the command comes the temptation to transgress the command. The Bible records several examples of those who transgressed this command, including Lot, Shechem, Judah, Eli’s sons, Tamar, David, Bathsheba, Amnon, Herodias, and the woman at the well whom Jesus spoke to in Sychar.

When we looked at the prohibition against murder, we found that there was an evil root in the hearts of human beings that if allowed to grow, would eventually lead to transgressing the command. The same is true for the command against adultery. The problem is not the command itself. Harrington says that In this section, Jesus is “more concerned with going to the roots of biblical commands than with contradicting them” (28).

Most would agree that being faithful to one’s spouse is a good thing. It is healthy. It is designed to produce happiness and security in marriages and provide for stable families. But if we give in to the temptations of the heart, our marriages are in danger. To deal with the heart issue you have to focus your obedience on something else besides adultery because adultery is an effect, not a cause. We have to get to the root cause in order to prevent adultery.

The heart temptation behind adultery begins with a lustful look (28).

Jesus said that “whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Hahn and Mitch say that like “the Mosaic Law, Jesus forbids acts of adultery Yet he extends the prohibition to forbid even personal lust and interior thoughts of impurity. Looking and thinking “lustfully” (5:28) already violate the New Law, even if the exterior act of adultery is not committed” (26).

The lustful look is the evil weed that has to be pulled or else adultery will be the eventual result. Genesis 34 tells the story of Shechem, whose eyes looked lustfully on Dinah, Jacob’s daughter. He saw her and he had to have her.

2 Samuel 11 tells the story of King David, who “got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of his palace. From the roof, he saw a woman bathing. Now this woman was very attractive. So David sent someone to inquire about the woman. The messenger said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” David knew that she belonged to someone else. But he had a lustful look at her, and he had to have her.

Matthew 14 records John the Baptist’s words to King Herod. He told him that it was not lawful for him to have Herodias. But Herod had a lustful look at her, and he wanted her.

N. T. Wright says that what “he commands us to avoid is the gaze, and the lustful imagination, that follows the initial impulse” (48).

The lustful look is just like a random angry thought. We might think that it is harmless, but that is because we fail to see the result. The examples of lust in the Bible are parts of stories of tragedy and death. Lust rips marriages and families apart, and leads to violence and cruelty, and disharmony.

Note how Jesus describes lust here. He says that “whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The heart that looks lustfully on someone else’s spouse has already transgressed the command. The weed may be so small that nobody else notices it — maybe not even the target of the lust. France says that Jesus is talking about simple sexual desire here, but “the desire for (and perhaps the planning of) am illicit sexual liaison” (204).

Our modern culture has made it harder and harder for marriages to last because we have chosen to give the lustful look free reign. We have been taught to look but don’t touch. This philosophy has created a generation of Davids who can look down from the roof of their palaces on all the Bathshebas that they could care to lust after — all within the privacy of their own phones or computers. We are paying the price for that freedom.

Jesus’ generation and culture had promoted the same kind of freedom and were producing the same kind of unfaithfulness. But Jesus did not condemn the culture of the Roman empire. He correctly diagnosed the problem. The choice to look at another person lustfully is an individual decision to sin.

Jesus recommended extreme measures to prevent the lustful look (29-30).

He said “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.”

Obviously, Jesus is not encouraging self-destruction here. But he is pointing out the fact that if we refuse to take drastic measures to deal with this problem, destruction is exactly what will happen. Beare says that Jesus is using “a forceful image of the drastic effort that must be made” to deal with the problem of the lustful look (153). It would be better to maim our bodies by plucking out an eye, or chopping off a hand because if we allow lust to have free reign, we are heading to hell.

Jesus said that in hell, God will destroy the sinner entirely — body and soul (Matthew 10:28). Jesus also said hell is for hypocrites. Anyone who claims to be a Christian but is ruled by his lustful thoughts is only pretending to follow Jesus.

The apostle Paul said the same thing. He said “the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! (Galatians 5:19-21).

It doesn’t matter what you profess. It matters what you practice. Paul said that “those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Instead, we are supposed to practice the fruit of the Spirit. We cannot do both. We cannot practice the fruit of the Spirit on Sunday morning and live like the devil from Monday to Saturday.

If we try to take Jesus literally here, we are not going to succeed. Even if we pluck out one eye, the other one will be there to engage in lustful looking. Even if we chop off one hand, the other will be there to help the eye go where it shouldn’t go.


Beare, Francis W. The Gospel According to Matthew: Translation, Introduction, and Commentary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982

France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2007.

Hahn, Scott, Curtis Mitch, and R D. Walters. The Gospel of Matthew: With Introduction, Commentary, and Notes and with Study Questions. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000.

Harrington, Daniel J. Meeting St. Matthew Today: Understanding the Man, His Mission, and His Message. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2010.

Wright, N T. Matthew for Everyone: Chapters 1-15. London: SPCK, 2004.

LUSTFUL LOOKING.mp3

BEFRIEND OR BURN

BEFRIEND OR BURN

Matthew 5:21-26 NET

21 “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ 22         But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell. 23 So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift. 25 Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!

We have been looking at our Lord’s sermon on the mount because we have committed ourselves to obey his commands. We find a lot of those commands in this sermon. We need to keep reminding ourselves that he was speaking to the crowd, but he was addressing his apostles. Those twelve men represented those who had already chosen to repent and enter the kingdom. He told them that they were the light of the world. He blessed them and along with that blessing came the expectation that they would bless others whom they came in contact with. They were supposed to produce good deeds.

We also found that there was already a group of religious professionals who were producing good deeds, but Jesus challenged his apostles by telling them that their righteousness would have to exceed that displayed by the religious professionals. Those people were hypocrites — actors who only pretended to have a relationship with God.

It is important that we understand this because if we do not, we might make the same mistake that the Pharisees and teachers of the law did. We cannot bypass repentance and go straight to obedience. That is true of any aspect of kingdom living. Repentance is the entry gate into Christ’s kingdom. If you have not gained citizenship into the kingdom, you can pretend all you want to, but it will not establish your identity.

One of the reasons people struggle with what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount is that they are trying to obey the king’s commands without first entering into his kingdom. In our survey of Jesus’ commands, we found that he gave the command to repent earlier. It is foundational.

Once we have repented, we are set to begin the process of letting Jesus change us into the kind of people who can bless others with our lives.

Today we are going to look at the problem of anger. Anger can destroy your life. It can even make you destroy someone else. It is a spark that can lead to a wildfire. It can lead to murder — even war and genocide.

In today’s text, Jesus tells us… The older generation did not solve the murder puzzle (21)

Each generation has to deal with the harsh realities of life, and one of those realities is that we humans have a habit of killing one another.

Jesus said “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’

The older generation knew that murder was a problem. But it was a puzzle that they could not solve. All that they could do was set up laws against homicide. But the laws themselves did not seem to deter people from committing murder. No matter how strict the laws were, or how terrible the punishment was, people kept murdering one another.

Jesus revealed here that… Murder is in everyone’s heart (22)

He said “anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell.”

Not everyone murders, but everyone has murder in his heart, and that murder comes out every time we feel anger toward others. The more we express that anger, the closer we get to the fire of Gehenna.

Fair says that in today’s text, “Jesus goes right to the heart of murder, addressing the anger that grows to insult and finally into open denigration, which often lies at the heart of murder. The strict adherence to the sixth and other commandments was admirable but fell short of the divine intent of the commandments” (p. 33).

Anderson says “that anger, abusive language, and contempt for another deserve as harsh a judgment as murder; they all come from the same evil root within one’s heart”(p. 23).

Now, I want you to stop for a moment and look at the faces of those twelve apostles. They have been called to follow Christ. They accepted that call. They gave up their ordinary lives because they were committed to learning from him. They wanted to obey his commands.

But right now, a lump is developing in each of these men’s throats. Some of them dreamed about killing their hated enemies — the Romans. But even those who did not, would have to admit that they struggle with anger every single day.

When Jesus said “anyone who is angry with a brother,” they thought that he must have been reading their minds. Just minutes ago, they were entertaining angry thoughts about their brothers they left at home, and even their fellow apostles. Those other eleven men really pushed their buttons.

Nothing has changed in the past two thousand years since Jesus spoke these words on that mountain. Murder is still in everyone’s heart, and the only way to deal with it is to learn how to pull the weeds of anger before they choke out the fruit of peace.

This is why what Jesus instructs his followers to do here is vital. He says to his apostles that… Private reconciliation is more important than public religion (23-24).

He told them that “if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.”

Reconciliation is the key. It is so important that Jesus tells them that if they did something that caused someone else to be angry with them, even their worship of God is not a priority. They should pause worshipping God long enough for them to fix that human relationship.

This is not how the world tells us to deal with our anger. It tells us to respond to anger with anger. It says that we should not just get mad, we should get even. It says that if they say something you don’t like, you should retaliate by insulting them.

Once with have been reconciled to God by faith in the death of Christ on the cross, our next restoration project should be reconciling with our fellow human beings. We should answer Cain’s question with “yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am responsible for our relationship.”

Argyle says that Jesus is saying ‘You cannot enter into right relationship with God if you are not in right relationship with your brother’ (p. 50-51). But what Jesus is saying to these men is that once you have entered into a relationship with God, then that relationship with God demands that you reconcile with those whom you hate, or who hate you. That is why true Christianity is not about drawing a line in the sand and declaring who your enemy is. It is about erasing the line by making peace.

Folks, this is a hard saying. It’s not hard because it is hard to understand. It is hard because it is hard to obey. Many Christians are stuck here. They cannot progress in their Christian walk because of their problems with others. Most of the time it is not some enemy far away who is the problem. It is the brother close by — the neighbor — the spouse.

If the world cannot get us to retaliate, they will shift their emphasis, and tell us to ignore the problem. If my friend wants to treat me like that, I’ll just not have anything to do with him. I will unfriend him. If my spouse is going to be that way, I’ll just divorce her — and the next one — and the next.

Anger is a problem that only gets worse if we ignore it. There are solutions to our anger problem. The Bible says a lot about anger, and we need to pay more attention to its teachings.

  • “A person who has a quick temper does foolish things” (Proverbs 14:17).
  • “A fool lets fly with all his temper, but a wise person keeps it back” (Proverbs 29:11).
  • “A person’s wisdom makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).
  • “Do not let yourself be quickly provoked, for anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
  • “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath (Proverbs 15:1).
  • “Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20).
  • “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
  • “You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

What happens if we choose to ignore this solid biblical instruction about anger? Jesus says that … Failure to reconcile creates a bondage that can destroy your influence (25-26).

He advises us to “reach agreement quickly with (our) accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand (us) over to the judge, and the judge hand (us) over to the warden, and (we) will be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, (we) will never get out of there until (we) have paid the last penny!” He is not telling us a parable here. He is warning us that if we do not deal appropriately with our damaged human relationships, it can put us in prison. Unless we learn to forgive others the debts they owe us, we will wind up owing so much that we will be rendered useless for the kingdom we claim to represent.

These are the same people whom Jesus has just called the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But he warns them that if they ignore anger issues, it can put them in a bondage that will effectively put out their light.

All across this land today there are people who want to show their love for their spouses and children and brothers and sisters and parents, but they are incarcerated. They serve as an example for us of what happens if we choose to ignore our anger or feed someone else’s anger. Anger is a serious matter, and one of the reasons it is serious is that it points us in the opposite direction. Anger tells us to make enemies, and hate those enemies. Jesus tells us to “love (our) enemy and pray for those who persecute (us), so that (we) may be like (our) Father in heaven since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).

So, we have a choice. Jesus commands us to befriend everyone. It will not be easy to obey this command. It is one of the hardest things anyone can ever do. It goes against logic. It goes against our human nature. Satan will throw every possible temptation in our way to keep us from doing it. But this is what our king wants us to do.

The other alternative is to let anger control us. What happens if we go that route? Jesus told his apostles that if they made that choice, it would send them to the local magistrate. If the anger led to insults, it would send them to the Sanhedrin. If the anger led to name-calling, it would send them to Gehenna hell. Uncontrolled anger is not something Jesus is going to allow into his kingdom.

We need to decide. Are we the reconciled of God, or are we reprobates who are doomed to be destroyed by his wrath? Are we people who befriend the world around us, or are we people who will burn when Jesus comes to destroy it?

LORD GOD, our King has challenged us with a very difficult command to follow. Empower us by your Holy Spirit to live the way he has called us to live, to love the world around us, especially those whom we don’t feel like loving.

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Anderson, William A. Gospel of Matthew. Place of publication not identified: Liguori Pubns, 1999.

Argyle, A W. The Gospel According to Matthew: Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Fair, Ian A, Stephen Leston, and Mark L. Strauss. Matthew & Mark: Good News for Everyone. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Pub, 2008.

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BEFRIEND OR BURN.mp3