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.

__________

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.

________

BEFRIEND OR BURN.mp3

EXCEED THE EXPERTS

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EXCEED THE EXPERTS

Matthew 5:17-20 NET

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. 19 So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus has been explaining the details of his new kingdom to his apostles. He began by Blessing them – the blessings being focused on the reality that things are going to change for them when he returns to reign over the earth. They are poor now, but they will be rich then. They mourn now but they will laugh then. They hunger and thirst for righteousness now but they will be filled then. They are mistreated now, but they will be vindicated and exalted then.

His commands for them were first to rejoice in anticipation of the new kingdom that is coming. Then he tells them to let their light shine before people by doing good deeds. Now, this instruction sounds very much like what the nation of Israel had already been taught by its religious professionals. That’s why Jesus had to include today’s instruction. He had to explain to them that obeying God’s law was not the problem. The problem was that they had been given bad examples of how to follow that law.

Jesus’ role is to fulfill the law, not to abolish it (17).

He told them, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.” When he said “law” and “prophets” his listeners would have heard “Bible.” The Hebrew Bible consisted of three sections. One was called the law – the Hebrew is Torah. Another was called the prophets, or Hebrew Nevi’im. The third was called the writings, or Hebrew Chtuvim.

Sometimes the people referring to the Bible would shorten the expression to Law and Prophets. Jesus was referring to all 39 books of what we call the Old Testament. He was telling his apostles that he was not going to replace these books as Holy Scripture.

It is very important for us as believers to understand that the Bible is the word of God and nothing replaces it. Our faith in Christ does not change God’s revelation in his word. What he has said stands for us as a reflection of who he is, and what he is all about. The Christian is following Christ when he or she walks with Bible in hand, and uses the Bible as the lens through which everything is experienced.

Albrecht says that “From Genesis to Malachi, there is one primary message: all people are sinful and deserve punishment from God, but God promised to send a Savior from sin. Through faith in that coming Savior, people living before the time of Christ received God’s forgiveness and eternal salvation. Jesus was (and is) that promised Savior. He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. He came to keep all of God’s commandments perfectly and to fulfill all the promises about the Savior that are contained in the entire Old Testament” (71).

The law was not abolished by the appearance of Christ, but neither can it be obeyed without faith in Christ. Since he is the fulfillment of the law, just trying to obey the law’s commands will never be enough. That means that the Bible – even with its perfect instructions will never be enough. It has to be believed. Just toting it around and memorizing its words will not be enough. We need both the Bible and faith in Christ. We need the Bible because it is God’s law. We need Christ because he fulfills God’s law.

Every week you and I come together for a Christian experience in which we open the word of God and seek instruction from him. It is absolutely necessary that we keep doing that. Jesus is making it clear to his apostles that now that they have faith in him, that doesn’t mean they can stop listening for God’s revelation in Scripture. Faith in Christ and obedience to God’s word go together for us. God’s word convicts us of sin, but it also instructs us in righteousness. Faith in Jesus is the solution to our sin problem. Our obedience to the Bible’s instruction is designed to do something else – to make us lights to shine on the world so that others can come to Christ.

God’s word has a work to do that is not finished yet (18).

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.” When the scribes copied the holy scriptures, they didn’t have computers or a printing press. They had to copy it by hand. Some of the letters were very small. Some of the punctuation marks were even smaller. Jesus drew attention to this fact by the statement about the smallest letter or stroke of a letter. What he said was that everything in the Bible is important, and nothing is irrelevant.

He also mentioned that everything the Bible predicts has to take place. His appearance among the people was a major part of the plan. He had a job to do and his arrival allowed him to accomplish many of the things that the Bible had predicted. But he was also clear that there were some other things that will have to happen in history.

Chamblin explains that this text “is not a warning against violating the law, whether by tampering with it (by removing some of its commands) or by transgressing it (by trampling its commands underfoot). Rather, Jesus here emphatically declares that the law cannot be violated, that even its smallest parts will not disappear ‘until all things have happened’ — i.e. until the kingdom is consummated. On that day, when the present ‘heaven and earth’ are replaced by the new heavens and the new earth, the commandments will no longer be needed. But until that day, one might as easily cause the universe to disappear as to remove the law’s least commands” (341-342).

We are not going to evolve into a people who do not need the Bible. It is not going to happen. Until Jesus returns, you and I are going to need the word of God in our lives. That is why I suggest that all of us get to know the Bible better. We need to learn what it says and meditate on what it means. We need to apply it to our lives – to live our lives according to its teachings. We need to invest time in the word of God. One sermon a week is not good enough. We need to invest time daily in the Bible. I can guarantee that anyone who truly does this will not be disappointed. Time spent in God’s word is not wasted.

The degree in which we are biblical is the measure of our kingdom greatness (19).

Jesus said, “So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” There are two tests to see if we are being biblical: obeying the scriptures and teaching others to obey the scriptures. On judgment day, our status in Christ’s kingdom will be revealed. But we can judge for ourselves how well we are doing right now. The Bible is the standard for that judgment.

Democracy is not the kingdom standard. When we stand before Jesus on judgment day, he is not going to judge us based on what other people did or did not do. Nobody else is going to get a vote – just Jesus. The books will be opened, and everything we have ever done or thought about will be there as evidence. God’s word will be the standard by which he determines our status as kingdom citizens.

Most people will not make it. Jesus himself said that “the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Matthew 7:13). The most popular route is the route of self-centeredness, and it is in the wrong direction. That is why our Lord’s first command for all of us is “repent” – because nobody ever gets into the kingdom without repentance.

But Jesus is also telling us that there will be degrees of greatness in his kingdom. There will be those who turn to God but do not allow God’s word to prevail over their lives today. They will build doctrines for themselves that excuse them from the hard work of living according to the teachings of the Bible.

Ironside says that Jesus is talking about people who ignore “the-divine authority of God’s revealed will by loosening the moral effect of His commands, so as to make men careless of their obligations to Him” (38). The people who are great in Jesus’ kingdom are those who are biblically careful, not biblically careless. If we refuse to shine our light on the world’s darkness and expose it, we are leading others to live carelessly.

Our righteousness has to exceed that of the experts (20).

Jesus said, “unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The experts in the law and the Pharisees were considered the super-spiritual in New Testament times. But their knowledge was merely academic and their expertise was mere pretense.

Jesus called them hypocrites. The Greek word hupokritēs refers to an actor — someone putting on a show. Our devotion to Christ and his coming kingdom has to be genuine. It cannot be a life we live for others to see. It has to be real.

Giving should be part of our lives, but there are people who give just to impress others with their generosity. Jesus said our giving should be in secret. Our left hand should not know what our right hand is doing.

Jesus actually criticized the hypocrites because they gave the tithe of their herbs and spices, but did not give justice, mercy, and faithfulness. That is the kind of giving that Jesus appreciates.

Praying should be part of our lives, but most of our prayers should be done in our room privately, not publicly for others to see. We are not talking to them, we are talking to him.

Fasting should also be done without showing. It is not an opportunity to show off our spirituality. It is an act of humility. When pride comes into the picture, humility leaves the scene.

Living in purity should also be part of our lives, but it is so easy to fake that. Jesus said that the experts were like whitewashed tombs – clean on the outside, but dead and stinking on the inside.

Hell is the place for hypocrites. The kind of person who says that Jesus has not come back yet, so he is going to have fun and abuse others because the master is not watching – he is on his way to hell.

So, Jesus warns his apostles right at the beginning. Life as a kingdom citizen is not going to be easy. Even the experts don’t know what they are doing, so we cannot follow their example.

Garland says that the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is deficient for entry into the kingdom of heaven. It flunks the test because it does not go far enough and because a different kind of righteousness is required. The demand for a greater righteousness announces the theme of what follows” (62).

So, what we are going to see in the following sections of the sermon on the mount is that the world’s standards are going to be judged and found deficient. Then Christ is going to provide his biblical standard instead. The world says “don’t kill people.” Jesus  says, “don’t get angry, and if you do, reconcile.” The world says, “don’t commit adultery or divorce.” Jesus says “stay faithful.” Not the same thing. The world says “don’t break your oaths.” Jesus says “stay true to your word.” Not the same thing.

I want to invite you to live the kind of life that Jesus is talking about here. It is a life that exceeds the righteousness of the super-spiritual hypocrites. That is the kind of life that attracts people to Jesus Christ.

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Albrecht, G J, and Michael J. Albrecht. Matthew. Milwaukee, Wis: Northwestern Pub. House, 1996

Chamblin, J K. Matthew: A Mentor Commentary. Fearn, Tain: Christian Focus Pub, 2010.

Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel. New York: Crossroad, 1993.

Ironside, H A. Matthew. Neptune, N.J: Loizeaux Brothers, 1994.


EXCEED THE EXPERTS.mp3

INFLUENCING THE WORLD

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INFLUENCING THE WORLD

We have been looking at our Lord’s sermon on the mount because it contains a number of our Lord’s commands to us. For the past few weeks, we have been examining the beatitudes which introduce this sermon. We found that the beatitudes are a description of the apostles as representatives of Christ’s present kingdom. His command — which applies throughout the whole section — is the same. He tells them to rejoice because they are blessed. Even if they sometimes seem to be cursed — with poverty, hunger, grief, mistreatment, etc.

That introductory section of Jesus’ sermon primarily focuses on who the kingdom’s citizens are. In today’s section, we will transition to looking at what kingdom citizens do.

McCumber says, “What disciples are is covered in the beatitudes” (34). “What disciples do is expressed under figures of salt and light” (35).

The only command we have seen so far is REJOICE. Believers are expected to rejoice because we have a destiny that will make all our present suffering and searching worthwhile. But our king wants us to do something more than just rejoice. Today’s section explains what it is that he wants us to be doing as we live our lives between his first and second advents.

Matthew 5:13-16 NET

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. 14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

Both salt and light influence whatever they touch

In the previous section, Jesus told his followers that they are blessed. In this section, he tells them that they are to bless. It makes sense. In the Old Testament, God approached Abraham and told him that he was blessed, and commanded him to be a blessing to all nations. Jesus is essentially doing the same thing here.

The question that Jesus is answering here is “In what ways are the blessed in his kingdom to bless the nations?” To answer that question, Jesus brings up two metaphors. He says that he expects his apostles (and all of us who follow them by putting our faith in Christ) to bless the nations like salt blesses food, and like light blesses the things that it shines on.

Salt was so valuable in the Roman empire that for a time Roman soldiers were paid with salt. Our English word salary comes from the Latin word for salt (sal). Even today we talk about something being “worth it’s salt.”

Luccock says, “In an age when people have become conscious of how too much salt is harmful to health, it may be difficult to appreciate the importance of salt in Jesus’ day. Salt preserved food and gave it flavor. In the same way, the followers of the Christ would preserve the world and give life its true taste. … When salt grows insipid … (it) become useless” (31).

Salt was a preservative. In the book of Genesis, God told Abraham that he would not destroy the city of Sodom if he found enough righteous people in it. He didn’t find enough righteous people in it, so he destroyed it. Salt also enhances the flavor of whatever it touches.

Light exposes what is there. If salt’s purpose is preservation, light’s purpose is revelation. Light is essential in a world of darkness. The apostles were Jesus’ visual aid to show the world how God wanted it to live.

Both of these metaphors describe the fact that people who are part of Christ’s present kingdom are going to be responsible to influence the world around them. We cannot run away from the world, because we are responsible to bless it. We are God’s means of expressing himself to the nations.

Salt and light are not designed to hide themselves

The problem that Jesus suggests is that there will be a temptation for kingdom citizens today to fail to do what he is calling them to do. We will be tempted to keep our salt to ourselves and not salt the earth. Ironside said, “The disciples of our Lord are left in the world to witness against its iniquity and to set an example of righteousness. Savorless salt, like an inconsistent Christian, is good for nothing” (37).

We will be tempted to hide our light under a basket so that it does not shine on our world.

Jesus’ command here is for us to let our light shine before people. But what exactly does it mean. Are we supposed to draw attention to ourselves by acts of religious devotion? Are we supposed to sacrifice all life’s comforts so that the world knows how committed we are? Are we supposed to shine our lights on all the evil things in the world and condemn them, becoming — in effect — the world’s police force?

No, Jesus explained how we are expected to shine our light before people. This is how we are to bless the nations:

Christians are intended to show their influence by good deeds.

We must let our light shine before people, so that they can see our good deeds and give honor to our Father in heaven. Now, this is not legalism. Legalism says that good deeds save you. Remember, Jesus is not telling unbelievers how to get saved here. He is giving believers their job description. Good deeds are not the means of salvation, they are the evidence of salvation.

Now, Jesus does not go into detail here about what kinds of good deeds we are to show. This passage is just a general statement for us all to understand what we are to be doing. The more specific details will come later in his sermon.

So, for example, Jesus tells us that our good deeds have to be better than the legalistic practices of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). We have to do better than just keep from murdering people, we have to stop being angry with them (5:21-26). We have to do better than just avoiding adultery and divorce, we have to stop lusting in our hearts (5:27-32). We have to do more than keep our vows, we have to be honest enough that we won’t need to vow (5:33-37). We have to love not only our friends but our enemies too (5:38-48).

The influence that Jesus expects us to bless the world with is for us to be unlike the world. That is hard. We are born into this world and from the very beginning of our lives, it has been trying to mold us into its image. Jesus challenges us to be different. But the difference matters. If we are not different, then we cannot salt the earth. If we don’t salt the earth it will be a tasteless thing that is only good for destruction. If we hide our light, the light will not expose what it is supposed to expose. What is it that the light is supposed to expose?

Our good deeds are intended to demonstrate our relationship with God

“Let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” Jesus is the light of the world, and those of us who have met Jesus have the opportunity to reflect that light. Albrecht says, Jesus “came to overcome the darkness of sin, wickedness, ignorance, and unbelief. Christians are the light of the world in the sense that they reflect the light of Christ, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun” (69).

The good deeds are the direct result of our new relationship with God, made possible by the sacrificial atonement Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. Because Jesus removed the sin barrier from us, making it possible for the Father to accept us into his family, we can now act differently. The good deeds that we achieve are not to save us, but they can be used to save others. Our good deeds can cause those who are looking for God to find him.

The ultimate goal of our influence is God’s glory

God is glorified when sinners turn from their sin and come back to God. Whenever the nations see us living the life of godliness, we influence them to come to Christ. That is how they will glorify God. That is the mission. As Meier puts it, “The disciples can cause the failure of their mission if they ignore others and live only for themselves” (45). Their mission is to bring people back to God.

Augsburger describes how being the light is our mission: “While light is to be seen, serving as a guide for travelers, it is basically to be of service. The disciples are lights in the world, not calling attention to themselves but pointing the way of God. They obtain their light from the One who is the Light of the world. This visibility and service is expressed by Jesus in two illustrations: the city on the mountain and the candle placed on the lampstand. The light dispels darkness simply by being present. As one has said, “It does little good to curse the darkness; one should light a candle.” And the motive is to illuminate the way of God for others, that by seeing our good works they may glorify God. For this light to be seen we live openly in the midst of the world as disciples of Christ, a visible witness of the rule of Christ or of the presence of the Kingdom of God” (68).

Senior says, “The disciple … is to live now the life that is to be realized fully at the end time, yet, through Jesus, is already breaking into the world” (73). Folks, the life we live now is important. Our witness is more than just telling people about Jesus. Our witness is demonstrating his existence and importance through how we live our lives.

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Albrecht, G J, and Michael J. Albrecht. Matthew. Milwaukee, Wis: Northwestern Pub. House, 1996

Augsburger, Myron S. Matthew. , 1982.

Ironside, H A. Matthew. Neptune, N.J: Loizeaux Brothers, 1994

Luccock, Robert E. Matthew. Nashville, Tenn: Abingdon Press, 1994.

McCumber, William E. Matthew. Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1975.

Meier, John P. Matthew. Wilmington, Delaware: M. Glazier, 1980.

Senior, Donald. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.

INFLUENCING THE WORLD.mp3