Sermon on the Mount: Week 7

What is it about this world that makes us want to accumulate more and more stuff? To put our faith in the things we can buy, collect, display, or store in closets and under stairs? To find it easier to be comforted by looking at our bank account balance than by studying the Word of God? We are all vulnerable to the overwhelming desire for “things” — for whatever reason, “things” provide feelings of comfort and security.

Jesus exposes the vulnerability of earthly possessions in Matthew 6:19-20:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth,
where moth and rust destroy,
and where thieves break in and steal,
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
whether neither moth nor rust destroys,
and where thieves do not break in or steal;
for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

What does this tell us? Our earthly possessions are completely vulnerable and our heavenly possessions are not. Vulnerable to what? In so many words, impermanence. Nothing in heaven is impermanent — you can be sure without a doubt that any treasure you lay up in heaven is permanent…eternal. These verses also tell us that it is our human nature for our heart to go with our possessions — what we have becomes very closely linked to who we are. Are you linked to your earthly possessions or your heavenly ones?

Jesus then turns to directly address the issue of anxiety in Matthew 6:25-31:

“For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life,
as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink;
nor for your body, as to what you shall put on.
Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow,
neither do they reap, nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not worth much more than they?
And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to life’s span?
And why are you anxious about clothing?
Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,
yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory
did not clothe himself like one of these.
But if God so arrays the grass of the field,
which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace,
will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?
Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’
or ‘What shall we drink?’
or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?'”

In these current times, we are clearly vulnerable to anxiety about having our needs met (food, drink, clothing, our bodies). Yet God seems to be saying that we are the only earthly creatures who have anxiety about these things — the rest of nature does not work to earn and gather possessions as we do, but God provides for them and they don’t struggle with anxiety. God provides for us to a much greater degree than the rest of nature, but we continue to question Him. Do you ever ask yourself, “Will He actually provide? Don’t I need to make sure I’ve provided for myself and then I can trust in God to provide?”

Jesus gives us our answer in Matthew 6:32-34:

“For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek;
for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness
and all these things shall be added to you.
Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow;
for tomorrow will care for itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

First notice the three references to “all these things” that I emphasized in italics — Jesus is referring to what He addressed in the previous verses — our needs. Food, drink, clothing, our bodies. We seek all these things, but God already knows that we need them. In fact, He is the one who knows most deeply and intimately what we truly need.

The amazing thing about this passage is that Jesus is telling us EXACTLY what we must do to finally free ourselves of the anxiety related to “having enough.” We must seek God first, even before we seek the things that we need. As one of the wise women in the Grace Chapel Women’s Bible study pointed out, God is our greatest need. By seeking Him first we have in essence found the One who will meet all of the needs that follow. The daily needs. The hourly needs. The moment by moment needs. He is at the heart of it all.

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Sermon on the Mount: Week 6

What an incredible thing to know that Jesus Himself taught us how to pray. So often we stutter and mumble while praying, unsure of the “right” thing to say to God, wondering if what we are saying truly expresses our hopes, desires, and needs to our Father. How many of us simply turn to the “Lord’s Prayer” of Matthew 6:9-13? These are words of perfection — words that somehow encompass all that we would ever need or want to say to God.

“Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed by Thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily  bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

The opening of the Lord’s prayer (“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name”) rightly expresses worship of our heavenly Father. We should enter into prayer expressing our praise and adoration of the one true God of the universe. But here’s the catch — Jesus is introducing a relationship here. A relationship with a God who is also our Father — someone we can approach with the love and adoration that we would approach our earthly father. I have known people who have not had the gift of an earthly father, and the realization that they have a heavenly father who can fulfill the same role (and infinitely more) is an unbelievable blessing.

The next phrase (“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”) expresses both allegiance and submission, which naturally flow from worship. We have first expressed praise for the one sovereign God and, in coming to know who He really is, we naturally bow our knee in front of Him and acknowledge that our greatest desire is to see His kingdom fulfilled on earth. Arthur points out that this portion of the prayer “has the effect, then, of drawing us into intercession for those outside the kingdom of God…we are praying that Jesus’ lost sheep would hear His voice, come to Him, and receive eternal life.” (p 147) We are also submitting to the will of God above all else and recognizing that submission to God’s ultimate purpose-plan must come before any of our own needs and desires.

Note that the next phrase (“Give us this day our daily bread”) only comes after we first express worship, allegiance, and submission to God. Jesus is teaching us here that there is an order to prayer that puts our needs and desires into the context of who God is, and who we are in relation to God. Yes, our needs are important to God — but our needs must be expressed in accordance with the character of God.  We can only understand the character of God by delving into His Word. The petition here is for a daily need to be fulfilled — the “daily bread” — in other words, daily and even momentary sustenance. What we need for now, with the full knowledge that God will provide according to His will.

The next phrase (“And forgive us our debts, and we also have forgiven our debtors”) is a confession and cry for forgiveness that also includes a recognition of the need to forgive others. Jesus had already expressed in the Beatitudes “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).  Here He is saying the same thing in a different way — our own forgiveness is undeniably linked to our forgiveness of others. As Arthur states so accurately, “Failing to forgive others shows that we have no comprehension of what we are really asking for, or of the magnitude of our own debt to a holy God.” (p 149) Many people resist the truth and implications of this part of the Prayer. I think Jesus knew this, because he immediately follows the Prayer with a further explanation: “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15). Plain and simple.

The next phrase (“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil”) is a cry for deliverance that only comes after our confession and forgiveness of others. Jesus is not saying here that any temptation could come from God (cr. James 1:13-14), but He is leading us to acknowledge that we are always vulnerable to sin and need constant vigilance to not stray into evil behavior. The flesh is weak and we need God’s daily protection and deliverance if we are to live righteous and holy lives.

The final phrase (“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen”) is a return to worship and is a rightful reminder that it is only because of God’s kingdom, power, and glory that we can approach him on our knees in the first place. In this prayer we have given worship, allegiance, and submission. We have petitioned for our daily needs to be fulfilled according to God’s character. We have confessed our sin and asked forgiveness. We have asked for deliverance and protection. And we have come full circle, worshipping again.

Sermon on the Mount: Week 5

Jesus says a lot in the Sermon on the Mount about how we should respond when we feel hurt, cheated, or wronged. The Law gave Israel specific instructions for how to penalize those who commit crimes: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21) Under the Law, punishment was sure and swift, people knew that they would receive punishment that was equivalent to the crime they had committed, and people were held accountable for their behavior.

But what does Jesus have to say? “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

This sounds so very different that the Law of the Old Testament! Was Jesus changing the Law?  No. He was revealing to us the true intent of the Law. Jesus was fulfilling the Law by “telling us that righteous men are to be controlled by a higher law. The law of love.” (Arthur, pg 116)

Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength should lead us to have love and compassion for our fellow man. And loving your neighbor allows you to fulfill the Law because you cannot cheat, murder, steal, or covet from one that you love.  Mercy and the desire for another’s ultimate good are the goal of the law of love. And with this goal, we no longer need personal justice or retribution.

What are we to do?

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.”
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.”
“Never take your own revenge.”
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink.”
“Overcome evil with good.”
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.”
Romans 12:14, 17, 19, 20, 21; 13:8

Sermon on the Mount: Week 4

One feature of the Sermon on the Mount that jumps off the page is the juxtaposition of the phrases “You have heard” and “But I say” — without a deep study of the text one might think that Jesus is changing or contradicting the Law with which the Jews were so intimately familiar. However, Jesus reminds us at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, ” Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but fulfill.”

What becomes very clear is that Jesus’ teaching cuts to the heart of the matter. He is not providing “new” teaching, but rather providing new insights into the teaching that God had already provided.  As Kay Arthur states, ” Jesus was concerned for his disciples…He wanted them to understand the narrowness of the way that leads to life, the gravity of not just hearing what He said but living accordingly. It was with these concerns on His heart that He preached the Sermon on the Mount.” ( p. 78)

The other key feature of Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon is that there is always an “action” piece to the teaching. We are never simply given counsel or admonition, but He consistently tells us how we can put the teaching into action.

Concerning murder (Matthew 5:21-26), Jesus expands the Law by saying that even a person who is angry, or calls his brother good for nothing (Raca) or a fool is “guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” How do we put this into practice? Before bringing our offering to God we must go to our brother and reconcile. In other words, we have to initiate making amends with the one who has something against us.

Concerning adultery (Matthew 5:27-32), Jesus expands the Law by saying that even a person who “looks on a woman” in lust has committed adultery with her in his heart. How do we put this into practice? “Tear out your eye…cut off your hand” — take physical control of yourself and make the necessary changes to rid adultery from your life. Do not continue or make a practice of “looking” and do not let your heart follow your eyes.

Concerning vows (Matthew 5:33-37), Jesus expands the Law by saying that we should make no oaths at all. How do we put this into practice? Let our yes be yes and our no be no — don’t say we will do something we won’t, don’t over-commit, be honest with our obligations. When the intent of our heart is to not keep a promise, but we make the promise anyway, we profane the name of God. As David prayed, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)