October 2nd, 2021 - Matthew 5-7
Our reading today finds us on a hillside with Jesus, the disciples, and a huge crowd of people. The beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount are one of five long discourses in the Gospel of Matthew. The main theme of the Sermon on The Mount is the Messiah’s call to righteousness. Paul understood righteousness in terms of God’s saving acts and of a person’s standing before God. Jesus used the term for moral behavior that conforms to God’s will, as James does. Specifically, righteousness is doing the will of God as Jesus reveals it. This “revelation of righteousness” unifies the entire sermon. The beatitudes describe the special favor of God toward His people, both physically and spiritually, and the consequences of living with that favor. They describe the lifestyle and character of a follower of Jesus. Jesus calls us to follow Him as He proclaims the message of the kingdom to Israel. Those who are blessed have repented in response to the proclamation of the kingdom. The poor are indeed physically poor but their trust is in God and that is what makes them blessed. Those who mourn may have been a reference to the spiritual and national condition of Israel, or those who are touched by personal grief or tragedy. God’s comfort will accompany the fulfillment of all that He has promised. Those who are humble are those who shun pride. The whole earth may refer to God’s promise of land to Abraham and his descendantsor it could mean God’s reign over the whole earth. The ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those whose driving purpose is to obey the Lord. It could be the disciples desire to see justice for all people. Jesus has brought justice and righteousness and the followers will be satisfied. Mercy is showing kindness to those in distress. Those who are merciful now will find God’s mercy in the final judgement. Those with pure hearts are set in contrast with those who thought they had satisfied God’s will through ceremonial conformity to tradition. But Jesus was looking for true heart righteousness. These will see even more than Moses did. Verse nine most likely targets the Zealots, Jewish revolutionaries who advocated the overthrow of Roman domination through violent resistance. The Messiah’s kingdom would be established by other means. Peace here is the absence of enmity and the presence of God’s salvation. Jesus disciples are to work for justice, righteousness, reconciliation, and mercy as the effects of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ.
Jesus first disciples were persecuted by hostile Jewish leaders who were offended by Jesus’ new and authoritative revelation. Since then, associating with Jesus and obeying his teachings has often been a source of persecution. The great reward Jesus mentions is not something earned by suffering for doing right. It is God’s blessing to those who have expressed His grace to others. Salt was used for cleansing, preservation from decay, making covenants, and seasoning food. Pure salt maintains its flavor but in Israel their salt came from the Dead Sea and there were impurities in it. Sometimes it was mixed with other ingredients and when it was exposed to the elements, the salt would be leached out. This sort of salt would have no use then for anything but coating pathways and roads. That is what happens when we lose our focus and our beliefs are mixed with other things. Believers do not have inherent light. Instead we have reflective light. As we behold the glory of God we reflect His light. Therefore we must make sure that nothing comes between us and the Lord’s light. When we reflect the light of the Lord, that quality is attractive to others and they will come to us to see why. Once they know the Lord they will reflect His light as well and God will be glorified.
Jesus rejected the Pharisees charge that He was nullifying the law . The law was both temporary and eternal. Jesus came to fulfill the law. The word here means to fill out, expand, or complete. It does not mean bring to an end. Jesus fulfilled the law in several ways. He obeyed it perfectly and taught its correct meaning. He will one day fulfill all of the Old Testament types and prophecies. Jesus provides a way of salvation that meets all the requirements of the law. Not one jot or tittle will pass. In other words, scripture is 100% true and trustworthy. Next Jesus warned all who were listening. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was essentially external adherence to rules but God demands more than this. Jesus’ words must have shaken His disciples since the meticulously righteous deeds of the scribes and Pharisees were regarded as being far above the average person. But, the only righteousness that satisfies God is faith in Jesus Christ. The rest of chapter 5 deals with Jesus contrasting His own teachings to six misinterpretations of the law. Jesus reveals the will of God as it contrasts with traditions.
The Jewish traditions prohibited murder but not hate. The surpassing righteousness of Jesus demands reconciliation. Just refraining from killing someone is not enough. There was no tolerance for unreconciled relationships or devaluation of others. Calling someone raca was like calling them empty headed. Gouging out an eye that causes you to sin or cutting off a hand showed the call for radical separation from sin. But even that cannot stop a lustful mind. Jesus was calling for the surpassing righteousness only He can bring. We have seen references to Sheol before. This is the place of the dead, a sort of grey placewhere the people there are called shades or shadows. But Gehenna is called hell, the place of punishment and separation from God. Unless disciples have surpassing righteousness they will not enter the kingdom but will be punished eternally. Jesus challenged the misapplication of the Old Testament provision for divorce. Simply following the rules does not make divorce acceptable. Jesus allowed only one legitimate reason for divorce, sexual infidelity. And He forbid casual divorce. Jesus didn’t t demand death for the guilty party. But legitimate divorces permitted remarriage. The Pharisees had degrees of oaths and various depths of commitments to them. For example, oaths that did not mention God were not binding. But Jesus reasoned that because God is related to all things, breaking any oath breaks God’s command. The Old Testament permitted proportionate retribution, which was to prevent the punishment from far exceeding the offense. But Jesus doesn’t permit personal retaliation at all among His followers. Jesus way is not to insist on justice but to find victory through suffering and the cross. Forced labor was a humiliating fact of life under Roman rule. They could press anyone into service to carry a load as far as one mile. This would be like Simon of Cyrene being pulled out of the crowd to carry Jesus’ cross. Jesus turned this forced service into an occasion for exuberant service to God.
Jesus called His followers to love those who hated them, once again turning everything upside down. By loving all people Jesus followers would not become children of God. Instead they would show by their actions that they are indeed God’s true children according to His nature and will. Everybody was and is kind to those they know and love…believers, pagans and Gentiles. Jesus called for his followers to stand out. There is no way for any of us to be perfect but Jesus is referring here to maturity and wholeness in response to Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom. Perfection has love at its core. Jesus also taught that righteousness was not done for public recognition but as a service to God. He urged secrecy in giving and fasting to counteract the human propensity to seek praise for ourselves rather than God. Blowing of trumpets accompanied major rituals, including public fasts but some had trumpets blown so that people would see them pray or give offerings. Jesus also taught about prayer. Jews prayed regularly at 9AM and 3PM. There were also public times of prayer, but prayer was not to be a means of drawing attention to to oneself. Many proud religious leaders also prayed long and loud in public, believing that this not only brought them glory but God couldn’t help but hear and answer them. The Lord’s Prayer is a model of simplicity. Jews rarely addresses God as Father but Jesus did so in every prayer but one. (Mark 15:43). May your name be kept holy. God’s name is profaned by the sins of His people. May your kingdom come soon. We are praying for Jesus righteousness, peace, and mercy to be established. May your will be done on earth as inheaven. Outside of God’s will no person will be permitted into God’s presence. Give us today the food we need. Martin Luther tells us daily bread is everything we need for daily living. When we have these it means we can then go about ministry without cares. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Forgiving others is a reflection of a repentant heart which makes our own forgiveness possible. Those who have experienced God’s forgiveness will forgive others. And don’t t let us yield to temptation. Just as Jesus was tested, temptation will test the disciples character. Jesus urges prayer for God’s enabling to stand the test. Prayer and fasting were often linked together and the practice had been abused before Jesus time.When Jesus speaks of money He does not say it is sinful to have assets. What He is saying is that accumulating assets should not be a priority over everything else. And He warns that money has the potential to become an idol. But God does not tolerate rivals.
Jesus taught about worry. An anxiety free existence of simple trust in God’s provision is what He is speaking of. The disciples left everything to follow Jesus. Jesus points out that if God provides for the birds, He will provide much more for us. He will certainly tend to our needs. The same goes for the wildflowers. The little faith here results from our failure to understand our value to God and the extent of His providential protection. Prayer does not inform God of our needs. He already knows. Our prayers express our trust in His provision. So, do not worry. God has everything under control. Our call is to trust Him.
Mercy is a dominant theme for Jesus’ teaching and practice, but not at the expense of clear opposition to sin. This judgement may point to rigorous scrutiny of trivial matters. God alone hasthe right to judge, and He measures us by how we treat others.Jesus calls us to minister to others rather than condemn them. The references to a log and speck of wood is an image intended to heighten the contrast between ministering to someone and condemning them. He calls us to not waste what is holy on that which is not. Effective prayer is persistent but Jesus does not teach that God will grant extravagant desires. His people are to seek daily provision and spiritual blessing. Verse 12 of chapter seven is what we know as the golden rule. This is the practical application of Leviticus 19:18, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Chapter seven ends with a call to decide about Jesus and His teachings. Those who hear Jesus’ message regarding the kingdom must follow Him to obtain eternal life or disown Him and experience God’s condemnation. There is no middle ground and there is no plan B. Entering the narrow gate refers to the decision to follow Jesus as the Messiah. The wide gate and broad highway refer to the decision not to follow Jesus and His teachings. Hell refers to being thrown into the fire, not entering into the kingdom, being banished from the presence of Jesus, and being ruined. And sadly, few people come to the light that is revealed in Jesus Christ.
False prophets have been around a very long time and they are active even today. These people speak what people want to hear rather than calling people to live according to God’s will.Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:21-22 set the standards for evaluating a prophet’s truthfulness. Their words must conform to God’s word, and their predictions must come true. A true prophet’s actions must match God word. And, the way we live reflects either a regenerate or unregenerate heart. Jesus has warned that there will be many false prophets at the end of the age. All the more reason to spend time in God’s word. In order not to be deceived Christians must be discerning. Good and bad fruit refers to more than just deeds; it includes doctrine. A person speaking in the name of the Lord is to be tested by the doctrines of scripture. Spiritual rebirth is necessary if we are to produce the good fruit that Jesus demands. Good works flowfrom faith and they cannot be separated. The way we get to heaven is by doing the will of the Father, not our own. That will is expressed in Jesus’s teachings. Judgement day is the New Testament version of the Old Testament day of the Lord, when God will come to rescue the faithful and judge the oppressors. In Jesus teachings this day is when all will be judged for their response to Him. Public accomplishments in Jesus name will not necessarily bring God’s acceptance. That comes only with obedience. And people who do great things in His name but didn’t repent or convert to being a follower may well find Jesus saying He doesn’t know us. They have rejected the Fathers will as taught by Jesus and they have never known Jesus. And because they didn’t know Jesus they had no idea what He has commanded us to do. The emphasis is on doing what Jesus teaches by walking in righteousness. To hear and not obey is tochoose the wide gate and the broad highway that leads to destruction. One who is wise perceives that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, willingly submits to Him, and walks the path that ultimately leads to blessing. Building on a rock provides a much more solid foundation than building on sand that shifts. And the storm is a metaphor for God’s all knowing judgement.
Jesus began teaching only His disciples but crowds had followed them up the mountainside. Unlike the teachers of the religious law, whose scriptures they quoted or from the teachings of previous scholars, Jesus taught with authority. He quoted scripture in the sermon, but His teaching was based on His ownauthority as the Messiah.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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