I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We certainly do have plenty to be thankful for!
One thing I am thankful for is having the great privilege of being your pastor. I am so thankful for what I see God is doing in your lives. It is evident! And I was especially pleased to see so many of you wave the banner of Salt and Light on Facebook this past week. And I know many of you are taking up that challenge I issued about your BRAIN DIET. I pray that God will give you the ability to keep it up so He can show you how much better life is with an uncontaminated mind. if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then watch last week’s talk. Or just stick around because it’s not the last you will hear of it.
Now, let’s get to this week. Week 3 of 7 of The Sermon on the Mount. Today is going to be a doozy!! I have ALOT to cover, and you can follow along in your bulletin insert. If you don’t have one, raise your hand..
First things First, let’s begin with the end in mind as we will do each week of this series. On week one I began this series not at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, but at the end. With Jesus’ conclusion. Because it is vitally important that we approach this material with the right attitude.
Let’s look at it again.
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
I don’t have time to go into the full explanation today, but the underlying understanding that this helps us have is that the only way to be wise is to have your foundation on the Rock, which is Jesus Christ. And if you DO have that foundation, it will be evident in your ability and desire to put into practice the words of God. In other words, OBEY.
OBEDIENCE is an attitude of the heart that says I will pre-decide to be and do what God asks of me, no matter what.
So, let us today, before we go any further, do just that. Will you pray with me?
Father, we are your servants. We have gladly accepted your salvation and forgiveness, and we gladly make you our Lord and master. Enlighten us with your Word today so that we may know the right way to live and empower us to do your will not our own. Amen.
Now, if you actually have not accepted Jesus as your personal savior and made him lord of your life, you always have that opportunity.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
If you truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then you can believe everything else about Him, and you can make Him your Lord anytime you choose. It doesn’t have to be at the end of a service with a prayer led by the pastor. You can do it right now in your seat, or in your car on the way home, or in the shower tomorrow morning. The only location that matters is that it happens in your heart. But I encourage you to do it sooner rather than later.
But for now, let’s get into God’s Word together!
After the Beatitudes and the part about Salt and Light, Jesus says a string of things that were astounding to his listeners. It was talk like this that set him apart from the other teachers of His day. It’s what caused the people to be astounded and the religious elite of his day to be angry, so angry that they wanted him killed.
Unfortunately, 2000 years and a completely different culture make it hard for us today to totally comprehend how impactful these statements were. Especially for those of us raised in church, often times the words of Jesus are all too familiar to us, to the point that we don’t even hear them anymore or try to understand their meaning. We hear the beginning and can quote the rest and think that we’ve got it. But we don’t. It’s like how many songs that you know all of the words to, but have never actually paid attention to what they said. If you did, you probably wouldn’t let your kids listen to them anymore.
I get it, though. It’s hard to approach something for the 500th time with “fresh” eyes. I suppose that’s another reason why God made preachers.
So, let me do my best to help you look at these almost scandalous statements of our Lord with a new perspective.
First, I must set the stage. It is so crucial to understand and remember that when you are reading the Bible, you are reading a very ancient document that was written within a culture and context that is completely foreign to us. And just like writers today take a certain level of cultural knowledge for granted, so did these authors. So, it can be very difficult to fully grasp if we take those words and read them only through the lens of our 21st century western culture. The best analogy I could come up with would be trying use the terms “red light”, “yellow light”, “green light” in a culture that had never seen a car before. To you and me, we understand that to mean “stop”, “slow down (or speed up depending on how you drive)”, and “go”. But you wouldn’t think that unless you lived in a world with stop lights. Who knows what another culture, like some indigenous African tribe would take that to mean, but it likely wouldn’t be what you intended it to mean. Hence, context is king.
And the context of Jesus’ statements is 1st century Jewish Palestine. He’s in the thick of an Israelite nation under the oppressive rule of Rome. This nation is a nation whose very identity is in their religion, and their law is the Law of God. Every Jew lived and breathed by this law. It impacted every area of life.
And within this society there were the common people, working jobs and doing the best they can, and there were the religious elite. We know them today as the “Scribes and Pharisees.” These were people who did religion as their profession, but they were much more than what pastors are today. Their job was not to pastor people. Their job was to be perfect. Perfect according to the Law. In fact, they prided themselves on being the ONLY people who kept God’s laws perfectly – and they looked down on everyone else who did not. Today, we think of them as the bad guys in the Jesus story, and they are, but in that day they were actually looked up to. Maybe not with a sense of admiration, but with a sense of “I could never be that good.” They weren’t seen as enemies or bad guys by the common people. They were seen as the experts that we all must live up to.
Now, when I say they prided themselves on keeping the “LAW” – I’m not talking strictly about the Biblical Law found in the Old Testament. That was the basis of the practiced law of Jesus’ day, but the Law that was common and what the Pharisees followed was an expanded oral tradition that was originally based in God’s Law but had some major modifications.
You see, the pharisees originally formed to try to win back God’s favor for Israel after they were taken over by the Greeks and then the Romans. And in order to be sure not to violate ANY of God’s laws, they added a whole lot of specifics to the general principles so as to be sure to not ever come close to violating a real law. By the time of Jesus, these additions were effectively the rule of the land, and basically nobody could keep up except the Pharisees, who ultimately became quite prideful of it.
So, that’s the world that Jesus was born into. And when Jesus started his ministry, he also started stepping on the toes of these religious elite by following the intent of God’s original law (that He wrote) instead of their made up rules. Because of this, and because he was drawing great crowds with his amazing teaching, many who were wondering if he might be the Messiah were also wondering if He was going to get rid of this oppressive law that no one could keep, especially since he didn’t seem to care about following it.
Well, Jesus is about to set the record straight.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Did you feel the wind being the let out of the sails of the common people?
Did you feel the ego of the Pharisees puff up a little?
Jesus just said that the Pharisees are right and good luck to all of you common folk, because you have to be even better than the best to enter heaven. And not even the smallest law will go away. How depressing.
Even for us today, as Christians who know the rest of the story this can be a hard one to deal with. It brings up the hard question about how much of the Old Testament Law still applies today. It’s a valid question that demands an answer that I won’t have time to get into today, sorry. Though I might include some stuff in my notes for the two or three of you that read them…
HERE IS THE EXTRA ON THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW
While it is not officially divided this way in Scripture, many today divide the OT Law into three categories. The three categories are the Ceremonial Law, the Judicial Law, and the Moral Law.
The Ceremonial Law consists of all the laws having to do with the temple, the sacrificial system, clean and unclean foods and such. We believe these laws were meant to illustrate to the people how much God hates sin by requiring the death of valuable animals to atone for them. These laws were fulfilled, as in accomplished, by Jesus when He became the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin. With His death on the cross, and the tearing of the veil of the temple, the ceremonial laws became ultimately fulfilled and no longer necessary. Paul talks about this at length in Romans and Galatians.
The Judicial Laws were those that prescribed corrective actions for crimes. These laws were to create a civilized society among the Jews. These judicial laws also helped them maintain separation from the other nations. The majority of scholars believe these laws to only apply to the nation of Israel when they were a theocracy, or when they had a God appointed king. The laws for the Jews were not required for the gentiles as Paul speaks of in several of his letters. And Jesus showed that the death penalty for adultery was no longer valid when he allowed the woman caught in adultery to avoid being stoned. He did not condone her sin, but he did not condemn her. For these reasons, we believe that the judicial type laws were overturned by the law of love.
This brings us to the moral laws. These are the laws that clearly fall under “Love God, and Love Others.” These are the laws having to do with how we treat each other and how we love and obey God. The 10 commandments are all moral laws, as well as the sex laws found in Leviticus 18. There are many others, but again the whole point is that we are to act in love. Love toward each other in how we treat each other. And love for God in that we obey Him and fulfill the purposes for which we were created.
Thus, how much of the Old Testament law still applies today…the answer, as Jesus said, is all of it. However, some of it has been accomplished, and some of it was applicable to a certain group of people for a specific time and reason. Ultimately, this will always be a debated topic, but you can never go wrong if you just stick with the Law of Love – love God, love others.
Anyway, let’s see what Jesus does next.
So, Jesus just dropped this bomb that nothing is going to change and that the bar for entry into the Kingdom is extremely high. What a let down! I bet those listeners were stunned, bummed, and gunned.
But as always, Jesus is speaking on a different level than most are hearing. So, they – and we – don’t quite get it yet, so he continues and goes on to list several examples of just what he meant by these statements.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.
WOA WOA WOA!
Before I continue, I must point out something that was obvious to the listeners but completely passes us by.
First, Jesus is referring to their sacred texts which come from what was said long ago. We’re talking sacred to the point of you have to be God himself to even insinuate there could be a different way to go.
But that’s exactly what Jesus does here. Normally the teachers would never say “But I tell you”, they would say “Moses says, or Isaiah says, or Malachi says” But Jesus steps on everyone’s toes and quotes God’s known words and follows it up with….
BUT I MYSELF TELL YOU… That would be like a preacher, like me, saying This is what God’s Word says, but I myself tell you something different – you should listen to me instead. This no doubt shocked the audience. Who would dare such a thing? The audacity!! Who does He think he is?!?
You can almost hear the murmur of the crowd….
Now that you are hopefully in the proper state of mind, let’s look at what he said.
He accurately quotes the law – one of the big ten – that we should not murder. (and we all do an internal head-nod)
But then he says that ANGER is equally bad!
Murder was punishable by death in the Law. How could an uncontrollable emotion be just as bad?
Well,it turns out there are two Greek words for anger, much like there are four Greek words for love, all having a different nuanced meanings that are lost in the simple English translation.
One is THUMOS – which is the emotional, flash in the pan, kind of anger. The kind that springs up quickly and dissipates quickly. This would be the kind of anger we call “losing one’s temper.” This one is impossible to prevent, but that is not the anger Jesus is speaking of.
He is speaking of ORGIZO (the verb is orgizesthai) which is a brooding anger. It is the long-lived anger; it is the anger of the man who nurses his wrath to keep it warm; it is the anger over which a person broods, and which he will not allow to die. It’s the kind of holding a grudge where you wish upon the person serious harm or even death.
Jesus says, that holding onto that kind of anger is just the same as murder in God’s eyes – who commands us to LOVE one another. This kind of anger is the opposite of love.
What Jesus has done here is shown what the original command really means. The two greatest commands are to Love God and Love Others. Everything else is summed up in those two. Therefore, it’s not enough to stop short of murder, the real crime is the sin of the heart. A sin that the Pharisees were no doubt guilty of at that very instant. Later, they would allow that brooding anger to drive them to have Jesus killed (because it would be wrong to do it themselves).
He continues with some expounding on this that I don’t have time to get into because they are extremely cultural and difficult to explain in our world today.
But then he says this as an example of the right thing to do:
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Notice it’s when someone has something against YOU – not that you have an issue with them. It’s almost assumed that you should have already taken care of that. But if you remember someone that you have wronged, or that they even perceive you have wronged, before you try to worship God – get things right with your brother/sister. He further illustrates this next.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
Basically, he’s emphasizing that we are to get along. We should not hold ill will toward each other. We should settle disputes person to person and not let it get out of hand in lawsuits. This is why Paul railed against believers having lawsuits against each other. And Paul sums up this concept:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
That’s hard to do when you are holding on to hateful anger…
Now that you’ve seen one of his examples, let’s go back to that notion of fulfilling the Law. What exactly did he mean by that? Well, in this example you can see that he did not do away with the murder law, just as he said he wouldn’t do. But what he did do was clarify exactly what that law was intended to mean. In doing this, he fulfilled this law – as in, He filled it out, he made the definition and meaning FULL. Something he is about to do more of in a minute.
But he also did more fulfilling than just further explaining. He, himself, was the fulfillment of much of the law and the prophets. Including prophecy about him and of course he became the ultimate sacrifice that the law required. There’s more to it than that, as usual, but I don’t have time to get into it. But I’ll include a bit more in my notes for those of you that would like to know.
The main thing you need to know is your fill in: “Fulfill” means to fully accomplish or fully define.
Let’s move on.
So, Jesus just filled out the prohibition on murder and made it clear that murder is not just the taking of a life, but that you can murder in your heart just the same.
Next he tackles another hot topic.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Oh no. Preacher, couldn’t you just skip over that one. Every man who ever hears this cringes. But ladies don’t think you’re off the hook. This really applies to anyone looking at anyone with sexual lust in their hearts. The only exception being your proper marriage partner.
This one, no doubt, shook the Pharisees up. They prided themselves on obeying all the laws, but NO MAN is capable of obeying this one all the time. Or so it would seem.
Once again, there is more to this than what we get from a casual reading of the English translation in our Western 21st century culture backdrop. If that were the case, the only way to escape this would be to go live in isolation forever. And guess what – many have tried though the years, and their stories are the same. It didn’t work…
So, what are we to do? Well, first let’s try to fully understand what Jesus is saying.
Jesus is not talking about the flash desire that pops up in a man’s head when his eyes happen to catch the image of a beautiful woman. That is a physiological response that cannot be stopped, much like the fight or flight reflex. Jesus is not referring to the lust that gets triggered instantaneously at first glance. He is talking about looking with the INTENT to lust after her. This is the second glance, or stare. It is the intentional undressing of someone with your eyes and entertaining all of your devilish fantasies in your mind. It is deliberately using the eyes to awaken your lust. It’s looking in such a way that passion is awakened and desire deliberately stimulated.
It’s committing adultery in your mind even if not with your body. This is something that we CAN stop ourselves from doing. This is something we CAN be held accountable for.
Again, this goes back to loving each other. It is not love to rape someone in your mind.
In fact, this is such a big deal to Jesus that he goes on…
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
He is not suggesting the actual mutilation of your body. After all you are made in the image of God. But he is suggesting that this is a serious matter, and that you and I should do everything we can to keep ourselves from this kind of MIND sinning.
So, fellas, don’t think it’s ok to do this. This is not “just what guys do, and they can’t help it.” We can’t help the flash reaction, but we CAN and MUST refuse to take it any further! Do what you can to avoid situations that will tempt you. Walk away. Turn it off. Yes, this applies to pictures and videos too.
And with that said, let me talk to the ladies for a second. I’m sure this will get me in trouble, but I must. The man is not always the ONLY guilty party in this scenario. And what I’m about to say in no way excuses men of our responsibility, but ladies you have a responsibility in this too.
You see, God designed your body to be something men greatly desire. It’s in us. It’s part of our DNA. It’s quite possibly the strongest desire that men have next to power perhaps.
Our sinful male human nature simply wants your body for our pleasure and nothing else. And if you don’t realize that, then you need to. How else can you explain the sex trafficking and pornography industries? They make billions of dollars using women as things instead of people. That would not be possible if what I just said was not true. Our sinful male human nature simply wants your body for our pleasure and nothing else.
Fortunately for us and for you, we are no longer slaves to that sinful nature when we have the Spirit of Christ inside of us. God gives us the desire and ability to rise above that and see you as people, made in the image of God just like us, as equals, as not just a body. God gives us the ability to look into your eyes instead of at your chest.
But the sin nature is still there, and guess what makes it really hard to keep our eyes up to even with yours? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not a funny picture on your shirt.
I don’t think I need to go into more detail. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. And I’m sure I just offended many of you. But there is a reason why God himself made clothes for Adam and Eve. There are some things that only your marriage partner should see.
Perhaps you think it’s your body, and you can do what you want. That the responsibility is all on us guys. We should just learn to deal with it and keep our eyes to ourselves.
It’s true we should as I just said a moment ago, but could you please help us out?
Could you love us the way Jesus calls us to love you? Remember, agape love, sacrificial love, put the other first kind of love?
What did Paul say?
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
As far as it depends on you…. Do what YOU can to help the situation. And once you’ve done all you can, then the onus is on us. It’s on both of us.
I’m not suggesting that ladies start wearing burkas or eskimo clothing – but I am saying that there is a virtue that has been completely lost on our culture: Modesty. There are many ladies in the church that practice this well, and for that, we men thank you.
Yes, you can dress how you want. You have that right. But the Law of Love says otherwise.
1 Corinthians 8:9
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
And we are ALL weak.
Given the clarity that Jesus is bringing, in that what really matters is what happens in the heart, do you really think it is any less wrong to be the intentional CAUSE of lustful thinking than it is to DO the lustful thinking?
And maybe you’re thinking that you don’t do it on purpose, and I believe that most of you do not. So, perhaps a better question is – are you purposefully trying NOT to be that stumbling block?
Is this fair? No. In a perfect world we would all be naked without shame, just like in the garden of Eden. But we live in a fallen and dark world, and we are each cursed with a sinful nature that we are EACH called to rise above by the power of Jesus Christ.
For each of us. Men and Women. WE must BOTH do whatever we can – to keep from sinning ourselves AND keep our brothers and sisters from stumbling. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!! This is the Law’s true intent. This is the Law of Love.
OK. Now that everyone is uncomfortable, maybe you can empathize with the original listeners of Jesus.
Let’s move on.
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
This is an interesting and much debated topic that I won’t go fully into. But one thing that is interesting about this one that is different than the other two we covered, is that what Jesus quotes here is actually NOT A LAW. The first two were part of the Big Ten. This one was more of a concession that God gave Moses because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Basically people were going to do it anyway, so the certificate system was to PROTECT WOMEN FROM BEING TREATED LIKE CATTLE.
When Jesus contradicts this, it’s because in that day – much like today – divorce was rampant and rather acceptable. Only men could divorce women, and they could do it for really no reason at all. Just give her a certificate and out the door, let me find a new one. Jesus is saying that this is not acceptable. There is really only one permissible reason for divorce, and even with that, it is still something God hates.
So, again, He is clarifying that this is about love. That the intent was not to make it easy to divorce, but that what God really wants is for us to love each other properly.
I’d be happy to talk more on this subject if anyone ever wants to take me to lunch 🙂
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath,but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’;anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
In other words, just TELL THE TRUTH, ALWAYS.
The people of Jesus day had become expert oath sayers. It was such common practice to be deceitful and lie about things for personal gain (much like our political process now) that in order to try to claim that NOW I’m telling the truth, they would make oaths. And the bigger thing you swore to, the more believable you claimed to be. And most would not swear by God or swear to God, because then they’d be in real trouble if they were lying. So, they swore by things like heaven, earth, and Jerusalem, and even their own heads. This would be a common thing among the religious elite who were masterful liars who wanted to appear truthful, so this was really a jab at them.
Jesus is basically saying, just be honest. If you always tell the truth, then you will have no need to swear an oath. A lesson we could all follow today, where it is commonly accepted to tell all kinds of “small” lies in order to benefit yourself or someone else. Don’t do it. Just be honest. Love does not delight in Evil, but rejoices in the Truth. (1 Corinthians 13).
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Oh, this one is a tough one. Is Jesus suggesting that we all become doormats, leave our cars and houses unlocked and post signs that say “I’m a Christian, please rob me!”??? And when they do, we should help them carry the stuff out and let them beat us up just for good measure?
What Jesus is quoting here was part of the civil justice system laid out in the Law. An eye for an eye and such was in place not to promote retaliation, but to LIMIT the punishment that the civil government could carry out. This was NOT intended for personal vengeance. The law was to prevent over-punishing a crime. What it had become in Jesus day was a license to exact revenge personally, and instead of being used as a limiter, it was used as an excuse to go ballistic on someone who did you wrong.
Jesus is again setting it straight. Ultimately, he is saying don’t take matters into your own hands. Don’t exact revenge in personal matters.
Paul echoes this in the context of a verse we’ve already covered:
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
We are not to take revenge. Then he spells out four examples, that I will cover quickly.
1. The slap in the face is more about dignity than physical abuse. It’s basically saying when someone insults you, don’t retaliate, let them do it again. Jesus modeled this perfectly:
1 Peter 2
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
Jesus did not defend himself against insult or threats, and neither should we.
2. Getting sued, most would try to keep everything they can – even if they are in the wrong. If you are in the wrong, the Law of Love says you settle it. Do what is right. Go above and beyond to make things right for the other.
3. Going the extra mile. If you are forced to walk a mile, but walk two of your own free will instead. You are reclaiming the high ground.
4. Give to the one who asks. Basically, this, and all the others in this one example are suggesting that we are willing to lay down our own rights for the benefit of others.
When we are able to do that, we are living in the Law of Love. When we cannot or will not, it shows who is still on the throne of our hearts.
I like how John MacArthur says it:
The only person who is nondefensive, nonvengeful, never bears a grudge, and has no spite in his heart is the person who has died to self. To fight for one’s rights is to prove that self is still on the throne of the heart. The believer who is faithful to Christ lives for Him and, if necessary, dies for Him. It is impossible to live for self and for Christ at the same time.
This attitude would be seen as preposterous to the pharisees who did EVERYTHING out of self interest, even all their law abiding. Jesus puts them and US to shame here when he shows just how self-centered we are.
How many of us would willingly let others insult us? Not many. But do you remember how this sermon started?
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Being the kind of person who can withhold revenge and retaliation, like Jesus, is the ultimate of blessed.
And as if all of this were not enough of a beating on our pride and self-righteousness. Jesus finishes up this string of law-clarifiers with a real doozy.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
What Jesus quoted here was actually a distortion of a real law. “Love your neighbor” was cut short and should be “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The “hate your enemy” was a a bold faced lie tacked on for self-justification.
Jesus completely shatters it.
And remember this is AGAPE love. This is not saying that have to feel happy feelings for our enemies, specifically our personal enemies, but that we are to treat them with love. But as was pointed out earlier, it’s also not OK to hold brooding murderous thoughts toward them either.
But instead, we should follow the proverb:
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
It’s the same proverb that Paul quotes along with the “live at peace with each other” verse we’ve been using.
Basically, Jesus is saying that it is not enough to only love the people who love you first. It is not enough to only be good to those who are first good to you. If God had acted that way, we would all be screwed!! No, we are to love EVERYONE the way Jesus loves us. In that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Then if that wasn’t raising the bar high enough, he puts the nail in the coffin.
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
At first reading, most of us would just assume this is impossible and then push it out of mind. But Jesus isn’t just saying this to hear himself speak. He means what He says. But perfect is not what you think…
This word, perfect, means more like being mature, being complete, lacking nothing. God wants us to reach this point of perfection. And if you remember from the WE series, this is exactly what God expects us to become when we behave like a church ought to.
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
That word translated here as “mature” is the same Greek word translated as “perfect” in Matthew.
Jesus, just showed us what that looks like.
Jesus just showed us how to be perfect, mature, complete.
Jesus began this long list of hard hitters with the statement that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Well, if that statement stroked their ego, these last six smashed it to pieces. Jesus just dashed all over the place and destroyed any notion that externally following a list of rules is what the law was all about. He just showed that perfection on the outside DOES NOT equal true perfection. No, the way to become perfect, mature, and complete is to obey the Law of Love. That’s what this is all about. And this kind of love can only be found in Jesus himself.
We are not capable of this kind of love.
We long for checklists.
We long for lists of rules so that we don’t have to make it a heart issue.
Just tell me what I need to do on the outside.
Don’t make me internalize this.
Don’t make me have to admit that I may look the part on the outside, but it’s only a show.
If you give me a list, I can follow that.
I’m good at that.
But don’t make this about my heart, because, you and I both know that I’m a fraud.
I’m good on the outside, but inside I still struggle.
No, I don’t struggle, that’s just Christianese for “I totally give in to my sinful desires”…but only in my mind, or the privacy of my home.
On the outside, where everyone can see, I’m good.
But in my heart, I can’t seem to control it.
And to be perfectly honest – I often don’t want to.
15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.
16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that God’s ways are good.
18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.
19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.
22 I truly want to do what is right with all my heart.
23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.
24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 In whom now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
2 And because I belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed me from the power of sin that leads to death.
3 The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.
4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
My friends, this is what Jesus is talking about throughout this sermon.
The conclusion about the rock and the sand is exactly what I just quoted from Paul in Romans 7 & 8.
Without Christ, without the Rock as our foundation, without the indwelling of His spirit – we are HOPELESSLY LOST!!
Slaves to our sinful hearts.
Nothing good lives in us, apart from Christ.
We are INDEED – POOR IN SPIRIT!!!
That is what Jesus was showing us in all these examples. That we are hopeless without Him. We cannot do what He asks on our own.
Jesus didn’t just raise the bar for excellence here, he moved it. He moved the bar for entry from out here (the realm of external behavior), to in here. Only those with the right HEART will enter the Kingdom.
And the only way to GET the right HEART is to GIVE it to the RIGHT PERSON – that is Jesus Christ our Lord!
And once you give it to Him, once you make Him your Lord, let Him keep it. Let Him live through you. Let His words marinate your mind so that your thoughts and attitudes will be what is right.
Only then will you be SALTY,
only then will you be able to SHINE.
Only then will you be able to follow the Law of Love!
Only then will you have true happiness and be Blessed.
And when the storm comes on that day, your house will stand.
My friends, you need to understand this. Do you see how all of this is coming together? This is not the last you will hear of this.
I titled today’s talk “Jesus Raises the Bar” because that’s what the check-list minded person things. But the key concept that I hope you get today is this:
Jesus did not raise the bar.
He moved it inside.
It’s all about the heart.
It’s all about love.
Love God. Love Others. All of the checklists are summed up and overruled by this. If you are not serving and loving Jesus in your heart, there is no point in putting on a show about it out here.
It’s all about the heart.
It’s all about love.