A generous kingdom (Matthew 6:1-4)

How did Jesus imagine the world would be set right? You may be surprised.

Open Matthew 6:1-4.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the Galileans not to follow their communal rulers. He believed the people who ran the synagogues and towns were incapable of bringing the people back under God’s kingship as his nation — of restoring the kingdom of God. Continue reading “A generous kingdom (Matthew 6:1-4)”

Authentic or acting? (Matthew 6)

In speaking against hypocrisy, Jesus undermined those masquerading as rulers.

Open Matthew 6.

Up to 5 years jail for wearing a mask? Hypocrites, look out!

Ironically, actors are among the most highly regarded people in our culture. Martin Sheen was paid far more to act the president in The West Wing than the president who faced the real issues of American society every day. Why do we honour actors above the real thing?

At the other end of the scale, calling someone a hypocrite is about as low as it gets. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not. Someone who isn’t real: they just act. In Greek culture, hypokritēs was the word for actor or orator. So if you thought someone was a really good actor, you could say they were a really good hypocrite. Continue reading “Authentic or acting? (Matthew 6)”

Whose honour? (Matthew 5–6)

There’s an amazing logic to the Sermon on the Mount when you hear how Jesus addressed his honour/shame culture.

Open Matthew 5–6.

In leading people towards the kingdom of God, Jesus turned our entire social structure on its head. You need to appreciate the depth of that subversion to see how Matthew 6 flows out of Matthew 5. Continue reading “Whose honour? (Matthew 5–6)”

God as Father (Matthew 5:43-48)

Why did Jesus call God “Father”? Nobody else was doing that.

Open Matthew 5:43-48.

Did you notice that Jesus is using Father as his preferred word for God (5:16, 45, 48)? Father becomes the central core of his Sermon (6:1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32). No one talked about God like this in Jesus’ world. Why did he make this radical and innovative move?

Jesus was the eternal Son of the Father, but he wasn’t talking about his own unique relationship. Check out the verses above: he consistently spoke of your Father. Where did that come from? Continue reading “God as Father (Matthew 5:43-48)”

His kingdom in a violent world (Matthew 5:43-48)

Should Christians go to war?

Open Matthew 5:43-48.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus paints a picture of the earth restored under God’s government. Earthly governments have always relied on violence to conquer each other and build kingdoms. (See Why war?) Israel’s prophets envisaged a day when the Messiah would sort out their enemies and restore peace under God’s reign. Their useless swords would be repurposed as tines for the plough (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3). It’s a wonderful vision. What a difference it would make to repurpose the world’s military spending — US $1.6 trillion dollars— to growing food instead of preparations to kill people!

So should the nations just demilitarize now? And if their enemies refuse, should God’s people unilaterally demilitarize? What would happen if we didn’t fight back? Continue reading “His kingdom in a violent world (Matthew 5:43-48)”

Enemy love (Matthew 5:43-48)

You can’t love your enemies unless you believe God will sort them out.

Open Matthew 5:43-48.

Picture yourself in the crowd on the mountainside listening to the Messiah talking about the restoration of God’s kingdom. For you, the word neighbour means your fellow Jews, those who belong in God’s chosen family, the people who will be part of the kingdom when David’s son reigns.

The word enemy means those who’ve attacked your nation: Canaanites, Philistines, Ammonites, Moabites, Arameans, Edomites, … The worst enemies were the ones that destroyed God’s nation, making you part of their empire instead: Assyrians, Babylonians, Ptolemies, Seleucids, and in 63 BC the Romans.

You’ve been raised to hate the monsters who debased God’s kingdom. They’re not just your enemies: they’re God’s enemies:

Psalm 139:21–22 (ESV)
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.

That’s why you sit there like a stunned Saint Peter’s fish, incredulous of what Jesus has just asked you to do. Continue reading “Enemy love (Matthew 5:43-48)”

Retribution versus justice (Matthew 5:38-42)

If there will ever be justice in this world, how on earth will we get it? Jesus takes a radical approach.

Open Matthew 5:38-42.

Audiences love it with the hero gives the villain what he deserves. The villain has walked all over people in his quest for power. The hero fights for those who’ve been hurt, and brings the villain to justice. It’s the stuff of movies, novels, and comic books. It’s not the stuff of history.

Sometimes an Adolf Hitler is brought down. Other times a Joseph Stalin slaughters tens of millions and no one stops him. History often feels like the law of the jungle, where the most powerful beasts win.

That was Israel’s problem in the Bible’s story. God had established them as a nation under his reign, but the beasts invaded and crushed them. Jesus proclaimed the restoration of God’s reign, but how could the rulers be defeated? How would God give his people justice and restore his government? Continue reading “Retribution versus justice (Matthew 5:38-42)”

As true as our king (Matthew 5:33-37)

While asking us to be truthful, Jesus revealed how he understood the kingdom.

Open Matthew 5:33-37.

You know those “aha” moments where you finally catch on to what someone was talking about? Something they took for granted finally clicks into place for you. There’s one of those embedded in what Jesus said about avoiding oaths. Here’s a chance to see how he understood the kingdom. Continue reading “As true as our king (Matthew 5:33-37)”

Divorce (Matthew 5:31-32)

Does Jesus really expect me to stay in this difficult marriage?

Open Matthew 5:31-32.

If your life or the life of your children is in danger, get out now. Don’t allow feelings of insecurity to overpower your safety. Don’t let the threats to hold you prisoner. Abuse is the antithesis of Jesus’ kingdom vision. You have your answer. Stop reading, and go now.

But most times when I’m asked about divorce, that’s not the situation. People want to know on what grounds they can get a divorce. Divorce was legal in Jesus’ day, as it is in ours. Problematically, the Torah wasn’t specific about grounds for divorce. Deuteronomy 24 just said that when there was a divorce, the ex-wife should receive a legal certificate to protect her rights. She was then free to marry someone else. As you might expect, this left the door wide open for discussion about acceptable grounds. Continue reading “Divorce (Matthew 5:31-32)”

Why the right eye? (Matthew 5:29)

Faith is allegiance to Jesus as king. And once you see him as king, the stories of Israel’s previous kings take on fresh meaning.

Open 1 Samuel 10:26 – 11:15 and Matthew 5:29.

Matthew Bates releases a new book next week: Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. What an intriguing title! The faith that saves is not believing doctrines about how salvation works. The faith that saves is giving allegiance to King Jesus, recognizing the person who saves the world from evil and brings us back under God’s reign. Wow!

People who don’t understand Jesus’ kingship are often puzzled by how the New Testament writers used the Old (e.g. Jesus fulfils what?). The puzzle is resolved into a clear picture when you see Jesus as the king who finally brings Israel’s stalled kingdom to fulfilment, restoring God’s kingship over Israel and over the nations. Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfil them. Nothing God decreed would disappear from the story until he fulfilled it all (5:17-18). Continue reading “Why the right eye? (Matthew 5:29)”