Unconditional forgiveness? (Matthew 6:14-15)

Why did Jesus say God wouldn’t forgive us if we didn’t forgive each other?

Open Matthew 6:14-15.

If you forgive, you will be forgiven? Jesus words do not sit well with the way we’ve understood the gospel in the last five centuries. We understand God’s forgiveness as unconditional. It is all of grace. It has nothing to do with our works. There’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. So how can Jesus add an “If …” to the message? How can he make God’s forgiveness dependent on what we do? Continue reading “Unconditional forgiveness? (Matthew 6:14-15)”

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15)

Jesus’ entire kingdom vision is encapsulated in this prayer.

Open Matthew 6:9-15.

“Our Father…” We’ve recited it, heard it taught, and used it as a pattern for prayer. But for Jesus it was more. In 57 words, he pulled together everything he was working for. It’s a kingdom manifesto. We pray to God as king, for the community he governs (his kingdom). Continue reading “The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15)”

What is prayer? (Matthew 6:5-8)

Jesus authorized you to approach the throne of the great king

Open Matthew 6:5-8.

Why was Daniel thrown into the lion’s den? Did that strike you as an excessive penalty for … praying?

Sure, it was a political ploy to bring Daniel down, but how could Darius’ advisors have convinced him to enact such a law? We need to understand how they thought about prayer in the ancient world. Continue reading “What is prayer? (Matthew 6:5-8)”

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)”