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)”
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)”
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)”
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)”
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)”
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)”
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)”
Gruesome! Why would Jesus suggest gouging out an eye or chopping off a hand?
Open Matthew 5:29-30.
Dick Johns was a carpenter and family friend when I was growing up. He was a bit of a loner, but had such a generous heart. He spent countless months constructing buildings for missionaries in Papua New Guinea. One day, Dick lost an eye. We were never sure, but his friends believed Dick took Matthew 5:29 literally and plucked out his own eye.
If you asked Dick what he thought this text meant, he would have told you something like this. Your soul is much more important than your body. Your body is temporary, but your soul is immortal. The most important thing in life is that you end up in Heaven, not Hell. Better to lose an eye from your body now than for your soul to suffer torment forever.
But read the text again: Continue reading “Ripping out an eye? (Matthew 5:29-30)”
Jesus’ words about murder and adultery made everyone feel guilty. Why did he do that?
Open Matthew 5:27-28.
You can always find religious people who make you feel guilty. Most of the time, Jesus did not condemn the crowds, only to the religious leaders. But there was a moment in Jesus’ mountain-side sermon when he made everyone feel guilty.
Loosely paraphrased, this is what he said:
Continue reading “Feeling guilty (Matthew 5:27-28)”
What do you do when it costs too much to make things right?
Open Matthew 5:23-26.
Three times a year, observant Jews were to take time off work and travel to Jerusalem for the big festivals. They didn’t go empty-handed: they always brought God a gift that expressed their submission to his kingship, a sacrificial animal that acknowledged their place at God’s table.
So you’ve gone all the way to Jerusalem, bought the approved animal, and you’re leading it to the temple grounds. You’re meditating on how good it is to have a place in God’s family, when it reminds you of that guy who’s not so glad you’re in the family. He thinks you’ve treated him unjustly, charged him an unfair price, taken advantage of him when he was in trouble. The memory messes up your feeling of belonging.
Jesus says you stop at this point. Return the sacrifice animal. Seek out your estranged brother and be reconciled. Only then can you truly celebrate your place in the family. You can’t have a place at God’s table if you can’t share the table with that guy. Continue reading “Reconciliation or retribution? What do you want? (Matthew 5:23-26)”