Salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)

When you’re as sensational as salt, it would be senseless to lose your flavour.

Open Matthew 5:13.

Decaffeinated coffee. Gluten free. Dairy free. Sugarless sweets. Food without calories or kilojoules. How about salt-free salt? Would that sell?

Salt is totally unpalatable. If you found yourself with a mouthful of salt, what would you do? You can’t swallow it by the spoonful. It’s too … well … salty. Continue reading “Salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)”

Conflict of kingdoms (Matthew 5:10-12)

Working for King Jesus makes you a threat to those want to run the world.

Open Matthew 5:10-12.

Jesus’ vocation was to return the world to where it belonged, under God’s reign. He did not expect those who claimed to run the world to simply hand it over. He knew they would oppose him and his followers, just as they had killed the prophets before him. He knew this would be a life and death struggle, for himself and his followers.

Jesus did not train his followers to fight back. He did not promise God would magically rescue us. Instead, he taught us to see our suffering as instantiating God’s kingship. Continue reading “Conflict of kingdoms (Matthew 5:10-12)”

Humanity untwisted: the joy of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)

What would the world look like if God untwisted everything that’s wrong with the way we are running the world, and restored it as he intended? Jesus describes the joy.

Open Matthew 5:3-12.

The Beatitudes are revolutionary. They’re cameos of what happens when God turns the world back up the right way, overturning evil, restoring his reign. Release from oppression brings exuberant joy. Those who’ve missed out receive the kingdom. Those who’ve grieved receive comfort. The powerless receive the earth. Those who’ve yearned for justice are finally satisfied.

The heart of this joy is the untwisting of our humanity. All the injustice and power struggles and grief and poverty stem from abusing the power God gave us to rule his creation. We were designed to image his character by managing his world. Instead people have grasped his power and wielded it violently, destructively, oppressively. But all this evil is untwisted as God, in Jesus, brings us back under his reign.

So Jesus proclaims great joy on those who are genuinely human. Blessed are those who stop revolting, and reflect the image of our heavenly sovereign instead.

He gives us four cameos of what that looks like. It’s treating each other with mercy, so people see God’s mercy (5:7). It’s acting out of a pure heart, so people can see God rather than our image (5:8). It’s working for peace, so people see the family resemblance (5:9).

But there’s a problem with Jesus’ approach. Continue reading “Humanity untwisted: the joy of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)”

The best way to understand Jesus

To understand what Jesus meant, check out what he did. His life is the best hermeneutic for his words.

Open Matthew 5:3-12.

People understand what Jesus said in different ways, but there’s one foolproof explanation of his teaching we often miss: his life. Jesus’ words interpret his actions; Jesus’ actions interpret his words.

That’s how we understand people anyway. If you suggest something and your friend says, “Oh, sure!” you look at what they’re doing to see what they mean. If they grimace and roll their eyes you interpret it differently than if they nod enthusiastically. Sometimes what we do and what we say doesn’t add up, but that complication doesn’t arise with Jesus. Continue reading “The best way to understand Jesus”

How does the kingdom come? (Matthew 5:7-12)

How should Christians respond to the evil in the world? Do we stand up and fight it, or sit by and wait for God to set it right?

Open Matthew 5:7-12.

When I was young, someone told me that Beatitudes were Be-attitudes — attitudes I should be. They’re not. Jesus did not say we should try to be poor, sad, or squashed with injustice. “Try to be persecuted” is patently absurd. No, the Beatitudes describe the people to whom the Father gives the kingdom.

That’s Jesus’ kingdom vision. The kingdom of God is not arriving because powerful people arise to make it so. That’s how the kingdoms of the world operate, but it is not how God’s kingdom comes. Continue reading “How does the kingdom come? (Matthew 5:7-12)”

The other side of blessed (Matthew 5:3-6)

Jesus proclaimed the poor, the mourning, and the powerless to be winners. So who are the losers?

Open Matthew 5:3-6 and Luke 6:20-26.

When blessing comes to one group, another group misses out. Jewish wisdom-teaching always worked like this: announcing blessings for those who obeyed Torah also implied woes for those who disobeyed.

So when Jesus said, “Blessings on the poor …” did he also mean “and woe to the rich?” When he said, “Blessings on the grieving …” did he also mean “and woe to those who are content?” Continue reading “The other side of blessed (Matthew 5:3-6)”

Instruction from the king (aka Sermon on the Mount)

The Sermon on the Mount is actually the Law given by the king for life in his kingdom.

Open Matthew 5–7.

John the Baptist was “the voice” announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom (3:1-3), introducing heaven’s anointed king (3:11-12). A voice from heaven confirmed his message: Jesus was indeed the chosen Son, the ruler heaven was pleased to appoint (3:17).

The anointed king had faced Israel’s enemy and driven him back: “Be gone, Satan: you have no authority here! Our Law honours YHWH our ruler. We serve no other” (4:10 paraphrased).

The king then withdrew to the northern reaches of his realm to live with the most oppressed, to bring light to the darkest place (4:12-16). There he announced the re-establishment of God’s kingdom, enacting the kingdom by releasing people from oppression by sickness and evil (4:22-25).

The king leads his followers to “a mountain” to give instruction on life in God’s kingdom. It was somewhere on the northern slopes of the Sea of Galilee, traditionally near Tabgha (Google maps). As you can see (photo above), it’s more of a hillock than a mountain. So why does Matthew call it a mountain? He’s thinking of something more than geography.

Continue reading “Instruction from the king (aka Sermon on the Mount)”

Matthew 1–5 reveals Jesus fulfilling Torah

Matthew’s opening chapters show Jesus as the fulfilment of Israel’s Torah.

deadseascroll_4q41_deut
Deuteronomy (Dead Sea Scroll 4Q41)

Open Matthew 1–5.

Here’s an intriguing possibility.

Matthew keeps focusing on Jesus fulfilling Scripture. He’s told us that six times already (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23, 3:15; 4:14). Does this motif define the way Matthew tells Jesus’ story? Continue reading “Matthew 1–5 reveals Jesus fulfilling Torah”

Jesus’ kingdom agenda (Matthew 4:23-25)

What was Jesus’ main message? How would you describe his message in a single phrase?

Open Matthew 4:23-25.

Does your pastor have a key theme you hear in most messages? Perhaps you hear how wonderful people are, an encouragement to be your best self. Perhaps you hear how depraved people are, and the importance of getting saved. Perhaps your church focuses on being kind and loving, or perhaps it calls you to act for justice. For some, exegeting the Bible is central, while for others church life is the focus. Most of us preachers and teachers have a core message.

So what was Jesus’ core message? If you had to summarize what Jesus wanted to say, what would it be? A single sentence: how would you describe it? Say it (out loud if you can) before reading on. Continue reading “Jesus’ kingdom agenda (Matthew 4:23-25)”