Sermon on the Mount | Getting to the Heart of the Matter | Matthew 5:21-26 | Week 4

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Getting to the Heart of the Matter     Matthew 5:21-26 

It’s my privilege to talk about a passage of Scripture today that isn’t very pleasant, but, hopefully, we’ll be able to join together and realize we’re not alone as we go to this passage.  This is part of the Sermon on the Mount series that Ryan started a few weeks ago.  When Ryan talked to me about it, I was excited to take a sermon; then I took a look at the passage I’m going to be dealing with:  You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.”  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment… (Matt. 5:21-22a)  Liable to the same judgment as if you commit murder.  Whoa!  Anybody been angry this week?  Hopefully as we dig in we’ll be able to understand this topic of anger, and hopefully, leave with some hope.

I want to take a little bit of time with “Travels with Dan.”  Many of you know that this past November, Kerry and I were able to go to the Holy Land.  We had a great time.  When Ryan approached me about preaching a sermon from the Sermon on the Mount, it immediately brought up some memories of a place called the Mount of Beatitudes.  {Shows pictures of view from location and a church.} A place where it has multiples aluminum storefront doors to keep it safe.  Any time you go to Israel, any place where there’s even a rumor that Jesus might have stepped there, they’re going to build a church.  Right there at the church was a Catholic Retreat Center.  We stayed there overnight.  It was not fancy, but it was quiet and restful.  Kerry and I arrived at the Retreat Center, after dark, after a full day of seeing things.  We were pretty exhausted; I had in mind to take a nap because we had 45 minutes before they served us supper.  Kerry had in mind to go see things.  We got our cardkey for our room and entered our room.  We tried to flip the switches and nothing worked.  I was thinking we blew a fuse.  I went to the office and I said, “We must have blown a fuse or something, nothing works.”  He said, “Did you listen to my instructions?”  “Well, no.”  “When you get in there you need to be looking for a slot that’s around the door, slide it in there and all your electricity will come on.  When you take the key out all the electricity goes off.”  I went back and demonstrated for Kerry and everything worked fine.  Lights and air conditioning came on.  We put our luggage on the floor and I proceeded to curl up on one of the twin beds.  I was out!  When I fell asleep, Kerry was reading some of the pamphlets, but eventually decided to go see some things.  Since we only had one cardkey, she grabbed it and left.  Five minutes later, I wake up in a sweat; it’s dark and I didn’t quite remember where I was.  I got my way out of the bed and start walking and try to figure out what’s happening.  I ran into my suitcase, barefoot, so I had a good stubbed toe.  Then I hit the coffee table, so that was my knee.  Eventually, I got to the door to shed some light.  Needless to say, I was a little bit miffed.  I caught myself saying, “How could she have taken the key?!”

Then I look at this passage I’m suppose to be preaching on and realize. . . . But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother (or sister or wife) will be liable to judgment.  It’s that same judgment that he says murderers will face.  If I were to ask for a show of hands of how many of us committed murder, there would be fewer of us.  You realize the bar has been put pretty low.  If you committed murder, you’re in danger of judgment.  Jesus comes and says if you’re angry, you’re in danger of that same kind of judgment.  He’s calling us to far exceed the righteousness that the Scribes and Pharisees called people to in that day.  He’s saying I’m bringing the kingdom of God to you, and I want you to know, hey, it’s a high standard, but I invite you to come and be part of it.

In his invitation, I think there’s some help. (Matthew 5:21-26) You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.”  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. {I called someone a fool on Broadway this week.  I did.  It just kind of popped out.  Let me go on and read the rest of the verses so we can see what’s coming.}  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.  Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.  Wow!

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire.   That’s hard to stomach.  Just before Jesus was teaching this Sermon on the Mount and calling us into this kingdom, it says: Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. (Matt. 4:23)   I just have to ask you, “Is that verse good news?”   I wrestle with it.  I want to tell you that the Sermon on the Mount is very good news.  I also want to tell you that I believe this passage is very, very good news for us too.  It’s just the way we have to dig into a little and see.

Jesus is saying those verses to us, but I have to ask, Jesus, didn’t you get pretty angry in your day?  Weren’t there some times you got angry?  {Asks congregation for examples.}  Clear the temple. . . .the moneychangers.  {Dan shows picture of “The Angry Christ.”  Tells of how Kerry has a picture of a loving, manly Jesus that she had her students look at.  What would have happened had she had this other picture instead?}  We don’t want to strip Jesus of his humanity. . . .he got angry.  If he got angry and then he’s telling us not to be angry, something’s not jiving there.  Let’s take a look at what he got angry at.   He looked around at them angrily…. (Mark 3:5)   In Mark 3, there was a man with a withered hand, a palsied hand.  It was the Sabbath, Jesus had been teaching, the Scribes and Pharisees were in the corner, and someone brought this guy up with this withered hand.  The Scribes and Pharisees were watching to see if. . . . .Are you going to heal him?  You’re going to do too much work on the Sabbath.  Jesus asked them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or is it a day that we’re suppose to just ignore?”  Nobody said anything.  It was quiet.  Then this verse comes:  He looked around at them angrily, because he was so grieved with the hardness of their hearts.  He was so grieved with the lack of compassion, that they would be after a system that couldn’t even be compassionate to a need right in front of them.  I believe what’s going on here is that Jesus is so grieved, he’s so moved with love for these people, that he’s angry at them that they can’t get beyond their blindness.  So, yes, he’s angry.  But he’s angry because he’s motivated by love.

Another time was when he overturned the moneychanger’s table in the temple.   My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves! (Matt. 21:12)  I believe what Jesus is angry at. . . .I don’t know if he’s angry at the moneychangers.  I don’t know if he’s angry at the Pharisees.  I think he’s angry at a system that exploits people.  A system that was suppose to bring peace into the lives of these individuals, and instead it exploited them, it extorted them of money, and he went in there and cleaned the decks.  He was angry.

Another time—A deep anger welled up within him and he was deeply troubled.  (John 11:33 & 38)   Right before this was the verse Jesus wept.  He’s standing at Lazarus’ tomb and a deep anger wells up within him.  For years, I thought he was angry at all the people who were watching, who just didn’t have quite enough faith to think Jesus could make a difference in that situation.  The more I look at it. . . . .no, he was angry at death!  He was angry at decay.  He was angry at what had entered into his creation and was ruining it.  In fact, he’d already said to them. . . . .generations, generations, generations before, way back in the garden. . . .hey, all of this is yours.  This is paradise.  I want to walk with you and talk with you and there’s one thing I don’t want you to do—eat from that tree.  If you eat from the tree, you’re going to die.  We ate from the tree and we’ve been dying ever since.  Jesus is angry at that which comes into his creation and ruins it.

That brings us then to these verses.  I look at Jesus’s anger that’s been demonstrated in those three verses. . . .an anger that’s motivated by love.  An anger against systems that exploit.  An anger against death that destroys his creation.  He says to us here:  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…   I think right there is the difference.  When I look at Jesus’s anger, I don’t see it directed toward other people.  Sure, people are involved in those things, but Jesus sees right through that to see what’s the core.  I have a hard time, especially when that guy cuts me off in traffic.  Especially when a person blocks my goal.  I have a hard time, so I get angry. . . .with people.  Jesus is inviting me to become part of his kingdom and is saying there’s no room for that here.

This word ‘angry’ is interesting.  There’s two words for angry in the New Testament.  One is anger that’s an eruption, that’s an explosive. . . .it happens just like that.  Then there’s this word, which is kind of like a slow boil.  It’s kind of like swelling up.  It means swell up or infection; it begins to infect you.  The best picture is like a pimple on your nose.  You know something’s wrong; everybody else sees it, you don’t.  It doesn’t feel right.  That’s what this anger is.  It swells up, it infects, it distorts.

We go on to the next part of the verse—…whoever insults his brother…  I don’t know if I like this translation as much.  There’s one translation that says:  …if you call your brother an idiot.   I like the word idiot, it just kind of flows.  This is the word ‘raca.’  It means empty.  Some people have translated it to be ’empty headed,’ hence the translation ‘idiot.’  It seems to mean, in the language/context, empty person, in other words, you look at a person and you look right through them and you see nothing.  You dehumanize them.  They’re not worth your time.  You don’t see them.  There’s an emptiness there and you degrade them.  That’s where they come up with the word ‘insult.’

I read books about World War II because I don’t want to forget the heroism.  I don’t want to forget the ugliness, the evil, that happened during WWII.  I could not imagine how a group of people were vilified to the point where they weren’t even seen as humans.  Whether they were Jewish, homosexuals, gypsies, they were taken away to concentration camps so a very civilized people could forget them.  I believe what Jesus is saying here is that’s not part of my kingdom.  Never dehumanize another person, because I love them.

And whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire.  I had a friend in college who took this very seriously, and every once in a while I’d slip out with something. . . .You fool!  And he’d say, “Dan, stop that, you’re in danger!”  “Craig, I don’t….”   We went back and forth on that throughout college.  I would just say to you, this is not about words, because when it becomes words, it becomes legalism.  It becomes that righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.  I can come up with a lot more words that can epitomize what this word is saying.  No, it’s the heart.  It’s the heart.  Just as that raca was dehumanizing people, this word ‘fool’. . . .it’s ‘moros.’  We get the word ‘moron’ from it.  We also get the word ‘morals’ from it.  That’s interesting—-morals and moron.  Really it was to be devoid of morals.  You see a person and you say that person has no moral value.  I believe, when we do that, that we de-image that person.  That person is made in the image of God.  Every person in this room is made in the image of God.  Every person in this community is made in the image of God.  When you drive down Broadway and that guy cuts you off, do you say, “He’s made in the image of God?”  Probably not, but Jesus is saying, hey, it’s my kingdom and I’m inviting you into that and I want to empower you to be able to do that.  Not to dehumanize, not to devalue, not to de-image, but to lift up the people around us.

I believe that kingdom living is a commitment to God’s view of people.  We need to come and embrace that and put ourselves at the mercy of that.  In Matthew 22, last week, we looked at that question that Jesus faced:  What’s the greatest commandment?  Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.”  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.    Love the Lord your God.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

I told you I like the word idiot and it just rolls off.  Usually when it rolls off my tongue, it’s talking about me.  I usually say, “You idiot, how could you forget that?”  Why didn’t you write that down?  You idiot!!  Why did you run over the sprinkler with your lawn mower?  You idiot!  I begin to realize. . . .wow!  This passage is saying that I’ve got to love myself.  I’ve got to come to grips with the fact that I, too, am made in the image of God.  When I say I’m an idiot, I’m saying to God, “You made an idiot here.”  We’re made in the image of God.

In Ephesians 4:26-27, there’s a great series of verses.  In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while your are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  In those verses it seems to tell us hey, you can be angry and not sin.  But, you need to be aware of what that anger is.  Taking some time to bring yourself into the awareness of what’s going on inside of me right now.  Is this an anger that’s motivated by love?  Is this an anger that sees this person as totally devoid of value?  Is this an anger that’s angry at a system that’s exploiting God’s creation, or is this an anger that sees a person as an enemy?

In your anger do not sin.  Let’s become aware of what kind of anger.  Then it says do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry.  Let’s take action to deal with that anger that we have.  I have friends that have said, “We take that very seriously.  If we have an argument, we are not going to put our heads on a pillow until we have taken care of that.”  Yet, it’s a great thing, and I think, as soon as possible, we need to deal with that anger; we need to take action.  I’m not saying don’t sleep until you deal with it.  But deal with it.

Finally, do not give the devil a foothold.  This is interesting because I always looked at anger as something we deal with it. . . .almost psychological stuff, but anger is spiritual warfare.  If we don’t deal with the anger in our hearts toward other people, toward people walking around imaging God, the devil may get a foothold and he’ll cause even more havoc.  Having the reason why we deal with the anger.   Awareness.  Action.  Reason.  I say I can be aware, and that’s good.  I say I’m glad to know the reason.  But I also say what kind of action am I suppose to take to be able to deal with anger?  I hopped online and there’s all kind of suggestions.  Have you ever looked up: How to control your anger?  There were breathing exercises.  There was close your eyes and picture a beach.  I love beaches, but it didn’t do anything for my anger.  Stop and visualize the person you’re angry at and then see them in their pajamas.  That didn’t work either.

You can find twenty-five ways to take care of your anger, I want to give you one way.  One way and I believe it’s what Jesus is talking about and I believe it’s God’s way of dealing with our anger.  I think it’s coming to grips with just what the gospel is. . . .simple.  All six years that Ryan has been here, he’s been teaching us more and more about what the gospel truly is and that there’s really four phases of the gospel.  There’s creation, in which God made this beautiful garden and he put us into that garden.  He called us to live to the fullest with him.  But we fell.  We chose our own way.  We thought we knew the best.  In that fall, creation began to groan.  We saw a brokenness—a brokenness with our relationship with God, a brokenness with our relationship with each other.  Then Jesus came and stepped into the world. . . .the Son of God, God himself came into the world and redeemed it.  He bought it back.  In buying it back, he said I’ve come to restore.  I asked that question what does restoration mean?  My view of the gospel was that it started in Genesis 3 when we made a mistake.  Everything was crummy.  Jesus came down and took the crumminess on him and made things right and heaven’s coming.  Yet here, Jesus came to redeem and restore and I want to tell you, I think he came to restore what was going on in the garden.

I look forward to heaven and I love that song “I Can Only Imagine.”   I can only imagine the heavenly glories.  But I’ve got to tell you, I can only imagine what the garden was like too.  I believe very much that if it wouldn’t fly in the garden, I don’t think it really has much place in the kingdom of God, in the kingdom that Jesus Christ came and started there.  In the Sermon on the Mount, it tells us this is the way to live in the kingdom.  As I was thinking through that, I was just picturing I wonder what it would have been like if God came down one day in the garden and Eve comes out alone.  Eve says, “You know, it’s good to see you, God.  Thanks for Adam.  He’s a good man, but he is kind of an idiot.”  I think God would have looked at her and said, “Have you been getting too close to that tree?”  God calls us to view people as he views them.

I came across a quote from Max Lucado.  I haven’t read Max Lucado in a while, but I love his stuff.  He was talking about being made in the image of God.  He said:  “You are made in God’s image, for God’s glory…  There is something of God in you and that makes you very special.  The reason God loves you is because there’s something of Him inside you and He wants to bring that out.”  That’s a wonderful statement for us to wrestle with ourselves and realize yes, he wants to bring the image of God out more and more so more people can see it.  When I was a kid, I collected pennies.  A lot of times you get a real dirty penny and you could hardly see Lincoln on it, so you’d sit there and scrub and you’d polish, and then little by little the image of Lincoln would come out.  I think that’s what God’s doing. . . .he’s polishing us and his image is coming out.  He desires his image to come out in everybody that’s around us, not just those of us here, but those out there on Broadway, those in our community, those in our neighborhood, those we pass in the store.  He wants us to realize that they, too, are made in the image of God, and we have no right to be angry at those people.

Romans 8:1-3a looks at the work that Jesus did.  So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.  {Just stop there a minute.  The power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you.  Can you claim that?  Yeah, we may say anger still seems to creep up.  Yes, it does, but God invites us to come along side and let his Spirit come and let his power bring life into us.  And little by little by little by little, we’ll see that anger disappear AS little by little by little by little we see people in the eyes of God.}  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.   I believe this kingdom living means we have to have a commitment to see people as God sees them.

Going on in Matthew:  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.   So, the first movement was talking about how we have anger toward someone else.  This movement is talking about how someone has anger toward us.  Oftentimes we think, well, if they’re angry toward us they’ve got to work it out.  Jesus says, “Not in my kingdom; and I’m inviting you to come into my kingdom and be instruments of reconciliation. You, too, can come and make a difference.”   Kingdom living is a commitment to reconciliation.

In 1 John 4:7,12, it says:  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. . . . . .if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.  We’re called to love one another.  We love one another as the power of God fills us and his love spills out to others around us.  Interesting quote I saw by Paul Tripp, a counselor on the east coast:  “If you want the litmus test for living your best, God-glorifying life right here, right now, don’t look primarily at your theological knowledge, biblical literacy, or church involvement (although all of these are very important).  Instead, you should examine the quality of your relationships.”  Wow!  If you want to see where you stand in walking with God, look at the relationships you have around you.  Look at how you view those people.  Look at how you see them.  Look and see. . .am I motivated to go to them and make a difference?  To seek reconciliation.

You may be asking:  How do we go about reconciliation?  There’s a great book called “The Peacemaker,”  by Ken Sande.  He’s come up with some guidelines for reconciliation:  1) Be prayerful for the situation.  If you’re at the altar and you’re getting ready to worship and all of a sudden you remember, whoa, this person’s got a problem with me, GO! but go prayerfully.  Maybe I should have worded this ‘continue’ to be prayerful in the situation, because who put that idea/thought in your head anyway?  I doubt that it was you.  God is always talking to us.  God is always there with us.  Talk to him.  Be prayerful as you go to this person to seek reconciliation.  Be humble as you go.  Realize you’re not going so you can ‘win a point.’  Hey, you’re angry at me and guess what?  You’re wrong.  NO!  You’re going to seek reconciliation/RESTORATION, because that’s what Jesus came to do to restore.  Along with that humility is be willing to admit the part that you had to play in that.  Oooo, this is the uncomfortable part, so I’ll let Ken Sande tell us about it:  “Even if you did not start the dispute, your lack of understanding, careless words, impatience, or failure to respond in a loving manner may have aggravated the situation.  Prayerfully examine your role in the conflict and then write down everything you have done or failed to do that may have been a factor…”  Boy, that last little part’s a kicker!  But take that step.  Approach humbly and understand the part you had in this.

Be mindful that God’s in control.  I think too many times we want to have control.  I want to go, I want to make sure this person forgives me, this person gets over it…   Hey, God’s in control and He’s got his timing, so I need to be realistic about this whole process.  As I go and seek reconciliation with someone, it may not be reciprocated.  You know what, that’s okay.  God didn’t say it HAD to be reciprocated, he said GO to that person, and then come back and worship me.

This is a picture of my dad.  Dad died 10 years ago on Memorial Day.  This picture was taken near the end of his life.  He had Alzheimer’s and it was beginning to sap some of who he was.  I’ll always remember some very special times with him.   Dad was a pastor.  I was a PK (preacher’s kid).  Dad was a pastor in little churches, so I got to see firsthand what it was like just to be a pastor with all kinds of people.  This is a special story I want to share.  I wasn’t a great athlete, but I did enjoy playing football.  In high school, our team actually was fairly good.  My senior year, we were vying for the championship.  We were playing our arch rival.  You’ve got to realize these were towns of 2,000-2,500 people.  It was the kind of school where, during halftime, I have to grab my trombone and play in the pep band.  I was a running back; my good friend, Dave, was the quarterback.  The call was we were going to do an end-around; I was going to be the lead blocker; Charlie, my friend the running back, was behind me; Dave was going to pitch the ball to him and we were going to go around the end.  We started the play, I was getting ready to block and all of a sudden I felt something in my butt.  I looked and saw the ball rolling away.  I realized….oh, I don’t think the ball got to Charlie.  Somehow my pads got in the way.  I turned around to try to get the ball, and, in the process, I kicked the ball another five yards behind.  Eventually, Dave, the quarterback, fell on the ball and we lost 15 yards.  The situation escalated from there.  The three of us went off and coach made us sit on the bench.  After a little while, he came over and started to ream us!  It was the kind of lecture where you keep your helmet on and just put your head down.  He just went to town, yelling, yelling, yelling!  He stopped to take a breath, and, I kid you not, in that breath I heard a voice from the crowd behind, “What a way to give them confidence, Coach!”  I’m sitting there saying, “Oh, I recognize that voice.”  Then there was this little feminine voice that said, “I agree with you, Reverend Elliott.”  Then I knew I was toast.  Coach didn’t say another word and walked back to the game.  Dave, who was sitting next to me, said, “Hey, was that your dad?”  I said, “Yeah, I think it was.”  He said, “That was cool!”

We lost the game, we lost the championship.  I’m walking out to the locker room and Coach came up to me.  He kind of hemmed and hawed and said, “Dan, could you just explain to your dad that it gets pretty emotional and sometimes I lose my temper?”  I said, “Coach, don’t worry, I’ll talk to dad.”  I took the bus home and walked home.  As I walked into the house, dad walked up to me.  He said, “Dan, I think I need to go see Coach Mack.  You want to go with me?”  I said, “Sure.”  We walked to Coach’s house.  I couldn’t tell you what we talked about, but it wasn’t about the game.  At one point, I did say, “Hey, dad, what are you going to do if Coach doesn’t respond to this?”  Dad just said, “Hey, it’s up to God.”  When we rang the doorbell, Coach Mack opened the door.  Coach said, “Well, hello, Reverend Elliott.  Hi, Dan.”  Dad just stuck his hand out.  Coach stuck his hand out.  They shook hands and dad said, “Coach, I was wrong today and need to apologize.  I know it’s tense out there and you want to win the game.  You’re working with these boys and I appreciate it very much.  Please forgive me.”  Coach didn’t know how to respond.  He had a big smile and said, “Reverend Elliott, don’t you worry.”  But dad and Coach were friends from that time on.  There was a reconciliation that took place and I was able to be right on the front row seat.  I loved it.  Kingdom living means we’re committed to reconciliation.  It’s not easy, but God says I won’t leave you alone and I’ll help you as you do that.

Let’s go to the last movement, verses 25 and 26 — Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.  Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.  It seems like each of these couplet of verses goes a little bit deeper.  Or maybe I should say, a little bit higher in its demand.  First, we’re not to be angry at the people around us, we’re to see them as God sees them.  Secondly, even when someone’s angry at us, we’re suppose to go and seek reconciliation.  Thirdly, if someone’s our enemy, if someone’s our accuser, if someone’s trying to take us to court to get every last penny, we’re suppose to come to terms with that person.  Some people have translated this to mean you should never go to court.  I can’t say that.  We live in a broken, fallen world, but I do believe Jesus invites us into his kingdom and gives us the grace that he has to seek to come to terms, before things get so desperate.

The same Ken Sande had a little encounter with some folks who called him.  There were four partners in this business — three were Christians, one was not.  They decided they were going to sell the business and split the profits.  The one non-Christian said, “I should get more because I put in a ton of time.”  The other three said, “No, you shouldn’t get more.”  It was back and forth, back and forth.  Finally the one said, “We’re going to go to court and settle it.”  The others said, “We don’t want to go to court.”  They called up Ken Sande and said, “Could you come and mediate for us?”  Ken Sande came and the guy said, “I don’t want to go to mediation, I want to go to court!”  So there was a conflict.  Finally, Ken Sande was talking to the three Christian guys and said, “Have you taken time to really count the cost?  How much has this cost you?”  One guy pulled out his calculator and said, “Well, it’s probably about $5000 worth of our time.”  Ken asked, “How much will a court case cost?”  “Probably 10 – 20 times that.”   Another guy said, “I’ve lost a lot of sleep over this.  As I’ve lost sleep, I’ve become very impatient with my with and my kids; it’s cost me some relationship at home.”  They finally said, “Okay, let’s just talk to him and meet him where he wants to me.”  The three went to him and kind of came to a mutual point in the middle and they agreed to the terms.  Two weeks later, Ken Sande was walking and he saw one of the guys and went up to him and said, “Hey, how did it all work out?”  The guy said, “You know what?  It’s terrific!  If I’d known this would’ve happened, I would have done it much, much sooner.”

That’s one of those illustrations where it worked.  I’ve also seen illustrations where it hasn’t worked quite that smoothly.  As I look at these verses, and I’m not trying to over spiritualize, I do want to point out something else.  Kingdom living is a commitment that God’s good news is really my good news.  What do I mean by that?  As I look at these verses, I ask, “Who is really my accuser?  Who is really my enemy?”  It’s that enemy that whispers to me, “You’re not worth the image of God.”  No, God’s not pleased with you.  You need to do this, this, this, and this in order to please God.  I tell you, the accuser is always at our side, whispering in our ears, demeaning the fact that we’re the image of God, trying to dehumanize us.  We need to come to terms with Satan and say, “Jesus took care of that.”  Jesus took care of that, because now His righteousness is MY righteousness and I’ve been invited into His kingdom and I don’t have to deal with what you’re whispering in my ear anymore.  I am worth something to God Almighty.  He loves me.  I am His image-bearer into this society and I’ve been called to carry His image to other people.  I remember when I was going through a tough time and Kerry put a note in my Bible.  I opened it up one morning and it said, “We hate Satan’s guts!”

There’s one last thing on your notes.  What can we do?  Yes, we struggle with anger.  Yes, we struggle with reconciliation.  Yes, we struggle with God that we really do have worth.  I’m going to give you a simple acrostic:  RELAX.  {Before I go through it, let me say, if you have a problem with anger, get some professional help.  I think the vast majority of us wrestle with anger erupting in our hearts, but I want to encourage you to grab onto the fact that the gospel of God is the Good News for me.}  I need to RELAX and (R) rely on God.  I need to rely on His power.  That power, the life-giving Spirit, working within me, little by little, changing my view of the people around me.  I need to (E) engage with God.  I need to talk with him, I need to process with him.  He is with me wherever I go.  He’s with you wherever you go.  You’re never alone, you’re never forsaken.  Talk to Him.  Engage with Him.  We need to (L) look for God.  I’ve got to admit, I love looking out at creation, I love looking up at the sky here in Colorado.  I love looking at trees.  Trees are just amazing creations to me.  Only an awesome God could create them.  But, I think God also wants us to look at his creation walking right by us.  He wants us to see each other as his image.  He wants us to see people who walk by us as people who are carrying a piece of him inside.  That includes those of us who have committed our lives to Jesus and have accepted that truth that we are in his image.  And those that have never even had a dream about it and think God is a farce.  They’re still made in the image of God and we’re called to go to them.  So look for God around you.  (A) Affirm God’s work in his word.  Affirm the fact that his Good News is right here and his invitation to become part of his kingdom is a very real invitation.  Then (X) — What’s your x-factor in this whole situation with anger?  This whole situation with stepping into his kingdom?  My x-factor is worry and anxiety.  I realize that the base of that is just simple trust in God, regardless of what may be thrown out at me, to know God is in control.  I don’t know what your x-factor is, but I know I’ve got to work with anxiety.  I love the fact that Jesus has invited me to be part of His kingdom, even though I can get anxious about it, because it’s His power that’s going to make a difference in our lives.

Let’s bow our heads in a word of prayer.  Our dear heavenly Father, thank you so much.  Thank you, Jesus, that you stepped into this world to bring redemption and restoration.  Thank you that you desire so much to reengage us and to walk with us and talk with us.  Lord, you do that.  Not only that, you’ve made us your temples.  How amazing is that?  I praise you for that.  Lord, give us your view of people.  Help us to see others as you see them.  Give us the courage to seek reconciliation with one another and those outside of our body.  Lord, give us the trust, the faith, to embrace your Good News as our Good News.  We love you.  We love you, we want to walk strong in your kingdom.  Teach us, Lord.  In the name of Jesus, I pray this.  Amen.

Sermon on the Mount | Getting to the Heart of the Matter | Matthew 5:21-26 | Week 42021-01-17T13:39:16-07:00

Sermon on the Mount | In Living Color | Matthew 5:17-20 | Week 3

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: In Living Color     Matthew 5:17-20 

Take a deep breath and identify that unbelievable smell wafting into the worship center today.  BACON!  If you’re a student of the Scriptures, you may be thinking to yourself, “Should we be eating bacon?”  Doesn’t the Bible talk about bacon?!  Leviticus 11:1-3, 7  —  The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud.  There are some that only chew the cud or only have divided hoof, but you must not eat them. (v 7) And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you.  You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.    How many of you sinned already this morning?  How many of you think I’m leading you into sin by having bacon in our lobby?   Can we agree the Bible is a difficult book?  Sometimes, as followers of the way of Jesus, we try to say things like, the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.  I don’t know how helpful that is for people when the Bible says, we DO believe it, but we’re cooking bacon in the lobby.  What do we do with that?  I think part of the reason our voice in the public square has been tampered, if not put out altogether, is because we haven’t been honest about the way that we read this book.

Some of us have had experiences where we’ve been beat up by the Bible.  We’ve had people shove it in our face and say, “Well, you shouldn’t do that.  The Bible clearly says….”  Maybe some of us have undertaken for ourselves the discipline of studying the Scriptures and sometimes we walk away scratching our heads going, I’m not exactly sure what I’m suppose to do with this.  If you’ve thought that, you’re not alone.  If you’re graduating from high school and you’re going to go to college, I can promise you, you will be in a class at some point in time where you’ll have a professor that shoves a Bible at you and says, “The Bible says don’t eat bacon; do you eat bacon?”  You can go, praise be to God, I do!  The question is did God just recently decide he wants us to be happy?  Did he change his mind?  Does he now think it’s delicious and we should eat it?  Did we change?  Did the Scriptures change?

I think we might have done ourselves a disservice by not being honest about just how difficult it is to be people of the Scriptures.  Maybe we haven’t done a good enough job getting a lens through which to read the entirety of the Bible.  Sometimes we’ll say things like, well, the Bible says it, we believe it, that settles it, we should just do everything the Bible says to do.  Have you heard people say that?  So, the Bible says in Exodus 21:17 that if your kids disobey you should stone them.  You may not win ‘Father of the Year’ award if you do that.  Anecdotally I might add, not only do we find that repulsive, but you can’t find anywhere in the Scriptures where that’s actually being done.  In Deuteronomy 25:11-12, it says if two men are in a fist fight and one of their wives comes and grabs the other man’s genitalia, you should cut off her hand.  My question is was that happening often?  Did we need a rule for that?  Evidently so.  Leviticus 19:19 says you should not wear clothing with more than one type of thread in it.  Now, all of us, probably, are wearing some type of clothing that violates this law.  Sinner!  What are we suppose to do with that?

So at least let’s admit at the onset that it’s not as easy as the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it, and we should just do it all, because none of us do.  But we might push back and go okay, not the Old Testament, but we do everything in the New Testament.  So that’s our lens.  The reality is that none of you have kissed me. . . .in the six years that I’ve been here, not one of you has kissed me on the lips, other than my wife.  But the Bible says three times in the New Testament that we should greet each other with a holy kiss.  But we don’t do it.  We have a lens through which we read the Scriptures.  We have some baggage, we have some culture that goes along with it.  Even in the same passages, sometimes, we pick and choose which parts of it we want to implement and which parts of it we want to do.  Let me give you an example:  1 Timothy 2:12.  Paul says to the church:  I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man.   Some people go amen, only men should teach.  Did you know that in the same passage it also says I command men everywhere to lift up their hands in holy prayer?  Now, I didn’t see any men lifting up their hands in holy prayer today.  It also says that women shouldn’t wear braids or wear jewelry; we’re not checking that at the door.  So some of the things, even in the same passage, we have a lens and we go, I’m not sure that that was intended for all people, for all time, in every situation.

You may be going, alright, Paulson, those were my two lenses.  Either the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it or either the New Testament says it, I believe it, that settles it, and you just pulled the rug out from under BOTH of my lenses for how we should look at the Scriptures.  So would you please replace it with something?  GLADLY!  What we’re going to look at today is the way that Jesus read the Scriptures.  Which, can we all agree, if we follow the way of Jesus, we should probably read the Bible in the same way Jesus read the Bible?  That’s a great place to start.  Turn to Matthew 5:17-20.  After I’ve just made you question how we’re suppose to read the entire thing, let’s open it up and let it speak over us, what I believe, is a good word for us this morning.  If you’ve been with us, you know this is part of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus is teaching people what life in the kingdom of God looks like.   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.

So if Jesus says don’t think that I came to abolish the Law and the Prophets, what do you think people were thinking?  They’re thinking Jesus, based on your teaching, it sounds a lot like you’re coming to abolish the Law and the Prophets.  That people who are broken are blessed.  People who mourn will be comforted.  People who are persecuted are actually the ones who are open to the kingdom of God.  Jesus, this doesn’t sound a whole lot like the rest of the Bible.  Are you coming to abolish it?

Sometimes, one of the best interpretive methods we have to figure out what’s going on in the Scriptures is to ask the question the Scriptures anticipate us asking.  If you have a Bible, flip over to Romans 6.  Paul gives this great explanation of the grace of God.  He elevates the grace of God, so much so, that he says now don’t think that because grace abounds so much that we should go on sinning all the more.  What does he assume you’re going to draw the conclusion of based on how great grace is?  Well, we should just keep sinning.  It’s the question he anticipates you asking.

Jesus’s question he anticipates us asking is so should we just discard the whole thing?  Should we just abolish it?  For Jesus, the Law and the Prophets. . . . these two terms may need a little bit of unpacking, because we don’t use those terms in our day, our culture and our time.  The Law, for Jesus, simply meant the Torah.  It was the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures—-the first five books of what we’d say our Old Testament Bible is:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.  It’s the Torah.  Unfortunately, when we hear the word ‘law,’ we think of a list of rules and a list of commands that we’ve got to sort of check off and we’ve got to do.  But for Hebrews in Jesus’s day, who followed Yahweh, the Law was not just a list of do’s and don’ts, it was a covenant.  It was love.  It was God on display in their midst, moving to be good towards them and to shower his love down on them.  Prophets were the historical books.  It was the Old Testament prophetic writings.  Then there was another section Jesus doesn’t include here called the ‘writings.’  They were the poetry and sort of this junk drawer for everything else that the Bible contained.  So when Jesus says Law and the Prophets, he is talking about the entirety of your Old Testament.

His point is—-You think I came to abolish it.  The picture, painted by that word, is to take a yoke that’s over an ox that’s pulling a plow through a field and take it off of them.  To unhinge them.  To disconnect.  Jesus says you think. . . .you think, based on my teaching, that I’m disconnecting you from everything that was involved in Genesis through Malachi.  He says, “Not the case.”  I came to FULFILL.  It’s the Greek word pléroó.  It means to fill to absolute capacity.  Picture a pitcher of water with more water being poured into it, filling it all the way to the top and even overflowing. It means to take to an appointed destination.  As if to say the Old Testament got us only so far, but Jesus says I’m taking us to the point that the Old Testament always pointed to, and was always talking about.  I’m not disconnecting.  I’m painting in color what the Old Testament was talking about from the get-go.

So, Jesus says I’ve come to fulfill.  I’ve come to fill it up.  Picture the Old Testament and the entirety of Scripture telling a story of a journey.  Picture a journey going from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean and the eventual destination is Colorado.  For the first part of the journey, you’re going to take a boat, if it was before planes, right?  The second part of the journey, you’re going to be on foot, or horseback, or traveling a different way.  The journey, in its entirety, is from Spain to Colorado, right?  But there’s different modes of traveling in each section of the journey.  If you’re on the mountains, it doesn’t help a whole lot to look back and go, but when we were traveling on the ocean, this is how we lived.  When we were on the boat, this is what we had to do.  And yet, it’s all part of the same journey.  It’s still part of the same trip.

As N.T. Wright put it (I think rather brilliantly):  “When he spoke of the Scripture needing to be fulfilled, he was thinking of the entire storyline at last coming to fruition, and of an entire world of hints and shadows now coming to plain statement and full light.”  So when Jesus says the Sabbath is really pointing to me, he’s painting a picture of what it was always intended to be.  We don’t go to Temple anymore and we don’t sacrifice anymore.  Why?  Because Jesus painted a picture of what God had always intended to come about from that portion of the journey.  I think we could say it like this:  Jesus didn’t come to discard (abolish) the Jewish Scriptures, he came to display their intent.  That the Old Testament was gospel in bud, but the New Testament is the gospel in bloom.  Jesus is the law with skin on.  Jesus is the Law and the Prophets in living color.  If the nation of Israel could have lived out the scriptures perfectly, it would have looked like Jesus.  It would have looked like Jesus.  He puts it on display, he doesn’t discard it.

You might be asking, okay, how is it or what is it that Jesus puts on display?  What does he paint in color that was only in black and white?  What does he nail that the Jewish people missed?  The first thing he puts on display is a life of shalom.  When humanity fell, there was a four-fold fracture that happened.  Our relationship with our Creator God was fractured.  Relationship with other people was fractured.  Relationship with ourselves was fractured.   And relationship with creation was fractured.  The Old Testament, the Law, the Prophets, the writings are all meant to guide the nation of Israel back into what it looks like to live as a people of shalom.  It’s what Jesus puts on display.  A lot of people read passages about bacon, and about stoning people, and we read passages….    We go okay, are we suppose to do that today?  I think it’s the wrong question, to be honest with you.  I think the right question would be something like this:  All of the Old Testament scripture, passages, commands are all intended to do something to us.  They’re intended to shape us, to form us, to form the nation of Israel into a nation that would be characterized by freedom, by love, and by justice.  The question we should ask is how does that given command lead people towards freedom, love, and justice?  And what might it look like to live as people of freedom, love and justice today?  The Old Testament was guiding people—-the Law, the Prophets, the writings—-into a life of wholeness and shalom.

That’s not where it ends.  That’s not the only thing Jesus puts on display.  In addition to that, here what he puts on display according to Matthew 22:37-40.  Someone came to Jesus and asked him what was the greatest commandment.  Like, Jesus, if we’re only going to keep one, which one should we keep?   Jesus replied:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  {He then makes this audacious, maybe ridiculous, to the hearts and the minds of the people looking on and listening to him.}  ALL the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.    I encourage you to do a word study of this word ‘all’ and you’ll find out it means. . . .ALL.  All the Law and the Prophets. . . .your entire Old Testament HANG on these two commandments.  As if to say, if you were to take those two commands out, but kept everything else, you would miss the entire point of it all.

It’s not a unique statement to Jesus.  Jesus’s followers picked up on this.  Paul in the book of Romans 13….    Romans 13 has gotten some airplay this week, you may or may not be aware.  It’s been quoted by some of our political leaders in regards to the fact that we should keep the law.  To that I say yes and amen.  I think it’s a good thing to keep the law.  The question is what happens if the law is inhumane?  What happens if the law violates a greater law?  It may benefit people to keep reading Romans 13 and you’re going to get to this:  Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.   {Like, if you keep THIS command, you implicitly keep the rest of them.}  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Romans 13:8-10)  Lest you think that that was intended to be a political statement, I can assure you it was actually in my notes way before any of our leaders quoted it.  I think it’s important, though.  It may be a word for us from God that this is the law that we’re suppose to live up to, friends.  If we keep this law—the law of love—by implication we keep the rest of them.

Here’s the way Paul says it in the book of Galatians (5:14) — For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”   The entire Old Testament.  I think an image or picture may be helpful for us.  I want you to picture our Old Testament as somebody who’s learning a new instrument.  Or maybe somebody who’s learning to speak a new language.  When you’re learning a new instrument, one of the things you do is you learn the chords, you learn the notes, and then you start practicing scales.   If you’re a musician, you know those things inside and out.  If you’re learning a new language, you are pounding flashcards, right?  This is what this vocab word means, this is how to parse these verbs, this is how the language works.   If you’re learning an instrument, the goal of the instrument is NOT to play the scales, is it?  No!  The goal of learning vocab is not to just know vocab, is it?  The goal of learning scales is so that eventually you can grab a guitar, you can sit down at a piano, and you can play music.  Music that is beautiful.  Music that invites others to join in.  The goal of learning vocab, learning how to parse all those verbs. . . . .the goal of learning all of that is not so that you would know how to do it, but so that you can have a conversation with somebody, so that you can converse.

In the same way, I think Jesus is saying, the goal of the Old Testament wasn’t just to nail a bunch of commands and get them down.  The goal of the Old Testament, the Law, the commands, the Prophets, was to teach us how to live, and he’s saying I’m putting this all on display for you. We’re moving from scales to music.  We’re moving from vocab to conversation.  When you live it all out, here’s what it looks like, and he puts his life on display for you and I to see, saying, “Let’s sing.  Let’s talk.  Let’s make music.  Let’s live into the fullness of our humanity that God has designed us to live.”  That was his goal.

Here’s what he says.  He gives us three encouragements.  In light of sort of his main point—-he came to put it on display, not to discard it—-here’s what he says:  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. (Matt. 5:18)  Not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen.  If you have a King James Version, it says not a ‘jot or a tittle.’  You could translate it like this, if you wanted to. . .not the crossing of a ‘T’ or the dotting of an ‘i,’ none of it is going anywhere.  Jesus points out that there’s two ‘untils’ that he talks about. The second one is ‘until everything is accomplished.’  Some of it was accomplished in him, right?  Some of it met its fulfillment in him.  Some of it is yet to be accomplished or fulfilled.

This word ‘accomplished’ in the Greek is this beautiful word.  It literally means to be born.  To come into being.  To sort of be on display and to be able to be seen for what it is.  Sacrifice—Jesus has accomplished it, it was born.  Sabbath—Jesus has accomplished it.  It’s good but we don’t need to have it as a command.  We can practice it as a delight, not as a duty.  The temple—It was born.  Now the Holy Spirit lives in us.  It’s accomplished.  But Jesus says there are some things that are yet to be done, and you can rest assured that nothing’s happening to his Scripture until it is born, comes into fruition.  His point was that you and I can have a confidence in the Scriptures being accomplished, not annulled.  Not done away with, but born.  Coming into fruition.  So I would say not all of the Scriptures are binding, but all of it’s important and all of it’s true. . . .including the future promises.  The Scriptures not only tell us who we are but it shows us where we come from and it tells us where we’re heading.

Here’s the way Jesus continues (Matt.5:19):  Therefore {So in light of the fact that it’s not come to be annulled, accomplished, born…}  anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…  {Just a quick time out.  The context of the entire Sermon on the Mount flows from Matthew 4:17.  Jesus says in Matthew 4:17, repent, change your mind, change the way that you’re living, and live in accordance to the reality that the kingdom of God is at hand.  It’s here.  So when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven here, he’s talking about the rule and reign of God that you and I can step into right now, today.  He’s not talking about where we’ll go when we die, but how we live today.  He says if anyone relaxes the least of these commandments, they’ll be called least in the kingdom of heaven…} …but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

It is Father’s Day.  You may have recognized by now that this isn’t your quintessential Father’s Day message, but I think. . . .as I think about practicing and teaching, I think for fathers, maybe this is a word for us from the Scriptures.  I want to commend you.  I see so many dads who are deeply involved in the lives of their kids.  I had a friend, from out of town, who came and visited our church a number of weeks ago. They had kids with them and their response afterwards was how do you get so many men to volunteer in kids ministry?  I said, “We give them bacon!”  No!  I said, “We have a culture of fathers who don’t shirk their responsibility.”  We have a culture of fathers who step up to the plate.  We have a culture of fathers who love their kids well, who are invested, and who are involved.  I just want to say thank you to all the dads who live that out and do it so well.  Thank you.

As a dad myself, I think it’s real easy to beat myself up.  It’s easy for us to be really hard on ourselves.  We can see all the things we should be doing a lot easier than we can see the things that we ARE doing.  I ran across this video and I thought it was fitting because I think it paints the picture of that quandary that many of us as fathers find ourselves in.  Even if you’re not a father, my guess is you can relate.   {Video entitled: Teaching Moments.  Summary: Dad is preparing to use a call to principal’s office for his son as teachable moment, unaware that his (the dad’s) life has been teaching his son all along in positive manner.}

Jesus is teaching us what it looks like, in the Sermon on the Mount, to have an approach to the Scriptures that so many here and so many fathers live out.  A devotion to instruction, through our lives, through our words, but more importantly, what I love about that video is that it’s the moments that we don’t think of.  It’s the leading families around the table in prayer, it’s the tucking your kids in at night, it’s the showing up at the games, it’s the little moments that they’re going to come back and remember and say thank you for.  Those are the moments that teach, as much as our words do.

Jesus says we should approach the Scriptures with a devotion to instruction as opposed to dismissive trivialization.  The New Testament goes on to say, in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, (a popular passage of Scripture) — All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.   Notice what he says.  He says the Scriptures are intended and useful for shaping us.  Not telling us what to do in every single little situation, but shaping us into people that we’re becoming.  The Scriptures are useful in that.

Two things I’d encourage you with.  1) Do not. . . .do NOT follow a command and miss the commander.  Don’t try to execute everything perfectly and miss the God that’s behind it, and the character of the God that’s behind it.  Don’t follow a command and miss the commander.  It’s way too important to know the heart of God; to know that God is gracious, to know that God is good, to know that God is slow to anger, to know that God is loving and abounding in kindness to us.  The Israelites thought they had to get every single little command right and he says to them in Isaiah 58, “Your worship services make me sick.”  You’re singing songs and giving offering, but you’re not treating the people around you with dignity and honor.   He goes, I’m sick to my stomach.  You execute the command , but you miss the commander.

Here’s the second thing I’d say.  This might be a little controversial and that’s okay.  We can chew on it together.  Do not violate the greatest command to keep a secondary command.  Don’t violate the greatest command—-love God, love others—-in order to keep a secondary command.  According to Jesus, every other one of the commands is simply commentary on the two greatest ones.  They’re what it looks like, in given situations, to live out love of God and love of others.  That should be first and foremost in our minds.  Does this look like love?  To God and to others?  If it doesn’t, we should think in our hearts and souls, we’re probably violating the law of God.  Because we cannot. . . .we cannot keep a secondary and violate the first command and execute that secondary command rightly.  We can’t!  That’s part of our litmus test.  If you want some good reading for later on this week, go read Acts 10 and 11 on Jesus’s commands to Peter on eating unclean foods in order to live in the way of love.  He’s going no, no, no, no, no, keep the first command—love God, love others—and let the other chips fall where they may.  The other ones are commentary on these first ones.  1) Don’t follow a command and miss the commander.  2) Don’t violate the greatest commandment to keep a secondary one.

Finally, here’s what Jesus says:  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.  Now, for us we may have heard this before and go, okay, yeah, yeah, we get it.  For people in Jesus’s day, this would have been thought to be unheard of.  NOBODY has surpassed the righteousness of that of the Scribes and the Pharisees.  It would be like somebody today saying, “Unless you’re more righteous than Billy Graham, you’re never going to enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Let that sit on you for a second.  The people who were sitting on this mountain. . . .the people who have just been told that they are poor in spirit, but blessed because the kingdom of God is theirs, that they’re merciful and they’re going to be shown mercy, they’re going to be going, Jesus, we don’t get it.  These people tithe on their spices!  How in the world could we be more righteous than them?

We think of righteousness as being right with God, and certainly that word means that.  Being righteous also has the implication that we’re in right relationship with the people around us.  Being righteous could be summarized in one succinct little phrase—-it means goodness.  Jesus says unless your goodness surpasses that of the Scribes and the Pharisees….   See what he’s doing?  He’s shifting the game.  He’s going, you’ve been practicing the scales and you’ve been realizing where you’re getting it wrong in the scales, and he’s going, I’m inviting you to play music.  You’ve been working on the vocab, but I’m inviting you to have a conversation.  Let’s talk about the way we’re interacting with the world around us.  The Pharisees used guilt and fear as their motivators, but Jesus is inviting people to interact with God based on joy and delight, that they might know him, not just externally through their obedience, but internally through His Spirit.  Here’s what Jesus is inviting them to:  A transformed internal life rather than a conformed external life.

Rather than just keeping the commandments, Jesus is painting a picture of the type of people we must become if we’re going to live our lives in the kingdom of God.  Over the next few weeks, we’re going to explore this.  Jesus talks about a number of different ways—he has six statements where he says, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you….”   You’ve heard it said, “Thou shall not murder.”  Let’s agree, that’s a pretty low bar, right?  We could execute that, beat our chest a little bit, go, “Check! Done! Learned the vocab.”  Jesus goes no, no, no, there’s so much more behind becoming people who don’t murder.  It’s becoming people who don’t want to murder somebody.  Becoming people who are free from anger and free from hate.  It’s not just that you didn’t sleep with somebody who’s your spouse.  He goes, that’s good, I believe in that, I’m for that, Jesus says, but it’s about the freedom of living life away from and not confined by lust that is just poison to our soul.

So he says listen, you can have a transformed, conformed outward obedience, but have a soul that’s rotting on the inside.  He says I want so much more for you than just outward “Check! Did that!”  I want you to become the type of people who live life in the kingdom of God.  Who live life loving Jesus, walking with Jesus.  Knowing his presence.  Knowing his goodness and having it shine through you.  He says I want you to move from people who are people of doing to be people of being.  I don’t want you to be in constant competition with the people around you, I want you to live in contentment.  I don’t want you to be worried about whether or not you’re perfect, I want you to be people who walk in relationship with me.  I want you to be the type of people who obey out of delight, rather than people who obey out of duty.

The entire new covenant that was promised to you and to me—in Jeremiah 31, in the book of Ezekiel, reiterated in the book of Hebrews—was the day that was dawning in the teaching of Jesus.  Here’s what it promised:  “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.  “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:33-34)   God’s saying, I’m going to invite people, by forgiveness, into covenant, and it’s going to change them from the inside out.  It’s going to transform who they are.  Jesus says that day has dawned, that day is NOW.  I love the way that Dallas Willard put it:  “Trying merely to keep the law is not wholly unlike trying to make an apple tree bear peaches by typing peaches to its branches.”  He’s going no, no, no, no, no, I want to change you from the inside.

Friends, that’s always what this has been about.  It’s not God saying just act like this. . . . .a lot of us have maybe been beat up by the Scriptures and it was an invitation or a calling to ACT a certain way.  I want you to hear it as clearly as I can say it this morning, that Jesus’s intention over your life is to shower his love down on you in such a way that it changes you.  That it changes from the inside out.  Where you start to say not only do I want to execute the law, but I want to become the type of person who’s comfortable in God’s kingdom, in relationship with God.  I want to live in light of who He says I am in the wholeness, the shalom, and the love that He designed me for.  THAT’S what this whole story has always been about.

So, as we go today, can I encourage you to read the Scriptures?  Jesus was quite fond of them.  We should be too.  Read the Scriptures through the lens of Jesus.  They’re pointing to them.  He says they’ve been fulfilled in him, so we should not read Act 1 disconnected from Act 5 that we find ourselves in.  We’ve got to read backwards in addition to reading forwards.  Does that make sense?  We’ve got to read the Scriptures through the lens of Jesus.  What does it look like when Jesus perfectly embodies and displays the law of God?  We should do that too.

Finally, read the Scriptures through the lens of Jesus and let’s learn together to live in the way of love.  There’s so many of you who are doing that and who are doing it so well.  So many dads who are doing that and doing it so well.  Dads who are loving and investing in kids that have special needs.  I know you’re tired.  I just want to say keep going.  Dads who are worn out, worked to the bone, coming home and the last thing you want to do is get on the floor and wrestle with your kids, but you’re doing it anyway.  Good job!  Keep going!  Keep loving!  Keep loving well!  Dads who are working hard to make ends and are worn out, but they keep going, they keep loving.  And for all of us, I want to say, let’s push the law to the limit.  Let’s push the law to the limit!  Let’s push the law of LOVE to the limit!  Typically, we think of law as we don’t want to get close to violating that law.  Let’s push this one to the limit.  Let’s try our best to love SO WELL that Jesus might look at us and go, I didn’t expect you to take it that far!  What if we took this law to the limit?  Not just in our eating of bacon, but in our serving, in our investing in our community.  Maybe it’s in Family Promise, or serving with the GraceFull Café, or maybe it’s in volunteering, or going to Celebrate Recovery. . . .let’s take this law to the limit.  The law of love.  May it be the thing that defines us, because I can assure you, it is the thing that defines God and his Scriptures.  Let’s pray.

Before you go rushing out of here, I’ll just give you a second to gather your thoughts.  What might it look like for you to practice that this week?  Maybe there’s somebody in your life that’s different than you, that disagrees with you. Maybe there’s somebody in your life you just don’t like a whole lot.  The invitation from Jesus is love, in that way you fulfill the law.  For the fathers in this room that are just worn out, I want to invite you to be encouraged this morning.  To know that Jesus sees, and that he wants to meet you and fill you.  So, Lord, we come to you believing that this whole story has always been about your goodness, your shalom, your love, and your invitation for humanity to live in light of who you are.  We want to do that.  So, Lord, teach us what it looks like to read the Scriptures.  Teach us what it looks like to read the Scriptures through the lens of you, Jesus.  Jesus, teach us what it looks like to read the Scriptures through your lens and to live in your way.  We pray it all in the powerful name of Jesus.  And all God’s people said. . . .Amen.

Sermon on the Mount | In Living Color | Matthew 5:17-20 | Week 32020-10-19T11:17:20-06:00

Sermon on the Mount | Salt & Light | Matthew 5:13-16 | Week 2

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Salt and Light    Matthew 5:13-16            (1st Service)

We’re in week 2 of a series we’re doing on the Sermon on the Mount.  If you have your Bible, open to Matthew 5.  This is a picture of a man by the name of Michael Carroll.  Michael Carroll, at the age of 19, won $14.4 million in the lottery.  He was a garbage man at the time, just happened to play, and happened to win.  Over the next decade of his life, from 2002 to 2012, he bought mansions, he bought cars, he bought drugs, he bought a number of different things.  In the course of those ten years, he mowed through $14.4 million and found himself living on government assistance, unemployed.  Now, today, he makes $511 per week working as a butcher.  Which begs the question:  When we find ourselves in the midst of blessing, what do we do with it?  When we find ourselves “at the top,” how do we use our resources?  Most people would act similarly to Michael Carroll.  If we find ourselves in the midst of flourishing, it should be used for us.  We should drink every little piece of that down and it should go to serve to make our lives better, whether it’s being popular in high school, or whether it’s as a nation winning a war.  When we do find ourselves at the top, we tend to think it should be used for us.  Which is exactly what Jesus begins to address in the Sermon on the Mount.

If you were here last week, you heard these eight blessings that Jesus gives.  These eight statements of wisdom, of grace, of mercy, of invitation to live a life different than anyone had ever seen on the face of the globe.  He made these declarations—sort of crazy-sounding statements like, when you’re poor in spirit (which nobody then and nobody now wants to be) you’re blessed.  When you find yourself meek—sort of at the bottom of the pile, that pile is actually flipped on its head in the kingdom of God and you’re blessed.  When you’re persecuted, there’s blessing.  Regardless of what situation you find yourself in, if you’re in the kingdom, you’re blessed.  Jesus’s words were dangerous, because you had people who had never heard blessing before.  You had people who were used to the social structures and the political structures and the relational structures, where there’s certain people that were always on the bottom.  Jesus says to those people, you’re blessed.  The reverberation of that would have gone off of this mountain—this Sermon on the Mount—and gone into culture and into society at large and the question is what happens when it does?  Jesus says in Matthew 5:11-12 that one of the things that happens is you’re going to be persecuted.  You want to flip the social societal structures on their head?  It’s not going to go well with you so just be ready for that, Jesus says.

The second thing that Jesus says happens is found in verses13-16.  Here’s how Jesus’s people use their blessing.  You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Two pictures that Jesus paints. . . .you’ve probably heard these sometime previously, which makes them dangerous, because we may not hear them afresh.

He says you are. . . .salt.  Salt was used for flavoring, like it is today, but it also was used as a preservative, as a way to keep, specifically meats, fresh.  Remember, refrigeration is roughly a hundred years old, and canning is roughly two hundred years old.  In Jesus’s day, how did people keep food fresh?  One of the ways they did that was with salt.  Jesus uses this as a metaphor, and the New Testament does this all throughout.  Colossians 4:6 — Let your conversation be always….seasoned with salt…  It was a picture of something good, a flavoring.  And light.  Light is illuminating.  Light shines in the darkness.  Light provides growth.  What are both of them?  They’re indispensable.  You can’t live without either of them.

They’re also. . . . .change agents.  Anytime light encounters darkness. . . .it shines.  Anytime salt encounters some sort of meat or some sort of meal, it changes it, doesn’t it?  It changes it irreversibly.  You can’t go and get that salt off of there; it’s definitively different.  I read a number of commentaries of what people think Jesus is talking about, but I don’t think we have to look any further than verse 16:   In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds….  Both salt and light.  Jesus is talking about the way you and I live in his world. . . .as change agents, as people bringing something the world definitely and definitively needs.

Before we jump to the “how-to’s,” let’s just look afresh at what Jesus actually says.  Because I think sometimes we read this as you bring salt, you bring light.  Like you have it in your pocket and every once in a while you take it out and sprinkle it on a conversation with your friend or your neighbor or your roommate.  Or you bring light and every once in a while you light that candle and you let it shine.  But that isn’t what Jesus says, is it?  What does he say?  You ARE!  You ARE these things!  When you show up on the scene, you ARE salt, you ARE light.  I think sometimes we read the Sermon on the Mount, and what we walk away with is a bunch of lists of how to try harder and do more.  But that’s not what Jesus is talking about here.  He’s talking about people who hear that they are blessed, when the world says that they are the farthest thing from that, and they are transformed because of what they hear Jesus say.  It’s not try really hard to be salt or try really hard to be light.  It’s allow this markarios (the Greek word for blessing) to wash over your life in such a way that when you show up at your family gathering, when you show up at your workplace, when you show up in your neighborhood park, when you show up to visit your parents in that home, when you SHOW UP. . .You. Are. Salt.   You. Are. Light.

Which means that the words of Jesus have to move beyond something that we just agree with, right?  You do know that being a follower of Jesus is not just agreeing with Jesus.  It’s actually taking his words and saying, “I’m going to build a life on these.”  I’m going to let these sink into my soul in such a way that they shape who I become.  So we don’t bring salt to sprinkle, we don’t bring light to light a little candle and shine in the dark. . . .we ARE those things.  I want to start here because I think the most powerful thing that Jesus can do in your life is speak a word of identity over you.  To remind you who you are as citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  To remind you that regardless of all the things that have gone wrong in your life, and all the decisions you wish you could take back, and all of the ‘if I could rewind I would do that differently,’ or ‘I’d stop them from doing that to me,’ and all of those things that we all have. . . .what transcends every single one of those things, if you are in the kingdom of God, a follower of the way of Jesus, You. Are. Blessed.

Even in Acts 1:8, this commissioning Jesus gives to his early disciples. . . .he doesn’t say go and be witnesses, go and do witnessing.  He says no, no, no, you are witnesses.  It’s who you are.  You’re people who’ve been transformed by the hope of the gospel.  {So look up at me for just a moment.}  Before Jesus sends anyone out into the world, he tells them who they are in the world.  Before he sends them out, he tells them who they are.  It’s a drink of cold water to the weary soul, and it starts to turn the world upside down.

Whenever I go to a different or new city and I’m looking for a place to eat, I Yelp!  I want to see what other people say about the restaurants that I might spend my money at and the places that I might spend my time at, right?  We live in a world where there’s a flattened sense of publicity with new social media platforms, don’t we?  I think one of the things Jesus is saying to this church, to our church, is you’re a walking Yelp review. . . .of the kingdom of God.  Your life reflects, whether you want it to or not, what you believe about God, and what you believe about what he’s come to do in and through your life.  Jesus’s point, in these few verses in the Sermon on the Mount, is that people Jesus makes alive are called to cause the world to thrive. To be change agents for good, that when we show up on the scene, there’s salt, there’s light, which are things that the world needs and things that the world benefits from.

If you’re open today. . . .we did this exercise earlier in worship. . . .saying God, I’m open to receive your blessing that transcends my circumstances and my decisions, and is simply built on repentance into your kingdom, something starts to happen.  Because when you receive God’s blessing, you don’t have to fight for your own anymore.  When you don’t have to fight for your own blessing, for your own pride, for your own platform, when you don’t have to do those things and you simply receive his word over your life, something changes in your soul.  There’s a freedom that begins to happen.  I think if we just look out in our world, I think what we see is the longing for blessing that every single one of us carries.  When we don’t hear it from Jesus, we have to hear it from others.  When we don’t receive it from Jesus, we have to get it some way.   If we’re not people that Jesus has made alive, then we will cause ourselves to thrive rather than the world around us.  Jesus goes, oh listen, listen, listen, I want to release you from all of that.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  The meek.  The messed up.  The burnt out.  The people who’ve made a mess of their life.  Because my kingdom is here, my blessing is over them.  And it changes the entire game.

This is the way Jesus has worked from the beginning, the way that Yahweh has worked from the beginning.  Listen to the Abrahamic blessing.  It’s found in Genesis 12:1-3 — The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.   So there’s a pattern, right?  Those who are called to be blessers are first blessed.  It’s the exact same thing Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount.  I think if Jesus were to teach an evangelism class, he wouldn’t start with a technique, he wouldn’t start with any sort of. . .well, here’s sort of the Romans Road. . . .there’s nothing wrong with that, but I just don’t think that’s where Jesus would start.  Why?  Because it’s not where he started from.  Where would he start?  You’re blessed, regardless of your situation.  The kingdom of God is present, it’s here, if you turn and walk into that, you are blessed.  Let’s start there.  Only people who believe they are blessed can be a blessing to the world.

Which I think might cause us to ask the question:  Do we believe we’re blessed?  Do you know that you are?  Because that’s the thing that makes a life salty.  That’s a thing that switches on the light switch and lights a light up.  It’s not some sort of guilt that causes us to get out in our community and do something.  It’s not some sort of imperialistic endeavor that says we’ve got to conquer the world for Jesus.  That’s not what changes lives.  What changes lives is people who know that they are his and then just walk with him into the world that he invites them to live in.  The lives that we are called to live are shaped by the blessing Jesus says we carry.

It’s impossible to be salt and be light without first knowing that you’re blessed.  BUT….it IS possible to be blessed and NOT be salt and light.  Look at the way that Jesus says it.  Let’s talk first about salt.  You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  {Which is actually an impossibility.  Salt can’t just lose its saltiness.  What happened, in Jesus’s day, is salt got mixed with a bunch of impurities.  It got watered down.  It got diluted amongst a lot of other minerals.}  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  It’s just normal soil after that.  It’s just been so watered down by everything else in its vicinity.

Remember, it is impossible to be a blessing to the world without knowing that you’re blessed by God, but it is possible to know you’re blessed and to not be a blessing, so here’s what Jesus says.   Be distinct, reject conformity.   Can we all agree that it’s not exactly popular?  Lest we think it was popular back in Jesus’s day, we should probably take a step back and ask why Jesus is saying this.  Because the tendency of those listening to the Sermon on the Mount, just like our tendency, is to go Jesus, that’s a nice idea, but it sounds a little bit dangerous, it sounds a little bit risky, it sounds a little bit like I might be the weirdo!  Right?  Let’s not take it out of its context, but we’ve got to see that the church is indeed called to be a redemptive alternative in the world.  To paint a picture and shine a light of this is what the redeemed community looks like.

Peter, one of Jesus’s friends, in his letter to the churches says (1 Peter 1:15-16) — But just as he who called you is holy (different, distinct, set apart), so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”  Be set apart, be different.  Peter is not saying hey, pull up your boot straps and try really hard to be holy.  If you read the first part of the first chapter of 1 Peter, here’s what you find out, because of the resurrection of Jesus that you’ve been given a new hope into an inheritance that can never perish or spoil or fade, that’s kept in heaven for you because of the resurrection of the King from the dead.  You’re different.  You are different, therefore, live in that way.

Let me give you two pictures of what that looks like and what that means.  We are called to be different, to be holy, set apart in the love that we give as followers of the way of Jesus.  We’re called to be different in the love that we give, from the very get-go.  The church was shaped and formed. . . .it grew in the Roman Empire, not because it had the political voting block, not because it had any sort of power, it grew because they showed an extravagant, ridiculous, dangerous love.  When the plague broke out and everybody left their own family members, literally, in the gutter, it was followers of Jesus who came and brought strangers into their home and showed them the love of Christ.  It was the love that was displayed that caused the church to flourish.  That’s salt.  That’s different.  That’s distinct.

I started to ask what it looks like in our culture and our day and time today.  I think one of the things it looks like is being an advocate for change for people who are experiencing homelessness.  I think our work with Family Promise is a beautiful picture of that.  In just a few weeks, July 7th, as a church, we’re partnering with a great organization called GraceFull Café, in downtown Littleton.  They put on a free community breakfast on Saturday mornings.  It’s for anybody that wants to come, but their ministry is built around providing a meal, every single day, for people. . . .even those who can’t afford it.  Homeless people come. . . .you name it, people are there.  As a church, we believe in their ministry and we’ve said that we want to partner with you guys and host and sponsor one of your breakfasts.  We’ll need volunteers for that .  It’s a great way to say that we are for the WHOLENESS of our community, yes?

But it’s not just the love that early followers of Jesus gave, it was the lives that they lived.  It was the sexual ethic that they had, that was built around monogamy and fidelity.  It wasn’t something that they imposed on the rest of the world and said you’ve got to live this way too.  They said listen, because of the teaching of Jesus, because of the words of Jesus, we’re convinced that this is the best way to live and let us show you what a world like this might look like.  It wasn’t you’ve got it wrong, it was let us show you.  So Paul will write in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, listen, it’s not our job as followers of the way of Jesus to judge the world.  It’s our job to make sure our house is in order.  To be that light.  So their light shined.  Their integrity in business dealings —- one of the things early non-followers of Christ noticed about the church was they weren’t shady.  What they say goes in business dealings.  They don’t try to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.  They’re just….what you see is what you get.  It was SO different.  It was them saying, listen, we’re going to be distinct, we’re going to be different, and we’re going to shine.

My wife had an interesting experience at work a few weeks ago.  She’s amazing.  Recently, she got a promotion at her job, her workplace.  She’s a teacher and got promoted to being a building coach.  She’s sort of in administration and she’s professional learning specialist at Mountainview High School.  Because she got this job, there’s a number of people who didn’t get the job.  One of those people approached Kelly, a few weeks ago, and just made some real personal attacks on her.  You’re going to be lonely in this job.  You’re going to be lonely at home.  You’re world’s going to fall apart.  I’m like, oh no, you don’t.  I asked, “What did you say to her?”  She’s like, I told her I’m sorry you feel that way.  I’m like, uh huh!  And then what?  I’m going through all the stuff I would have said.  She’s like, no, I just left it at that.  I’m like, don’t you know you should have said something else?  I kid you not, this woman is a staunch hater of followers of Jesus and thinks we’re all hypocrites.  She sent her a follow-up email a few weeks later and said:  I just want to thank you for the way that you responded to me.  Nobody’s done that for me before.  I was hurting and I lashed out at you.  I’m really sorry.  I thought to myself that’s salt.  It wasn’t her with a bullhorn in front of her school saying, “Jesus is Lord,” it was just living in the way that Jesus would live if he were her.  To turn the other cheek.  Sounds a lot like Jesus.

I don’t tell you that to tell you she’s amazing, the question is:  How might we bring salt into the conversations that we have?  In the love that we give and the lives that we live?  What might that look like?  How might we reject fear?  How might we reject judgment?  And ask the question, not what’s distinct about my beliefs, but what’s different about my life?  Let me say it again. I don’t want us to miss that; I think it’s important.  I think the spirit of God is on that in some way.  Surely our beliefs are different, but that’s not the question that we have for the world around us, and for the way that we interact with the world.  It’s NOT, it’s NOT, what’s distinct about my beliefs, it’s what’s distinct about my life.  Am I different because of the words, the teaching, the life of Jesus?

He says you can get unsalty because you’re just so contaminated, and he says reject that.  Second, verse 14, Jesus says this:  You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bow.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  So the first picture is of salt getting contaminated, the second picture is of a light being hidden.

I was at the IMAX, a few weeks ago, with my kiddos at the Denver Museum of Natural History.  There’s a big sign that comes up before it like:  Everybody turn off your phones.  We do not want the light to contaminate the darkness.  Right?  I just started an email exchange with a person on our staff about something we really needed to get done, and so I saw that come up and went oh, I’ve got to hurry.  I’m sending this last email and I’m about to put it in my pocket and I hear it ping me back and I’m like, oh crud!  I’m breaking the rules and I’m texting during the IMAX.  I’m sure she’s a really nice lady, and she happened to be sitting right behind me.  She tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, sir, but this is a ‘no phone zone.'”

I think a lot of us hear these words of Jesus and I think it’s our posture towards the world we live in—-we’re going to keep our light really close, or we’re just going to put it in our pocket, or we believe that the world is a ‘no light zone.’  Jesus goes no, no, no, no, no, that’s the easy way out.  Don’t do that.  Let your light shine.  Don’t hide it.  Let it shine.  Let the blessing that God has bestowed on your life shine.  Let the way of his kingdom shine.  Let it move through you.  It’s been the calling for those who follow the way of God from the beginning.  Isaiah 42:6 — I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a LIGHT for the Gentiles….  Notice this light is evangelistic in nature.  It’s shining the goodness of God to those you haven’t heard it.  Isaiah 60:1-3  — Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.  See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.  Nations will come to your LIGHT, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.    It’s a picture of what happens when the kingdom comes on people.  People long for this.  People hope for this.

Jesus’s message to us is be engaged, be engaged. . . .with the world around you, with the culture around you, with the people around you.  Don’t move towards obscurity.  Resist that.  That’s going to be a temptation.  {Slide:  Be engaged, resist obscurity.}  Just know it.  It’s going to be more comfortable to just gather around people that think the same way as you, look the same way as you, believe the same things as you.  Jesus goes, don’t go there!  Don’t hide your light, the world needs it.  It’s the exact same thing Jesus said as he prayed for his followers  —  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  (John 17: 15, 18)    He’s sent you in the same way that he was sent.  I love the way that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great theologian, put it:  “Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call.  A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him.”  Let that sink in for a moment.  He’s going you cannot follow Jesus and drift into obscurity.  It doesn’t work that way.  That blessing, that light, that good is way too important to just cover up.  You’ve got to. . . .this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

I met a man by the name of Julius Asher, this week.  He walked into the church and I happened to be around and he needed to talk to a pastor, so we had the chance to sit down and talk.  Julius shared with me that he’s a religious refugee from Pakistan.  He came to the U.S. through the UN.  First in Hong Kong and then to the U.S.  He’s been here for four years.  He’s an Uber driver; his car ran out of gas and he had no money to fill up his car so he could work.   Before you all filled up his car for him, I had the chance to talk with Julius and hear a little bit of his story.  He’s from Pakistan and spent five years in jail because he was handing out Bibles on the streets of Pakistan.  Bibles in Arabic, which is a violation for them.  He looked me in the eyes and said, “Ryan, I’m the lucky one, because most people who are in my position and are thrown in prison because of a religious offense never see the light of day again.  But I’m one of the lucky ones.”  I thought to myself, man, at times it’s hard for me to have a conversation with my neighbors about Jesus.  How about you?  It was the Lord, I think, that brought Julius to just remind me of what this looks like.  To be salt, to be light, to shine, to not move towards obscurity, even when it’s costly and even when it’s dangerous.

I just wanted to throw this on us for at least a thought exercise to ask Jesus.  Are there people in your life who aren’t followers of the way of Jesus that you have meaningful relationships with?  Not that are projects, but that you love, and whose lives you’re invested in.  Are you light?  Do people know you follow the way of Jesus?  Let’s be committed, friends, not to drift into obscurity, but to say back to Jesus, we want to be engaged, we want to love well this world that you have placed us in.  Jesus did this, didn’t he?  The woman at the well comes to him.  She’s broken, her life’s a mess, he makes room for her in a place and time where he should not have done that.  A woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. . . . .Jesus is on his way, he’s got his task list.  He’s on the move and he stops in order to love her.  Salt and light.  Jesus sees a woman who’s caught in the act of adultery.  There’s Pharisees that want to stone her, and Jesus gets in between the Pharisees and this woman.  He starts to write in the sand—we have no idea what he writes, but we do know this. . . .what’s he being?  Salt and light.  He’s bringing hope.  He’s breathing hope.  He’s engaged with the world around him.  I believe he’s inviting you and I to be the same.

Here’s how he concludes.  It’s an interesting conclusion.  It may not be the way that we would include it, post-Reformation, but it’s the way Jesus concludes it.  Listen to what he says (verse 16):  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Notice what Jesus doesn’t say.  He doesn’t say people will hear your good words.  He doesn’t say people will hear your great theology.  The reality is that even though it’s there, they may not hear it.  But what they will not be able to ignore is your life.  What they will not be able to ignore is the way that your life, salt and light, points to his kingdom.  I’m convinced that people must see God on display through us BEFORE they hear the words of God through us.  We’ve got to bring a melding back together of both practice of living life in the kingdom and proclamation that the kingdom is here.  The dividing of those two has killed us.

So Jesus’s point is good deeds, which you and I are invited to live out…   Could we all just say before we make this into legalism, let’s just quickly identify. . . . .is it more enjoyable to do good deeds or bad deeds?  It’s better to do good deeds, isn’t it?  Jesus just wants to align us with the way that the world works.  It’s not that we earn anything from God, it’s that we are RELEASED to live life with God.  To live life with God.   I love the way 1 Peter 2:12 says it — Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.    Each one of us, friends, are people who represent the kingdom of God.  It’s like an employee who shows up to represent their company for a business deal.  They’re wearing the shirt; they’ve got the hat on.  They’re trying to sell whatever they’re selling.  You and I aren’t trying to pedal anything, but we represent the kingdom of God.  The question is:  When people see our lives, what do they see?  What do they experience?  Do they experience people who are moving towards a freedom from anger?  A fidelity in relationships?  Honoring of marriage?  A confidence that they can believe our words?  A love that’s displayed that goes beyond what the rest of the world sees?  Is that what they see in us?  Do they see salt and light?

I have a friend named Jodi Brown who goes to church here.  I asked her if I can share this story with you, because I thought it was just a great picture of what it looks like to live as salt and light, right here and right now.  Every time we talked about JOY International, you can see her heart for that ministry and what Dr. Jeff Brodsky and his team are doing to help girls who are in situations where they’re being trafficked.  She just wanted to figure out some way to help.  She also loves going to escape rooms.  Over the course of three months, she turned her basement….    She did all this research, gathered all these resources from thrift stores around us, and she turned her basement into an escape room, in order to raise money (it’s a fundraiser) to give to JOY International.  She goal is to raise $1200 for JOY International before they do the Barefoot Mile in July.  If you’re interested in going to Jodi Brown’s escape room to raise money for JOY International, there’s a website.  She would love for you to come and try to break out of her basement.  I thought that was such a great picture of using the passion that you have and the resources that you have with the conviction that you have to be light and salt in our world and saying, “What can I do to let my light shine?”  What can you do?  Who can you be?  How might the gospel that’s gotten in you get out of you?  Friends, let’s be a community who practices this.  Who’s salt and who’s light.

Before we sing one last song, I want us to do something a little bit different, okay?  I want to invite you to get in small groups and spend a few minutes praying.  I want us to ask Jesus that he would make us salt and light.  That we would be people who shine his light.  That we would be people that as we show up, we carry his light into any situation that we find ourselves in.  You may be uncomfortable praying out loud, but that’s okay.  I want to take some time for us, as a community, to just say to Jesus. . . .make it so!

Sermon on the Mount | Salt & Light | Matthew 5:13-16 | Week 22020-10-19T11:11:50-06:00

Sermon On The Mount | Human Flourishing | Week 1

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: The Art of Flourishing     Matthew 5:1-12          (2nd Service)

We are starting a new series that we’ll be in all summer, where we’re going to be exploring one of the most impactful, significant, beautiful messages ever given.  It’s called the Sermon on the Mount, and you can open your Bibles to Matthew 5, where you’ll find it.

Over the last few weeks, throughout our nation, we’ve been in a season that we affectionately refer to as graduation season.  In graduations, you have a few pieces of pageantry, right, where it signifies that a person is moving from one season to another, from high school to beyond high school, and college to beyond college.  We had a preschooler that graduated and he’s moving into kindergarten, which is a pretty huge accomplishment for him.  But along with the pageantry, there’s also typically a speech.  There’s some words said and it’s intended to be motivational, sort of Chris Farley motivational, right?  Like, you can take the world and you can wrap it around your hand and put it in your pocket. . . . .that type of a speech.  I started to wonder, “Why can’t I remember any of the speeches from the graduations I’ve been involved in?”  They were so magical and inspirational .  I can’t remember any of the ones I’ve been involved in.

That’s not true, though, for every speech.  Some are really memorable, aren’t they?  Some of them, with just a few words, we can go, oh, so-and-so gave that speech, right?  Let’s do a little trivia this morning.  Let’s see if you can name ‘who gave that speech?’   Four score and seven years ago….  Yeah, Abraham Lincoln.  We didn’t even need to get too far in it, did we?  The Gettysburg Address.  He paints a picture of this is the groundwork that our country was founded on, and we, as a country, need to push forward to value and honor all people regardless of the color of their skin.  We have to be a country without slavery any more.  What about this one?  My firm belief is that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  Franklin D. Roosevelt gave this is 1933.   Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.   John F. Kennedy.   What about this one?  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all mean are created equal.  Martin Luther King, Jr.   1963. . . . .a hundred years after Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address.  That should haunt us a little bit.  They’re saying essentially the same thing, right?

Isn’t it fascinating that we can all. . . . .I can say four words, I have a dream. . . .how many of us have had a dream?  We’ve laid our head down on a pillow at night and we’ve had a dream, or a hope, or an aspiration.  Will you just raise your hand if you fit that category in some point in time?  Yeah, every human being has had a dream, and yet I can say, “I have a dream…” and you know immediately who I’m talking about.  You know immediately the picture that’s being painted.  You know immediately, at least a little bit, a piece of the dream.

Not all words are forgotten. Some words catch fire and some words continue to have an echoing reverb throughout the world we live in, long passed the time they were given.  If you look up, or just Google, speeches that have changed the world, you will find all four of those speeches that I said, but at the beginning of every list that I’ve found (or at least on there somewhere) are the words of Jesus of Nazareth, the Sermon on the Mount.  For some reason, these words, at this time, to this audience, caught fire.  They have changed the course of our world.  There’s a reason that when we say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit….” we all go, Jesus! that’s who we’re talking about.  There’s a reason that we can know this sermon and these words.

The Sermon on the Mount was a message given by Jesus of Nazareth to a group of people who were sitting in front of him.  We’ll talk about who they are in just a moment.  But you have to know that this was a teaching that Jesus gave, most likely, on multiple occasions, that as he talked about what his kingdom looked like, these were subjects that he circled back to over and over and over.  So don’t think of it as just one sermon given.  Matthew records it as a whole sermon, and it probably was, but whenever Jesus talked about the kingdom, he talked about these things.  They were in his bones and they were things that he wanted to invite humanity, as a whole, into.

Matthew 5, listen to the way Jesus starts this sermon.  It’s going to be a sermon we’re going to chew on and wrestle with for the entire summer, but that’s just a fraction of the time people, humanity, have been wrestling with these words.  Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  {It’s interesting, whenever Jesus sees a crowd. . . .you and I want to gather a crowd. . . .Jesus seems to want to ditch the crowd.  So he sees the crowd, they’re coming around him, he’s like, let’s go up to a mountain, maybe a few of these people will not want to hear my words enough to follow me up.}  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

As I said, Matthew 5 follows Matthew 4, but if you’re sort of a student of the Scriptures, you’re going to go, hmmm, Jesus going up to a mountainside to teach people. . . .there’s something about that that I’m familiar with.  If you flip back over to Matthew 2, what you see is that Jesus is born in Bethlehem and then flees to Egypt, which is really interesting.  He goes to Egypt and he’s there for a time and then comes back to Nazareth, his home town.  Then in Matthew 3, he’s baptized.  Egypt then a baptism.  You have Jesus coming out of the water.  Matthew 4, Jesus is heading into the wilderness to be tempted, right?  So if you’re a Jewish reader and you’re tracking along with Matthew’s gospel, you’re going, hey, wait a second, I’ve heard this story.  Into Egypt and out of Egypt, to go through water, to go into the wilderness…..   Wait a second, what’s going on?  Moses!  Jesus is like this picture of Israel’s journey — rescued from slavery out of Egypt, through the water, the Red Sea. . . .Jesus through the waters of baptism. . . .into the wilderness, where they’re tempted. . . .then up on the mountain, which also sounds a lot like whom?  Moses.  Only Jesus doesn’t go up on the mountain to receive revelation from God, he goes up on the mountain to give it.  It’s, in a sense. . .Matthew is in no small way giving a wink and a nod going, you see what’s going on here?  The story of Israel is reaching its fulfillment.  What God has been doing throughout all time is coming to a peak and a pinnacle in the person and work of Jesus.  Quite literally, he’s sitting up on the mountain and he is, in a sense, speaking as the new mosaic Messiah delivering a new messianic Torah. . .a new way to live. . . .a new way to become the people of God.

If you read back a few verses in Matthew 4:17, 23-25, listen to what Jesus said:  From that time on Jesus began to preach, {So the question would be what is the content of Jesus’s preaching?  Here’s the birds-eye view of what Jesus talked about.  If you were to go to a sermon that Jesus was preaching, more times than not, the content of his sermon would have been, some way shape or form, repent.  Turn, change your mind, change the way that you think about the world that you live in.  Change the way that you think about God.  Change the way that you think about everything that you see.  Repent.  Turn.  Why?}  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”    Some translations will say it is at hand.  

What Jesus talks about, if you continue to read down in Matthew 4:23, it says:  Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.  News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.  Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.   Now, when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up onto the mountain.

So, who’s Jesus’s audience?  It’s the broken.  It’s the poor.  It’s the people, if you saw them walking on the street, you would probably go to the other side so that you didn’t have to get too close.  It’s the people who would have never had a good word spoken over them for most of their life.  It’s the bottom of the rung.  It’s the people who we’d look at and go, man, those people do not have a lot going for them.  You want to know why this sermon has power, you’ve got to hear what Jesus says in light of who’s sitting there.

He said:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have wrestled with these words.  You?  I’ve wrestled with Jesus, how in the world are the poor in spirit blessed?  Why do the meek inherit the earth?  Jesus, why is being persecuted seem to be a good thing?  Anybody with me?  That on the surface, these don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.  Can I nerd out on you a moment?  There’s two words that Jesus could have chosen for this word ‘blessed,’ which happens to be the theme of the way that he starts this sermon.  The first word is eulogeo.  In the Greek, it means an active blessing from God.  It’s us praying, God, would you bless this person, and God responding, absolutely, I will bless them.  God, bless this person who’s sick, let them sense your presence.  God saying I will bless them.  It’s active coming from God.  That’s not this word.  The second word he could have chosen and did is markarios.  Markarios is a little bit more nuanced and a little bit more complex.  It’s not a wish or an ask to evoke some sort of blessing from God, rather it’s a recognized reality.  These people are blessed.  They’re blessed because this is the way the world works.  They’re blessed because woven into the fiber of the universe that God has spoken into being, this is how it functions.  So you don’t necessarily need to ask for this to be a blessing from God, it just simply is.

So people have wrestled with how to translate this word ‘blessed.’  For us, we live in a Christian subculture where we use or maybe overuse the term blessing.  How you doing?  I’m blessed.  I’m just praying for some blessings.  We use that word a lot.  They would not have back in Jesus’s day, just a side note.  This would have been coming onto the scene with fire. . . .something new, something different, bursting onto the scene.  You could translate it “happy are”.  Some translations do.  The Good News translation — Happy are the poor in spirit.  You could translate it “congratulations.”  You could translate it “surprise!”  You didn’t see that coming, did you?  It’s like Jesus said — Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Surprise!  Nobody expected that!   The word carries with it. . . .how do we translate it, what do we do with it?  Like I said, nobody in Jesus’s day would have expected this.  We live in a world, right now, where we have this perspective that happiness is our right.  Happiness is our goal.  We live with the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  But NOBODY Jesus is talking to would have had that perspective.

There’s probably two predominant views that Jesus is talking to.  One is the Greco-Roman view.  It was: You are NOT suppose to be happy.  If you are happy, hide it.  Because happiness is the realm of the gods and you don’t want to tiptoe on their turf because they will strike you down.  Oh, you’re happy, Paulson?  BOOM! Happiness is my territory, thank you very much.  Right?  So nobody in Jesus’s day would have flaunted being happy or blessed.  The Hebrew view of this word blessing was that if you are a good Torah-observing Jew, if you obey the first five books of the Old Testament and then you throw in the prophets as well, then, then, then God will bless you.

Jesus comes and looks at this ragtag band of people who have been healed of sicknesses, people still carrying sicknesses, people who are poor, people who have never had a good word spoken over them in their life, gets them up on a hillside outside of Galilee and says markarios.  You’re blessed.  You’re blessed because I am, Jesus says.  You’re blessed because my kingdom has come, and you’ve turned, you’ve repented, you’ve walked into this kingdom.  You, in the state that you’re in, with the regrets that you have and the things that you wish that you could redo or the things that you wish you could get out of your life, you are blessed.

They are not commandments.  It’s not thou shalt be poor in spirit.  Think of how strange it would be if we read it as a commandment.  Be persecuted!   Thou shalt be persecuted.  So, we could persecute each other, find a loophole, it wouldn’t be as bad as being persecuted out there, and then we could be blessed by God.   These are hard to read, aren’t they?  But they’re not commandments, that’s not what they are.  They’re not a list of moral standards. . . .this is better than that, because of some moral standard that Jesus has set up.  Being poor is no better, morally, than being rich, what you do with your wealth.  There’s something attached to that, but Jesus is saying how much wealth you have has zero bearing on your morality.  It’s not a list of moral standards.  It’s not a list of simple formulas, where you plug in this and you automatically get that out every single time.

If you’re going, hey Paulson, you just took away everything I thought that was. . . . .welcome to the party.  Because, maybe like you, I’ve read this wrong for, I don’t know, most of my life.  They’re not commandments, they’re not moral standards, they’re not formulas, what are they?  Here’s what these Beatitudes—-that’s what they’re called; the word means blessings—are.  They are an invitation into a way of being that results in true human flourishing.  The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’s manifesto on human flourishing, as a result of the reality of the kingdom of God being at hand.  I’ve told this story before but, for me, it paints a vivid picture of what Jesus is doing.  When my wife and I lived in San Diego, we had gotten tickets to go see the Padres play in San Diego.  She got the tickets for my birthday.  We were in the nose bleed section, but we didn’t care, it was just about being together and taking in a game in a beautiful city.  We were walking in downtown San Diego and we walked right near the gates.  Somebody came up to us and said they had tickets to the game, did we want them?  We responded by saying, “We already got tickets, thank you very much,” and walked right passed him.  We walked a few paces down and I said to Kelly, “Would you care if I asked where his seats are?”  {That’s a dangerous question.}  She said, “No, I wouldn’t care at all.”  I ran back and tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Sir, do you still have those tickets?”  Yeah.  Just out of curiosity, where are your seats?  They’re a few rows up from home plate, right behind the dugout.    I said, “How much do you want for them?”  They’re free, take them!  I did and the whole time I was sitting behind home plate, watching the game, I was trying to see Kelly up in the left field bleachers….   No, he had two tickets.  The whole game, it was this moment, the whole game looking at what I’m taking in and where I should have been.  I kept replaying what if I hadn’t have gone back and tapped on that shoulder?   I would have taken in the game and it would have been fun, but it would not have been like it was! I think Jesus is doing the same thing with the Sermon on the Mount.  He’s doing with the Beatitudes.  They’re invitations.  He’s holding them out to us and his question is will you take this invitation?  It’s counter-intuitive, it might not make sense.  Will you take this invitation?

I told you I’d wrestled with these for so long.  As a high schooler, I thought Jesus was off his rocker a little bit.  I read the Beatitudes and thought, “These are the blessings nobody wants, and I don’t want to be a part of this type of a religion, if it’s going to invite us to something that doesn’t make any sense in the world.”  I was on a run Wednesday of this week.  I had gotten out early and was taking it all in.  I was talking with Jesus about the Sermon on the Mount and these Beatitudes and I just sensed him say to me…….because I was expressing, man Jesus, this was like a long season in my life where I just didn’t like these a whole lot, I didn’t get them.  What I heard him say to me was Ryan, it wasn’t that you didn’t understand these and it wasn’t that you were interpreting them wrong, it was actually that you didn’t want my kingdom.  You were so attached to your kingdom and your way that you actually didn’t want anything to do with the invitation that I was giving you.  And if—-and I say this gently and hopefully pastorally—-if we approach the Beatitudes wanting our own kingdom still, they are going to grate on us.  They’re going to rub against our humanity.  They’re going to push against our kingdom and the things that we want to hold onto and the things that we want to build our life on.  So, as we walk through these, in just a moment, will you just ask yourself the question:  Jesus, is there any invitation you’re giving that you want me to receive but I’m still holding onto my own kingdom?  Because I think the Sermon on the Mount, specifically the Beatitudes, will tease those things out in a way that, maybe, no other text in Scripture can do.

So, if the Beatitudes aren’t commands, and they’re not morality, and they’re not formulas, what are they?  Here’s the first thing they are.  The Beatitudes are an announcement of Jesus’s lavish grace.  Please notice. . . .we’re going to get into what does Jesus invite us to do, what does he call us to do as followers of his way to live free from anger, to not murder the people around us {that’s a good thing}, to keep our word, to love our enemies.  All that stuff’s good, but hear me on this {lean in a little bit}. . . .before Jesus commands us to do anything, he speaks blessing over us.  Before he says ‘do’ anything, he says ‘markarios!’  You’re blessed!  My kingdom is at hand!  It sounds a lot like what the angels said to the shepherds in that field the night the Messiah was born.  Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  (Luke 2:10)   Even those with disease, and severe pain, and demon possession, and having seizures, and the paralyzed. . . .even THOSE. Good news of great joy is coming.

He gets to this importation at the very end of the sermon in Matthew 7:24-25, and he says that the people who do these things will build their life on a rock that will not move when the storms of life come.  He gets there!  You’ve got to build your life on it, but before he talks about building a life, he talks about a blessing that’s come because the kingdom is at hand.  They are announcements of lavish grace and, friends, this is the gospel!  Before we’ve done anything to deserve it, Jesus has said over our life—over your life and mine—you’re blessed!  You’re blessed because of me, God says, not because of you.  Not because you’ve done anything to deserve it and checked off the list of to-do’s, which these people had not done, you’re blessed because our God is a God who loves, who LOVES, to lavish his blessing, to wire it into the way that the world works.  I like the way that Dallas Willard put it.  {By the way, we have a list of suggested readings for our series, and if I could reference one book to you that stands above them all, in my humble opinion, it’s The Divine Conspiracy: The Hidden Life in the Kingdom of God, by Dallas Willard.  Here’s what he says in that book.}  “The poor in spirit are called blessed by Jesus, not because they are in a meritorious condition, but because precisely in spite of and in the midst of their condition, the rule of the heavens has moved redemptively upon and through them by the grace of Jesus.”  The Beatitudes are an announcement of lavish blessing.

Here’s the second thing they are.  They’re a radical reenvisioning of the people of God.  Remember who Jesus gathers around him. . . .the people who are following, the people who are hanging on his every word, the people described in Matthew 4—the down and out, the “losers,” the people who have never had a blessing in their life.  Jesus is going if you’re in the kingdom, you’re my people.  These are the people of God.  They are NOT the Torah observant, dutiful Jewish people following every jot and tittle of the law.  There were those people around there, but they weren’t the people following Jesus.  Jesus says you are now my people.  The presence of Jesus’s kingdom changes everything.  It uniquely changes his followers.  It’s like Lucy, Susan, and Peter, and Edmond opening up that closet door and dipping their toes into a whole new world in Narnia, where they weren’t just kids.  They were Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.  They were warriors fighting for good to overtake evil.  They were fighting for right to overtake wrong.  They were fighting for joy to overtake sorrow.  And Jesus looks at this ragtag band of people and says, “You are now my people, and you’ll carry my blessing into the world.”  A blessing no one expected.  A blessing no one anticipated and one the people didn’t want.  That’s his kingdom people.

Finally, it’s counter-intuitive wisdom of the kingdom.  The Beatitudes are not commands, but they’re portals to a new way of thinking.  They’re not platitudes, they’re paradoxes.  A paradox is something that doesn’t make sense until you live it.  On the surface, you go, there’s no way that can be true, and then you do it and you’re like, that’s true!  Jonathan Pennington says this: “As a prophet and sage, Jesus is offering and inviting his hearers into the way of being in the world that will result in their true flourishing now and in the age to come.”  They’re not requirements, they’re statements of reality.  This is how Jesus’s kingdom works.

So before we jump into a cursory read of each of them, let me just point out how we should read each of these blessings.  For a long time, I read it ‘blessed are the poor in spirit because they’re poor in spirit.’  Anybody else?  Like the poor in spirit was the blessing.  That word ‘for’ in the Greek is called a hóti clause and it means that whatever follows hinges on what’s first.  So being poor in spirit isn’t the blessing; we should read that ‘for’ as because.  Blessed are the poor in spirit because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  There’s something about being poor in spirit that opens us up to the reality of the kingdom of the heavens.  It’s a radical inversion of the wisdom of the world.

You just have to know, friends, all of us are chasing blessing.  All of us believe that there’s a way to live blessed in this world.  We always think of blessing as material, right?  A new house.  A new car.  The brighter.  The shinier.  All of that.  But, if we were to be honest, the blessings that we cherish most dearly, every single person in this room, are not possessions.  They’re not things that we go, oh, I bought that with this raise, and I got that house….   That’s not what fills our soul.  Jesus is going to talk about a markarios, a blessing, that actually does light up the human soul, where we go, oh, that’s what I was designed to do.  But so many of us are chasing the wrong kinds of blessings that maybe we’re unable to see the blessing that Jesus is holding out.

I saw this insane. . . .it’s called a Cheese Wheel Chase, on ESPN, this week.  I thought, yeah, this is how most of humanity looks as they chase after the blessings that we often go after.  It’s a real thing.  They’re chasing a wheel of cheese down a hill.  I thought that that’s what it looks like, that’s what going after the bigger, the better, the brighter, the shinier, the more, feels like some days, isn’t it?  It’s what so many of us build our lives upon.

In contrast to that, Jesus looks at people who, from the world’s point of view, have nothing and says, markarios, you’re blessed.  So I would love to just give you a picture. . . .if Jesus were to give these blessings today, how might they read?  What might this kingdom wisdom sound like?  This life appears to work this way, but it actually doesn’t work that way, it works this way instead.  So we’ll start it off with what the world says, then we’ll combat that with what Jesus says, and then what I want to do is reframe the blessing that he gives.

Blessed are the poor in spirit…   The world says the strong and the wealthy are the blessed ones.  Jesus says:  blessed are the down and out, the unemployed and the underemployed, those on the wrong end of the globalized economy.  People without a college degree or health insurance, those spiritually simple and a little bit of a mess. . . .blessed are the people who don’t have it all together.  Why are they blessed?  Because theirs is the kingdom.  They have an openness to receiving what God is handing out because their hands are empty.  This is the Jesus kingdom wisdom.

Blessed are those who mourn…   The world says be strong, stuff it down, hide your sadness and your failures.  Put on a happy face, right?  Turn the frown around.  What Jesus is talking about mourning, it’s not just over the things that have happened to us, but sometimes it’s who we’re becoming that we mourn over.  Jesus says blessed are those who let themselves go and grieve honestly.  They grieve the failed marriage, the death of the loved one, another miscarriage, the racism, the addiction.  They’re blessed because they will find the arms of God and others around them to meet them in their need.  What we hide, God won’t heal.  The wisdom is you don’t have to pretend like things are all right if they’re not, you can be honest and actually there’s a blessing in that honesty.  It’s not try to mourn; it’s when things don’t go right you can mourn knowing that God wants to meet you in that place.

Blessed are the meek….  The world says gather a fan base, build your audience, get out front and make your mark.  Jesus says blessed are the timid, the quiet, the shy, the people in the background, the wallflowers, those with two likes on Instagram.  Because in the end, they will be the ones who reign with God, the tables will be turned and they will be out front.  To quote Jesus of Nazareth:  The first shall last and the last shall be first. (Matthew 20:16)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness….    Just a quick aside before we go into this.  We typically think of righteousness as only between us and God, but all of Jesus’s audience would have understood righteousness not only right standing with God, but right relationship with everybody around them.  It was a relational term.  The world says if somebody wrongs you, write them off.  Don’t give them a second thought.  Move on.  If you fail yourself, or God, just forget it!  To err is human.  But Jesus says blessed are those who continually long for things to be right, between others and between God.  Because, here’s the blessing. . . . .eventually. . . .so don’t give up on longing for right relationship, because eventually, their insatiable longing for rightness will be fulfilled by the very life of God and deep relationships with others.

Blessed are the merciful….   The world says give people what they deserve.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  If someone wrongs you, you have the right to get them back.  Jesus says blessed are those who continue to live with compassion and offer forgiveness.  Who refuse to react to troubles and wrongs by condemning and blaming others.  Because they are the ones who truly taste the mercy of God, and there’s nothing we need more.  So think about what Jesus is saying:  as you offer mercy to others, as you offer compassion, as you offer forgiveness, you open your life up to receive the very thing that you’re offering.  But if everybody has to pay you back, and that’s the system that you set up, Jesus goes, you’re going to have no palate to taste my mercy for you.

Blessed are the pure in heart…   The world says be who people want you to be, play the part.  Do whatever it takes to get ahead.  But Jesus says blessed are those who embrace a posture of integrity, where what you see is what you get.  Who allow their inward life and outward life to work in unison with each other.  Because when you live with integrity, you see God.  Think about that.  When you live with integrity, you see God.  You see him both in your shortcomings and in your successes.  You see him in your failures and in your joys.  But if you hide it, you very rarely see him.

Blessed are the peacemakers….    The world says choose your side, defend your turf.  Those on your side are your friends, those against you are your enemies.  Anybody heard that?  That’s the narrative of the world we live in.  But Jesus says blessed are those who stand in the middle and call both sides towards each other, believing that a bigger army or a more powerful weapon is not the true source of peace.  They see people not as rivals to beat out, but as brothers and sisters to love into wholeness.  Jesus says those kinds of people are blessed.  Why are they blessed?  Because one day the world will look at them and go, oh, you look a lot like God.  Before we think, though, that being a peacemaker is fun, we should probably pause and realize what it is to be a peacemaker.  I think this picture of a friend of mine—her name is Courtney Christianson—right after Charlottesville, there were protests and marches in cities all across America.  She lives near Portland and she’s a peacemaker.  She took a sign that said “Us vs. Them is a False Choice,” and she stood in the middle.  She wrote a blog—it’s posted on Preemptive Love Coalition’s website—about how lonely it was to stand in the middle.  To be hated by both sides.  To be a peacemaker is to be an equal opportunity offender inviting people towards the middle, inviting people towards love, inviting people to a better way.  Us vs. them is a false choice.  Somebody say amen.  Blessed are the peacemakers.

Blessed are the persecuted….   The world says avoid pain.  Do whatever you need to do to stay comfortable, happy and well respected.  But Jesus says blessed are the ones who reject the comfortable conformism of fitting into whatever the majority is doing, and instead, take the nonconforming, narrow way of living out the difficult truths requiring love and grace.  Why are they blessed?  Because theirs is the kingdom.  They’re not blessed because they’re persecuted, they’re blessed because they recognize all the kingdom of God is at hand.  Even in the midst of the mess, it’s here.

Jesus’s blessings are grace-based, wisdom invitations that invite us to flourishing as we live life in his kingdom.

So three quick things in light of Jesus’s teaching for us to take home.  I think we have to recognize that blessing doesn’t always change our circumstances, but it does always infiltrate them.  But the poor who came to Jesus, many of them left poor, but changed.  The meek, the ones getting run over by their society, were still getting run over, but they were changed.  I think a lot of times we tell Jesus, hey, if you’re in this, if you’re blessing, it’s got to look like this.  He goes, you’re just chasing after the wrong blessing.  Would you open your heart to receive what I actually want to give?  It won’t always change your circumstance, but it will infiltrate them.

Secondly, blessing comes as we are where we are, not where we wish we were.  So wherever you’re at this morning, WHEREVER you’re at this morning, in your pain, in your failures, in your regrets, in your wish I would have but I didn’t, in your I wish that would change but it won’t, wherever you’re at this morning, because the kingdom is present, you’re in the perfect position to be blessed by God.

Finally, blessing is dependent on his kingdom not on my competency.  And that is great news, is it not?  I love the way John Ortberg put it:  “You know who’s blessed?  You’re blessed.  Not because you live a well-managed life, and not because you have a lot of resources.  Not because you’re well-off, well-fed, well-dressed, well-educated.  But because you’re in a messed up, goofed up, junked up, knee-deep, desperate, choking condition. Good news, good news! {Markarios!}  Blessed are you.  Blessed are you.  The kingdom is coming and if you’ll just receive it as a broken needy person, then out of that broken needy blessedness, then you become a blessing to other people.”    Who’s blessed?  You are!  Because the kingdom is here.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream.  It was a good dream, and we’re still hopefully moving towards that dream.  Jesus of Nazareth had an announcement and he had an invitation.  His question is:  Will you receive it?  We live in a world, I believe, that desperately needs us to say ‘Yes.’  I saw this post on Twitter this week that somebody asked a pastor in our nation — I’m an atheist looking for common ground.  What would you like to see Christianity become in the U.S.?  I was raised by fundamentalist families and it wasn’t pleasant for me.  My question is sincere.  I could use some hope right about now.   Brian Zhand’s response was:  I would like to see Christianity in the United States become an embodiment, or at least an approximation, of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.  I realize it’s a long way from that right now.  My prayer, friends, is that because of our time together throughout this summer is that we might become a little bit closer to embodying the kingdom that Jesus says is present.

Would you stand with me as we get ready to move towards the table this morning?  I want us to do an exercise that I’d invite you to practice, maybe a few times, during this week.  Close your eyes and ready your heart. I’m inviting you to open your hands and putting them palms down.  It’s a way for us to posture our bodies and to say to Jesus, “Jesus, we’re just letting go.”  We’re letting go of some of the ideas we have about the way we think life should work.  We’re letting go of some of the ways we think you have to get blessing.  We’re letting go of our kingdoms.  Then face your palms towards the sky.  Jesus, we want to say to you this morning that we want to receive your life, your kingdom, your way, your wisdom, that often grates on our humanity, our desire, but Jesus, this morning, we want to say to you that we’re open, we’re open.  We want your way.  We want your life.  We want your words.  We want your teaching.  We want your grace.  We want your love and we’re open to receiving it this morning.

SPECIAL NOTE: We have a special resource to offer you from this Sundays sermon. We had a lot of requests for a PDF version of the Beatitudes. Click this link to download the PDF.

Sermon On The Mount | Human Flourishing | Week 12020-08-20T15:55:49-06:00
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