Monday, April 15, 2013

Gotta be better than who?

Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I didn't come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you won’t enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5.17-20

This is our next section of the SOM for our study.  Before we dig into this one, we’ll need to explain some terms, so get ready for a little vocabulary lesson.  Quit whining … I can hear you from here … just suck it up and be a grown-up! 

Law and Prophets = This was the way they referred to the bible in Jesus’ day, what we call the “Old Testament,” and what I call “The Jewish Testament.”  

Kingdom of Heaven = The Kingdom of God, or just plain: the kingdom.  From the days of Moses until Jesus, Israel was a physical kingdom, with physical kings like King David & Solomon.  Although Jesus’ audience didn't yet understand it, Jesus was talking about the Kingdom version 2.0 – the spiritual, eternal kingdom.  We become subjects in this kingdom when we are baptized/born again, and remain in the kingdom forever.  If you have been immersed in water to have your sins washed away and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 3.5 & Acts 2.38), you are now a part of God’s Kingdom, and Jesus is your king. 

Scribes = Bible scholars of Jesus’ day were called “Scribes” or sometimes “experts in the law” or “Lawyers,” but in each case it refers to the same guys … bible scholars, like people today who have a PhD in Old Testament studies. 

Pharisees = these were the religious elite of their day.  Think of your personal religious leaders, preachers and people you respect.  Francis Chan, Rick Warren, Steve Smith, Kit Rae, Mark Driscoll … these are the guys that would be Pharisees.  They get a bad rap today because Jesus picked on them a bit, but it’s misleading because really the Pharisees were the only ones worth criticizing … the other fringe groups were a waste of Jesus’ time. 

OK, so now what does all this mean for us?  
First, let’s see what it meant for them. 

Jesus was telling his disciples something about their bible, and comparing themselves to the religious elite.  He was saying that they not only needed to follow their bible, but they needed to surpass its ‘requirements’!  Can you imagine?  You have to be a better disciple than Francis Chan or you aren't even saved????  

And now let me explain what Jesus meant by saying they needed to “surpass” the righteousness of the good guys.  He meant to learn to have a change of heart, not merely follow rules, or have stricter rules.  Jesus has (in the beatitudes) already taught them about things that please God.  Note they weren't “rules” one must obey … rather, they were qualities or characteristics of a person that flow from the heart.  Jesus didn't say “Thou shalt be meek,” he said that meek disciples are blessed.  In the coming section you’ll read the rules (laws) of the Old Testament and see that Jesus uses these laws to teach God’s true intent.  The rule or law, for instance, was: Thou shalt not murder, but God really didn't even want them to hate. 

This is important, so please remember this: Jesus isn't giving ‘new’ rules, instead he’s giving guidance for people who truly want to obey God and live in His service!  Also … Jesus isn't giving “stricter” rules or advocating we live even more closely to the law than the Pharisees, but again, it goes to a person’s motives. 

If your motives are truly pure, you will grow from a state of ignorance, weakness and naivete into a condition where you have increasingly more knowledge and faith and love.  When you first start out as a disciple you need some basic rules to live by, but as you grow and mature, you’ll discover the kingdom is about serving the King, not just blindly following rules.  If your heart isn't pure, you’ll bend the rules to justify bad behavior.  If your heart is pure, you’ll bend them when it’s necessary to further the kingdom. 

Please post questions or comments here if you have them, for I know this is a bit strange.  There will be more posts on this topic coming up shortly, and especially as we get into the next section of the SOM we will be revisiting this again. 

For now, do this: reconsider your own heart, the beatitudes, and God.  Many people see God as nothing more than a judge, but God is more than that – He has a personality, and He loves you and He loves the people you will see today so much that He sent His Son to die for them.  The way you treat God and your neighbor is everything, and rule-following is nothing.  In fact, for those who truly desire to please God … rules are nothing more to us than guidelines for ‘how’ to love.  They help us answer the question: what do we do in this situation to show love?

If you love your neighbor, help him grow, be merciful to him when he repents, and remain patient with him when he needs it … then you can make God smile.  If making God smile is your top priority in life, then these lessons will come alive for you.  If you can only think of God as a cop or a school principle and you have to ‘obey’ the rules, you’ll never understand. 

Are you ready to try to focus all your attention on God and others, and none on yourself? 

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