Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reviewing & Challenging

I say to you, don’t be worried about your life …  
You of little faith!
Don’t worry then … for the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  So don’t worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 
Matthew 6.25-34 excerpts

We have finished chapters 5-6 of the Sermon On the Mount (SOM), now one chapter remains.  This has been a long journey already, so it’s good to stop and take a breath and look back over what we’ve seen so far.  Remember that Matthew presents this sermon as if it were done in just one setting, so sometimes we can lose track when we take so long and get into such detail.  Hopefully this will inspire you to go back and review, so it’s clear in your mind.  If it’s not clear, really clear; you’ll have the same problems many Christians have understanding and applying these great lessons from the one we claim to be our Lord (Boss/Commander/Master). 

First, remember that Jesus, Matthew, and their audiences were Jewish.  Jesus was speaking to people and Matthew writing to an audience that would have understood these teachings within their own cultural and religious context.  That means there are some subtle things we may miss or misunderstand. 

For example: when Jesus spoke about the kingdom, that meant something very specific to them.  They were looking for the return of the kingdom of Israel, and hoping they’d shake off the Romans just as Moses had led them from Egypt.  Today, of course we understand that Jesus was talking about the coming spiritual kingdom of Israel – that we would be subjects of the true everlasting king, anointed to be king by Yahweh: Jesus, His son. 

In the world, expanding a kingdom is done by violent conquest.  Kill guys, take their land and their stuff, and then they become part of your kingdom.  So why does Jesus start out by telling them to  be merciful, gentle, peacemakers and pure in heart?  Because the spiritual kingdom is different than the physical.  We expand by loving the lost (outsiders, non-believers, infidels, pagans, enemies) – not killing them, just as God loved us and sent His son.  We conquer those who (in their ignorance) belong to the kingdom of darkness with the light of truth and the salt of love.  

The beatitudes must have been startling to them – how are they going to destroy Rome with gentleness?  But then Jesus told them they were the light of the world, reflecting through actions of kindness the glory of God.  The world is full of people who kill in the name of their god(s), but disciples of Jesus are those who show mercy – and that is how we show what God looks like.  Our actions are our “uniforms.”  They reveal that we are in God’s army (or not) when we tell the truth or do an act of kindness or have patience with someone or lend a helping hand to an “enemy,” or forgive a brother from the heart.  

In the next section (through the end of chapter 5) Jesus said he didn't come to wipe out the Jewish bible (law & prophets), but to fulfill them, expand them or complete them.  That is where he made it clear that his disciples would go beyond even the requirements of the law, and so our righteousness should be greater even than that of the religious people.  Not only do we love our neighbor, we love our enemies.  Not only don’t we murder, we don’t even get angry.  In fact, as the section finishes, we are to try to be “teleios” like our Father in heaven. 

Chapter six compares and contrasts the disciples with others  

Disciples are different than regular religious folks because we pray in secret, give in secret and fast in secret … and not to put on a show for others. 

And disciples are different also than non-believers (pagans).  We don’t pray repetitious prayers as if there’s magic in the prayer itself, and we don’t worry about earthly stuff like food, clothing, reputation, money or popularity … rather, we are completely focused on: 
  • Expanding God’s kingdom 
  • Strengthening other subjects within the kingdom  
  • Caring for the suffering

What’s impressive is understanding why we are different than others:  We are different than other religious people and pagans because we have a Father in heaven!  God is our Dad! 

Because God is our Father, we live to different standards.  Because God is our Father, we never have to be afraid (if we believe/trust/have faith in Him), and because Yahweh is our Father, we put Him in first place in our lives.  We live to show off how great He is, how kind He is, how powerful He is and how generous He is. This world and all of its contents are NOTHING compared to God!  After all … He created all of this by speaking it into existence in six days.  Who will not live in fear and awe of such a One as Yahweh?  

Now as we go into the next section, keep these relationships in mind, because they matter a lot.  Jews, Gentiles, disciples, religious people, pagans … all of our relationships are based on our FIRST and most important one – we are God’s children and His servants, and that’s what we live for.  Since that is true, how shall we then live? 

Conclusion - Two action items:

Thing One: 
Review the SOM, paying special attention to who Jesus is speaking to and the different groups mentioned (religious people, pagans, disciples, etc.)

Thing Two:
Each day for the coming week(s), remind yourself of the things we DO in order to be “seeking first the kingdom and God’s justice.”  And remember that the second one (strengthening) is the true objective of church (not worship, as is popularly imagined).  And then, take it personally.  Check with someone and ask them if they’re doing the three things.  Are they strengthening a brother or sister?  Are they helping out the hurting?  Are they expanding the kingdom?  Are they even trying?  Also remember to confess to them how you’re doing.  

As disciples these things are to be our top priority (according to Jesus), not school, work, money, politics or even family.  “Seek first” means just that – ahead of all else.  As a group of fellow disciples, our job is to encourage each other to stay the course, not to give up, and to keep getting stronger and bolder and less fearful and more fruitful.  This is especially hard in our culture where misguided people put “family first,” and national politics ahead of God’s Kingdom, and where a gathering of disciples is thought to be “worship” and we go to watch a show on a stage.  Our Lord would require us to deviate from the religious norm, just as Jesus’ first audience had to do.  In other words, we need each other’s encouragement and accountability.

Make it your goal this week, and in the weeks to come, and keep doing it … until it becomes automatic – encourage and be encouraged by your brothers and sisters.  If you do this, you will have the best possible life here, and after the resurrection, you’ll be able to hear your Father say: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  

Won’t it be grand to hear Him say “well done”?   

The one who had received the 5 talents came up and brought 5 more talents, saying,
‘Master, you entrusted 5 talents to me. See, I have gained 5 more talents.’His master said to him,
Well done, good and faithful slave!
You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
(Matthew 25.20-21)

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