Matthew 5:21-26: Right with People, Right with God

I’ve been tinkering with the website, as you might have noticed :), and have managed to lose the pulpit notes I’d posted on last week’s sermon.  Here they are, again…

Introduction: 

  • Matt 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.
  • Mat 5;20 “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Fulfill = several aspects: eschatologically, soteriological, morally, didactically
  • Righteousness = 1. Forensic, or, 2. Behavioral, like Cornelius…  Acts 10
  • I believe Jesus continued in His sermon with the purpose of both fulfilling the Law before their very eyes through correcting the faulty interpretation of the Law, and be instructing them in the kind of righteous behavior that was truly “greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees…”

Verses 21-26 comprise the first of six lessons on how to live the life of righteousness that is truly greater than the scribes and the Pharisees (v20), or, better than the best people we know!

The Pattern of this section (vv21-48):

  • “You have heard that the ancients were told…” = The faulty interpretation
  • “But I Myself say to you…” = The correct interpretation
  • “Therefore…” = The correct application

Big Idea: Citizens of the kingdom of heaven don’t let grass grow under their feet when it comes to making things right with those they’ve hurt or offended.

I.          Jesus cited the traditional interpretation of “You shall not murder” 21

            A.        “You shall not commit murder” 21a

21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ‘

  • “You have heard that the ancients were told, = They didn’t teach—they quoted
  • MURDER = the crime of killing another person deliberately and not in self-defense or with any other extenuating circumstance recognized by law

            B.        And…“Whoever commits murder shall be guilty” 21b

and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’

  • and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ = liable = guilty. 
  • By adding this second verse to the original commandment, they suggested that all a person had to do to be compliant was simply avoid killing anybody, and that the reason to avoid killing anyone was that they would have to end up in court—nothing about God!  They limited the commandment to human reasoning, and made it quite attainable—easy to keep.  Legalistic, formulaic religion is created to be very “doable” for its followers!

II.         Jesus correctly interpreted the command, “You shall not kill,” giving three examples of its violation 22

Restated: To Jesus, underlying attitudes were EVERYTHING, as they were the impetus for all resulting actions.

            A.        I.e., Mere causeless anger is evidence of murderous guilt 22a

22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court;

  •  We get angry when we feel mistreated, insulted, disrespected.

            B.        I.e., Mere contentious expression is evidence of murderous guilt 22b

and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court;

  • (Raca! = Aramaic, “you fool”) = empty-headed, numbskull, dope, goof-ball = these are the names that we call people as a means of demeaning them, of presenting them in our conversation as being less-important, certainly not meriting of our consideration and attention.

            C.        I.e., Merely calling someone “Fool” is evidence enough of murderous  guilt to send a person to hell. 22c

and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

  • moron = in our language, a derisive term describing someone with deficient social and learning abilities, considered very offensive.
  • In the Bible, a fool is a person who has made a moral choice to disregard God by living as if there was not God.  (“low-life” “scoundrel”) cf. Psalm 15

Application:  To murder someone, according to the Law, does not simply mean destroying the physical life—it includes, and often begins with, the attack upon a person’s reputation, self-worth, or reputation.

III.        Jesus applied the biblical teaching “You shall not murder” to everyday life    23-26

Restated:  Since our holy God judges with such an exacting standard we should do all that we can to avoid facing judgment for unresolved anger, disrespect, and estrangements toward others.

            A.        The PRIORITY of reconciliation: Therefore, be reconciled with people before you worship God 23-24

 23 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

  • Psa 66  18 If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear; = there is no value or credit in praying and worshipping God when you knowingly harbor an unresolved stance towards another person.

            B.        The URGENCY of reconciliation:  Therefore, be quick to reconcile,                               before you are judged 25-26

 25 “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.  26 “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

  • No mercy in the courtroom, only justice!  Therefore, make peace with both people and with God while mercy is possible!

The Apostle’s Creed: Week Four

This is the final week of our study of the Apostle’s Creed. I hope it has helped you better understand this great confession. I will put this week’s section in bold font:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

This final section is about the Holy Spirit and the work of the Spirit. The Spirit would later be given more attention. In this creed there is much assumed and it is quite vague, but for us it is about the third person of the Trinity, the Spirit, who proceeds from God the Father and the Son. It is the same Spirit who overshadowed the cosmic waters before creation in Genesis 1.2 and who filled the heart of Christians at the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

The Spirit makes us holy like God. The Spirit unites us to God. The Spirit regenerates our soul so that we can be called “new creation”. It is the Spirit that will raise us from the dead one day as Romans 8.1-18 shows.

The Spirit creates “the holy catholic church.” This doesn’t mean “Roman Catholic” to us Protestant, though we should consider all of Christ’s children to be part of the church. Rather, “catholic” means universal. This part of the confession states that we affirm the holy (sanctified, set apart), universal church of God that goes beyond the divisions of geography, nationality, ethnicity, culture, socio-political identity, and gender to say the least. We are not “American” Christians or “Chinese” Christians, but “catholic” Christians. Our shared identity in Christ by the Spirit is what unites us. Other labels, even denominational labels, are secondary.

The “communion of the saints” is our way of saying we are part of the same family of Christians as those who have died and are buried and those who will come after we are dead and buried. In other words, time and death don’t separate us. We believe that God extents himself to us and keeps us alive in him until the resurrection when we receive new bodies. This means our siblings in Christ are alive in God and we are all part of the same church awaiting that great day.

We believe in the forgiveness of sins obtained for us on the cross by Christ. We do not have to worry that God will judge or reject us. We accept his Son’s work for us.

We affirm that we will receive resurrected bodies someday. Christians do not think we die and then remain disembodied spirits. We affirm the goodness of creation, the goodness of our bodies, and the goodness of physicality. Our hope is not merely to die and be with Christ, but to die and be with Christ in our new bodies as Paul said in 2 Corinthians.

Finally, once we have been raised from the dead we never have to fear death again. We have been promised life ever lasting. Eternal life. We will live with Christ forever,

Apostle’s Creed: Week Three

We have arrived at the third week of examining the Apostle’s Creed (see week one here and week two here). This is the creed with this week’s section highlighted in bold font:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

Christians have told the story of Jesus’ death since the inception of our religion. We agree that Christ was dead for three days before his resurrection. This doesn’t necessitate seventy-two hours, but rather part of Friday, Saturday, and part of Sunday when he rose from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection led to a time where he dwelt with his disciples on earth before ascending into heaven. We shouldn’t think of this as Jesus flying into space somewhere beyond Jupiter and Saturn, but rather the spacial, cosmological language describes Jesus’ return to the realm of Heaven where God the Father reigns. In the Book of Acts Jesus goes upward into heaven. Angels inform the disciples that he will return to earth as he went (1.9-11). Later in the same book a martyr named Stephen sees Jesus in heaven, sitting on a throne in the authority of God the Father (7.56).

This language is common in the New Testament. Jesus resurrected and he ascended into heaven. He reigns authoritatively as God’s chosen King over earth, though he is not on earth. He will return. The Apostle Paul described it similar to the Book of Acts stating that Jesus would return in the sky (see 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). In 1 John 2.28 this event is described as Jesus’ “appearing”. It is not that he is completely absent, but as he dwells in the heavenly realm he is not visible. Jesus’ Second Coming can be described as an “appearing” as much as a coming. Another relevant text worth studying is Ephesians 1.3-14.

Jesus’ return is seen as a time of judgment. Jesus was often described as the “Son of Man”. This takes its cue from Daniel 7 where the Son of Man comes to judge on behalf of the Ancient of Days (God). In the Gospels we have several discussions about Jesus returning to judge. The Apostle Paul talks about God judging through Christ throughout his epistles. Likewise, the Book of Revelation shows Jesus as God’s chosen judge over the world, purging it of evil and making creation into the good place of dwelling intended by God.

Apostle’s Creed: Week Two

Last week we began examining the Apostle’s Creed part by part. You can find my first post here. Let me post the creed again with our section of interest in bold font:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

In this section we move from the person of God the Father to his Son, Jesus Christ. That Jesus is mentioned in the same creed with God as an object of belief is important. While it is not explicit it does seem to imply that he stands with God the Father as one worthy or worship and loyalty.

Jesus is called “Christ” which means he was understood to be Israel’s long-waited Messiah. The Messiah would be a son of King David who would establish David’s throne forever. Jesus is that King, that child of David, the Messiah.

As Son this means he shares the nature of the Father and he comes from the Father. He is the one who inherits all that is the Father’s. Later exploration would conclude that we can speak of him as the second person of the Trinity who is one with his Father because he shares his Father’s divine nature.

As “Lord” Jesus is declared by the church to be the supreme authority in the world. He is greater than the Caesars of the Roman Empire and any other world ruler. Likewise, many have noted that in the Hebrew Bible the name of God was replaced with the word adonai which we translate “Lord”. It may be that there is some sense in which Lord connects Jesus with the God of Israel’s identity.

When he confess that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary we state (1) that his birth was not like just anyone in that it was not the union of a man and woman that brought him to use; (2) that it was the creative work of the Holy Spirit doing a miracle that no human could perform; (3) that like Adam so Jesus is a direct creation of God; (4) that he did share our genuine humanity which he received from Mary; and (5) that it happened in a real place in a real human.

Jesus’ suffering is another way of emphasizing that he was a real human. He suffered like other humans. He felt real pain. The mention of Pilate is another way of locating this story in history. It is not timeless mythology, but an act of God in time.

We confess that Jesus was truly crucified under the authority of Rome. He really died, lest anyone doubt he somehow survived. He was buried in a place where his disciples knew his body had been laid. Finally, Jesus descended into the abode of the dead, experiencing real death, and according to Christian confession he announced to the saints of the past that God has defeated death.

Next week we will look at how Jesus did this.

Apostle’s Creed: Week One.

We have recited the Apostle’s Creed the last two weeks at Grace Bible Church. Pastor Ken Garrett asked me to “exegete” or explain the creed for four weeks which we began last week. In addition to the short talks I will be giving on Sunday morning I will be posting a brief thought on this blog as well. If you have any questions feel free to ask.

This is the Apostle’s Creed (traditional English version):

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. 

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

We discussed the words “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” These words confess a few things. First, we don’t believe in gods plural, we believe in one God. This God is our Father. As Father he is the source of all things created, including humanity. We owe our very existence to God.

As Almighty this means there is no deity, spirit, or being who compares in power to God. God is superior over all. God is the sovereign King of the universe.

There were some heretics in the early church who denied that the true God created everything. They argued that matter and physicality were evil and spirit was good alone. This is not the Christian confession. We believe our God to be the same God revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the story of Israel, as the Father of Christ Jesus.

God created all things and determined their purposes. In Genesis 1 he calls his aristic work “good” over and over again. Our God made all things and he loves his physical, material creation. It is his grand design.

Some people argue today that God is completely divorced from the creation of our world. While Christians have different views of how God went about brining creation into being and setting creation in order we do not deny that God is the Creator. As the Creed say, God is “Maker of heaven and earth.”

God is responsible for both the physical world (earth) you see and the invisible realm that you do not see (heaven).

What does this mean for Christians? It means we can be thankful for the creation we see around us. We are pleased to know its Creator. The cosmos have a purpose and God the Father is the source of all things.

The Lord’s Supper

“…do this in remembrance of Me.” Luke 22:10

The Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal.  Christians all over the world observe it to remember something very precious—the death of Jesus for their sins.  A few years ago Sharon and I visited our nation’s capital, Washington, DC.  It is a city of memorials.  There’s one to the Marines, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, the Holocaust, and many others.  It’s frankly a very poignant, moving experience just to spend a couple of days visiting the memorials in that city.  But there’s one memorial that had great impact us when we visited that great city.  As you fly over it, it appears as a simple, black “V” cut into the grass of the Capital Mall.  There was much controversy and argument concerning its design, but once the Viet Nam War Memorial was completed, almost all criticism ceased.  For on the day that the memorial was officially opened, the public was treated to a wonderful, poignant surprise.  The black stone that the memorial is made out of, on the face of which is carved the names of the thousands of Americans who died in Southeast Asia, has been polished to such a luster that when one stands in front of it, reading the names of our fallen soldiers, one sees himself!  It’s a moving, sobering experience to stand in front of the memorial, reading the names of the fallen…and then, to notice that you are also looking at your own reflection in that polished stone!  The Lord’s Supper is like that.  Look closely at it, and as you participate you will see yourself there, with Him, for when He suffered for the sins of the world, He was surely suffering for your sins as well.