I have been going through the Gospel according to Luke with his admonition in mind that what he has written there was done with method: arranged to teach us, the way Greek tutors taught their pupils. As he says in the introduction to the Gospel, his purpose is to enable us to know the certainty of those things in which we have been instructed, the things we have believed.
If there were a formula for turning paper into gold, and you had it, what would you do with it? You’d use it and get rich, why not? If there were a formula for turning water into gasoline, and you had it… Hey, no more $3, $4 a gallon fill ups, right? If you knew the formula for living a successful life, and you could apply it, wouldn’t you?
What’s a formula?
Most of the sermons posted on this blog come from the Sunday services that I have held at a local Jail, over the years. This one is from a service there this Christmas. Sometimes we just need to let Scripture speak for itself. And sometimes another worker of the harvest has already said something better than I could ever say it. That was the case this Sunday. (All my scripture quotes are taken from Darby’s translation.)
In our journey through the Sermon on the Mount, last time we reached Chapter 7 of Matthew’s gospel. The admonition – or commandment – Judge not lest thee be judged gave us two important themes that we should always keep in mind as we strive to follow Jesus. First, was the concept of like for like: If I really want my Father in Heaven to bless me, to take care of me, to be merciful with me when I need it, to rescue me when I have stumbled, to rescue me when I have fallen so far that I can’t even tell where I am, to feed me when I am starving, to give me shelter when the storm has just torn my life apart… if that’s what I want and what I need, then like for like: I need to turn around and do all these things for his children. It is a law of the universe our Father created. We cannot walk in the Kingdom and ignore it.
There is another dimension to the rule “Judge not lest thee be judged” that we need to talk about. Remember back when Jesus was talking about anger? He said that to call someone Raca (empty headed) makes us answerable to the court. But calling anyone a fool puts us in danger of the fire of hell. Why? Why is calling someone a fool, so wrong? Because, as Jesus’ Jewish audience would understand, this is an allusion to Psalm 14:1 (and Psalm 53) The fool says in his heart, there is no God.
We already pointed out that in the middle of the first section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says: (Matthew 5:48) Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. And then He starts laying out how God our Father expects us to live in relationship to the people around us. That continues in the section in chapter 7 of Matthew’s gospel we are about to start. But before going forward it is worth recapping where we’ve been because it will help us see a thread that runs throughout this teaching. It is one of those threads that helps make sense of the whole because it reveals an underlying law that connects the various requirements. These requirements are not individual stand-alone commandments, they are interconnected by one truth: My relationship with God and my relationship with my neighbor are inseparably coupled by the concept: Like-for-like.
3_2 Is there any greater power in this world than money?
Matt. 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Treasure, wealth stored, is security against an uncertain future. The treasure we can store in this world is well known: riches, money, things we acquire. But what treasure is Jesus talking about that we can store in Heaven?
Last time we finished with the Lord’s prayer. It takes the choices that Jesus asks us to make and puts them in prayer form. It is an acknowledgement of the difficulty of the task. As I said, making the choices isn’t hard. It is the consequences of those choices that can quickly become an uphill battle. Jesus likened that journey to picking up your cross and following Him. Why?
2_2 The place of Mercy
We have been going through the Sermon on the Mount, up to verse 57 of Matthew 5. He already outlined the choices I need to make because my life affects other people. But now in verse 58 Jesus gets to a set of touchy points. What about the choices that other people make that affect me? Matt 5:38-42 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.’
We continue this week our walk through the Sermon on the Mount because it is Jesus’ first and most comprehensive explanation to the people of his day of the meaning of His Mission. And this is important for us because if God and His Son define believing in Jesus as the one prerequisite to be saved, to attain eternal life, then we have to understand what Jesus is asking us to believe.