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 this 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.
1_3 What makes those choices right is that they are based on the Kingdom
One of the other techniques you use a lot in teaching is repetition. You say something at the beginning and later on you reinforce it, and later on you show how it is connected and self-consistent with the next thing you teach. That way, you are not only teaching the topic, you are teaching the student how to think about that topic so he can teach himself. We are now up to Matt 5:17-18. Remember, this whole thing started with the Kingdom of Heaven, all the authority of the lesson is based on the authority of that Kingdom. So, Jesus tells them: “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. 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.”
1_2 What did Jesus ask us to believe?
How did He set about to explain to us His mission? Jesus taught. Have you ever taught anyone how to do something? Maybe you are a teacher by profession. But if not, if you have a skill and you try to pass it on to someone else, don’t you do it in an orderly fashion? Usually you teach something in steps. First you lay down the foundation, the essential rules, then step one; and once they get that you add step two; and maybe once they get that you go back and say this is why I gave you that rule at the beginning. And then you go to step 3 and so forth.
Therefore, for the answer to my question, “what did Jesus ask us to believe?”, I have been going through the gospel according to Matthew, because it is the most chronological of the gospels. It seems to be the one that puts the events and sermons in the order that they happened. It that is so, then maybe it outlines the progression of Jesus’ teaching.