Redeemed Natures: Chapter Three – The Teachings of Jesus (Part 1 of 2)

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Chapter Three

The Teachings of Jesus (Part 1 of 2)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matt. 5:9 (ESV)

When the typical evangelist talks about Jesus to someone who is not a Christian, they usually speak little to nothing about who Jesus actually is, and more about what he has done for those who believe in Him by saving them from Hell.  But  this method of evangelism is lacking in content, and it needs a follow up.   

Christians have to be careful to not only use this simple evangelistic method as the basis for their theology of Jesus.  We have to be careful that our theology of Jesus goes beyond emphasizing the importance of Christ’s miraculous birth, the last supper, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.  If we leave this theology with only those four points, our theology is only based on what God has done for us, when it does little in showing us who God actually is, and how he wants us to live, as revealed in Jesus.  I say this not because I know a secret formula, but because I have observed Christians become so consistently hateful towards others that it consumes them, while Jesus commands his followers to always put other people first, to treat them kindly, and to care for the poor and the oppressed.  I have been that jerk of a Christian…I am sure that many of my readers have as well…But Jesus calls you and me to MORE.

When a new member is officially a part of a Church in a ceremony, the congregation is usually called by the pastor to follow up with this new member; to make sure that he or she is cared for, as well as to hold that person accountable for the beliefs in which they had professed during that ceremony. Likewise, when a person is baptized in a church, the congregation is called show that same care and guidance to that individual, or in support of their parents if a child is baptized.  And so, my question to all of us is:  Do we, as Christians, follow up with others, and with ourselves, to see if we are truly seeking to live for Christ?  Or do we simply say “the prayer”, go to church, and keep on going through our normal lives? It is easy to follow a god who doesn’t demand anything radical..Jesus is not that god.

If you believe that Christ is Lord, that He is the promised Messiah, that He is GOD, then His words are incredibly important.  His teachings are worth following.  If we are to go against His teachings, we go against God in the most direct way that is possible at this current time; for in Christ, the fullness of God dwells (Col. 2:9).  However, though His teachings are important, it is essentially impossible to avoid going against them.  From that anger you hold towards a car in front of you in traffic, to the little “white lies” we tell, or in harboring hateful, prideful, or impure sexual thoughts; we are sinful people.

But the road doesn’t end there with us saying “oh well, it’ll never stop”; Jesus calls us to more because there cannot be a true relationship and connection with Him if Jesus keeps trying to get our attention, and we hit “ignore”. We are desperately in need of a Holy God to redeem us, restore us, and to give us the power to overcome evil within our own lives.  

If Christ is God, and If Faith is serious, Then His teachings are worthy to be followed.  For the purpose of the topic we are studying in this book, I would like to delve into some of the passages that seem to support the idea of a Christian not being involved in killing of any kind, and even to not be involved in violence apart from the Lord’s command or allowance.  The scripture passages presented to you in this chapter are Christ’s Words, and should be taken seriously.  

The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:2-12

“2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (ESV)

In these famous beatitudes, Christ elevates the weak to showcase how transformative the Gospel can be to those who follow Him.  He blesses the merciful, the peacemaker, and the ones being persecuted, and He tells them how their persistent faith will be rewarded.  

The beatitudes are a collection of statements that convey blessings for people throughout time to give them hope, and to give them a purpose. The later blessings are things that all Christians should strive to be:  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure in heart, those who are peacemakers, and those who are so faithful to God that they are willing to face persecution because of that faith and desire for righteousness.  As Christians, we can read these blessings and see that we are to be more than what the world expects from us, and should always strive to be identified as having the attributes amidst persecution.

“Blessed are the peacemakers”

Matthew 5:9 is the verse which I would obviously point out here with the line “Blessed are the peacemakers”.   We must examine what it means to be a “Peacemaker” because violence is innate in our human nature; we seek justice, and we desire to give justice with violence because it appears to be the quickest solution to overwhelming problems.  Therefore, to be a Peace-Maker is in contrast with the natural inclination of humankind.  In The Pillar New Testament Commentary “The Gospel According to Matthew”. Leon Morris writes the following on what it means to be a Peace-Maker:

“There is a quality of peaceableness, a disinclination to engage in disputes, that is admirable, but Jesus is talking about more than that.  He refers not to peace-keepers but to peace-makers, people who end hostilities and bring the quarrelsome together”(pg.100-101).

Morris writes that a peace-maker is active, not passive, when he states that they “end hostilities and bring the quarrelsome together”.  To be a peace-maker is to be in the pursuit of peace; seeking to end things that hinder the progression of peace through means consistent with Christ’s ethic of nonviolence.  The Christian is called to this type of active role, and is told to rise above the norms of natural response.

It is extremely easy, when we are talking about Christ’s teachings on the subject, to water down the words to fit our current understanding.  For instance, I am sure that when some of these familiar passages like “Blessed are the peacemakers”, “Love your enemies”, and “turn the other cheek”, were read to us as children, our well meaning Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, or even our Pastor may have explained it by saying, “Don’t be mean back to a person who is mean to you”, or in relating the word “enemy” with the school bully, a gossipy friend, or someone you just don’t like…  But just a reality check here:  Jesus was addressing Jewish people who were under the thumb of Rome, and who desired independence; so much so that some formed a group called the Zealots who sought to overthrow the government violently (Source: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Zealot).  In fact, the Jewish people of the day were so focused on breaking free from roman rule, that they desired a militant messiah who would lead them out of Rome’s grasp, and establish them as their own nation once again (which is one of the reasons that many did not accept Jesus as the Messiah).  Jesus told people who felt oppressed to love their enemies.  Jesus was radical.  Jesus is still radical today.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you…”

Matthew 5:11-12 says:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (ESV)

Jesus was instructing his followers that although they will go through persecution..that they are to rejoice because their reward in heaven is great, and He reminded them of the great men and women of God who were before them who were persecuted.  In these two verses, we discover two things of great importance.

The first point is is that followers of Christ will be persecuted.  In His audience’s time, they would be persecuted by their jewish peers who did not accept Christ as the Messiah, and by the romans who eventually would hunt them down under the rule of Nero from 54 – 68 A.D.  These followers of Christ would at times be verbally, physically, and socially persecuted all for believing that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, and that He is God.  Even at the point of death, these believers refused to renounce their faith in Him.  

Throughout time, men and women of the Christian faith have been persecuted by nations, societies, and  even from other sects of Christian belief (Catholic vs. Protestant, the persecution of Anabaptists, etc.).  Today, there are still countries where Christians have to meet in secret in order to escape persecution.  

American Christians are even crying out that they are being persecuted by the secularization of America!  Wait a second, side bar: for these American Christians, I have news for you – you are extremely fortunate to live in the country that you do, and it’s time to grow some thicker skin.  Jesus told us that we would be persecuted for following Him, and what you may think is persecution, is but a scratch while others experience tragedy each day.

The fact is, despite what prosperity preachers and some others would have you think, the people of God will be persecuted against, and we need to accept that.  And not only do we have to accept it, but we should rejoice in that we are following God faithfully if persecution happens (easier written than implemented, I know).

This leads to the second  point, which is what is left out of this verse: We are not to respond to persecution with violence, but instead trust that God is in control, and that we will be with Him for eternity, on this earth, as well as in heaven.  Notice how God did not tell the persecuted “Blessed are the persecuted, for I will give them strength to overthrow their enemies”.  God did not give them a manual on overthrowing their enemies, but instead essentially told them, “blessed are you who are persecuted in my name for your faith…don’t worry, I got this – you will be rewarded in heaven”.  

Some of you may be saying that this is a stretch.  I admit that my thoughts on this are attempting to read between the lines, but they are not unfounded.  I arrived to them through thinking about the context of the Sermon on the Mount, including the  “Love your enemies” verse, which we will get to soon.  I also came to this thought through passages such as Romans 12:19, which says: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”(ESV).  As much as we think we can take revenge, and as much as we feel that revenge is justifiable…God is in control, and we should trust His judgement, and keep our eyes on heaven.

Anger: Matthew 5:21-22

“21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.(ESV)

Jesus tended to take things just one step further that what people thought he was going to.  In this section, Christ equates anger with murder by saying that if a man has anger towards another, they murder them in their heart.  Likewise, In Matthew 5:27-28, Christ tells this same audience that if a man even looks at a woman with lustful intent, he has already committed adultery in his heart.  Jesus looked beyond actions, and went into how what a person thinks about another can be just as terrible as an angry, or lustful action.  

But is all anger bad? Is all lustful thinking bad?  

Certainly some anger is good; our reactions to injustice, our anger towards words that mock our God…and certainly some lustful thinking is good – a married couple sharing the joys of one another.

What is being addressed in these passages is anger and lust in the wrong contexts, and Jesus was against both.

Matthew 5:38-42 – Turning the other Cheek

“38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.(ESV)

When Christ states “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, He is referring to a passage in Exodus 21:22-25, which is in reference to paying back a man or group of men who beat a pregnant woman; it is about giving punishment to a crime, even repaying life for life.  This law was given to the budding Israel, and as we covered earlier, God did not reveal his perfect Will all at once, but instead worked with His people at their time.

In the next verse, Christ revealed the complete revelation, which is to “turn the other cheek” when struck.  However, before we get there, the beginning of that verse says: “Do not resist the one who is evil”, which sounds like followers of Christ cannot be a part of bringing about change at all, if that change means resisting evil.  But this does not make sense because Christ himself seemingly went directly against the first century Jewish understanding of the laws of God; thereby resisting the pharisee’s whole religious construct while being proclaimed to be the messiah of their faith.  And so, not resisting evil at all does not make much contextual sense, so this passage may have been be an incorrectly translated, dating all the way back to the KJV, which is what a lot of translations, ESV included, use to base their phrasing off of.  Walter Wink, author of Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, says the following:

“When the court translators working in the hire of King James chose to translate antistēnai as “Resist not evil,” they were doing something more than rendering Greek into English. They were translating nonviolent resistance into docility. Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. That would have been absurd. His entire ministry is utterly at odds with such a preposterous idea. The Greek word is made up of two parts: anti, a word still used in English for “against,” and histēmi, a verb that in its noun form (stasis) means violent rebellion, armed revolt, sharp dissention. In the Greek Old Testament, antistēnai is used primarily for military encounters— 44 out of 71 times. It refers specifically to the moment two armies collide, steel on steel, until one side breaks and flees. In the New Testament it describes Barabbas, a rebel “who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15: 7; Luke 23: 19, 25), and the townspeople in Ephesus, who “are in danger of being charged with rioting” (Acts 19: 40). The term generally refers to a potentially lethal disturbance or armed revolution.

We can see through the point made in this quote that a Christian is not permitted to resist evil through violent means.  In accepting this idea, the whole passage makes a lot more sense: Jesus was all about revolution…but he wanted the heart of that revolution to be love and light in order to bring about change in the hearts of His followers’ enemies.

Finally, in getting to “turning the other cheek”, we come to a bizarre scenario.  Imagine that the school bully was picking on someone right in front of you, and slaps them in the face.  The struck person then turns his other cheek to the attacker, as if to say “go ahead, I have another”.  The scenario sounds bizarre because it is.

Getting slapped in the face is always both hurtful, and insulting;  it is a dehumanizing act that makes the attacked feel trampled on.  It is only natural to strike back. But Jesus says not to.

There is an ancient Christian text called the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, written in the 5th Century A.D, that has a good thought on these verses.  It is a commentary on the Book of Matthew and I am drawing the text from a commentary collection aptly called “Ancient Christian Texts”.   The author states the following as a commentary on verses 38-39 on Matthew 5:

“But you say that the one who struck you contrary to the law deserves to be struck back. True.  But you do not deserve to be the one to strike back because you are the disciple of the one who, when reviled, did not revile in reply and who, when struck, did not strike in return and who, when crucified, prayed for those crucifying him”

The author makes the correct reasoning in stating that vengeance is up to God, and that we do not have the right to administer justice, even if it does need to be done.  I will explore this issue of vengeance further in my writings on Romans 12 & 13.

Verses 40-41 are about the idea of going the extra, undeserved and unasked for, mile, even for someone who has done you wrong.  It is about showing God’s love to someone who doesn’t deserve it, and it is in doing so, that we see how undeserved God’s love is for even us to receive.  “Going the extra mile” humbles us, and beckons us to overcome our selfishness for the sake of serving God, and serving our neighbor – which is a term which we can apply to any person whom we cross paths with, or shares our world with us; in short, our “neighbor” is everyone.

Verse 42 beckons the follower of Christ to be charitable of their resources, and to not show partiality to the poor, but to help all.  This flies in the face of some who would refuse to aid the poor at all because of fear that “their” money would be used to buy drugs or alcohol.  However, there are other ways in which to help, and Christ does not give us the privilege of picking and choosing the receivers of our aid.

In short, this passage that contains “Turn the other cheek” says a lot more than encouraging followers of Christ to be nonviolent in the face of trouble; it in fact advocates for active resistance through Love.

Matthew 5:43-48 – Loving your enemies

“43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.(ESV)

Like the preceding passage, Jesus took a current understanding, and provided God’s perfect Will on the matter.  We cannot blame anyone who would hate their enemy; especially because in the Old Testament, the Israelites killed their enemies with the blessing of God, but Jesus, again, takes things further than where we would naturally go.  He tells us to not only love our enemies, which is hard enough to grasp, but he also tells us to pray for those who persecute against us.

Did he mean for us to pray for our enemies to be killed?  No.

He meant that we should actually pray for them as we would our neighbor; as we would those who we do not have a problem with.

The purpose of praying for our persecutors and loving our enemies is to be Holy as God is Holy.  For just as God sends nourishing and refreshing rains to our land…he also sends that same rain to the land of our enemies.  Loving our enemies goes above and beyond anything that we would do on our own volition.  Loving our enemies is therefore an evidence of a “redeemed nature” which goes against our natural nature. Just like how “going the extra mile” in the passage before this one is evidence of our redeemed natures to the world, the notion of loving our enemies and praying for them is even more foreign to our natural natures that are filled with revenge, pride, and hate.  For just as the passage states (paraphrased) :  “What good is it to love only those who are good to you?  Doesn’t everyone do that? “

Therefore, following Jesus in his teachings on nonviolence and caring for the needy is meant to make us look and be so different from those around us, that we are living examples of Christ doing amazing works within us.  Our obedience is meant to be a way in which we show Christ to our world.

Preston Sprinkle says the following:

“The Sermon on the Mount constitutes Jesus’s radical kingdom ethic. Heads will turn as we turn our cheeks. Our inexplicable behavior will call attention to our inexplicable God. Light will beam across our dark world as we love the spouses who don’t love us back, keep our word when it hurts, judge ourselves rather than others, and— most shockingly— love our enemies who are harming us. When we are cursed, we bless. When we are hated, we love. When we are robbed, we give. And when we are struck, we don’t strike back with violence. A person who chooses to love his or her enemies can have no enemies. That person is left only with neighbors.” (Kindle Locations 2103-2107)

Does anyone dare to scoff at the truth of this?

In recent times, there are two popular real-life examples in which a faith community did the impossible and forgave and prayed for people who killed their loved ones.

In October of 2006, a man went into an Amish schoolhouse and shot 10 young girls, killed five of them, and then killed himself.  One would expect the attacked community to react in anger, to possibly go after the home of the attacker to find some type of revenge and closure.  However, the Amish said that they forgave the shooter, but not only that…some of them attended his funeral, and hugged his grieving wife.

This incident sparked a huge reaction from the media because they could not believe that ANYONE would go to such great lengths as showing love to the shooter’s family, and in even uttering that they forgave the shooter.  Before the days when social media consumed our lives, this act of undeserved forgiveness was widely recognized and known, and it shook everyone to the core.

In June of 2015, a white shooter attended a wednesday night bible study at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, SC (A predominantly African-American church).  After the bible study was over, the young shooter opened fire and killed nine people.  After the incident, when the shooter was in custody, some family members were able to speak with him, and they used this time to express their confusion as to why he would do something like this, but they also used this time to offer their forgiveness to the young man who killed their loved ones in the name of racism.

In both of these instances, the affected family members did not negate their hurt, or their confusion as to why this sort of thing would happen to them; they chose to love the shooter intentionally…even though a natural, and understandable reaction would be to hate them.

In both of these instances, the world was flabbergasted by the Crazy Love and Forgiveness of these people affected by a horrible evil, and in both instances, their faith in God was highlighted as the reason for their undeserved showing of Grace. They were able to look past the evil committed, in order to see the humanness in their enemy.

Luke 10:25-37 – The Good Samaritan

The story of the Good Samaritan conveys this humanness in a people group that his Jewish audience did not like. Please read it below to keep things fresh in your mind.

“25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.

In asking Jesus what needed to be done to enter heaven, the reply was to love God, and love their neighbor. The snarky listener then asked “Okay, well, who is my neighbor?”, and then Jesus replied with something that the listener did not want to hear.

The Story of the Good Samaritan is more than just a story about what it means to do good.  This Story told Jesus’ audience about the good in the people that the Jewish people despised and rejected based on their different culture, faith, and ethnicity.  In a sense, this story helped them see the good, or even the humanness, in their enemies.

In recent times, with the 9/11 attacks, the many middle eastern conflicts and wars since, as well as the rise of ISIS, there is a disturbing hatred/scepticism towards all muslims coming from the Christian Right in America based on the actions of extremist muslim terrorists.  

Because of this hatred and scepticism, blogger Phillip Fletcher wrote an article retelling the Good Samaritan as The Good Muslim.  He conveys the story as such:

A man was going from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, and he was car-jacked by several persons, who stole his clothes, seized his smartphone, broke his ribs, cracked his skull, leaving him unconscious on the side of the road.  Now it happened to be the time of a great conference and a pro-life group was passing by, and when they saw the man, they passed on by. Likewise a missionary group who just returned from India, when they came to the exact same location, they too passed on to the other side.

But a Muslim, as he traveled to work, saw the man on the side of the road, and when he saw him, he entered into his suffering. He pulled out his first aid kit, tended to the man’s injuries and then called 911 for emergency assistance. He followed the ambulance to the hospital and sat over night with the man in ICU.  Next morning he told the hospital billing office, “Here is my credit card. Take care of him and whatever he needs.

In this retelling, fletcher accurately captured the cultural distrust of Muslims by the Christian Right, and related it to the Good Samaritan.  This parable is really about non-hostile cultural differences, and less about nonviolence, though it brings to light the humanness is those that people dehumanize.   If Christians are called to love our enemies, how can we do so through the barrel of a gun?  If Christians are to love our enemies, how can we do so by actively dehumanizing them?

*All sources will be compiled into the “Works Referenced” section at the end of “Chapter Three (Part 2 of 2)”*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Two – Addressing The Old Testament (Part 1 of 2)

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Addressing the Old Testament

(Part 1 of 2)

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”  Gen. 6:11 (ESV)

In nearly every instance where the subject of Christian Nonviolence/Pacifism is discussed or brought up, someone in the room has the understandable question: “What about all of the violence in the Old Testament?”.  Their question is reflective of a broader question, which is: how do we reconcile the call of Jesus to love our enemies with the call of God (the Father) in the Old Testament to slay them?

Before I go on, it is important to note that I do not believe that the Old Testament by itself teaches the ethics of non-violence as portrayed by Jesus, but I do believe that the Old Testament is heading in that direction, and because I believe Jesus is God, I interpret all Scripture through his message and teachings.  In his book “Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence”, evangelical pastor Preston Sprinkles says the following on the subject of how to address these hard differences between the Old Testament and the message of the New Testament:

“Not everything in the law was intended to embody God’s ideal ethic— His perfect way of doing things for all people of every age. The law, rather, was intended to meet the Israelites where they were and set them on the right path toward the ideal. Many laws given in Exodus through Deuteronomy, in fact, were not God’s ideal moral code— His Edenic ethic, if you will. Rather, they were glimpses of God’s ideal that would be revealed fully in Christ. In other words, the law of Moses was designed to guide a particular nation, living in a particular land, for a specific time and in a specific culture.  What we have in the law of Moses is a moral code that both accommodates to and improves upon the ethical systems of the surrounding nations.” (Sprinkle – Kindle locations 488-494)

As an example of his argument, Sprinkle uses the issues of polygamy, slavery, and divorce to show how God tolerated His people’s flawed views, but that He also worked to improve them, and how the new testament continues that transformation of culture.  However, as tempting as it would be to just say “Eh, different times, different revelations”, that still would leave too many stones unturned.  Sprinkle recognized this as well, and he did a good job in addressing the hard questions and passages surrounding this argument.

The purpose of this chapter is to attempt to communicate that while the Old Testament does not, by itself, support nonviolence, it does communicate the following: God’s perfect will as revealed in the Scriptures, the way God dealt with the Israelites back then and for that purpose,  instances where things were done that seem to be contrary to that perfect will, and it point us to the full revelation of the nonviolent ethic through Christ.  

I will break this chapter up into five segments:

  1. Starting at the beginning: Cain and Abel
  2. The Great Flood
  3. Egypt, Captivity, and Liberation
  4. God’s use of government to carry out His Will
  5. The Canaanite Conquest

Starting at the beginning: Cain and Abel

The Lord created the heavens and the earth… everything was created to be “good”.  God created a Man named Adam, a Woman named Eve, and they lived together in a perfect paradise of plentiful harvest, and they had the opportunity to live like this for the rest of their lives.  They only had to follow one rule: Do not eat the forbidden fruit.  But we all know the story…they ate the forbidden fruit.

This act of disobedience broke their chances of staying in this perfect paradise, and their punishments for eating the apparently tasty looking fruit made life harder for them.  But God did not break communion with them; He still desired to care for them, and to love them.

Later on in their story, they had two sons, Cain and Abel; Cain worked the fields, and Abel tended to the livestock.  These two desired a relationship with God as well, so they wanted to make an offering to Him of the best things in their respective responsibilities;  Cain brought some of his fruits and veggies, and Abel brought in the best animal he could.  (Gen. 4:3-7)

But Cain’s offering was not accepted…And this is where the fallen nature of man comes in; instead of being distraught that God did not accept this sacrifice, Cain became angry.  This anger is reflective of Cain’s heart at the time;  if Cain truly loved God, he would be upset with himself that his sacrifice was not accepted, and he would plead with God to show him what to do to make it right.   The motive behind his sacrifice must not have been pure, and this is most likely why the Lord did not accept his sacrifice.  And so, Cain’s focus turned to his brother as he became enraged that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted.  This then led to what we all know happened:  the first murder in human history happened when Cain killed Abel in a field out of jealously and rage (Gen. 4:8).

One would think that God would simply smite Cain for what he had done, and the situation would be resolved; after all, Adam and Eve did have many other Children (Gen. 5:3-4).  However, God doesn’t do this, but instead punishes Cain while letting him live:

“9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”  -Gen. 4:9-12 (ESV)

In this passage, God punished Cain by taking away the ease of his labor in working the ground; making it harder for Cain to do what Cain knew how to do best.  This would serve as a regular reminder of the wrong which he had done, along with the second punishment he received, which was for Cain to be seen as a fugitive, and for him to be a “wanderer on the earth”. We see in this punishment that God is neither a God who is unforgiving, or a God who never punishes those he loves; God recognizes the wrong, forgives the wrongdoer, but at that time before Christ, Cain had a real earthly punishment that he had to receive upon himself.

The story could end there, but it doesn’t.  God’s Grace extends even further past what we could imagine when the following conversation between Cain and God transpired:

“13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.” Gen. 4:13-15 ESV

We see here that not only did God spare Cain’s life, but He also protected it from others.  This is undeserved Grace in clear form, and it is in this that we see that although Cain took a life, and according to the Old Testament laws that would come later, he deserved death, God spared his life, and protected it; God boldly declared that even the life of a murderer was worth saving.  

God declared, in this instance, that retributional killing is against His perfect will.  It is in this example that we can see the perfect will of God apart from a culture that had been corrupted by generations of paganism and barbarism.

The Great Flood

I would like to briefly touch on the context surrounding the bible verse that I placed under the title for this chapter.  To refresh yourself, please read it again below:

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” – Genesis 6:11 ESV

This verse is within the greater context of God becoming disgusted by the evil ways of man, and these ways included their use of violence.  Contrary to all of the rainbows and happy animals that we remember on the flannel-graphs of our Sunday school classrooms, the story of “Noah’s Ark” and the Flood is actually a pretty problematic story for the Christian to consider;  God was willing to kill all of the earth’s inhabitants, except for one family, in order to start over because he was disgusted by the corruption of humankind; their godlessness and their violence.  

Through the earth’s history, we have personally seen how violence begets violence, and how it consumes humanity with its enticing lure for revenge, but that revenge is never quite satisfying.  It is like when we were all children, and we do something to get back at someone if they wronged us, scared us, or whatever it is, and then that person somehow refuses to see that we are now “even”, and they retaliate back.  Violence is an enticing “cure” that never heals, and it can, in many instances, cause even more problems.  

God’s perfect will for the world and its people does include violence.  We see this with Cain, with the Great Flood, and in Revelation when violence is no more…it’s time that we Christians start acting like what God ultimately desires for us to act.  We have the Blueprints, we just keep pushing off the project until a later date…

Egypt, Captivity, and Liberation

Alright, I want everyone to get serious here:  Imagine that your people group has been in slavery for 400 years, and that you have seen the slashes and bruises on your relatives backs and bodies all of your life, and then suddenly, two guys named Moses and Aaron come along and basically tell you, “God told us to go to pharaoh and say “Let my People Go!”.

I feel like after all of that oppression, the Hebrew people desired more of a “bang” than two guys coming back and saying they’d ask Pharaoh, and when Pharaoh said no, God would intervene.  It is kind of like how the Israelites of the first century expected a militant messiah to free them from Rome, and then along came Jesus who had another motive.

In all seriousness, the story of the Exodus is very important in this topic because it informs us that God is more than capable of fighting for His people, and freeing them of their slavery without the need for them to take up arms themselves.  And while at other times, God used Israel in battle and conquest, in this instance, he chose not to.

Here are the plagues that God sent upon Egypt:

  • Water into Blood (Exodus 7:14-24)
  • Frog Infestation (Exodus 7:25 – 8:15)
  • Lice/Gnats/Fleas – depending on how its translated (Exodus 8:16-19)
  • Swarms of Flies (Exodus 8:20-32)
  • Diseased Livestock (Exodus 9:1-7)
  • Boils (Exodus 9:8-12)
  • Thunderstorms of Hail (Ex 9:13-35)
  • Locusts (Exodus 10:1-20)
  • Darkness (Exodus 10:21-29)
  • Death of the firstborn (Exodus 11:1 – 12:36)

At this point, it is important for the reader to note that each of these plagues were administered because Pharaoh refused the request of Moses and Aaron to let the Israelites go each time before each plague struck.  In knowing this, we should also look at the types of plagues poured out, and the order of them.

The first plague is in turning the water to blood.  This killed the fish and other aquatic life, and made a big stink, but otherwise, the Egyptians still had livestock and grain to keep them going.  The second, third, and forth plagues were more of a nuisance than a life altering event.  However, a great nuisance they were, and they got in the way of everyday life.

Starting at the fifth plague of diseased livestock, the plagues begin to become more drastic and life-altering, until finally with the tenth and final plague, God takes away the life from the firstborn of every family who did not have the blood of a lamb painted above their doors.  

FINALLY, Pharaoh lets the people go, and a short while later, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened again, and he ordered his men, chariots, and horsemen to chase after them to bring them back to Egypt.  The Lord put a pillar of cloud behind the Hebrews and the approaching Egyptians as He made a way for the Hebrews to cross the red sea on dry land.  The Egyptians followed, and in the morning, the Lord put a pillar of fire and cloud that caused the Egyptians to panic, and as the Hebrews were making their way across the floor of the sea, the waters came together again where the Egyptians were crossing, and the Egyptians, consumed with rage, perished in the sea. (Exodus 14:15-31)

Throughout the whole Exodus story, not a sword was raised by a Hebrew against an Egyptian…GOD freed the Hebrew people.  And this story not only communicates God’s capacity to work FOR his people, it also communicates God’s divine authority to take life from those who are defiant to His will.

Since I hold the position that I do in regards to believers of God taking life, it is easy to place myself in a box that doesn’t allow for God to take life, or administer justice violently…but I simply cannot do that if I am honestly reading the scriptures.  On this point, I could change my understanding (Lord knows that I would love to be able to write off divinely administered death), but for the moment, I stand in my statement that God has the authority to take life no matter how uncomfortable that makes me. However, even in this example, Pharaoh was given ample time and opportunity to let the Hebrew people go peaceably, and so the Grace of God shines through.  


All Works Cited from parts 1 &2 are posted at the end of part 2. 

Never Forget – 9.11.01

Today is September 11, 2015. 14 years ago, a major act of terrorism struck our country, and the whole nation mourned over the tragedy of the lives lost.

I am sure that those of us who are old enough to remember, even if we were very young, are thinking of the fear and disbelief that fell upon us as we kept seeing those horrible repeated scenes on our TVs as we sought an answer to why this was happening.

A lot of us will feel anger and pain when we think back on this time for the years to come. But it is in these times that we must remember something else:

The pain of the terrorism that struck us is experienced throughout the world on a more frequent basis. There are communities and families who fear EVERYDAY of being killed, bombed, or crashed into.

This is not to minimize in any way the pain that we experienced from this event, but it is to say that Anger and Prejudice are worldwide afflictions. Normal people can become so angry towards a particular person, or group of people, that they start creating stereotypes, start dehumanizing them, and they start to see everything they do as inherently evil. Eventually, this hatred can breed evil action.

As Christians, the Gospel calls us to Love others, to forgive others, and to not harbor hate in our hearts towards anyone. Each one of us has the potential to become a hateful and evil person if we let anger take hold of our hearts and vision. Germany was once taken out of poverty by a leader they trusted and admired, and then that leader led the whole nation into evil, prejudice, and racism. Normal people became supporters of an evil reign because of fear, anger, and frustration.

So on this September 11th, as we mourn those lost, as we reflect on where we were 14 years ago, as we are still completely confused how the terrorists could be so angry and hateful against us, let us remember to continually fight against anger and hate in our own lives, and in our communities in which we call home.

Never Forget – September 11, 2001

9.11.15

A devotional on insecurity hindering potential

On their album, “Continued Silence”, Imagine Dragons produced a song called “Demons”, and the lyrics of the chorus are shown below:

 “When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide” – Imagine Dragons – “Demons”

In the song, the band conveys an honest aspect of humanity: Imperfection.  The “Demons” mentioned in the song are insecurities and past mistakes that make a person vulnerable.   We try to hide the dark parts of ourselves from others, and in some instances this self-censorship becomes a hindrance to our progression as friends, spouses, and even as Christians.  We think we are not “good enough”, so we hold ourselves back.  We think people won’t like us, so we remain silent.

In another song by Jon Foreman called “Equally Skilled”, Foreman laments over his own and humanity’s imperfections, but he ties it up with some ending lines that tell of God’s perfection:

“Both of His hands are equally skilled
At showing me mercy, equally skilled
At loving the loveless, equally skilled
Administering justice, both of His hands, both of His hands” – Jon Foreman – “Equally Skilled”

These two songs communicate humanity’s imperfections, but Foreman’s lyrics give us a hope that at least God has got it right.  Which brings me to the following point:

Humans can be good, or bad.  We can have insecurities and imperfections, BUT in being made in the image of God…we have GREAT potential.  Our “Demons” can hold us back, while God, accepting who we are – including our imperfections, calls us to move forward and to be His Hands on earth.

The early church wasn’t perfect.  The early church was composed of a bunch of new people who needed a lot of direction and correction to keep moving forward together, and to advance the faith.

In Acts 4:22-37, a passage which I wrote about HERE, the early church is spoken of as sharing their possessions so that there was “no needy person among them”.

They weren’t perfect.  They likely worked hard for their money, and were hesitant to share.  But they got past their “demons” of pride and selfishness, and became self-less in order to be God’s caring hands to those around them.

What can YOU do to help your fellow person?

The Sermon On The Mount: Part Seven – Summary

**This post will is the seventh and final post of an exciting series on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts! You can read the whole series in order by Clicking Here**

A Summary of Matthew 5-7

In the last six posts in this series, I have gone section by section through Matthew 5-7, commonly known as, “The Sermon on the Mount”.  In this famous sermon, Jesus covered a lot of topics for Christians to consider, and gave a lot of instruction on how a Christian is Called to Live.

We have learned that Christianity is NOT just saying a prayer and going to church.  Christianity is NOT just about writing sermon notes, reading the bible, or wearing a cross necklace.

Christianity IS About committing to a life centered on Jesus by:

  • Striving to be defined by the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)
  • Being Salt and Light to the World (Matthew 13-16)
  • Fighting our Anger (Matthew 5:21-26)
  • Fighting our Lusts (Matthew 5:27-30)
  • Fighting Against Divorce and Bad Relationships (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • Not taking Oaths (Matthew 5:33-37)
  • Non-Violence and Loving our Enemies (Matthew 5:38-48)
  • Giving to the Needy with a Humble Spirit (Matthew 6:1-4)
  • Seeking God’s Will and Kingdom (Matthew 6:5-13)
  • Forgiving Others (Matthew 6:14-15)
  • Praying and Fasting Humbly (Matthew 6:16-18)
  • Not letting money become a God (Matthew 6:19-24)
  • Trusting God with our lives – whether poor, or whether rich (Matthew 6:25-34)
  • Not Judging others (Matthew 7:1-6)
  • Asking the Lord for Help (Matthew 7:7-11)
  • Treating Others the way we would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12-14)

And finally, following Jesus is about having faith in him, and following him with all that we have, so that our actions, words, and thoughts are reflections of His influence on our lives.  (Matthew 7:15-29)

Following Jesus is a high calling that EVERY Christian is called to.

Are we ready to LIVE like Jesus?

Are we ready to APPLY His teachings to our lives?

The Sermon On The Mount: Part Three – Matthew 6:1-18

**This post will is the third post of an exciting series on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts! You can read the whole series in order by Clicking Here**

Recap – We left off at the end of Matthew 5, verses 17-48.  The topics covered in this section were The Law (17-20), Anger & Lust (21-30), Divorce (31-32), Oaths (33-42), and Non-Retaliation and Enemy Love (43-48).   Christ’s theme in all of Chapter 5 seems to be something like, “If you want to follow me, You’re called to more than what is expected of you from the world”.

In this next section in chapter 6, verses 1-18, Christ’s theme seems to be something like, “If you want to follow me, You’re called to love, pray, and worship genuinely”.

We’re Called to Love Genuinely – Matthew 6:1-4.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:1-4 that when we practice our faith in ways that would seek attention, we are not doing those good actions from a pure heart, but from a selfish heart.   When we help the poor, and when we try to quench the thirst of poverty…we should not do so in ways that would attract attention to ourselves; trying to save face.  We should be doing these things in ways that would Not attract attention, and our motives should purely be centered on serving God, and serving others.

Following Jesus is a religion of humility before a righteous God, and of service to your fellow human being.  Following Jesus is NOT a religion of selfishness, or of self-exclaiming pride

We’re Called to Pray Genuinely – Matthew 6:5-15

Like we learned from the previous passage, we should not pray in order to be heard, or to get attention, but rather, prayer is to be a special moment shared between us and God.

This passage also teaches us that when we pray, repeating the same request over and over again does not make God hear us more;  it does not change how God is going to respond to our request.

In verses 9-13, “The Lord’s Prayer” is said by Jesus as an instruction on how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that has been said throughout Christendom for hundreds of years; some traditions state that its usage dates back to the first century with the early Christians.  Some traditions still incorporate the Lord’s prayer into their weekly services because they believe Jesus instructed that the Lord’s Prayer should be said regularly, while others say it would be vain repetition to say the same words over and over again.  Regardless of our personal opinion on its usage in today’s world, we can at least observe what the prayer intended to communicate to its original audience.

The prayer starts by acknowledging the Lord’s divinity through showing reverence to his name.  It then petitions the Lord to usher His kingdom into the world, and that His Will would be done.  The next part is asking for “our daily bread”, which has been interpreted to mean either literal food, or it could also be a metaphor for spiritual food.  The prayer then closes with asking for forgiveness, while acknowledging our need to forgive others, and to also keep us from the temptation to fall again.

After the prayer, verses 14-15 continue to stress the importance of forgiving others.

We’re Called to Worship Genuinely – Matthew 6:16-18

Matthew 6:16-18 is about fasting, and it ties into the theme of this whole section of Matthew 6:1-18; the idea that we should not do acts of service, prayer, or worship because we want to gain attention; but because we are simply trying to serve the God we love.  

Fasting is meant to be a time of withholding from something for the purpose of worship of God, prayer, and/or praise.  Some observe this practice today, and others do not.  Regardless of what your practice is, the principle for this whole first section of Matthew 6 is summed up in the meaning behind verses 17 and 18, which says:

“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”(ESV)

When a person would fast, their hair, hygiene, and overall appearance could look poor because of their lack of food for whatever amount of time they chose to fast.  Because of this, Jesus gave the literal teaching to make your hair look nice, clean up, and go about your day as if you were not fasting so that what you are doing for God would only be seen by God.  Again, the purpose for this was to tear down people’s perceptions of what it meant to worship as shown to them by their religious leaders, which was public and attention-seeking worship.

Conclusion

Worship is meant to be done for God, and is between him and us.  Different people worship different ways. Some worship God best through contemplative reading, thought, and prayer.  Some worship best through Service, and others worship best through music.  Regardless of the mode of worship, we should never lose sight of the purpose of Worship.

Following God’s Calling: What does that even mean?

**To my readers: Please excuse my lack of any posts over the last few weeks, I intend to get back to my Sermon On The Mount series soon, though I realized that I needed to post something today so that I remain motivated to continue posting and to get back to a regular schedule. 

If you are new here, please take some time to read some of my other posts, including the start of My Sermon on Mount series, which you can read by clicking here.**

What is a “Calling”

A “calling” to me is where your passions or talents, and God’s will for the world, come together.  This is usually something that you do that causes you a lot of joy, and/or a sense of great purpose, even though it could be really challenging.  A calling can either be vocational, or non-vocational; therefore, a priest is following his calling just as much as the full time working woman who teaches softball in her spare time is following hers.  A person in business who has dreams of helping people, and helping his or her customers/clients is following their calling just as much as an international missionary.  As long as we are pursuing what we believe God wants us to do, or doing something that we feel advances the Kingdom of God, it does not matter if its related to our Job or not; your calling does not have to be your job, but it can be.

I am not trying to over-spiritualize things here because, as I stated before, a calling could simply be you doing what you feel most passionate about, and that thing happens to be something that can be used to show love to those affected, and perhaps even show them Jesus through you.

For me, my “calling” is helping people by encouraging them to be independently interested in matters of faith, family, community, and many other things.  I would like to do this through church ministry, bible studies, missions trips, financial budgeting, music, etc..  I have a degree in Business, many college courses in biblical studies, a lot of music experience, and a decent amount of ministry experience; therefore, my “calling” is taking what I can do, and using it for the betterment of others, and for the advancement of the good news of Jesus and his Kingdom through words, actions, and deeds.

I have recently accepted a full-time position as the “Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries” at a church in the town that I grew up in.  I am beyond excited to start this new venture in my life because the job description incorporates everything that I would like to do in order to help people, and in order to share the good news, which is transformative and wonderful (Read my blog post on a transformative Gospel here)

I will be afforded the opportunity to fulfill my calling within my vocation.  Before this ministry position, I was working a desk job within an international corporation, and I had little time to really invest in any other things besides my work and my new marriage to my lovely wife.  The workplace was negative, and I did not have a lot of time to talk to others, so I felt pretty burned out at the end of the day. However, I know of others who’s calling can be fulfilled in the workplace, and they do it well.  I know of others who may work a job they hate because they desire the betterment of their children and family; my dad is an incredible man for showing my own family an example of sacrifice in order to provide for us.

Follow Your Calling

Your calling may be, or is fulfilled in, teaching, finances, construction, music, art, full-time ministry, providing for your family, or a long list of other things.  The importance is that A) You follow it somehow in some way, and B) You use it for God’s glory.  Each Christian is called to be a light in the darkness, a city on a hill, and a lantern revealing the Hope that is present in Christ.  God Can and WILL use you for His purposes , and when you sense a direction that you should go: follow it!  Each one of us has spiritual and practical gifts, talents, and abilities, and not one of us is more qualified to be used by God than any other.

What is your calling?  Are you following it?

The Sermon On The Mount: Part Two – Matthew 5:17-48

**This post will is the second post of an exciting series on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts! And if you have not already, read the first post in this series my Clicking Here!**

Welcome to Lambtheology.com!  I am excited to write again after not posting in several days!  Please join me in this second post in my series on The Sermon On The Mount, focusing on Matthew 5:17-48!

Recap – We left off of the first note on an idea that those who claim Christ as Savior are expected to Strive after him, and to be different from, and enrich the world.  We now continue in Matthew 5 to the end of the chapter; looking at some of the wild and challenging teachings of Jesus.  While going forward, please keep in mind the surrounding context of these three chapters in Matthew, which was stated in the first post.

Matthew 5:17-20 – The Law

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus sates that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. When a lot of us come to this passage,  we either skim over it because we do not know what to think, or we get conflicted over whether or not we should have had those pieces of crispy bacon for breakfast.  In other words, is Jesus saying that all of the Old Testament laws apply still for today?  I would wager that if we take this interpretation we will miss the entire meaning of this passage, which is that some of the Old Testament laws are lasting, but some of the jewish religious leaders of the day had the wrong interpretations of those laws because they did not have the full revelation of Jesus.

Christ came to explain God’s law in a way that could not be done before, to fulfill some of the law which is unneeded for to day, and to do away with faulty and harmful interpretations that put unnecessary constraints on those seeking to follow the Lord.

Matthew 5:21-30 – Anger & Lust

Based on what was said in verses 17-20, we come to Matthew 5:21-30, which would have been a profoundly complex and challenging message to the original audience, and has continued to be so throughout all of time.  In this passage, Christ takes what is known to be wrong, actions of anger ,and adultery, and he calls those who seek to follow God to not only refuse to actions of anger, or commit adultery, but to seek to sensor your thoughts because even they can condemn you of doing the actual act!

Anger – The first issue addressed in this passage is anger.  The text says that if you have anger in your heart for someone, than that is the same as committing an action of anger – murder, fighting, etc..  To be angry at someone means that you do not wish good to come upon them; in essence you want their quality of life, or perhaps even their literal one, to be diminished or stopped.

Jesus tells these people, and us today, that having anger towards someone, or insulting them, is worthy of the same punishment as killing them: separation from God. This is an extremely high calling for the Christian, and one that reminds us to keep our anger in check because Anger should never be a defining adjective of a Christian.

Lust – One of my favorite stories from the last youth group I led was when a 15 year old boy comes up to me after a lesson which included the passage on lust, and he asked me, “Jon, Jesus didn’t REALLY mean what he said for 15 year old boys, right?  We do that all the time!”.  After laughing a bit at his honestly, I simply said something like, “The thing is, Jesus didn’t tell this to a people that Didn’t deal with this issue – Its meant for all of us.”  All of us deal with lust, but the difference comes in how we respond to the temptation of lust.  When a lustful thought comes in our mind, do we try to do away with it right away, or do we let it sit there a while for us to mull over?  It is not something thats easy to do, but over time and intentional effort, lustful thoughts can become less frequent or fade.

When we think lustfully about someone, whether we are a man, or a woman, we disrespect their own worth as human beings – as being made in the image of God. So when we talk about lust, we have to remember to look inwardly first.  Lusting after anyone who is not our spouse, in action or thought, is not surrendering your life to following Jesus, and to Love others.

Matthew 5:31-32 – Divorce

The topic of divorce is touchy.  We all know someone, maybe it is ourselves, who has been affected by divorce.  This is one of those topics that Jesus speaks on in the Sermon on the Mount that some want to leave out because a stance like the one of Christ’s is hard for a lot of us to take.  I believe in and work for my own marriage, and I pass no judgement on those who have had a different story than my own.  With that being said, let us get back to the text at hand.

Christ begins this short teaching in verse 31 by restating a known writing of Moses which allowed for a certificate of divorce (reference), and then going seemingly against that teaching to take it further in saying that anyone who divorces their spouse, except for reasons of sexual immorality, will then make that person an adulterous.  Why would this be?  Because marriage was meant to be till death, and just because the legality of a marriage is gone does not mean that the substance of that marriage before God is gone. When the vows are exchanged, and the blessing of God is uttered, that marriage is a consecrated covenant between two people and God.

Matthew 5:33-37 – Oaths

In this passage, Christ tells the audience to not take any oaths, which was based on an Old Testament teaching that followers of God should not swear falsely.  Again, Jesus took it one step further.  He does not want His followers to swear by anything in heaven, or on earth because we would be swearing by things that are not ours, but are God’s: “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King”(vv.34-35).  We are not even permitted to swear by our own body – for we do not have true ruling over our own bodies like God does.  Instead of swearing Oaths, Christ tells us to simply let our words be all the proof and backing that we need; for our words to be words of integrity that they would not need oaths to be spoken. 

Matthew 5:38-48 – Non-Retaliation & Enemy Love

It is in this passage that most of the argument revolve around in regards to the Sermon on the Mount.  Humans do not want to be told to do something that is drastically opposed to our nature; humans do not want to be told to “turn the other cheek” or to have any sort of love for any sort of enemy.

Christ tells his audience that when someone would slap you on the cheek, to turn the other one to the attacker also.  Some cheapen the application of this passage down to simply mean that in light confrontations, be the better person, and don’t fight back.  But in taking that interpretation, the entire surrounding context of first century Israel is thrown out of the window because the main agitators of the day would not have been comparable to your angry neighbor, but were Roman soldiers who ruled by the Iron fist of caesar.  Followers of God are not to violently retaliate, even in the extreme instance of an oppressive military force.

Moving on to Christ speaking of loving your enemy, lets remember who the “enemy” was to first century Israel, and let us not reduce “enemy” to only be applied to the town gossip, or town drunk. Christ, again, takes an old teaching of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy, and takes it a step further by saying that a follower of God is to try to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecuted them.  “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have”(v.46).

The question then comes down to how we view this passage and apply it to our lives.  We should not stand by interpretations that cheapen the contextual meaning of this passage by only trying to apply the word “enemy” to individuals in our communities and schools who pose no physical threat; the word “enemy” may apply to such individuals, but it is more aptly applied to physical and violent enemies.   What do we, as 21st century people, do with this teaching?  Can we reconcile the natural human urge to violently retaliate and to hate our enemies, with the words of Jesus?

I’ll leave you with that.  I am sure the topic will come up again in the existence of this blog.

Conclusion

Christ called the jewish people then to more than what they had previously thought was required of them, and he does the same for us.  It is not enough to merely say a prayer and go on with life; Christ calls us to FOLLOW after Him and His teachings and Actions REGARDLESS of how against those instructions are to our natural inclinations.

Are we willing to follow?

Holy God, we come before you to confess the errors in our ways of esteeming ourselves above you. We confess that we are not perfect; we need your love, and we need your continual redemption of our lives, and our minds.  Transform our hearts to reflect the desires of you to Love you with all we have, and to love others as much, or more, than we love ourselves. We pray these things in teh name of Jesus Christ, Amen.  

The Sermon On The Mount: Part One – Matthew 5:1-16

**This post will be the first post of an exciting new series to this blog on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts!**

The sermon on the mount is known to be both inspiring and challenging.  Within these three chapters, Jesus says some things that, if we are to apply them literally, would drastically impact most of our theology and the way that we view others – within the church, and outside of it.  Please join me on this journey to study this compelling, controversial, and undeniably thought provoking segment of Scripture.

The Sermon On The Mount: Understanding the context

The context of Matthew 5 is that Jesus has started his ministry, picked his disciples, and is traveling and preaching to cities and towns throughout ancient Israel.  In Matthew 4:23-25, we discover that the crowd that Jesus is addressing in Matthew 5, is made up of people that were following him from town to town to hear more of his message; this crowd would have been made up of common people, mostly of the Jewish faith, who were curious about this man named Jesus who appeared at the least to be an inspiring teacher, and at best to be a prophet of God (They most likely did not think, or were convinced that, he could be their messiah at this point).

Therefore, in Matthew 5, we have an interested crowd following Jesus; having a hunger to know more about Him, and what He was saying.  These people most likely knew and practiced Jewish law as prescribed by Moses, were oppressed by a Roman Government that regularly overtaxed them and limited their freedom, and if they Did expect a messiah at this point, they would want this messiah to free them from Roman rule, and establish for them a nation of their own.  To convey this point further, within this group could have been some people who identified with the Zealots who were a political group at the time, who were seeking to overthrow the Roman Government, and desired to do so through a violent revolution. If members of this group were not a part of the crowd, the members of the crowd were certainly aware of them.

Matthew 5:1-12: The Beatitudes

Based on the surrounding context, the beatitudes speak of hope to an oppressed, weak, and poor people, but parts of it would also be hard to swallow and to believe. To understand the beatitudes, we should break each of the blessings down.

  • “Blessed are the poor in Spirit – for theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven”
    • A broad message of Hope for a people who have almost lost all hope.
  • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”
    • A more specific blessing to those who have lost family members, or friends.  Perhaps this could also be for those who have lost a relationship, even though the other person or people still live.  This gives them hope when all they see in the moment is grief-fed darkness.
  • “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”
    • The oppressed meek, who are told to submit to and bear with the trials of this world, are told that they will inherit the earth.  This could be referring to the eventual ruling of Christ over the new world/New Kingdom, or it could be a metaphorical statement meaning that believers will find great joy in their faith.
  • “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”
    • The crowd was longing for the redemption of their people; for they have been under earthly oppression for a long time.  Though they grew weary, they still wanted justice and for the wrong to be righted.  Jesus told these people that they will be satisfied; though contrary to their possible assumptions as to how that satisfaction would be met, Jesus knew that spiritual renewal was more important than physical renewal in the form of politics and nations.
      • In many instances, our hearts cry for justice and righteousness for our world, and for our own lives.  This message is meant for us to know that Christ has, is, and will continue to satisfy our hunger for righteousness; for He is a God from which our idea of Righteousness originates from.
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy”
    • To show mercy is to go above and beyond caring just for yourself, and to care and love those who need it most, those who have wronged you, and those who perhaps may not deserve mercy in your eyes.  Jesus is telling this crowd that mercy and love, as opposed to punishment and revenge, is the higher calling, and that good actions will not go unnoticed.
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”
    • This message was for those who were honestly striving to be their best in order to please God, and for those who truly desire for God’s purposes to become a reality.  David was called a man after God’s own heart, yet David did awful things in the name of lust; God forgives and sees our true selves, and our true heart.
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[Sons and Daughters] of God”
    • Please take a moment to observe the word “Peacemaker” which is the common translation of the Greek word used in this passage in many translations (See the Greek word here).  The term “peacemaker” implies action; and not JUST action, but a kind of action that Creates peace when there may not be peace, or continues to make peace in a conflict ridden world. Some may have viewed this as peace being created through the use of violence; to overcome the roman rule so that Israel could finally have peace.  However, in passages that we will get to later, it is unlikely that that was the sort of peacemaking that Christ was referring to.
      • In our context, this statement is still a little bit of a shock to some, but I think that all people can agree on the need to make peace in areas of conflict throughout the world, and to do so non-violently would at least be the preferred option in most situations.
  • “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
    • If a person is persecuted for doing the right thing, and/or believing the right thing, than that person is blessed, and although this life may be full of trials, the Kingdom of Heaven awaits for them to find rest, peace, and joy.  To be persecuted for doing what Christ would have you do, or believe, showcases your faithfulness to God.  Jesus was speaking to a group that would face beatings, torture, and death for their belief in Him if some within the crowd came to believe He was the messiah later on in His ministry.

The beatitudes are a collection of statements that convey blessings for people throughout time to give them hope, and to give them a purpose. The later blessings are things that all Christians should strive to be:  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure in heart, those who are peacemakers, and those who are so faithful to God that they are willing to face persecution because of that faith and desire for righteousness.  We are to be more than what the world expects from us, and to strive to be identified with these attributes listed.

Matthew 5:13-16 – Salt and Light

Christians are called to more than what is expected from humanity.  We are to be different, and to be something that makes the world better; to be salt to enrich the world, and to be light to expose the bad and injustices, and to highlight, or reveal, the good.

Conclusion

There are blessings for those who continue to seek the Lord even when the going gets rough.  The Kingdom of Heaven is a hope that gives our life direction, and the idea of heaven and Jesus resolves the dissonance of life’s conflicts and trials when we honestly strive to follow Jesus.

Do not give up, for our reward is great, and our purpose on earth is to make it better for His Kingdom; to be salt and light.

Loving Jesus & Loving Others: Relational Ministry

“Christianity is not a Religion….Its a Relationship!”

There is some truth conveyed in the above quote: the relational aspect between God and Humanity is one of unique qualities about Christianity that makes it stand apart from other world religions.  In Christianity, God is someone we can approach and tell all of our troubles to, and our God understands us in deep ways because our God became one of us. But to me, this is exactly what makes Christianity so appealing among the other religions.  Christianity is by its very definition a religion (that is an inescapable identity), but Christianity is also one where God understands and wants to commune with us.

The prime focus of my theology, my understanding of God, comes from Jesus – the one who tore the vail of the temple that separated humanity from the Holy of Holies, which what was known to be the dwelling place of God. The one who made a way for the common person to approach the throne of God.

I Love Jesus; I sincerely do.  He freed me from my sin in a general and broad sense, as well as in specific areas of my life that needed to be redeemed.  But more than that, I Love Jesus because of who He is; a relatable God who is all powerful and yet a God who cares for us all individually. While on earth, He healed many of their sickness, sins, and ailments. He also preached through words and example on how to live in a way that is honoring to God; to Love God, and to Love others.

I try to show my love for Jesus to Him by following his example in the way that I treat and interact with others, and although sometimes I am just not good enough, Christ has still been using me as a light for His purposes.  I think it is important for all of us to follow after Christ in this way, and the warmth I feel from some other church goers, known and unknown, is a wonderful feeling because I know from where that love emanates.

The questions we should ask ourselves are these:

  • Am I truly thankful about having Christ as my God every single day?
  • How can I show my love for Jesus to others?

Each one of us has different skill sets and abilities, and so we will all show Christ’s love differently and through different mediums; that is the beauty of the Church!  The Church is not built up of the same personalities, but is rather built up of many personalities with one Goal, and reaching and honoring that goal in their own unique ways; reaching others in ways that one personality would not be able to do.

May the Lord God Bless us all as we go throughout our weeks, interacting with others in our own unique ways, and sharing the message of a relatable God through the wonderfully diverse Church of Jesus Christ. Amen.