Category Archives: Sermon on the Mount

Stricken

Meditations on the Psalms

For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.(Psalm 3:7 ESV)

God develops a number of motifs in the Psalms. One of the patterns He gives in the first three Psalms is judgment of the wicked. Those who actively rebel against Him will experience the fury of His righteous decision.

Psalm 1 tells us the wicked fail in their rebellion. None of their works or words last “but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Psalm 1:4 ESV). They will not stand before God when He sentences them but will be separated from the righteous (see Psalm 1:5) and will ultimately perish(Psalm 1:6). They will not disappear into nothingness but will continue to exist for eternity outside of God’s presence, never receiving that which sustains spiritual life.

Psalm 2 gives the evidence of the rebellion of the people and those who teach, train and lead the rebellion. When God gives Jesus, the Son (Psalm 2:7) ownership of creation, He will “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:9 ESV). People are to serve Jesus with fear and trembling. If they do not they will perish (Psalm 2:12). This word perishis the same word in both Psalm 1 and here. God speaks twice because He has firmly decided what will occur.

In Psalm 3 Jesus prays to His Father about His passion and the agony of being subject to the wrath and hatred of a people He created in His image for relationship with Him. He loves these people. They hate Him and want Him dead, so they murder Him. They justify their murderous intent by providing false evidence against Him while ignoring the truth of His life, words and works.

During the inquisition of Jesus before the High Priest, He faced questioning about His disciples and His teaching. Note that the position of High Priest at that time was shared by Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas (see John 18:13). Traditionally, there was only one High Priest. Caiaphas was the designated High Priest while Annas was the acting head of the religion, having been High Priest and most probably refusing to relinquish control to his son-in-law. Annas touted tradition and law while ignoring tradition and law. It was Annas who first questioned Jesus and responded to His answers.

Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”

When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”

Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” (John 18:20-23 ESV)

Jesus answered truthfully and was struck on the face. Annas, and the guards he controlled, mocked Jesus. They had no intention of looking critically or objectively at the evidence. They wanted Him dead and were willing to sacrifice their integrity and their relationship with God to murder Him.

Those who struck Jesus on the cheek, mocking Him and refusing to examine the evidence, speaking against Him and training others to do the same, will themselves be struck on the cheek. To strike is to hit, beat, slay and kill. Those who condemned Jesus are His enemies, both individual and personal opponents and corporate or national adversaries. They stand resolute against Him in every way conceivable. But God does not speak of His rendered judgment only once. This is a parallel statement because He will surely make it happen. He will break the teeth of those who speak against His Son. To break means to crush, to violently destroy, maim, cripple and rupture. Their words and actions, the thinking of their hearts, will condemn them, used as evidence and testimony against them when they stand before God’s judgment.

Yes, they murdered Jesus. But He rose from the dead and is now the prosecutions expert and only witness against all who rebel against God.

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God’s Decree

Meditations on the Psalms

I will tell of the decree (Psalm 2:7 ESV)

All creation is bound by the laws of God. What is a decree? A decree is a legal ordinance prescribed by a ruling authority to resolve, to limit, or to fix and approve a specific required action. God is speaking in the first person about an action He has determined necessary which has already been done and finished. History, from God’s perspective, is complete and finished, even though people have yet to live it. He sees and knows what will happen. God is telling us about that which He decided in eternity to accomplish in space-time history.

King David desired to build a temple for God in Jerusalem, to house the ark of the Lord. Before he died God told him, through the prophet Nathan, that he was not the one who would build a temple for God. “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13 ESV). God decreed David not build the temple but that Solomon, David’s son, would build a house for God and the ark of God in Jerusalem. This is what happened in history.

From the beginning, when God created Adam in His image, He gave Adam a boundary. There was only one constraint placed upon him. He was to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:1 6-17 ESV). Adam was given dominion over the earth and everything on it. He was given the enjoyable responsibility of being fruitful and multiplying and subduing the earth. He was even given direction to care for everything, including the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The only restriction place on him was that he did not have permission to eat from this one tree. If he ate from the tree he would die both physically, though not right away, and spiritually. Surely die is actually the word die twice. Die die.

When God brought His people out of Egypt, making them wander through the desert, He gave them laws and ordinances. He decreed they follow His laws. Exodus through Deuteronomy are a compilation of laws and the history of Israel from the time they entered Egypt until they entered the Promised Land. In two places the Ten Commandments, ten irrevocable statements of God about Himself and those who are His, are given, once at the beginning of their wanderings and then at the end. God is specific and pointed in His statements. They are to worship Him only and love each other. (See Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.) These are immutable laws, absolute in the physical world and the eternal realm. They transcend space and time, and are upheld by God throughout eternity.

God’s decrees are not simple corporate mandates for nations and peoples to blindly follow. They are commands for each individual.

God leaves the Christian in the world as a testimony to the world about Him and His grace. Having the image of God gives the ability to naturally follow God and His will. For the Christian, having the indwelling Holy Spirit, because of the corruption of the vessel containing the image of God, gives the tools needed to live righteously in an unrighteous world. Christians do not try to be salt and light. They are salt and light.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)

Following God’s laws and decrees are a natural ability for those created in the image of God. That He has to tell us His decree about His Son is a testament to the truth of rebellion and sin. God gives His written laws so there is no mistake about His absolute will. Go sent His Son, Jesus Christ, as irrefutable evidence of the need of Man and the grace of God toward those bent by sin. Jesus’ life is God’s decree about life

Righteous Judge

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. [Matthew 5:25 ESV]

Your adversary is the one who has collected and examined the evidence against you and is ready to present this evidence to the judge for determination of guilt or innocence. In many places throughout Scripture our adversary is Satan, the accuser. Here, our adversary is the prosecuting attorney who is God and all of the evidence of our sin shows guilt. What is the evidence the Judge will examine? This Judge peers into the heart, knows the thoughts of all and sees everything whether done, possible, probable, hidden or blatant. He sees and knows the absolute corruption of sin.

Sin has bent away from righteousness the thinking of the hearts of those made in His image. Just as God wants to have a relationship with the complete person so too, Satan, the world and sin wants to corrupt the whole person. We associate the world with sin though sin is internal, coming from within the person, and not external. Eve was tempted by the Serpent when she “saw that the tree was good for food” and that the food “was a delight to the eyes” [Genesis 3:6 ESV]. Her adversary used the pleasures and attractions of the things of the world to tempt her internal self to rebel against God.

God made nothing which wasn’t good, declaring all He made “very good” [Genesis 1:31 ESV]. This includes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and its fruit. As part of the world this tree, like every other tree and its fruit, was good. It was not sinful. There was nothing in and of itself which made the fruit of this tree poisonous or bad. It was made delicious. And it looked delicious. But the fruit of the tree was forbidden to them as food. Adam was told to not eat the fruit from this tree.

When we cling to the world we become vulnerable to the temptations of the world. Not everything in the world is wrong or sinful. It is our desires, when attached to the things of the world as having more personal value than they should rightfully have which develops sin in the thinking of our hearts. Rebellion is a condition of the thinking of the heart, not just the “thinking” which is the intelligence and not just the “heart,” or the moral emotional self. Living in the presence of the forbidden demands we obediently trust the Object of faith. That which is forbidden by God, whether a thing or person, may not of itself be sinful. It is desire which uses the thing or the person as a catalyst to bend us away from obedience to God’s command which is sinful. Desire unencumbered by discipline, responsibility and obedience twists our motivations, encouraging disobedience, which causes distrust, which kills faith.

Is desire wrong? Are we not created with desires? Desire to love, be loved, have meaningful relationships? Desire for anything forbidden by God is not automatically sinful. Yet, desire moved to action gives birth to sin which grows and takes over life and is stopped only by death. Eve’s desire was to have what God forbade. She had everything else. Sin and rebellion destroys relationships between God and others.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. [Genesis 3:1-6 ESV]

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions — is not from the Father but is from the world.

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. [1John 2:15-17 ESV]

God is the eternal Judge with authority to render sentence against all who rebel against Him. He sees the evidence of disobedience and has published the sentence for sinful rebellion. He then placed that sentence upon His Son and executed sentence fulfilling His eternal just and righteous requirements.

Now His command is all eat from the tree of Life and live. God’s will is all receive the grace given through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. Rejection of His grace is rebellion, sinful, and brings judgment and sentence.

Testing Love for God

Rebellion begins when we listen to a lie and believe it is truth and then repeat it as truth. We do this because we do not test the lie against truth, or better, allow truth to expose the lie.

When Eve spoke with the Serpent she heard what he asked “did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” [Genesis 3:1 ESV]. Instead of answering his lie with the truth she answered by adding to the truth her own lie. She told the Serpent God did not want them to touch the fruit of the forbidden tree. God told tem to not eat. He did not prohibit touch. I believe Adam was standing there listening to the exchange. I have no evidence for this other than she ate then gave to him. In either case he witnessed her eating the forbidden and then himself ate.

These two are intelligent, morally straight servants of God with dominion over the earth. What could possibly influence them to believe a lie and not the truth? Inexperience? Forgetfulness? Perhaps they had never heard a lie before.  Why would any created by God, who cannot lie, not tell the truth? Why would they lie to themselves? Why would the set a boundary so they wouldn’t even be tempted? Maybe they didn’t understand the boundary God set for them. In any case, Eve added to the truth her own brand of lie and Adam did not stop or reason with her.

Notice the progression of events as the Serpent piles one lie onto another. Notice the thinking of the heart of Eve.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened,

and you will be like God,

knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,

and that it was a delight to the eyes,

and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,

she took of its fruit and ate,

and she also gave some to her husband who was with her,

and he ate. [Genesis 3:1-6 ESV]

The serpent lied when he told them they would not die. In fact, he called God a liar. He attributed to God a personality and characteristic which was not true. He said God did not want them to be like Him, even though God made them in His image. God did tell them to not eat from the tree because He did not want them to know good and evil.  The serpent suggested to them that knowing good and evil was desirable and powerful and a way for them to emulate the One who created them. They were His children and children do want to be like their parents.

God allowed the Serpent, Satan in a skin, to tempt Adam and Eve. He knew they had already added their lie to His truth and He did not stop them or the Serpent.

Satan had already fallen and been ejected from the Presence. He had already shown his disdain and hatred for God. God uses him, the fallen one, to test those He loves, beginning with Adam and Eve and extending to all people. He tests people’s love for Him. We cannot force anyone to love us but know when they do and when they do not. God will not force us to love Him but will strengthen our love for Him once we recognize its truth.

Now, notice the progression of thought in 1 John 2:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

For all that is in the world —

the desires of the flesh

and the desires of the eyes

and pride in possessions

— is not from the Father but is from the world.

And the world is passing away along with its desires,

but whoever does the will of God abides forever. [1John 2:15-17 ESV]

God showed His love for us through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, whose blood covered our sin. When we see the extent of His love for us, recognize it and realize the consequences of it, we begin an intimate relationship with Him. Our relationship with Him grows as we fight and struggle to control sin. We have His strength in us under His control used by us for Him, to show our love for Him.

If we love anything in this world we do not love God. He tests us asking bluntly if we love Him more than we love the world. We must answer honestly and realize and recognize how strong is the tug and pull of the world, our own flesh and the lies of Satan. We cannot control the world and Satan. We do have, with God’s strength, the tools needed to fight and overcome our flesh.

We must not add to God’s truth our lies or the lies of the world. The only way to purge the lie is to have an intimate relationship with Truth.

Evidence and Conviction

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. [Matthew 5:25-26 ESV]

In these verses the word “accuser” means someone who has a justified claim or accusation against another. A “judge” is given the responsibility to uphold every law strictly. Finally, the “guard” is another delegated to carry out sentence.  Each has their place in the justice of God.  All consequences are determined by the violation of a law and rebellion against the One who gave the law.

In these verses the accuser is Jesus, the Creator of all and the Author of the Law. He is not the judge. That position is held by God, the Father, who will judge each man’s works according to the righteous life of His Son. Finally, the officer is the Holy Spirit who will carry out sentence, either guaranteeing our place before God or removing those who are not His from His presence.

God’s image in man comprises many elements. Some specific elements are the mind, or the intelligence, the moral-emotional being, or that which interprets the righteous and just standard of God, and the will. Our minds tell us to do something based on the evidence. Our moral-emotional self warns us of the danger of violating God’s known law. Yet, our corrupted nature suggests we use our intelligence and the moral-emotional to rationalize and excuse sin. Our will acts upon the thinking of our hearts. Rebellion involves the whole person.

Adam and Eve committed one act of willful rebellion and separated themselves and all people from God. Jesus Christ did one disciplined act of obedience and made a way for any to not be separated from God.

Volumes have been written discussing the willful act of rebellion committed by Adam and Eve. Even more volumes have been written and preached presenting the passionate obedience of Christ and the grace offered.

God has a reasonable expectation His commands be obeyed. Adam was given one prohibition. Adam could have confronted the lies of the Serpent with the truth of God. Eve’s response to the lie of the Serpent was to add to the prohibition of God. Adam complacently acquiesced to Eve’s rationalized addition to the command of God.

Eve’s whole person, the image of God in her, was misused to excuse her rebellious action. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” [Genesis 3:6 ESV].

She saw the evidence of the goodness of the tree and its fruit. She delighted in what she saw. She desired the fruit because she knew it would make her as wise as God. Or so she thought. She thought God was keeping from her something which would benefit her.

Living within God’s boundaries, placed not to constrain but to allow the whole person to have a relationship with Him, is true freedom. How can there be true freedom when there are boundaries?

When we try to be something we are not we rebel against God’s design and purpose. We have intelligence and a moral foundation, our emotions telling us when God’s moral standard is being violated or upheld. He created Adam as His servant and gave him dominion over the earth. With one deliberate constraint, to not eat the forbidden fruit, Adam reigned everywhere and over all things. When he ate that which was forbidden he introduced to the world grief beyond comprehension.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden” [Genesis 3:7-8 ESV].

They hid from Him who would judge them. It is obvious to us they should not have eaten the forbidden fruit. Nor should they have covered themselves or hidden from God. They did all of these things and then offered excuses for their rebellion. They were caught. God had already told them the consequences of a single act of rebellion. Hiding from Him would not lessen the judgment.

We all sin. Our freedom in Christ is to come before the Judge, admit and confess the sin and know He has forgiven us because of the Cross. This is “come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” [Matthew 5:25-26 ESV]

Just and Unjust Judges

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. [Matthew 5:25-26 ESV]

Do we have to stand before a Judge before admitting when we have done something wrong? Are Judges known for being compassionate? Do they forgive offenses, willful acts, crimes against men and the state? Is it not their responsibility to look at the evidence and determine culpability? Are they not charged with upholding the law which constrains them? What Judge is going to set aside law for personal preference? If they do then they are not a Judge but as much a criminal as those standing before them. Those Judges who are just will agonize over their decisions because they want truth and compassion, justice and righteousness.

Christians are faced with unjust judges daily. All those around us will judge our actions and words against their arbitrary standard or a predetermined measure. They will assess not only what is right and good but every wrong. For the unjust Judge will build a case regardless of the facts, no matter the evidence. Those being accused of doing something wrong may not have done anything wrong. Christians who suffer for righteousness’ sake face accusers who are judging them because of their relationship with Christ. In fact, they have probably done everything right.

However, I do not think this is what Jesus is speaking about in these verses.

I think he is telling us to judge ourselves against God’s standards so that those who do accuse us have no evidence to substantiate their claims. If they do have evidence because we have done something wrong then we are responsible for righting the wrong. Jesus is using the world’s unjust system as an illustration for God’s justice. We cannot expect non-Christians to act like Christians.

We can expect Christians, or those who say they are Christians, to act according to God’s known will. We must say sin is sin. Jesus is direct in His statements about a brother confronting a brother about sin.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. [Matthew 1815-17 ESV]

Again, I do not think this is what Jesus is speaking to in these verses (Matthew 5:25-26), though they are related. I think He is telling us to admit when we are wrong, confess sin, repent and turn away from sin, before being hauled in front of a Judge. We should not have to be told when we are wrong. A Judge will not be nice. God is loving and compassionate but not nice.

One of the underlying principles of the Sermon on the Mount is the desire of God to make those who are His whole. For the individual, wholeness means being remade, recreated by God into the likeness of His Son. We are created in His image, bent and corrupted by sin, then recreated by His Spirit and fit for here as witnesses and for eternity as citizens. God changes the person immediately but takes His time disciplining and developing the person for eternity. He makes the person whole intellectually, morally and emotionally and willfully. He molds those who are His into people who act obediently as His servants.

I hate the process for it demands I see myself as God sees me, as Christ sees me and as the Holy Spirit sees me. God sees me covered with the blood of Christ. Jesus sees me as one He is willing to die for and did. He who lives in the Christian, the Holy Spirit, sees me as a citizen-student being fit by Him for eternity.

This is important. Christians must not view themselves as they see themselves in the world. God trains us, when we are obedient, to see ourselves as He sees us, covered with the blood of Christ. We stand before Him, and before the world, in His grace.

Have you ever tried to defend, rationalize or excuse your wrong actions and attitudes before an impartial Judge? He will not let you. Either we judge our sin or God does and He may use a human judge which will carry much pain. There is an eternal difference between remorse and repentance.

Offering Our Gift

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24 ESV]

I do not want to leave the impression that for the Christian all suffering is suffering for righteousness’ sake. More often we suffer because of our own sin or as a consequence of someone’s sin rather than because of our relationship with Christ. We may bring suffering upon ourselves. We may experience suffering because of our proximity to sin, as a result of historical sin or because of unrecognized sin.

Christian’s are redeemed and sanctified yet continue to live in the world, in their sinful flesh. Many, because of allowing sin to have a place in their lives continue to violate God’s will and sin against their “brother.” Sin’s effects may carry over generations of families, cross geographic boarders and span history. Adam’s sin is carried by all of mankind. David sinned and the entire nation suffered. God’s third statement declares those who worship idols will teach their children to worship idols. Children learn to sin from those around them and then teach others to sin.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. [Deuteronomy 5:8-10 ESV]

Sin is a reality in the fallen world. Though Christians are redeemed, Christians still sin. Sin stops worship. When we sin against another person we are sinning against two, against the other person and against God. This is not a matter of debate. All sin is first rebellion against God.

Jesus is explicit. If anyone has something against us because of our sin then we cannot worship God. He uses a word which means anything regardless of the size, intensity, relevancy or even knowledge. You, the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, are required to make your relationship with the offended person right. This does not include manufactured offenses based upon any person’s ungodly standard. This is sin violating God’s standards against a person created in the image of God.

Before this can happen there must be an acknowledgment of the wrong done, not by the party offended but by the offender. It is not the responsibility of the person who holds the offense to request reconciliation but the person who committed the sin. Admitting sin is almost impossible for any unless directed by the Holy Spirit and seen through the new eyes of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven. When Christians sin they have to recognize the sin, that it has compromised their relationship with God and with the other person and then mourn of the consequences of sin. Damaged and broken relationships are one of the temporal consequences of sin. Separation from God is the eternal consequence of sin.

Owning sin is one of the characteristics of being poor in spirit and is the first step into the kingdom and the primary characteristic of a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.  Owning the sin is recognizing the truth. “Sin” is not a made-up offense, as when the intolerance of the world demands we acquiesce to ungodly expectations. Our offense is first against God and then against another. But Jesus uses the word “brother” which means brother, someone near and somehow related.  He uses the same word in the previous verses when He speaks to denigrating anyone in the kingdom.

Citizens of the kingdom of heaven are servants of the King of heaven and work toward knowing Him intimately and desiring to be and do His will. This includes offering spiritual worship and keeping clear and righteous relationships with other citizens. Our focus is upon fulfilling the image of God and the likeness of Christ which characterizes the citizen.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners (strangers) and exiles (aliens) to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12 ESV)

We are strangers and aliens in this world. Aliens are citizens of heaven living as exiles, witnesses to the world until they are repatriated. Strangers are passing though the world being prepared by God for eternity.