Fasting

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

-Matthew 6:1, 16-18


THE FASTING TRADITION

Fasting has traditionally been understood as a voluntary withholding of all natural food from the body for a determined period specially appointed for moral or religious ends.  The Jewish Encyclopedia notes that almost every religious movement in the world includes some form of fasting.  In Jewish tradition, there were at least 25 occasions when the more devout were encouraged to fast, including the fast of Purim which is still observed.

Under the Mosaic Law there was only, ceremonially, one day of fasting: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29, 31).  This event foreshadowed the the Passion of Christ (cf., Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17). The imagery of the scapegoat in Leviticus 16, is significant in light of the cross.

FASTING’S PURPOSE

However, in Isaiah 58:1-12 God specifies the purpose of fasting that goes way beyond a simple ceremony.  It strikes a fatal blow to the  duplicity of man’s heart.  This is not simply some pagan ritual that people do to please God to receive His blessing.  Fasting insults God when it is accompanied by godless behavior:

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

– Isaiah 58:3-5

God then, through Isaiah, redefines fasting.  It is loosening the chains of injustice, untying the cords of the worker’s yoke, setting the oppressed free, sharing food with the hungry, providing poor wanderers shelter, clothing the naked and receiving family members into their homes (Isaiah 58:6-7).  These activities are what open the door to the morning light, healing, righteousness, the Lord’s glory in their midst and a God who answers their cries for help (Isaiah 58:8-9).  God commands them to do away with oppressive yokes, pointing fingers and malicious talk.

It is difficult to read of this scolding of two-faced religion and not hear overtones in Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats on Judgement Day (Matthew 25:31-46)!

GENEROSITY, PRAYER AND FASTING

In Matthew 6:1-18 Jesus addresses three practices that are associated with religious practices all over the world: giving to others, prayer and fasting.  The overriding question that rules each of these practices is “Why are you doing this?”  In each case, if the purpose of doing these things is to impress others, you have missed the point of the exercise.

These are characteristics of your spiritual walk with God that are private, personal and intimately between you and God.  Fasting is the third of these characteristics.  The principle Jesus is sharing with us is not new and we would do well to listen to our hearts as we consider their place in our desire to be like our Father in Heaven.

FASTING SUMMARY & CONCLUSION

We all are absolutely, totally dependent upon God for all we have, all we are and all we need.  What separates the follower of Christ from the rest of the world is that we acknowledge our dependence upon Him and we declare our desire to be like Him.  That desire for Him is so strong that discipline of fasting simply places a physical exclamation point at the end of our hungering and thirsting for Him through our pleas for more before His throne.  Our desire for Him becomes so real in our lives that we cannot imagine ever walking away.  With practice, we become more and more enamored with His presence and, conversely, resistant to those things that would draw us away.

Fasting can be a sacrificial lifestyle before God.  A form of self-control or discipline that underlines our decision to be totally dependent upon God.  It can mean food or drink or music, temporarily giving up needed things to emphasize the reality of our total dependence upon God.  It can also mean permanently giving up anything that hinders our dependence upon—our hunger and thirst for–Him.

Prayer

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Matthew 6:1, 5-15

Imagine standing in front of a crowd with trumpets sounding and heralders hearlding that you are now about to pause to pray!  “Silence!” the announcer cries out!  “It’s time for this holy person to pray!”

Just the thought of such a scene brings a wince to our faces as we consider the hubris of someone willing to announce their holiness to the world! 

And then I think of the times I have prayed publicly in church, before dinner or with a family in a hospital room wondering how my audience might respond to my special choice of words…and I hang my head.  Suddenly I don’t feel so holy after all.

THEY ARE NOT MY AUDIENCE!

“They are not my audience!” I cry out in shame.  Our audience in prayer is to be to The One and Only God of heaven who desires an intimacy with me that is just between the two of us.  There is only God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that I should be focused upon.  He will attend to the hearts of the people around me!  It really is not about me!

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” – Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

CLOSE THE DOOR!

Jesus’ elegant prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) shines forth to teach us.  And so we learn that our conversation with our God is unpretentious, not littered with mindless repetition, but straightforward, simple yet thorough.  It is a prayer that celebrates our total dependence upon God as we live life, wrestling with our pride and arrogance under the ever-cleansing flow of the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7).

Audience of One

“…go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:6)

Giving, Parts 1 & 2

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Matthew 6:1-4


Citizens of the kingdom of heaven keep their hearts in check by living their lives of generosity quietly.  Jesus is concerned that we might focus upon the wrong audience for approval.  At least three ways to live generous lives are available to every person.

  1. Ostentatious: “Hey everyone, watch me help this poor person!”
  2. Prideful: “Hey God! Did you see that?  I’m really good in Your sight, now, aren’t I?  Not like that person over there.  I’ll bet he doesn’t even tithe, let alone give more like me!”
  3. Perfect: “God, help me be more generous in every way, just like You!”

Jesus makes it clear that the rewards for the ostentatious or prideful are the immediate gratification they get in the moment.  In the kingdom of heaven, however, that is where their blessing both begins and ends with nothing to show for it.

In this two-part series we spend time talking about the generous life that strives to imitate God’s generosity in part 1.  Part 2 focuses upon giving consistently in a planful way that honors the Lord in faith by putting Him first.  Also in part 2 we used three charts to illustrate our own giving patterns and to encourage each other to become every more intentional in how we give.  Here are the three charts:

 

 

 

 

 

Here we see a monthly average of giving since February 2012 with a clear uptick in our present giving.

 

 

 

 

 

Here, focusing in to the last 1 1/2 years, since January 2017, we see a similar pattern as we average each month’s giving patterns.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, we look at the week-to-week contributions over the last 1 1/2 years and the pattern swings more erratically.  This seems to reflect a more inconsistent tendency in our giving.  Hence, today’s lesson simply focuses upon making sure that we are being planful and intentional in our giving, putting God first in faith that He will provide.

Oaths

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Matthew 5:33-37


Oaths or vows are serious matters to God and not subject to the technical exemptions men may create to skirt responsibility for promises made and broken.  Jesus tells us that citizens of the kingdom of God are  transparent people to whom truthfulness is a critical characteristic.  When they say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ their word is their bond to which further affirmations are unnecessary.

Of course, this quality of truthfulness is a natural result of people who acknowledge their brokenness before God, mourn over their sin, meekly submit to the will of their Father, seek His  righteousness, practice mercy towards others and walk with purity of heart to help others resolve their differences, even to the point of selfless suffering (cf., Matthew 5:1-12).  The thought of deceitfully promising something while holding on to a loophole or escape clause is not conceivable to them.

“Oaths” – May 20, 2018

One

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:27-32


CONVERSATIONS

It is interesting how quickly discussions about marriage  can gravitate to conversations about marriages gone bad.  Divorce, remarriage, fornication, adultery seem to be topics that work their way into the dialogue rapidly as we recall someone else’s recent divorce, betrayal or remarriage…maybe even our own.

Question: How often do we have conversations about what is truly great about marriage?

BEHIND THE CONTROVERSY

In this passage it is easy to become embroiled in the controversy that Jesus addresses among the religious leaders.  When we speak of marriage we assume we are all thinking the same thing.

And so, we are automatically drawn to the controversial rather than the generally accepted.  The religious rulers of Jesus’ day seem to have largely moved past discussions of marriage and gravitated towards divorce: a fertile field for debate and polarization across a wide spectrum of opinions.  This becomes even more explicit in Jesus’ answer to their divorce question in verse 3 of Matthew 19:1-12.

THE CHALLENGE

“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,” God said (Genesis 1:26).  In John 1:1-4 John speaks of “the Word”, Jesus Christ, who was there at the beginning with the Father and the Holy Spirit bringing about the creation in all of its grandeur.  Mysteriously (to us) perfect singularity in purpose as One is now granted to mankind as man and woman unite to mirror the great Oneness, in whose image they are created.

So, it only makes sense that this mystery continues in mankind as man and woman unite in marriage:

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Genesis 1:23-24

When we descend into the distortions of God’s intention the process of dissention and controversy begins as we analyze the aberrations of God’s intent rather than dwelling upon the grand design.  The religious rulers had been guilty of this very problem and Jesus goes right to the real problem: the heart of man.

THE DREAM OF ONE

Praying for all future believers, Jesus’ prayer on the night He was betrayed highlights this longing of God for a divine one-ness with those created in His image:

20 “…I pray also for those who will believe in me through their [the apostle’s] message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17:20-23

THE GRAND DESIGN

Jesus prayed that those who would believe in Him would be one, just as Jesus and His Father were one.  This is why Jesus gave the glory that God gave to Him to those who believe, “that they may be one as we are one–I in them and you in me–so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:22-23).

Taking the next step, Paul makes in clear in 1 Corinthians 10:31, everything we do is to be for the glory of God.  Whether individually or collectively as the body of Christ, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus(Ephesians 3:21).

Now, what happens a man whose mission in life is to glorify God marries a woman whose mission in life is to glorify God?  In their one-ness they now work together to glorify God in their marriage and, in the process, become the mirror of divinity that God intended at the beginning.  They, too, become one in marriage as the Father, the Son and the Spirit are one as God.  The natural outcome is that their marriage glorifies God as God intended it to do.*

THE GRAND HORROR

In this context there are at least two things that do not make logical sense any longer.  First, the idea of adultery or fornication do not have a context.  Second, divorce itself wars against the very divine intention of a holy God.  “I hate divorce” God says (Malachi 2:16).  When two God-loving people whose only desire is to glorify God come together as one, just as the Father, Son and Spirit are One, how can one even conceive of the dissolution of the marriage?

As Jesus would say later in Matthew 19:8, the only conceivable way it can make any sense is when God considers ‘your hardness of heart.’

CONCLUSION: THE HEART OF THE MATTER

In Matthew 5:27 and verse 31 the issue is not a matter of the law and fornication, adultery and divorce.  It’s a matter of the heart.  Two people united as one in the desire of their hearts for God’s glory do not live by the latest marriage controversy of the day or try to justify adulterous, lustful hearts.  Rather, their focus is upon pleasing their God to His glory.**


* Thomas, Gary. Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage To Make Us Holy More Than To Make Us Happy? (Zondervan, 2000).

** Mason, Mike. The Mystery of Marriage: As Iron Sharpens Iron. (Multnomah Press, 1985).

Children

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:38-48


Children of the Father in heaven live by a radically new ethic when it comes to matters of justice and mercy.  Like their Father, the citizens of the kingdom of heaven turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give beyond what is required.

This contrast with human nature is most stark when considering those who seriously injure us by their words or actions.

Jesus’ command?

Love them.

Why?

LOVING CHILDREN OF THEIR FATHER

Because when we love our enemies we begin to understand the love God has for us. As a result, we begin to become more like Him.  Love that is indiscriminate, unconditional and sacrificial.  A love that goes against every natural inclination of ours to seek revenge, to hate and to become embittered.

Children of the King and His kingdom do not seek out loopholes or technicalities to get around loving others like their Father loves them.  Rather, they choose to wrestle with their natural inclinations to bring them under His control, often acting mercifully when feeling resentful in hopes that one day the two will be in sync.

After all, learning to be perfect as our Father is Perfect is a daunting assignment that can only be accomplished by His grace!

Forgiveness

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

-Matthew 18:21-22


So Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness.  Jesus answers him with an outlandish answer that harkens back to the braggadocio of Lamech (see previous article) and takes a u-turn, heading in the opposite direction.  Jesus tells Peter that forgiveness must be done with the same passion as Lamech had for revenge.

What?

A PASSION FOR COMPASSION

To illustrate, Jesus’ parable begins with a king who has a passion for compassion (vss. 26-27). Confronted by a servant debtor who owes him a ridiculous amount the king is ready to cut his losses, write off the debt and sell the debtor and his family off as slaves.

Being sold into slavery was not a sentence without hope.  Some day, a kind master may offer an opportunity for the servant to purchase his freedom or he may even set him and his family free once he no longer needed their services.  Or, in the case of a Jewish setting, the servant would have served, at most, 49 years or until the next celebration of Jubilee (cf., Leviticus 25).

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

Matthew 18:26-27

Ridiculous debt, total devastation, over-the-top mercy and grace beyond anyone’s expectations.  Jesus harkens to what will soon become a cosmically defining moment for all time with a cross on a hill and His own suffering and death for the sake of the lost…and a God who is passionate about forgiving those whose incalculable debt of sin most certainly would otherwise ban them from His presence forever.

AN ABSENCE OF COMPASSION

For the forgiven servant this is his year of Jubilee!  There can be little doubt about his exuberance as the servant rejoices over being forgiven such a huge debt.  Not only that, he has also been released from his sentence for him and his family to be sold into slavery.  What an outlandish gift from the compassionate king!

Jesus’ parable follows the forgiven servant out of the king’s throne room and back into the marketplace.  Suddenly, his smiles and rejoicing turn to scowls and murderous rage as he encounters a fellow servant who owes him a much smaller amount, minuscule in comparison to the debt that has just been forgiven.   Enraged, the forgiven servant grabs his fellow servant around the neck and starts choking him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.

Echoing the forgiven servant’s very words before the king, the debtor servant falls to his knees and begins to beg him:  ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’  (vs. 29).

Jesus continues:  “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt”  (vs. 30).  The contrast between the king and the forgiven servant could hardly be more stark.  Having the man thrown into prison, where he could no longer work to repay his debt, the forgiven servant condemns his fellow servant to prison for the remainder of his life; a hopeless vengeance with no hope of repayment.  Lamech’s boasting suddenly finds resonance in a man who wants more than simple revenge; he wants his fellow servant to suffer beyond repayment to utter devastation and ruin.

THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE KING’S COMPASSION

Jesus concludes the parable with the king’s servants observing the forgiven servant’s actions with the one who owed the lesser debt.  Outraged themselves they report it to the king who immediately calls in the forgiven servant.  The king says to him:

‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

The king’s sentence matches the one the formerly forgiven servant had meted out to his fellow servant who owed the lesser debt.  Only this time the king adds the prospect of torture until his debt was paid in full (vs. 34)…a day which would never, ever come.

FORGIVENESS CONCLUSION

Jesus then concludes the parable with a defining statement:

 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (vs. 35)

This conclusion ties the entire discussion together.  Beginning with  the disciples asking whom among them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus hammers home that kingdom citizenship stands or falls based upon one’s passion to forgive as they have been forgiven.

FORGIVENESS: PASS IT ON!

Forgiveness

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22


In this article on Matthew 18, Peter’s question about forgiveness was extremely generous.  Imagine his shock when Jesus replies with such an outlandish response.  This kind of forgiveness is not a normal human response to the offending words or behavior of another person.

Normal human behavior is detailed for us in Genesis 4 at the beginning.  The familiar story of Cain and Abel demonstrates the powerful emotion of anger and resentment.

FAULTY THINKING

Here, in Genesis 4:1-16 Cain’s sacrifices to God were not acceptable while Abel’s were welcomed by God.   Abel had sacrificed from his “firstborn” of his flock of sheep in faith that God would provide for the future.  Conversely,  Cain sacrificed “some of the fruits of the soil” rather than from the firstfruits (vss. 3-5).

A logical response would be for Cain to do what was required to make his sacrifices acceptable to God. Rather than correcting his behavior Cain chose to become angry with his brother (vs. 5) to the point that he attracted God’s attention.  God counseled to Cain:

“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (vss. 6-7).

MURDEROUS INTENT

Cain’s response was to lure his trusting brother into a field.  There, Cain’s anger had consumed him to the point that the only solution he could see for his failure was to murder Abel.  God’s conversation with Cain is enough to strike fear into the heart of anyone whose sin has been revealed:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 The Lord said, “What have you done?” (vss. 9-10)

Continuing, God judges, convicts and sentences Cain:

Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” (vss. 10-12).

CONSEQUENCES WITH A PROMISE

When Cain complains in fear of the consequences of his sentence–which would be that he suffer the same fate of his brother–God responds with a promise: “…anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over” (vs. 15).

GENERATIONAL CURSE

In Genesis 4:17-24, seven generations after Adam and Eve through Cain’s descendants, we are briefly introduced to Lamech who brags to his two wives:

“I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
    then Lamech seventy-seven times” (vss. 23-24).

Cain’s murderous rage at his brother began with a perceived injustice that festered from one generation to the next.  Lemech represents the darker side of the family trait of rage as it blows past simple revenge and an “eye for an eye” sort-of justice to an extreme  that knows no limits.  Crushing vengeance that destroys others over the slightest offense to make sure they suffer beyond measure.

The trend in Cain’s death spiral genealogy would finally meet its termination in Lamech’s son of whom he would predict:  “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed” *Genesis 5:29).  Lemech named his son, Noah.

LAMECH’S SON: THE END OF JUSTICE BEYOND MEASURE

One reference to those perilous times by Peter’s question would elicit a 3-dimentional response from Jesus that would be driven home by The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.

This powerful ending to Matthew 18, a significant chapter on conflict resolution and forgiveness, would conclude with Jesus’ assertion that citizens of the kingdom of heaven must “forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (vs. 35).  We will address this parable and Jesus’ conclusion in the final article of this series on Forgiveness and Matthew 18.

Forgiveness

Matthew 18 is an incredible chapter on conflict resolution and forgiveness.  It begins with the disciples asking Jesus who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom (vs. 1).  The chapter concludes with Jesus telling them that God’s harshest judgement awaits those who do not practice forgiveness “from your heart” (vs. 35).  The following is an overview of this chapter.

THE FATHER LOVES HIS CHILDREN – Matthew 18:1-6

Jesus answers the disciples’ question “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” by calling a little child to Himself.  Placing the child in front of them, Jesus says:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Ideally, we think of little children as innocent, trusting, vulnerable, obedient, loving and so much more.  Obviously Jesus is not just speaking of the chronological age of a person because because He instructs the adults around Him that they must change and become like them.  For these little ones, Jesus will say later, in verse 10: “For I tell you that their [God’s children’s] angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

THE FATHER’S JUDGEMENT  – Matthew 18:7-10*

Anyone who causes one of these children of the Father to stumble will meet their doom by the wrath of God.  The options that Jesus gives them are so  severe that they would be better off dead, sent to the bottom of the sea.  Their change must be as radical as cutting off a limb or plucking out an eye.  These options would be so much better alternatives for them than being sentenced to hell.  God’s angelic emissaries are watching!

THE FATHER SEEKS THE LOST – Matthew 18:12-14

Just like the man who leaves the 99 sheep safely in the fold in order to seek out the one lost sheep, so Jesus’ Father searches high and low for those who have been hurt and are wandering alone.  When He finds the lost sheep their Father, by Name, rejoices over them because He does not want to lose a single one.

THE FATHER’S PATH TO FORGIVENESS – Matthew 18:15-20

The process is simple, yet profound.  So much so that whatever is agreed to on earth comes full circle and is validated in heaven as well (verses 18-19).   Jesus concludes this section stating plainly: “For where two or three have gathered in My name, there I am in their
midst” (vs. 20).  So, how does the offended person go about seeking resolution to the conflict and forgiveness?

STEP 1

The person who has been hurt acknowledges the injury and damage and clarifies his or her thoughts enough to approach the one who has caused them to stumble.  The challenge is to privately confront the one who has hurt them in hope that they will listen and do whatever it takes to set things right (cf., verses 7-10).  When this happens, Jesus says, “you have won your brother”(vs. 15).  However, when the other person does not listen and is not interested in reconciliation, the process advances to the next step.

STEP 2

f the other person is not receptive to resolving the conflict Jesus encourages the one offended to bring along one or two more witnesses in hopes of resolving the issue.  Perhaps they will be able to moderate and offer advice with the goal of achieving an outcome with which all agree.  If this is not successful, Jesus offers a third step.

STEP 3

Jesus instructs that the offended person and the witnesses  “tell it to the church.”  If even this is unsuccessful, then Jesus gives the final, fourth step upon which to follow through.

STEP 4

Jesus says that if the person will not even listen to the church, “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (vs. 17).

All along, the ultimate hope of the Father is that the matter being addressed will lead to repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation, even through the final step 4. Perhaps that is the reason for the later scribe’s addition of verse 11, based upon Luke 19:10: “ For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

More will be written about this and the next passages in a later blog.

THE FATHER DEMANDS THAT HIS CHILDREN  EXTEND FORGIVENESS TO OTHERS – Matthew 18:21-34

The chapter closes with Jesus’ poignant parable about a king who forgives a huge debt of one of his subjects.  The point of the parable is in the king’s unspoken expectation that the forgiven subject will extend a similar mercy to those indebted to him.  When he blatantly disregards this principle, strangling and imprisoning a man who owes him a comparatively insignificant amount, the king is livid.  The story ends with the king revoking his mercy, imprisoning the original subject and permitting the jailers to torture him until the debt is paid in full.

This story was Jesus’  answer to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  The moral of the story about mercy and forgiveness comes in the final verse: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The following two posts will be focused upon both Matthew 18:15-20 and verses 21-34.

Forgiveness, Part 2

Forgiveness, Part 3

 


*Verse 11 is not included among the most reliable manuscripts.

Salt, Light & Law

Salt, Light & Law

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:13-20


Jesus’ discussion of persecution for righteousness and His name (Matthew 5:10-12) leads directly to further teachings about salt, light and law.  The section transitions with Jesus’ pronouncement in verse 20: “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  

Salt and light influence their surroundings by enhancing and illuminating respectively.  The question is, what do they enhance and illuminate?  My theory is that Jesus’ followers enhance the image of God that is stamped upon each and every human being.

BEATITUDE PEOPLE

By their very lives, God’s presence within those who exhibit the characteristics of the beatitudes calls forth the best in others, urging  the world to a higher standard and a deeper resonance with the will of God.  How do we know?  Because immediately afterwards, Jesus launches into an analysis of the importance of the Law and its application.

When confronted by the demands of the Law each person has at least two choices.  First, they can work to minimize it’s reach into their hearts and make it superficial and, consequently, easy to obey.  The other choice is to contemplate the deeper application of the law to the point that it becomes impossible to keep perfectly.  Jesus did not only fulfill the Law superficially but He also met its demands that reach to the very core of one’s heart.  It is this penetrating level to which He calls His followers in contrast to those whose so-called ‘righteousness’ is superficial, judgmental and self-seeking.

RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT PIERCES HEARTS

To illustrate, Jesus immediately launches into the true meaning of the sixth command to ‘not murder’ (Exodus 20:13).  God was not just legislating about the taking the physical life of another bearer of God’s image; although,  legal consideration was part of its purpose (cf., Genesis 9:6; Numbers 35:6-34).

There are other ways in which we murder the image of God in other people.  With the three examples cited by Jesus it is obvious that when we discount the value of another person by harboring anger against them, devaluing their worth or writing them off we have violated the spirit and intent of the command, “You shall not murder.”

These reactions to personal offenses are not the ways of those who are broken, who mourn over their sin, who meekly submit to God’s will, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who extend mercy to others, who are pure in heart and wo are devoted to making peace.  What naturally arises from this stark contrast is  the principle to which Christ is calling His followers: forgive from your heart as Jesus also commands (Matthew 18:35).

FORGIVENESS

For further discussion about how to forgive others CLICK HERE where we turn to the disciples’ question to Jesus about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 18. This entire chapter gives specific instruction about how Christ’s followers deal with conflict: forgiveness.

 

 

Jesus is Our Shoreline

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