YOUR EYE FOR MINE

“Revenge is sweet” the devil tells us.  If someone cuts you off, it is certainly right for you to cut them off and give them a hard look and dirty hand gesture in the process.  At least that is how we tend to think.  But then Jesus stepped into the scene with these words:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

Talk about upsetting the apple cart of our thinking, this does it to the core.  It’s true the Jews of the time had taken the commands of God about giving eye for eye and tooth for tooth in a very different direction that God had intended.  The law was meant as a limit on one’s response to another’s actions.  If they hit you in the eye, your limit was hitting them back in the eye.  It wasn’t intended to be a command that if someone hit you in the eye you were obligated to hit them back in theirs.  It was meant to limit our reaction so that we didn’t say, “he hit me in my eye so I am hitting him in both eyes and his mouth.”  But Jesus went much further than just correcting their understanding of the Old Law.  He moved the whole discussion to the application of a principle of how we deal with others.  Notice, Jesus discussion started with the plea for us not to resist an evil person.  Bad, mean and ungodly people are going to act bad, mean and ungodly.  It just goes with the territory.  Just like liars, lie, cheaters cheat, gossips gossip and hurting people hurt others, so evil people do evil things.    It is quite natural for us when we feel mistreated by others to mistreat them in return.  Most of the time we aren’t  quite satisfied with simply doing back to others what they did to us, we want to go one step further and do a little more to them so they know not to mistreat us again.

Jesus rejected the whole framework for this attitude.  Notice the three applications he made on not resisting evil.  First, if someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other to them also.  This seems like such a strange command.  Is he really telling us to never stand up to the bully who would push us and others around?  Some have seen in this the challenge for a duel so that if one strikes us on one side to challenge us, rather than just accepting the challenge we are to turn and offer the other side as well, thus messing up the whole duel notion.  One thing that stands out in Jesus actions is that the never stood by to allow someone else to be abused.  When Mary anointed him for his bury and his own disciples, led by Judas, began to attack her actions as a waste that could have been sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus stopped them and said, “Leave her alone.  She has done a good deed.  Wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world what she has done will be told as a memorial.  She did what she could.”  It does say that if we see others mistreated, we must stand up for the one being abused.  It would be a misapplication of this point to look at a situation where a terrorist or deranged person came into a school with weapons and began to shot and kill students to say we should simply turn the other cheek for him to shoot the other side.  What would Jesus do?  He might not protect himself, but he certainly would the innocent children.  But in day to day life, we are often challenged by those around us.  Instead of striking back with every accusation made against us, we should turn the other cheek and allow God to handle the revenge since his said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.”

His second point is that if someone wants to sue us in court to take our shirt just go ahead and hand them your coat as well.  Things come and go.  People are the more important aspects of life.  God’s challenge to us is to be a people who are about sharing, helping others and going out of our way to do good to others.  Are there limits to such willingness to help others?  Are we simply to give to anyone that comes along asking for what we have?  Paul told the Thessalonians to not give to one who was just lazy and wouldn’t work.  They were refusing to live by the right standards of life so it would be wrong to just give to allow them to go on in their sinful behavior.  In I Timothy 5:1-16 Paul laid out standards for the church in helping those who are hurting.  He said, our first job was to teach families to take care of their own and that if one didn’t take care of their own family they become worse than unbelievers.  He also laid out a plan to help those who were not able to help themselves but challenged those who could to meet their own needs.  He then said if a widow or some Christian had widows in their family they should take care of them so that the church might be able to take care of those who had no ability to help themselves.  Our nature should be that of being generous and helpful to others.  But there are times when the most helpful thing one can do is not to be an enabler for one to continue bad behavior.

His third illustrations that if one forces us to go one mile we are to go two requires our understanding their situation at the time.  Israel was under Roman rule.  It was common for a Roman soldier to tell a person in such an occupied country to carry their load for a mile.  The law was that one had to carry the burden the exact distance that was asked.  But Jesus said, instead of measuring off exactly how far it is to go a mile and there dropping the load with a declaration I don’t have to carry this any more, be one who when compelled to go one mile, goes two.  Overdo what you are required to do.  Don’t try to get by on the bare limits of your actions.  This is a challenge not to be one who is looking for their minimum daily requirements to do that and then stop.  His challenge is to go the extra steps, take things further than what is required and see what blessings develop.  This principle is one that if followed would be life changing for us.  Imagine being a worker on the job who goes the extra mile and does more than what is required of you.  Imagine being the person at home that goes the extra mile as a husband, wife, father or mother or even as a young person instead of doing only what is necessary and stopping.  it would change all of our relationships a ton.

Jesus then concluded the discussion with “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”  Again, this isn’t talking about giving away everything we have so that we can’t take care of our own family.  It is talking about not being a stingy person who is always looking for the cheapest way out or how to get out of ever helping another person.  Our heart should be devoted to helping those who are hurting in the best way we can.  Remember, the ultimate help I can give to anyone in need is to provide the need, while sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.  If we simply feed the hungry body and leave their soul in rebellion to God we haven’t really helped the person much.

Let’s all determine to be Second Milers in life.  Let’s face it the world is filled with far too many people that are half-milers who won’t even do what is asked.  There are tons of others that are first milers in that they do exactly what is required and nothing more.  These are certainly better than the half-milers, but the real blessings in life come when we are Second Milers.  We go beyond the mere limits on life to give to others what they need.

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YOU’VE HEARD IT A THOUSAND TIMES

I like to picture myself sitting on the side of that hill where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount that Matthew recorded in Matthew 5-7 and watching the crowd as they heard Jesus stunning message.  Over and over again he reminded them of what they had heard from religious teachers and likely from their parents all their lives and then he turned to say, it wasn’t quite right that there was always more to it than they had learned.  In Verses 33-37 of chapter 5 he used this illustration.  “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.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne, or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No;’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

In my imagination I see the people looking at each other and wondering, “is he really saying we aren’t supposed to swear at all?”  His message went totally against the grain of what they had thought and heard all their lives.  By the way, it is still running against the grain.  They had learned to swear by different things to demonstrate the strength of the oath.  If one swore by something fairly minor it meant their feeling was that this wasn’t a very important thing anyway and that keeping one’s promise didn’t really matter all that much.  If, for example, you call a plumber to come to your house because you have a leak in the bathroom or a drain stopped up and they tell you that they promise to be there tomorrow at 9:30 to work on it, if they really weren’t all that concerned whether they were there or not or if they were on time they would swear by something minor and unimportant.  But if their commitment was real they might swear by the temple or by some other spiritual entity.  When I was in the real estate business we always believed that the size of the earnest money a buyer put down indicated how serious they were about making the purchase.  If they kept it very small it usually meant they wouldn’t be real concerned if they had to walk away and lose the money.  But if they put up a large amount as earnest money we knew they meant business and intended to make the purchase.

What kinds of things would make your promise mean more to you than simply your word being true and honest?  If you swore to something on your mother’s grave would it mean you were really intending to do a thing as promised?  What about if you make the commitment with a statement that you stake your life on this matter?  There is a lengthy discussion in the Book of Ecclesiastes about the need to fulfill the vows we make, especially a vow made to God.  Obviously many of the Jews believed that keeping such a vow was a big thing since the Book of Judges tells the story of Jephthah where he made a vow that if God would bring victory to Israel under his lead that he would offer the first thing that came out of his house on his return from battle as an offering to God.  I have no idea what he thought would be the first thing to come from his house but when he returned with joy and celebration his only daughter came out with tambourines celebrating the victory her father and the people had.  It ripped his heart out that he had made such a vow, but now felt obligated to carry out his promise to God.

Jesus undercut the whole way of thinking and declared that we shouldn’t be swearing at all but should be able to simply say, “yes” or “no” and be completely bound to fulfill our promise.  Think about it, if I can’t be trusted to do what I say I will do when I say I will do it, what difference would it make if I made an oath and swore on the Bible.  Liars lie!  That is just what they do.  All the oaths in the world won’t make a dishonest person trustworthy.

But, Leon, does this mean that it is wrong to swear in court or make strong commitments where we have to sign with a notary to document our words?  No, this isn’t talking about such matters.  It is talking about regular, every day life.  My word on a matter should be all it takes to have people trust what I say I will do.  When I have someone to call, text or send a message asking that I pray for them or someone in their family, I always say that I will indeed be praying for them.  I try hard to make it a habit now that I immediately stop and pray for the one that I have promised to pray for, because I’ve had too many times that I made that promise only to think about it a few days later or when I run upon the person and suddenly remember that I said I would be praying for them and it had cleanly gone out of my mind and I hadn’t thought about it since making the promise.  I didn’t mean to lie to them.  But I failed to do what I promised to do.

By the way, the very fact Jesus said either say “yes” or “no” indicates there are times in life when I need to say “NO” and stand by it.  It is easy to say “Yes” to everything that people my ask of us only to realize that we have over-committed ourselves and have no ability to do all we promised to do.  Jesus point is simple.  Your word should be so trustworthy that if you say you will do a thing then everyone should be able to trust that we will do exactly what we said we would do.

Imagine the difference it would make in the world of business or politics or even in church if we strictly followed Jesus words and whatever we said, we did without delay?  What a massive and positive change it would be!

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IT HAS BEEN SAID

Jesus was explaining to the crowd who listened to His great sermon on the mount how their righteousness must exceed that of the Scribe and Pharisees if they are to enter the kingdom of heaven.  His first two points related to what they had learned about the commands not to murder and what they had learned about the command not to commit adultery.  Each time he took them behind the command to the heart that led to the sin.  Murder was tied to anger and adultery to lust.

His third point of how we must exceed these religious teachers of that day was about divorce.  “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.”  Unlike the first two this one isn’t tied to one of the Ten Commandments.  But it is tied to one of the major discussions that was going on among the religious leaders of the day.  Two major schools of the rabbi’s differed completely on the topic.  Both of the schools of thought went back to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as the basis for their thinking.  One school of thought that the teaching of Moses about if something unclean was found in a partner in marriage then the man could divorce her, give her a certificate of divorce so she could go and become another man’s wife and he could be free to marry someone else, was referring to the uncleanness of sexual immorality.  They thus taught that the only legitimate reason for a divorce that automatically led to remarriage was if there had been sexual immorality in the marriage and the man could under those circumstances put away his wife.  The fact that Jesus later said of this command of Moses that it was given because of the hardness of their hearts likely means that the reason Moses gave the command was that hard hearted men were putting away their wives without any certificate of divorce meaning they couldn’t marry anyone else and led them to no way to provide for themselves or their children except prostitution.  God therefore gave the command to give her the certificate of divorce so she could become another man’s wife.

The other school of thought was totally different.  It was that uncleanness in a partner means anything that the man didn’t like.  The illustration was used that if a wife burned the bread for a man’s breakfast that was sufficient an uncleanness to put her away and marry someone else.  In Matthew 19 the questioners of Jesus were attempting to get him to take one of the sides in the argument so he would alienate himself from all the ones who agreed with the other school of thought.  Notice when Moses gave the original command he went on to tell them that if a man put away his wife and gave her the certificate of divorce and she married someone else, even if that new husband put her away, the first husband could not take her back.  It was said to be an abomination to God for him to take her back as his wife after she had been the wife of another man.

Again, Jesus pulled back behind the discussion of a certificate of divorce or some legal proceeding on the point.  I believe that this discussion is closely tied to the discussion on adultery.  His point was that when one lust for a woman other than his wife and commits adultery in his heart, it leads to divorcing one’s wife to go to the other woman.  They may even have thought that the adultery in the heart gave the right to divorce one’s wife.  But Jesus turned the whole thing on the man.  Unless your wife has been sexually immoral, if you put her away, whether you give her a certificate or not, you have treated her like an adulteress and thus commit adultery against her.  An innocent wife put away, doesn’t become an adulteress, but is being treated like one by the hard heartedness of her husband who puts her away like she had committed sexual immorality.

But what about the statement that anyone who marries her commits adultery?  Remember his point to the man was not to put away an innocent wife at all and if you do you are sinning against her.  The only one he is to put away is the one who is guilty of sexual immorality.  The point then is that one put away for sexual immorality who then goes and marries the one who was committing sexual immorality with her becomes an adulterer in the process.  It is not at all saying that an innocent wife put away by a heartless husband and married later to someone who loves her will commit adultery in any sense of the word.

Jesus point is that sexual immorality destroys a marriage.  It violates the one flesh covenant we make with each other at marriage.  Thus one who is guilty of such immoral behavior is subject to divorce from their partner and they may innocently go to marry someone else.  But if a man treats a woman who is innocent of immoral behavior like she had committed adultery then he is committing adultery against her.

Understand that Jesus was speaking to a Jewish audience and that the Jews of the time didn’t believe women had the right to divorce their husbands at all.  It was only the men that had such a right.  Later Mark who wrote to the Romans, would record Jesus teaching on this topic and picture him applying it to both men and woman. The application to our own time would be equally true whether man or woman, in that marriage is a covenant we make with each other and with God.  If we simply set aside such a covenant we sin against the Lord.

But what if one who has been guilty of mistreating their partner or of sexual immorality decides to repent of their sin and turn back to God, can they do so, or is this some permanent sin that can’t be forgiven?  This sin, like all other sins, can be repented of and one can be totally forgiven and given new life in Jesus.  In I Corinthians 6:9-11 Paul wrote, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Chris and by the Spirit of our God.”  Forgiveness is so important to God that he paid the price of sin with the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.  His blood is powerful enough to cleanse any sin.  So, anyone, no matter what they have done in the past can, through faith turn to God in repentance and be forgiven of their wrongs.

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YOU HAVE HEARD IT

What is the latest rumor you have heard?  Go back further and think deeper.  Remember some old saying you learned growing up that became for you a rule to live by.  It might have been something like, “Honesty is the best policy.”  Most of us can pull up lots of such rules of thumb that affected the way we viewed life and even how we worked on our jobs every day.  What about “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise?”  Well the saying that Jesus referred back to had deeper roots when he was preaching his great Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 5:27-30 his second of such references was this:  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 in his heart.”

The source of this saying they had heard was the Ten Commandments.  It was God who wrote this down alongside the other nine on the tablets of stone that Moses would take back down and declare as the hub of the law for Israel.  This is a powerful law and one that needs to be obeyed for all time.  So, why would Jesus quote it as one of their old sayings and add an “But I say to you” addendum?  The problem wasn’t with the law but their grasp of the law.  It had been taken, as was true with the law on murder, to be simply about the physical act of adultery and not about the heart that led up to the act.  The word “adultery” is used in several different ways throughout Scripture.  It is used to refer to the act of having sex with someone who isn’t ones husband or wife.  It is also used of one being unfaithful to the vows they have made either to each other or to God.  It was often used in the Old Testament and several times in the New to refer to spiritual unfaithfulness to God.  Think of the times Jesus referred to them as a wicked and adulterous generation or that James said, “You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God.”

But Jesus is clear in this passage that the adultery he is referring to is that of having sexual relations with someone other than one’s married partner.  But he takes the principle much further than the final act itself and declared that one who looked lustfully at a woman had already committed the adultery in his heart.  What does it mean to look at a woman lustfully?  Peter used a graphic description of the point in 2 Peter 2 when he talked about those who had turned away from God as having eyes full of adultery.  Job made the statement that he had made a covenant with his eyes not to look on a young woman with lust.  Paul told Titus that to the pure all things are pure but to the wicked and defiled nothing is pure but even their mind and conscience is defiled.  Lust isn’t just to have a desire.  It isn’t just to have thoughts of sex with a person.  It is an illegal strong desire.  It is the longing of desire that visualizes the action and holds on to it with pleasure rather than a passing thought that one quickly moves from to get their minds off of such.

In a time when pornography is so available and prevalent there could hardly be a more appropriate topic for discussion.  Looking at and reading porn isn’t some innocent way of spending time that has on real consequences.  It is destructive to our way of looking at everything.  Marriage and purity become more and more difficult when one is involved in pornography.  It rewires the brain and destroys one’s ability to even think of any woman in a pure and innocent or holy way.  Pornography is as addictive as any drug that has ever been made.  Once one gives in to watching it they are pulled back into it over and over again.  The sad truth is that parents put the tools for every young man to get involved in porn every day when they give their young people phones that can get immediately on to the internet and can pull up every pornographic website imaginable.  “Oh, but my little boy wouldn’t do that.”  You are dead wrong! Help your children know the danger involved and know how to get out of it’s hold.

Notice Jesus didn’t stop by pointing out that one who lustfully looked at the woman had already committed adultery with her in his heart.  He went on to give the remedy for such lust.  “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 tumble, 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.”  Jesus wasn’t speaking literally here because literally gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand won’t stop lust.  You can lust just fine with one eye and one hand.  His point was that we need to go to drastic measures to cut off the actions of lust that lead to adultery in the mind and ultimately in the actions as quickly as they arise in our minds.  If I head down the road with lustful thoughts and careless behavior thinking to myself, that I will never let it go too far.  I will always stop before anything like having sex with the person takes place.  But in your mind you have already gone there.  Your pure mind has already been flooded with sewage and you can’t suddenly get such thoughts out of your head.  It changes the way you think of your relationship with every woman in the world, including your wife and even your sisters.  Instead of seeing women as human beings made in the image of God we begin thinking of them as sex tools for our physical pleasure.

When we see a relationship at work, at church, in school or even online begin to move in the wrong direction you need to gouge it out and cut it off.  If it means changing jobs, getting off the internet or changing friends it is always worth it to save your marriage and your morality.  Being true to your wife, to your self and to your God is worth whatever cost may be involved.

 

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I HAVE ALWAYS HEARD

How many sayings can you think of that you have heard all your life and if you talked to parents or grandparents they would tell you that they have heard them all of theirs?  We tend to think that if something has been said for a long time it must be true.  But, Jesus didn’t buy that notion at all.  In His great Sermon on the Mount when he made the declaration that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees we won’t even enter the kingdom it likely confused the whole crowd since they thought these two groups were the essence of great faith.  But Jesus immediately began laying out for them how they were to exceed these religious leaders.  With each point he made he started with, “You have heard that it was said to people long ago.”  Many of the statements he followed with were commands from the Old Law or even the Ten Commandments but it was usually something they added to it or some interpretation they had given to the command that Jesus would correct by saying, “But I tell you”

The first one was, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.  Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,” is answerable to the court.  And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.  Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

The saying that one should not commit murder is certainly a good one.  It doesn’t seem bad to say that one who does so will face judgment.  What then was wrong with their understanding on the whole command?  It was that they had taken the command very literally and failed to look behind the command to see the heart and attitude that led to the murder.  It is awful to murder another person.  But if all we see is the evil in the act and don’t deal with the heart that leads to murder we aren’t making any real change in the world.  We live in a time when the message of this lesson is desperately needed.  When we hear over and over again of someone going into a school, church, theater or some other place and opening fire on the people there who are defenseless it not only breaks our heart, it builds a sense of fear into people.  It also causes us to question, what can we do to change things?  How can we change the world so that such things don’t occur any more?

Notice, Jesus answer wasn’t to increase the punishment on the one who committed murder.  It wasn’t to make stronger laws against murder.  It wasn’t even to remove all the different means through which a person can commit murder.  Imagine Jesus telling them that since murder is such a problem we need to remove all the big rocks in the area that one might use to hit someone over the head with it.

No, his answer was to drop back behind the murder to look at the things that lead up to murder.  It is seldom, if ever the case that one’s first reaction to a supposed wrong is to determine that I am going to get a gun or knife or even a bomb and destroy all those people.  It usually starts with anger.  Jesus said to be angry at our brother or sister is what leads to murder and so solve the problem while it is still at this point.  From angry feelings one usually starts using words that are cutting about the other person.  Jesus warned of the danger of calling another person “Raca” which means empty headed, dumb, stupid or some other such word.  So he said if you call a brother dumb or something like that you are already in danger from the court.  You are likely to be taken to court to defend your actions.  If you call someone a fool which means “empty hearted” you are in danger of hell fire.  Notice the whole thing leading up to murder starts with anger, leads to calling names and moves to stronger words about the other person when we not only question their intelligence but their heart and character.  If one can deal with the problem at any point along the way there is the potential of stopping the murder from happening.  But if we wait until the point of murder itself, it becomes very unlikely that we can stop something tragic from taking place.

Notice, Jesus did something else to make this point even stronger for all of us.  He pictured a person coming to worship God to make their offering on the altar.  There in that setting they think of the fact someone else has something against them.  Instead of thinking to ourselves how crazy it is for that person to have something against us or getting frustrated that people don’t leave their judgments to themselves, his answer was to leave your gift at the altar and go first to that person that has something against you and be reconciled to the person then return to offer your sacrifice.  Solving disagreements, being reconciled with a person who is angry with us takes precedence over our worship to God.  We must be so concerned about our human relationships we will interfere with our worship to solve a problem with another person.

Our response when someone does some horrible crime is to ask ourselves and others, “Why in the world would that person do such a thing?”  But it is almost always the case that people around them knew they were angry, frustrated and felt like they were being mistreated by others before any crime took place.  Just trying to deal with the crime itself without dropping back behind the crime to deal with the heart and emotions behind it will never bring any kind of solution.  Jesus answer is still valid.  Cut it off when you feel anger toward another person.  Instead of dwelling on the anger and striking out against them with harsh words, look for a way to reconcile with them.  Never wait for the other one who is offended to come to you for the reconciliation.  Seek them out and make reconciliation a priority in life all the time.

Old Sayings are great if they are right.  But it isn’t the age of the saying that matters but the truth that needs to be learned whether old or new.

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DON’T THINK THAT

Probably Jesus corrected more wrong thinking and teaching in the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7 than any other part of Scripture.  He had explained the blessedness available to all people and complimented them by telling these ordinary folk that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Then Jesus started his transition to dealing with several specific misunderstanding the religious leaders had taught the people with regard to the law.  But in the transition he wanted to explain to them his relationship with the law and the prophets.  It is in verses 17-20.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”  Huge question, are we still bound by the Old Testament Law?  Perhaps even more important, were those of us who aren’t Israelites ever bound by that law?  The law was given to the children of Israel who were the physical descendants of Abraham and most of us don’t fit that description.  But was the law intended to be permanent even for those who were under it at that time?  Many turn to this text to say that Jesus never intended to do away with the Old Law as bound on us.  Is that what Jesus was saying?

Notice he declared he didn’t come to abolish or destroy the law but to fulfill it.  If he had simply set aside the law and its requirements it would have been to reject the very law that God had given the people.  He came as one born under the law to completely fulfill the law and prophets requirements.  If you read through the whole gospel account of Matthew it is amazing how many times it will be said that Jesus fulfilled something that the law required of him.  The problem then as now was that so much of what he law said, people had not understood correctly. In Luke 24:44 Jesus said to the disciples before his ascension, “This is what I told you while I was still with you:  Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”  Remember when Jesus was dying on the cross that one of his seven statements was, “It is finished.”  His point was that he had completed the mission God had given him.  He had lived out the requirements of the law and demonstrated what being obedient to God’s will really looked like.  Over and over he declared, “I didn’t come to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”

If Jesus had abolished the law he would simply have set it aside and made no effort to fulfill the teaching and promises of the law or the prophets.  Instead he came to fulfill everything that the law and prophets said he would do.  He fulfilled the mission of the Old Testament by showing us what God is like and being God among us on earth.  In John 1:18 it says he came to show or give us an exegesis of the Father.  He told Philip in John 14 that he who has seen me has seen the Father.  So our best way of learning about God isn’t by looking at all the descriptions of God in the Old Testament but by looking at Jesus and seeing how he lived, thought, taught and acted in the world as one of us.

Nothing in the Law would pass away until it was fulfilled.  Jesus said, he had come to fulfill the law.  So, the question that we need to answer is, did Jesus do what he came to do?  If the law passed when it was fulfilled and Jesus came to fulfill it, if he did what he came to do then the law has now passed as the law bound on people.  That doesn’t mean it stopped being the word of God or stopped being important to learn and study.  Since much of the New Testament is either a quotation from the Old or a reference to something said or done in the Old Testament we can’t really understand the New Testament without knowing something of the Old.

But there is a reason Paul would say in Romans 7:4-7 that we are now dead to the law by the body of Christ so that we might be married to another, even to him who has been raised from the dead.  Some would say, “Yes, but he is just talking about the ceremonial parts of the law, not the Ten Commandments.”  The problem with that is that he goes ahead to refer to how he had learned of sin from the law and wouldn’t have known it if the law hadn’t said, “You shall not covet.”  So the very part of the law that he quoted to say we are dead to it was one of the Ten Commandments.  Also in 2 Corinthians 3 when he compared the Old Testament to the New he called the law written and engraved on stones a ministry of death and said he had been made a minister of the New Covenant that is written on the heart.  Notice that in Hebrews 8 he quoted Jeremiah 31 that promised God would make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Jacob that wouldn’t be like the old one written on stone but one written on the tablets of the heart and that we now have that new covenant.

The law Paul said in Galatians 3:24-25 was a tutor to bring us to Christ but after Christ has come we are no longer under the tutor.  Instead he said we are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).

Jesus concluded his statement about the law by saying, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” He certainly wasn’t telling us we had to be stricter in our thinking than they were.  He builds on that point in the remainder of the chapter by telling them what they have heard from such teachers and comparing it with what he said for us to do.  Thank God we live under a new covenant of grace where we are saved by faith and all people stand on equal footing with God.

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YOU HAVE A POWERFUL MISSION

It is so easy to think that what we do doesn’t really matter and that our place in the world is so insignificant that if we simply dropped out no one would even notice.  The people who listened to Jesus that day when he preached the great Sermon on the Mount felt much the same way.  They were poor, struggling and oppressed.  Yet Jesus had pronounced upon them eight blessings.  But his greater compliment to them and to us as we read from Matthew 5 is in verses 13-16.  Try hard to put yourself on that mountainside the day Jesus was speaking.  Imagine him saying to you, “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.  You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  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.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

I can imagine the people sitting there that day, after already being totally amazed that he would bless them and tell them that the kingdom of heaven was theirs, they would be able to see God and that they would be called the children of God, now hearing Jesus tell them they would be salt to the earth and light to the world.  But be very clear, that message isn’t just for those sitting there that day nearly 2,000 years ago.  That message is for you and me today.  We are the blessed ones and we are the ones Jesus said are salt and light.  But what in the world did he mean by these descriptions of his followers?

While salt has multiple uses in giving flavor to food and serving as a preservative to meat, too soften water and lots of other things, it probably was in two of those senses Jesus was applying it.  First, salt gives flavor.  It keeps the food from being bland.  Jesus point then to those who live for him is that you will give flavor to the earth by the way you live.  Over in Colossians 4:5-6 Paul used the same comparison when he said, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  The world looks at the Christian’s life and attitude to determine what they think of Christianity.  Our lives can be salt that gives good flavor to what people see and taste in the Christian life or it can turn people away.  He challenged us to live in a way that gave good flavor to draw people to Christ.  Also, salt was their primary means of preserving meat that they wished to save for a time.  They had no access to a deep freeze so they salted the meat down and it would protect it and keep it safe for future consumption.  By saying that we are the salt of the earth, Jesus is pointing to the reality we have saving and preserving influence in the world.  It is the life and influence of Christians that keeps the earth going.  Remember the story of Abraham pleading with God on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He started with asking God if he would save the city if fifty righteous people could be found in it.  Ultimately he got down to ten righteous people in the city and God promised if there were just ten people living a righteous life in the city he would spare the whole city.  But ten couldn’t be found and it was destroyed.  Jesus raised the question about his coming again, “Nevertheless when I return will I find faith on the earth?”  The implication is that he won’t.  The life of Christians holds back the return of Christ and the destruction of the earth.  But when salt loses it’s saltiness and no longer gives flavor and no longer has the power to preserve the meat it is worthless and is thrown out to be used as a walking path.

Secondly, he said we are the light of the world.  It is amazing that Jesus would say of himself that “I am the light of the world” and John will later write of God the Father that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.”  Even the Bible was said by David to be a lamp to his feet and a light to his pathway.  So when Jesus said of his disciples that you are the light of the world, he placed us in tremendous company.  Light gives direction.  It keeps us from stumbling and falling over things that are in the dark and we don’t see.  He pictured this light or lamp as being placed on a lamp stand so all the house can see and be blessed by the light.  You don’t light a lamp and put it under a bowl so that no one can see it.  Why have light if you can’t see it or if you are going to hide it?

Think of the fact that darkness is often in Scripture tied to evil, sin and Satan.  Light is tied to God, Christ and His Holy Spirit.  On the two occasions when Jesus referred to himself as the light of the world it was related to events that had just taken place.  The first one was when the religious leaders had brought a woman to Jesus that had been caught in the act of adultery and they were pressing Jesus with what should be done.  They said the law demanded that such a woman should be stoned to death.  “What do you say?”  Jesus wrote on the ground and gave them time to think of what they were doing.  Then he said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  Their consciences afflicted them and they all dropped their rocks and walked away until it was just Jesus and the woman.  Jesus asked, “Did no-one condemn you?”  She said, “No one Lord.”  He declared, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”  Then he said, “I am the light of the world.”  The other time was in the very next chapter of John when he met a man who was born blind and put mud on his eyes and sent him to the pool of Siloam to wash that he might be able to see.  When he gave this blind man sight he declared, ” I am the light of the world.”

This indicates that we can be light to others when we help those caught in sin, needing help and a way to turn their lives around, we can be the ones to show them the way to new life in God.  When people are hurting, struggling and feel lost in the world like the blind man, we can be ones to help them know someone cares and is there to help them.  Notice Jesus didn’t just say we are light, he challenged us not to hide the light we are and noted that we have control over how the light we are can shine.  “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  He didn’t say to shine our lights, but let it shine. It is terribly irritating when someone shines their lights on us or in our face.  But we are to be a candlelight that we let shine.  But how do we allow our lights to shine.  By doing good deeds and instead of claiming credit for ourselves, pointing constantly to our Father in heaven as the source of our good deeds.

It is difficult to think of any mission of greater importance in the world that being the salt that gives flavor to the world, being the preserving power to save the earth, of being light to offer direction and show the way and of being light to guide one from spiritual darkness to the light of God.  What a powerful mission God has given to each of us as his disciples in the world.  You aren’t insignificant, but vitally important.  You affect the future of the world by how you live.

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