Matthew 8:1-4: “I am willing!”

Read: Matthew 8:1-4

Jesus’ following was at this point growing. There is no indication of how many people followed him off the mountain, nevertheless upon leaving the mountain the people followed him and were watching him. Matthew shifts from the teachings of Jesus – which he did on his own authority – to a focus on establishing Jesus’ authority my the miracles he performed which demonstrate his power over various things in the world such as disease, demons, nature, sin, and even death. The Greek word for “authority” or “power” first appears in the book of Matthew in 7:29. In the following two chapters, it appears numerous times (Matthew 8:9, Matthew 9:6, Matthew 9:8) leading up to chapter 10:1 where Jesus give authority to his disciples to do just as he had done: cast out demons and heal the sick. Note, Jesus doesn’t give them authority to raise the dead or forgive sins.

In the midst of his miracles, Jesus did some things in his ministry that raised eyebrows, and healing the man with leprosy was one of them. Leprosy is a contagious skin disease. During the time of Jesus, there was no cure. Lepers were isolated from the community and considered ceremonially unclean. Lepers had to dress in rags and wear there hair down, and cry out “unclean, unclean” as they made their way about (Leviticus 13:45-46). While there was no law pertaining to touching a leper, doing so was certainly taboo and reviled. Nevertheless, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the leper and heals him.

The leper himself exhibited great faith and humility when he came to Jesus. When he came to Jesus, he fell on his face, begging Jesus for healing and believing that Jesus was able. He doesn’t specifically ask for healing per se, rather to be “made clean” which is an interesting request. He wanted not to just be free of the disease, but free of the stigma associated with it – ceremonial uncleanliness. After Jesus heals him, Jesus tells him to present himself to the priest which was part of the requirement of the law to be pronounced clean after a leper was healed from the disease (Leviticus 14).

There are no details concerning the account, but given the nature of leprosy in that it was not curable, the ritual that was performed at the temple was certainly rare. The priests would have certainly be amazed to see this man free of the disease. For the leper, he was out of options. With leprosy though, he really didn’t have any options at all. He went to the one place he might find a cure – in Jesus. It demonstrates the mans faith in calling out to Jesus and he is made well for it. In the Christian faith, there seems to be a dissonance between believing that God can do miracles and being surprised when they do occur. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. What if Christians expected miracles in faith rather than being surprised by them? This would certainly change the way Christians pray and act. And who knows – maybe miracles might start happening!

Lord, you are willing to do miracles, so help me to ask and believe in faith!

Matthew 7:13-23: Two Roads, Two Gates

Read: Matthew 7:13-23

Two roads, two gates – one road is hard and leads to a narrow gate that when opened leads to life. The other road is easy that leads to a wide gate that when opened leads to death. This is the imagery that Jesus gives to describe the path that he is laying out for his followers to follow. Jesus’ path is the hard path that isn’t easy to follow, but to those that do they will have eternal life.

In light of this description of paths and gates, Jesus gives a staunch warning concerning false prophets and false teachers. The Jews in Jesus’ day already understood the consequences of false teachers and prophets. The law had rather harsh consequences for false prophets: death. Any one that made a false prophecy or turned the Israelites to false gods was to be put to death without prejudice (Deuteronomy 13). When Jesus is teaching here, he is warning against such teachers and tells his hearers to test them. By way of analogy he is telling his hearers to look at the fruits in their lives. A tree bears fruit in keeping with its kind and health. For the Christian, there are two kinds of fruit: spiritual progeny and fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22). One can tell what a teacher teaches based on the teacher’s students and based on the teacher’s own life. If one, the other, or both are bad, then it is indicative of the nature of the teacher and his teachings. In effect, just because somebody calls Jesus “Lord” and puts on a good show doesn’t mean that he himself is saved or teaching sound doctrine.

James 3 also gives a staunch warning about being eager to teach. In the same vein as Deuteronomy 13, to those who teach there will be a more strict judgment. In the discourse that follows, James talks about a destructive tongue, and such is the tongue of one who teaches false doctrine. It can cause a lot of harm and destruction. For the Christian to know this though it is imperative that he or she also be well grounded in the scriptures. In 2 Timothy 3:10-17, Paul reminds Timothy of the model that Paul had laid out for him and also warns him against imposters and evil doers. The antidote for false teaching was teaching from the Word of God, which is inspired by God for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness.

Lord, help me to follow the narrow path found in your Word!

Matthew 7:7-12: The Law of Love

Read: Matthew 7:7-12

Matthew 7:12 has been called the “Golden Rule” and rightfully so because it is what Jesus says is the summation of the Law. He also calls it one of the Great Commandments too (Matthew 22:36-40). Paul calls this teaching the “Law of Love” (Romans 13:8-10) and James the “Royal Law” (James 2:8). The original manifestation was found in the Old Testament among a sundry of other laws related to interpersonal relationships (Leviticus 19:18). To the New Testament writers, this single command is given a number of special names which indicates that it is among one of the most important teachings that Jesus gave concerning the Law and the Prophets.

The position of this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount follows a short discourse on petitioning God. Jesus teaches that God is a good father who wants to give those that ask what they ask for. This text along with John 15:7 though are used by skeptics to discredit the Christian faith. They argue that the scripture teaches that whatever one asks for one will receive from God, no questions asked and without reservation. This thinking essentially reduces God to a cosmic genie that will grant any wish. The problem is that it fails to take into account what Jesus is saying. John 15:1-17 explains the context of this though. The context for the statement is that those who are asking are also abiding in Christ such that when they do ask they asking in accordance with God’s will. When one trust God, he directs them accordingly (Proverbs 3:5-6).

John also connects such asking to the Great Commandment. Jesus in John 15 gives the old commandment a fresh understanding when he says to the disciples that they should love others as he has loved them when they had been taught to love others in the manner that they would like to be loved. The Sermon parallels this. Jesus is showing that God gives graciously and abundantly to those who ask and should also be the same when one loves others as well. If God loves generously, then all those who call themselves followers of Christ ought to do the same.

The beauty of this “law” is that it is not a prohibition against an act, rather it is freedom to act. In Galatians 5:13-26, Paul connects that in serving others one is fulfilling the law, but says that those that live according to the Spirit are not under the law. Life in the Spirit manifests a number of “fruits”. There are not laws against these. This is perhaps the one thing that separates Christianity apart from all other faiths concerning works. Other faiths teach that one follow a moral code of conduct in order to gain enough merit to obtain some kind of salvation or avoid some kind of judgment. Christians though are saved by faith instead of works, so they are free to love without pretense and why they are not under any law at all. When Jesus commanded the disciples to love as he did, this is precisely what he was getting at. Jesus didn’t need to gain merit, rather he was doing it selflessly.

Lord, help me to love as you loved!

Matthew 7:1-6: “Judging” Others

Read: Matthew 7:1-6

“Judge not, lest you be judge” is one of the most quoted (and misquoted!) sayings of Jesus. In modern thought, it the saying is used by some as a defense to keep others from speaking against a particular vice or lifestyle. In Matthew 7 though, Jesus is using the saying in the context of speaking against hypocrisy, a common theme in the Sermon on the Mount. His argument is in essence saying that those who criticize or nitpick others will end up being on the receiving end of such judgments by his own standard, especially when one has a number of faults of his own. And it is almost always the case that those who exhibit such a critical attitude struggle with their own faults such that they attempt to minimize their own shortcomings by magnifying the shortcomings of others. The illustration of a plank in one’s eye compared to a speck in another’s eye speaks in the hyperbole of the situation.

There are a number of ways that people wrongly judge others:

  • Luke 6:27-38 is a parallel text to Matthew here, but puts the same statement concerning judging others in a different light. Luke argues that when shows partiality based on one’s own state that one is judging another. Jesus illustrates this with the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-36 where the Samaritan loves the fallen man in spite of not knowing where the fallen man was going or where he was coming from while the priests and Levites did nothing of the sort.
  • Ezekiel 16:52-56 speaks of the attitude of Israel towards Samara and Sodom who were looked down on by the Israelite because of past sins. Ezekiel, however, declares that Israel is more wicked than they are. This haughty attitude is precisely the kind of condition that Jesus is getting at in the the Sermon.
  • James 4:7-12 declares that evil to “speak evil” against one another. The context here has to do bashing people over the head with the law in a tit-for-tat fighting match concerning matters of the law. This is the sort of arguments children have when they are both trying to make the other look to be the the greater of two evils. In doing so, James says, one is calling himself one the others judge rather than letting Christ be the judge.
  • Romans 14 expounds on matters of Christian freedom and how some will make their personal opinions about matters to be matter of right and wrong for everyone, then condemn people according to these opinions. Paul says that one should not do this nor should one be a stumbling block to offend those who do have such opinions. Both extremes are in many ways judging others either in freedom or in weakness.

Jesus is not teaching that one shouldn’t speak against sin here. The difference between judging others in any context and preaching against sin has to do with the standard of judgment. When one “judges” like the hypocrites in the text do, he is subjectively comparing himself to another person. When one is preaching against sin, one is pointing out right and wrong action according to objective standards. This is critical distinction to make because and on a number of occasions the New Testament apostles called out people for sin, but it was done with the intent of calling people to repentance, salvation, and in some cases reconciliation after one has been saved. Interestingly, Jesus follows his teaching concerning the judgment of others with discernment concerning how one should treat that which is holy. Pigs and dogs (which were typically strays) were both unclean animals, and in ancient culture where known to eat just about anything thrown to them. And even when one fed them they would get defensive or even attack the one that fed. Concerning judgment, Jesus is teaching that one shouldn’t waste time with those who won’t repent. There comes a point where one has to move on. Paul calls it “redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:15-17, Colossians 4:5-6) and cautions against engaging in quarrelsome discussions (2 Timothy 2:22-26).

The call to Christians is clear: speak the truth, but be careful not compare oneself to others. In doing so, one is not judging, rather letting Christ be the judge. It also clear that a Christian should use discernment in knowing when to speak and not to speak the truth. God wants the truth to be made known, but not dragged through the mud!

Lord, help me to speak truth and let you be judge!

Matthew 6:25-34: Don’t Worry, Be Joyful!

Read: Matthew 6:25-34

Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy expresses in a simple tune profound truth that Jesus expressed many years ahead of him. The song practically embodies the truth in many ways: it’s simple, happy, and melodic, and such this the attitude that Jesus wants for his followers concerning money rather than becoming consumed about all of life’s troubles. Jesus draws attention to the those who toil away trying to prepare for the future. They store up food, clothing, money, and numerous other things to seemingly ward off evil or destitution that might come their way.

In all this though, Jesus’ is not tell one to live a carefree life such that one doesn’t prepare for the future. Proverbs offers much advice concerning planning for future (Proverbs 21:20, Proverbs 13:11, Proverbs 10:4-5, Proverbs 6:6-11, Proverbs 13:7, Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 27:23-27, Proverbs 19:21) . Jesus is warning against obsessing over the matter. God does care for his people and he will take care of them and he does so by providing homes, food, clothing and most all of life’s essentials. He is also the one who provides the means to obtain these such as job.

Anxiety though is not limited to concerns for basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing. It can arise over health, loved ones, tests, jobs – practically anything in life. The Bible offers a few simple ways to stave off anxiety. Proverbs 12:25 says that a kind word can cheer one up when dealing with anxiety. Philippians 4:4-9 encourages believers to not worry, but to offer up the concerns of the world to God and think on things that are praise worthy. The positive thoughts that come from an encouraging word and from reflecting on the good things of God can help calm an anxious heart and help bring back the peace and joy one find in God and will “guard one’s heart”.

The solidarity that comes from knowing and trusting God in all things is blissfully simple. While life is uncertain, what is certain is that those that commit their ways to God and trust him fully will be directed by him (Proverbs 3:5-6). The key though is to put God first in all things as Jesus says to do when he says “seek first the Kingdom”. This doesn’t imply that life won’t have troubles, but it does imply that God will care those that trust him all along the way – which is how one can not worry and be joyful!

Lord, help me to trust you and not worry!

Matthew 6:19-24: Treasure In Heaven

Read: Matthew 6:19-24

What one sets his eyes on, that he will desire. And what one desires, so there his heart will be. This truth is plainly evident in the lives of so many people. Jesus notes this in the middle of two sayings concerning wealth. In the first, Jesus encourages his hearers to accumulate heavenly wealth and the second teaches that one cannot serve both money and God. A similar teaching to what Jesus is saying can be found in Ecclesiastes 5:8-18. As the Preacher reflects back on his life, he realizes that the one thing that makes life worth living is his relationship to God. The warning though that the pursuit of wealth or anything else for that matter as an end in and of itself or as way to find meaning results in the emptiness – and this is what the Preacher calls “vanity”. While wealth is not inherently evil, it can be evil. The Bible does neither condemns or condones having money. But it does instruct that money should be used for good (1 Timothy 6:11-21, Proverbs 3:9-10) rather than evil (James 5:1-6), but the pursuit of money for the sake of being wealthy is shunned (Proverbs 23:4-45).

The crux of the matter, as is with most all of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, has to do with the condition of one’s heart. A hear that his focused on the accumulation of wealth or anything other than the pursuit of God is really one’s other master. It is for this reason that Paul encourages Christians to be be content with what one has (1 Timothy 6:6-8, Philippians 4:11) but never satisfied with where one is at in his struggle against sin. The Bible unequivocally affirms that that it is better to be righteous than wealthy (Proverbs 15:16-17, Proverbs 16:8).

For the Christian contentment can only be found in Jesus. When one finds contentment on Jesus then one can rightly pursue the other things in life. Proverbs 3:5-6 and Psalm 37:3-6 affirm that when one trust God in all things then in this God can direct one’s path. The key though is first trusting and delighting in God. Jesus himself later says, “Seek first the kingdom…” (Matthew 6:33) In doing so, God will become one’s passion and his will will be the believer’s desire too. This is why the promise of the Psalms and Proverbs is that God will give the desires of the heart and direct the path.

Lord, fill my eyes with visions of you!

Matthew 6:16-18: Undefiled Religion

Read: Matthew 6:16-18

The only required fast required in the Old Testament law was taken on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement in which the priest would offer sacrifices on behalf of the the nation of Israel by going into the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16:29-34, Leviticus 23:23-44). Over time, the Jewish people began to observe even more days throughout the year (Isaiah 58) By the time of Jesus, the most religious Jews were fasting multiple times a week. Jesus, being a religious figure, was often question why he didn’t fast as often as others (Luke 3:7-14, Luke 5:33-39). Jesus on the matter though focused on the heart of the matter. While many used fasting to show off their piety Jesus shows that fasting is not to be used for this purpose. He says that fasting should be a private matter between the one fasting and the Lord and one should do it in a manner so that no one else sees the fast.

Moreover, the real issue that Jesus had with fasting was the the fact that people would observe it while neglecting other issues that were certainly more important such as helping the poor, being honest in ones dealings, among other issues related to justice for outcasts and marginalized in society. James says that true religion is caring for the widows and orphans rather than acts of worship (James 1:26-27) which is a theme that is echoed from the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:9-17, Micah 6:6-8).

Religious activity is no substitute for right living – in fact God rather one help the poor and live righteously than to perform religious rites. Religious rites though can be rich experience when done in the right context. Like in the Day of Atonement, taking a fast to be a time to look introspectively at ones own life and confess sins before God. Churches will often have communion to reflect on the grace and love that Jesus poured out on the cross. Baptism symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection and and new life that Christians have in Christ. Christians do well to constantly evaluate why he or she does particular religious activities to make sure that the activities are done with the right motives and in a way that is not disconnected from the greater points of the law such as righteousness and concern for the poor.

Lord, help my religion to be pure and undefiled.

Matthew 6:5-15: Prayer That Works

Read: Matthew 6:5-15

Jesus warning here concerning prayer stands in contrast to the sort of prayers that the Pharisees and Gentiles had. The Pharisees in their prayers would stand in the streets and wax eloquently using big words to make an elaborate show of things. They would often use prayer to in many ways to exalt themselves as Jesus notes in Luke 18:10-14. The Gentiles that Jesus to refers to are probably the Romans, who their own prayers focused not on content, rather on the precision of the words of which they were saying. They believed that the efficacy of prayer was tied to how precise the prayers were according to a strict formula. If they didn’t get the results they wanted, they would do it again and again. This vain repetition was of no value.

Jesus on the other hand teaches his disciples how and what to pray. He encourages them not to do as the Pharisees or the Gentiles, rather go into a room and pray in private, focusing on a number of things. Jesus’ prayer has many parallels to Isaiah 63:15-64:12. They acknowledge that God is “Father”, is in heaven, and is one who is holy and concerned about the name of God. Jesus expounds on the motif God as a father, teaching that God is a good father that wants to provide good things to those who ask. James 4:1-3, however, adds commentary to why sometimes God doesn’t give good things because so many times one “asks and does not receive” which stands in contrast to what Jesus said: “ask and it shall be given unto you”. It short, people don’t receive because of their own selfish desires and sin in their lives. Jesus does teach the disciples to pray for daily provision and the things in this world, but so much more of the model prayer is concerned with God’s position in heaven, his holy name, his will being done, forgiveness of sin, and deliverance from temptation and evil. When one seeks to pray according to the will and ways of God, it is in this manner that God can and will bless his people.

So often, the prayers of Christians are not much more than trite platitudes that Jesus warns against even to the point where people the model prayer from rote memory. The prayer itself is not the problem, rather the attitude of prayer is that is the problem. God wants his people to pray, but do so in the right manner and for the right reasons. To do so, one needs to be mindful of who God is: a father that is all loving but also holy and zealous for his name to be honored by the way one lives. When one honestly and humbly seeks God for mercy and his will, God will reward this prayer according to his will and great things can happen!

Lord, teach me to pray in way that honors and glorifies you!

Matthew 6:1-4: Giving

Read: Matthew 6:1-4

Alms giving is baked into the Christian ethos and it has been ever since the beginning of the church. Church history shows that where other faiths would have store houses of relics and icons, early churches treasured things like shoes, food, clothing, and other helps that were given to the poor and needy. The early church’s concern for the poor is expressed all throughout the New Testament starting in the early chapters of Acts and going all the way through the end.

Christians though inherited this concern for the poor from the Jews. The ethic of taking care of the poor and marginalized in society was codified as Law for the Jews (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). Prior to the church, synagogues did much the same in their context through the known world where synagogues were found. However, in the course of history, the giving of alms had become a way to show off one’s piety. In Jesus’ day, the offering box was located in a very visible spot in the temple. Worshipers would come by and place their offerings in the box. Those with great wealth would hoist the offering over their heads so that everyone could see it, then offer it. At the same time, those with less would not perform such a ritual, rather would merely place what they had in the box. This is depicted in the story of the widow’s mite in Luke 21:1-4. (Interestingly, the fact that a widow gave at all is phenomenal, as she would usually be the one who was the recipient of gifts!)

When Jesus expresses how one ought to give, he says to do so in secret. He uses a phrase, “do not let your left hand know what the right is doing.” This phrase in English typically expresses lack of communication in an organization, but here the idea is that one should really forget what the left hand gave and give from the right hand too then forget about it – it’s communicating the idea of generosity beyond that which was expected wherein one would merely open one’s hand (singular) to take care of the need (Deuteronomy 15:7-8). This is about going above and beyond the call of duty, which is precisely what the widow who gave everything she had did.

The rewards of God do not imply though that one will receive back in monetary gain what one gave. Likewise, it is not the size of the gift that matters. God’s blessings are spiritual blessings that come from the joy of giving and knowing that one is helped by one’s gift. In all things God’s sees the attitude of the giver, which is what he’s mostly concerned with anyways (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

Lord, help me to give cheerfully and generously!

Matthew 5:43-48: Love Everyone!

Read: Matthew 5:43-48

“Love thy neighbor as thyself” has been called the “Golden Rule” among other things. This commandment is found in the Old Testament among a plethora of laws concerning how neighbors should interact with one another (Leviticus 19:9-18). It is also among the “Greatest Commandments” that Jesus gives in Matthew 22:34-40. He says that on this command along with loving God “hang” the Law and the Prophets. The idea from the original language of the New Testament is that the Greatest Commandments are like a rope on which the rest of the law is suspended. If the rope is cut, then the everything else comes crashing down. In a manner of speaking, Jesus is saying that it is the essence of the Law and the fulfillment of the Law when one puts it into practice.

But Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount corrects another bad teaching that the people had been taught concerning the Law. They had been taught that their “neighbor” only included a select few people and the rest of the people were their enemies, and it was okay to hate them. This is evidenced by the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Here, Jesus gives the same commandments from Matthew, but the hearer wanted to “justify himself” by limiting the scope of his neighbor. Jesus shows how the Samaritan was the neighbor to the one in need, which these Jews hated. This is why Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount qualifies what he says concerning loving one’s neighbor with loving ones enemies as well, showing them that the real benefit to loving one’s neighbor comes not from loving those who are most like oneself, rather loving ones that are not like oneself. It is in this context that loving one’s neighbor really plays out.

Paul and James both echo the command in their writings as well. Paul himself says that by following the command that one will fulfill the Law too in much the same way Jesus implies (Romans 13:8-10). James calls the commandment the “Royal Law”, implying that it comes from a king, no other than God himself (James 2:8). While certain aspects of the Law don’t necessarily apply anymore, specifically those related to ceremonial law, this part unequivocally is affirmed by the New Testament and shows that the Greatest Commandment implies that one’s neighbor is everyone, not just a select group of people. Christians today are still under the same law concerning loving one’s neighbor, and do well to fulfill it. In doing so too, one can show the love of God and win one over to God as well!

Lord, help me to love my neighbor!

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